Published on: September 5, 2021, at 09:34 IST
The Madras High Court has decided to investigate the implications of a gazette notification issued by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) on December 13, 2019, declaring a 438.904 sq km area around the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve (MTR) boundary as Mudumalai Tiger Reserve Eco-sensitive Zone.
Justice N. Anand Venkatesh stated that a balance must be struck between the necessity to conserve the environment and the livelihood of those who rely on tourism money.
As a result, both the Central Government and the State Government needed to explain concerns around the Eco-sensitive Zone.
During the hearing of a Writ case filed by a resort owner who was upset that a Panchayat in the Nilgiris district had shut his property, the Court brought up the wider issue.
The resort’s lawyer, Abudu Kumar Rajaratnam, argued that the property was well outside the elephant corridor, yet the local authority chose to take action against it.
During the hearing, the Judge came across a December 2019 government notification stating that 321 sq km of Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary and National Park in Nilgiris district had been designated as MTR (core or crucial tiger habitat), with another 367.586 sq km set aside as a buffer.
Because of the rich diversity of flora and fauna in MTR, as well as the presence of rare, endangered, threatened, and endemic species, the MoEF decided to declare a 438.904 sq km Eco-sensitive Zone around the reserve (consisting of 25.657 sq km in Gudalur forest division, 409.825 sq km in Nilgiris North forest division, and 3.422 sq km in core area).
The notification urged the State Government to establish a zonal master plan to manage development activities in the Eco-sensitive Zone within two years and in collaboration with the local people.
The State was also obligated to draught an eco-tourism master plan as part of the zonal master plan in order to govern new tourism operations as well as the extension of existing ones.
The Judge wished to know whether the Central notification would subsume all repugnant legislation of the State in respect of the regions that had been designated as eco-sensitive zones after taking care of the detailed conditions.
The Judge also wanted to know if the zonal master plan had been created by the State.
Suo moto, the Judge named both the Central and State Governments as respondents to the Writ petition.