The Supreme Court rebuked the Centre over its decision to reduce the radius of a buffer zone for eco-sensitive zones from 10 kilometres to 100 metres. The apex court described the move by the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government as a “complete arbitrary exercise of powers” capable of destroying national parks and wildlife sanctuaries.

The court was hearing a petition challenging the environmental clearance given to an industrial unit located within the 10-kilometre radius of Dadar and Nagar Haveli Wildlife Sanctuary. “It is extremely surprising the 10-km eco-sensitive [buffer] zone has been reduced by the Ministry of Environment and Forest to 100 metres,” a bench of justices MB Lokur and Deepak Gupta said. “Since an order of this nature is capable of destroying national parks and wildlife sanctuaries in the country, we would like to examine the validity of this reduction.”

The bench asked Additional Solicitor General ANS Nandkarni, appearing for the Centre, if the government wanted to destroy wildlife, reserved forests, rivers and sanctuaries in the country.

In 2002, the Wildlife Board of India had adopted the Wildlife Conservation Strategy under which it was said land within a 10-km radius of the boundaries of the National Parks/Wildlife Sanctuaries should be notified as Eco-Fragile zones under the Environmental Protection Act.

The Supreme Court had endorsed the stand of the Centre earmarking a 10 kilometre radius as buffer zone around national parks and wildlife sanctuaries. But since 2015, the MoEF has reduced the buffer zone radius from 10 km to up to 100 metres through several notifications.