Kerala: Protests Against Satellite Survey Of Eco Sensitive Zones
It is the participation of the Catholic Church in the protests that is making observers draw parallels to the protests against the Vizhinjam port project.
The preliminary report of the satellite survey undertaken by the Left Democratic Front (LDF) government to demarcate Eco-Sensitive Zones (ESZs) around protected areas like national parks and wildlife sanctuaries in the state has caused widespread discontent among people.
The satellite survey was conducted due to a Supreme Court order issued on 3 June 2022, which said that every protected area in the country must have an ESZ of at least 1 kilometre.
While there are a number of organisations like the Kerala Independent Farmers Association (KIFA) and Indian Farmers' Movement (Infam) that are protesting against the report, it is the participation of the Church through the Kerala Catholic Bishops Council (KCBC), that is making observers draw parallels to the protests against the Vizhinjam port.
Bishop Remigiose Inchananiyil of Kozhikode district has said that the protesting people would not hesitate to bleed against the proposed ESZs.
According to the protestors, the preliminary report of the satellite survey has captured just about 50,000 structures out of the estimated 2 lakh structures in the 0-1km range of these protected areas.
The structures are of all types- residences, commercial buildings, schools, places of worship, tribal settlements etc.
While the state government has said that people can submit their objections, i.e., report the structures not captured by the satellite survey, the protestors are of the opinion that the time frame of 10 days that was given was too less and the finalisation of such a report would lead to a massive loss of property and livelihood.
The state government has conceded the shortcomings of the report, and is now ready to undertake a ground survey but is still firm on submitting the preliminary report to the Supreme Court in mid-January. This has become yet another reason for the protests.
While the Supreme Court has made it clear that the 0-1 km range can be relaxed in public interest, if both, the Central Empowered Committee (CEC) constituted by the Supreme Court in 2002 and the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) agree, the protestors are still fearful of displacement and restrictions on their activities.
The opposition United Democratic Front (UDF), targeted the government saying that the LDF had changed the pro-people stance of the UDF government which had issued a notification saying that all human habitations would be exempt from ESZs.
Senior Congress leader, Ramesh Chennithala said that the LDF government was 'anti-farmer.'
Hitting out at critics, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said that his government had only 'good intentions' in undertaking the survey and there was no reason for protests when the government was willing to listen.
Once an area is declared to be an ESZ, certain activities like major hydroelectric projects, commercial mining etc. are prohibited but most other common human activities are permitted or allowed with safeguards.
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