The Supreme Court on Wednesday modified its 2022 order to have mandatory eco-sensitive zones of a minimum of one kilometre around national parks and wildlife sanctuaries, saying it would prevent the Union government from constructing roads and providing other facilities to those living in the areas, Live Law reported.

A three-judge bench of Justices BR Gavai, Vikram Nath and Sanjay Karol said that regulations about eco-sensitive zones cannot be uniform across the country and the judgement prohibiting all development activities within such sites is impossible to implement.

“If the direction as issued by this court in paragraph 56.5 of the order dated 3rd June 2022 is continued, then no permanent structure would be permitted to come up for whatsoever purpose in the aforesaid ESZs [eco-sensitive zones],” the court added. “Hundreds of villages are situated within the ESZs in the country. If no permanent construction is to be permitted for any purpose, a villager who is desirous to reconstruct his house would not be permitted.”

A three-judge bench of Justices L Nageswara Rao, BR Gavai and Aniruddha Bose had passed the earlier judgement, saying that the government has to act as a trustee for the benefit of the general public in relation to the natural resources so that sustainable development could be achieved in the long term.

“Such a role of the State is more relevant today, than, possibly, at any point of time in history with the threat of climate catastrophe resulting from global warming looming large,” the order had said.

But the Centre and other states, including Kerala, had approached the Supreme Court saying that the order will cause severe hardship to those living within the proposed eco-sensitive zones. The court’s decision led to protests in many areas of Kerala’s Idukki, Wayanad and Pathanamthitta districts.

On Wednesday, the judges said that the purpose of declaring eco-sensitive zones is not to hamper the day-to-day activities of the citizens but meant to protect forests from any negative impact.

“If such a direction is continued, rather than avoiding man-animal conflict, it will intensify the same,” the bench said.

Therefore, the court stated that last year’s direction will not be applicable where the national parks and sanctuaries are located on inter-state borders and share common boundaries.

It will also not be applicable to eco-sensitive zones where a draft and final notification has been issued by the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, and where proposals for such notifications have been received by the government.

The bench, however, reiterated the earlier order saying that mining will not be allowed within national parks and sanctuaries or in a 1-kilometre radius around them.