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Daily Current Affairs 31.12.2022 (Core sector output rises 5.4% in uneven recovery,Study shows butterflies bedazzle predators and escape,Idol Wing of Tamil Nadu Police traces three stolen idols abroad,Courts should step up to clear long-pending cases by Independence Day: CJI,Withdrawing PMGKAY a regressive step, it cuts the foodgrain entitlement by half.,A strong case exists for marriage equality,The other side of the sanctuary)

Daily Current Affairs 31.12.2022 (Core sector output rises 5.4% in uneven recovery,Study shows butterflies bedazzle predators and escape,Idol Wing of Tamil Nadu Police traces three stolen idols abroad,Courts should step up to clear long-pending cases by Independence Day: CJI,Withdrawing PMGKAY a regressive step, it cuts the foodgrain entitlement by half.,A strong case exists for marriage equality,The other side of the sanctuary)

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 1. Core sector output rises 5.4% in uneven recovery

Overall production levels in November remain the same as in the previous month; cement,coal, steel, electricity output surged, but petroleum refinery products hit a 21-month low

 The output growth of India’s eight core sectors rebounded to 5.4% in November from a revised estimate of a 0.9% uptick in October, the slowest in 20 months. This was despite the fact that overall production levels in November 2022 remained the same as in the previous month.

The recovery in the year-on-year growth rate bodes well for the country’s industrial output numbers in November after a shocking 4% drop in October, as core sectors constitute about 40% of the Index of Industrial Production (IIP).

Cement output recovered sharply from a 4.3% contraction in October to jump 28.6% in November, while coal and electricity production levels accelerated to rise 12.3% and 12.1%, respectively.

Steel output grew at the fastest pace in six months at 10.8%, but production levels were 2.35% lower than in October 2022. Fertilizer production grew 6.4% from the November 2021 level.

However, the recovery in these sectors was offset by a continued dip in crude oil, natural gas and refinery output. Refinery products hit a 21-month nadir, contracting 9.3% in November, compared to a 3.1% fall in October.

Crude oil output contracted for the sixth successive month, shrinking 1.1% in November, while natural gas production dropped 0.7%, marking the fifth consecutive month of contraction.

“Compared to October 2022, the index of infrastructure industries remained flat in November 2022 but the momentum of month-on-month seasonally-adjusted growth turned positive,” said India Ratings economists Paras Jasrai and Devendra Kumar Pant, stressing that the recovery is not broad-based yet.

2. Study shows butterflies bedazzle predators and escape

Deceiving tactics: The Indian Wanderer butterfly in which only females are mimetic and males are not. 

In a five-year study, scientists of the National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS) in Bengaluru have discovered secrets of a long evolutionary game through which butterflies come to warn, fool, and escape their predators using traits such as wing colour patterns and even flight behaviour.

The study conducted by Ph.D. students Dipendra Nath Basu and Vaishali Bhaumik, along with their adviser, Krushnamegh Kunte, has investigated the butterfly mimetic communities of the Western Ghats.

Explaining the objective of the study, which was conducted between 2017 and 2022, the students said that mimicry is an adaptive phenomenon, and in mimicry, a palatable organism resembles an unpalatable organism to deceive predators.

“The unpalatable one is called models (Müllerian co-models) and the palatable one is called mimics (Batesian mimics). Interestingly, mimicry in butterflies is not limited to the resemblance in wing colour patterns alone, as some mimics have also evolved to imitate the flight behaviours of model species. In nature, multiple model and mimic butterflies could be found in the same habitat at the same time. These similar-looking co-occurring butterflies together form a mimetic community,” Mr. Basu and Ms. Bhaumik told The Hindu. They added that these mimetic communities are generally common in tropical and sub-tropical biodiversity hotspots. The NCBS team in order to find out how these two mimetic traits (wing colour patterns and flight morphology) evolve over time, investigated the butterfly mimetic communities of the Western Ghats.

Evolution of trait

The duo said that their findings have shed light on how the rate of trait evolution helps butterflies to escape their predators.

“These (the findings) can be carried forward to investigate whether the rate of trait evolution is similar in young communities, such as in the Western Ghats versus large, old communities in Northeast India, Southeast Asia and the neotropics. We suspect that the evolutionary dynamics of functional traits depend heavily on the age, size and complexity of the biological communities,” the duo said.

In this study, for the first time, evolution of multiple traits was examined in a biological community, especially in a biodiversity hotspot of the Indian subcontinent.

3. Idol Wing of Tamil Nadu Police traces three stolen idols abroad

The bronze idol of Nataraja stolen from Kovilpatti temple.

The antique idols were stolen from temples in Tirunelveli, Perambalur and Kancheepuram many years ago; Nataraja idol is with Christie’s in France; Alinganamurthy with Sotheby’s in New York and granite Buddha in Manhattan, U.S.

The Idol Wing CID (IWCID) of the Tamil Nadu Police has traced three antique idols abroad — a Nataraja idol with Christie’s in France, Alinganamurthy with Sotheby’s in New York and a granite Buddha in Manhattan, U.S. These were reportedly stolen from the temples in Tirunelveli, Perambalur and Kancheepuram districts several years ago.

Inspector Shameem Banu of the Tirunelveli IWCID unit, recently on learning about the burglary of idols from the Kodanda Ramaswamy temple, Kovilpatti in 1970s, decided to make enquiries about the theft of four metal idols — a Nataraja, an idol of Akilandeswari Amman and two others. Three of the idols were recovered in 1972 while the Nataraja idol was yet to be recovered. The case was reinvestigated by her.

Subsequently, the officers of the wing came across an auction notice issued by Christies.com listing a Nataraja idol for sale.

After concluding that the idol was the one stolen from the temple, Director-General of Police, IWCID, K. Jayanth Murali, communicated with the Indian authorities in France and the auction was stopped.

Similarly, the Idol Wing recently received a complaint from a person in Kovilpalayam, on the theft of a metal statue of Lord Chandrasekhar and His Consort in an embrace on a single pedestal (Alinganamurthy) and the dancing Sambandar metal statue. After looking for the idol with various artefact collectors in vain, the officers finally stumbled upon on a catalogue of Sotheby’s. Mr. Murali said, “Our investigation revealed that Sotheby’s had sold the idol of Alinganamurthy in 1998 for $85,000.” The Idol Wing has readied papers to identify the collector who purchased the idol and have it returned to India.

The Idol Wing also activated the investigation following a complaint alleging that some persons broke into the Adhikesava Perumal Temple in 2003 and took away an antique stone Buddha statue in a sitting pose.

The antique stone Buddha statue has been seized from international smuggler Subash Kapoor’s gallery in New York by the District Attorney’s office in Manhattan. The Idol Wing is now preparing the papers to bring the idol back.

4. Courts should step up to clear long-pending cases by Independence Day: CJI

Fresh start: CJI D.Y. Chandrachud inaugurates the A.P. Judicial Academy at Kaza in Guntur district on Friday. 

Justice Chandrachud points out that some pending cases date back to 1970s; over 63 lakh cases in the country delayed due to non-availability of counsel; he stresses the importance of digitisation

Voicing concern over long-pending cases, some dating back even to the 1970s, Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud said courts in the country should ensure that “the judicial clock moves ahead at least 10 years” by Independence Day, 2023.

He was addressing a gathering of Andhra Pradesh High Court judges, judicial officers and other legal experts at Acharya Nagarjuna University.

The Chief Justice of India (CJI) inaugurated the A.P. Judicial Academy and launched the High Court’s digitisation programme and various other initiatives.

“Across the country, almost 14 lakh cases have been delayed as some kind of record or document is being awaited. Across the country, more than 63 lakh cases are considered to be delayed as per the National Judicial Data Grid (NJDG) data, due to non-availability of counsel. We really need the support of the Bar to ensure that our courts are functioning at optimum capacity,” Justice Chandrachud said.

He added: “For instance, in A.P., the oldest civil case pending in Guntur was registered on March 22, 1980. The oldest criminal case is at Kalyandurg court, Anantapur district, which was registered on September 19, 1978. From 1980 to 1990 in Guntur, there are four civil cases and one criminal case pending. So, the district court can move ahead by 10 years, just by the disposal of these five cases.”

“In the High Court, the oldest case is from 1976, and it needs to dispose of just 138 cases to move 10 years ahead of the curve.”

He continued, “The data in A.P. is not mind-boggling, as it is in many other States. But if you use simple tools which are now available on the NJDG, we will be able to do justice and revolutionise the image of the judiciary.”

Benefits of digitisation

Underlining the importance of technology, he said digitisation had immediate benefits in terms of pendency of cases.

“At multiple stages, whenever an interim order is appealed, or an application is filed before appellate courts, be it the HC or SC, the record of the district court is called for. This record remains with the appellate court till the file is disposed of. However, with the digitisation of records, the record that is received can immediately be scanned and sent back, so that the trial does not suffer any delay.”

‘Rich jurisprudence’

He also underscored the “value of the rich jurisprudence developed by our Supreme Court and High Courts since Independence of our nation, to preserve and protect the liberty of each individual”.

“There is a brooding sense of fear among courts of the first instance, on how the grant of anticipatory bail or bail will be perceived at the higher level. This fear is not purely irrational. There are multiple cases where trial court judges have been pulled up for grant of bail,” he observed.

“In certain HCs, the performance of the judges had been analysed based on their conviction rate. I specifically called upon the Chief Justices of High Courts to ensure that such practices are done away with, as they are not a measure in the dispensation of justice in any manner. Rather, these practices create a sense of bias for the district judiciary and create a culture of fear psychosis. Both of which are undesirable outcomes,” the CJI said.

5. Withdrawing PMGKAY a regressive step, it cuts the foodgrain entitlement by half.

Withdrawing the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PMGKAY), under which an extra 5 kg of free foodgrains was provided to every ration card holder in addition to the entitlement under the National Food Security Act, is a regressive step and will force poor families to spend ₹750-₹900 a month to access the current level of ration entitlement, Right to Food Campaign, a collective of countrywide organisations working in the sector, said in a statement here.

The collective pointed out that the step essentially cuts the ration entitlement by 50% for 81 crore cardholders. Under the National Food Security Act, 2013 (NFSA), all priority category ration card holders are entitled to 5 kg of grain per person and the Antyodaya category cardholders to 35 kg of grain.

The NFSA caps the price at ₹3 per kg of rice and ₹2 per kg of wheat. In April 2020, the Union government announced the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PMGKAY), under which an extra 5 kg of free foodgrains was provided to every ration card holder in addition to the NFSA entitlement. Therefore, ration card holders were entitled to 10 kg ration per person.

Govt. announcement

On December 23, the Union government announced that it would discontinue the PMGKAY from January 1, 2023. “The government has termed this as a ‘historic’ decision even though in reality it in no way compensates for the huge reduction in the ration entitlement,” the collective said.

As per its calculations, the net saving per person as a result of the announcement of the NFSA ration being made free will be only around ₹11 per month (4 kg of wheat X ₹2 and 1 kg of rice X ₹3) whereas in order to purchase the additional 5 kg of grain which has now been discontinued (under PMGKAY), that person will have to spend between ₹150-₹175 as rice and wheat cost around ₹30-₹35 per kg in the market.

A family of five will now be forced to spend ₹750-₹900 per month just in order to access the current level of ration entitlement, it said.

6. Editorial-1: A strong case exists for marriage equality

A recent statement by a Member of Parliament that same-sex marriages are against the (so-called) cultural ethos of India has once again stirred up the debate on marriage equality. This is amidst a petition for marriage rights of same-sex couples (under the Special Marriage Act, 1954) pending before the Supreme Court of India. The most obvious hurdle in adjudication seems to be the legitimacy of the institution — i.e., whether courts should intervene in marriage rights or leave it to the wisdom of Parliament. However, another factor that may guide the Court urging it to intervene here is that it previously decriminalised consensual same-sex conduct on the basis of the ‘right to equality’ and not merely the ‘right to privacy’. The question then is: how difficult is the present challenge to (no) marriage rights?

An aspect to the LGBTQ community’s legal battle has been whether the law criminalising sexual conduct has been violative of the right to privacy or the right to equality. In the former, one’s sexual orientation and choice of a sexual partner were held intrinsic to privacy and personal liberty. In the latter, equal treatment of same-sex couples with those of heterosexual couples was considered paramount. As argued by lawyer Jonathan Berger, this makes a difference because while a privacy analysis calls for a complete ‘hands-off’ approach from the state where it should not interfere, an equality analysis requires the state to take positive steps to ensure equal treatment in all spheres of life. Thus, once equal treatment with heterosexual persons is established, it ought to become simpler to seek sequential rights of equalising age of consent, prohibiting employment discrimination, rights in marriage, adoption etc..

Comparative law

The European Court of Human Rights, in Dudgeon vs UK (1981), struck down the offence of buggery in Northern Ireland as violative of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights because it disproportionately restricted personal and family life. This restriction cast on the most intimate part of personal life could not be justified by any pressing social need. The court thus adopted a privacy approach and did not go into the question of equal treatment under Article 14. It could be argued that this made it difficult for a same sex couple, in Oliari vs Italy, to seek marriage rights in Italy. Here, the court reasoned that states could not be obligated to grant marriage equality, provided there was some form of legal recognition of their rights. Moreover, that many European countries had not yet granted marriage rights and only recognised civil partnerships shaped the court’s decision.

On the contrary, a conscious decision by LGBTQ lawyers and activists in South Africa to litigate rights based on ‘equality’ made sure they won successive battles, beginning with constitutional protection of ‘sexual orientation’ and judicial recognition of marriage, adoption, etc. Dealing with decriminalisation in National Coalition for LGBTQ (1998), Justice Ackermann compared the privacy and equality approaches and opined how the latter was enabling and granted greater protection to homosexual persons. Thus, in Fourie (2005), the Constitutional Court rejected the state’s argument that the Constitution only protected the right to establish family in private life without state interference and not to marry. Exclusion to marry was considered antithetical to equality and dignity and permitting it would have meant that marriage of a homosexual couple was inferior or of lesser worth. This was constitutionally impermissible.

The U.S. dealt with this quite differently since it decriminalised same-sex relations (Lawrence vs Texas 2003) and granted marriage equality (Obergefell 2015), both under the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of its Constitution, which prohibits the state from taking away personal liberties without substantive and procedural fairness. The focus was thus on personal liberty.

A decriminalisation

Though belated, India adopted the South African approach in Navtej Singh (2018). The top court read down Section 377 IPC and decriminalised consensual sexual conduct on the basis that it created an unreasonable classification for same-sex persons under Article 14, besides being violative of bodily autonomy under Article 21. As per the majority, unequal treatment to homosexual persons meant that they were treated as a separate class of citizens. Any classification that perpetuated stereotypes was violative of Article 15. Further, sexual orientation implicated both negative and positive obligations on the state. Besides non-interference, it called for a recognition of rights to ensure true fulfilment of same-sex relationships. Previously, even in NALSA (2014), the Court acknowledged the importance of sequential rights arising from ‘gender identity’ (employment, health care, education, equal civil and citizenship rights).

Evidently, the Court focused on an all-encompassing meaning of equality in all spheres of life, essential for dignified living to overcome prejudice. With this strong equality-based reasoning, which is a notch higher than mere protection of privacy, the exclusion of marriage rights (under challenge) appears difficult for the state to justify. The foundation of equal treatment thus ought to pave the way for marriage equality in India and not be left to the vagaries of the legislature. This would be significant in the Indian context where marriage holds a special cultural and religious value, a denial of which may reinforce the stigma faced by same-sex couples. The Court may be the only hope in claiming sequential rights where no active steps have been taken by the Government since the Court’s decision in 2018.

7. Editorial-2: The other side of the sanctuary

 A protest march organised by the Kanjirappally diocese under the Syro-Malabar Church and Infarm, an independent farmers’ organisation in the agriculture sector under the church, at Mudakkayam on the border of Idukki-Kottayam districts on December 30 against the establishment of buffer zones around reserve forests.. 

The Supreme Court’s directive to mark a 1 km aerial distance from the boundaries of all protected areas as ecologically sensitive has led to protests in Kerala. K.S. Sudhi, Mithosh Joseph and Sandeep Vellaram report on the issue and the anxieties among farmers living on the fringes of protected areas

George Thomas, a nonagenarian settler-farmer from Muthukad, a verdant agricultural village located 55 km away from Kozhikode, is living in fear of the future these days. The events unfolding in the State over the Supreme Court’s direction that every protected forest, national park and wildlife sanctuary in the country should have a mandatory eco-sensitive zone (ESZ) of 1 km starting from their demarcated boundaries have caused him great angst. The 10-acre land he holds was practically barren when his parents purchased it from a local landlord in the early 1940s. He and his children toiled on the land, located at an aerial distance of about a kilometre from the Malabar Wildlife Sanctuary, a protected area in Kozhikode district, and converted it into farmland. Thomas, who recently retired from active farming following heart ailments, fears that the government will take away the holding and render him landless once the ESZ regime comes into effect.

Two protests

Farmers living on the fringes of other protected areas harbour similar fears. When they voiced their concerns in mid-December, the Church lent them support. Bishop Remigiose Maria Paul Inchananiyil, a high priest of the powerful Syro-Malabar Church, declared at Koorachundu, 13 km away from Thomas’s property, that the Church would not mind taking extreme measures to protect the interests of the settlers. The fairly large crowd that had gathered to listen to him raised slogans against the government. The protests were a throwback to the restiveness triggered by the recommendations of the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP) led by Madhav Gadgil to conserve the fragile ecology of the mountain chain between 2012 and 2014.

Bishop Inchananiyil heads the Thamarassery Diocese. Thamarassery has a significant population of Christians and farmers. The area was the hub of protests in north Kerala against the WGEEP report. Violent protesters, who were inflamed by rumours that their farmlands would be taken back, had then set fire to a forest office and a police vehicle. The ESZ demarcation move, too, suddenly became an emotive issue for hundreds of farmers in the region who have successfully built their lives and settlements on forest fringes, battling inclement weather and wild beasts.

The lead players during both these protests have remained the same — the Catholic Church and the settler-farmers. The Kerala Independent Farmers Association, a pressure group of farmers formed in 2020, is also at the forefront of mobilising public opinion this time.

During the 2012-14 protests, the Left Front, comprising the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the Communist Party of India, and a few minor constituents, which were then in the Opposition in the Kerala Assembly, supported the settlers and the High Range Samrakshana Samithi — an organisation spearheaded by the Church — and reaped political dividends. This time, the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF), which is in the Opposition, has lent support to the agitation, pushing the government to work overtime to calm the protesters.

Idukki in central Kerala, which was on the boil in the wake of the Gadgil report, has also witnessed vociferous protests against ESZ demarcation. Various sections of society in the hill district have participated in public meetings, rallies, and door-to-door campaigns against the buffer zone regime. Several farmers fear that the regulations that may accompany the ESZ delineation would make farming impossible. They worry that they could be gradually evicted from their holdings.

K.R. Santhosh Kumar, who owns 1.5 acres of land with a title deed, and another 1.5 acres in Kulamavu in Arakkulam panchayat, feels that the creation of a buffer zone would lead to the setting-up of a parallel administrative system run by the State Forest Department. “Once the buffer zone is notified, forest officers will call the shots and cause unnecessary hurdles for farmers and settlers,” he says.

P.J. Joseph, a farmer at Narakakkanam under Mariyapuram panchayat in Idukki, owns 2.5 acres of land. He says the restrictions and laws that have been introduced from time to time have been hindering the everyday life of farming communities. Joseph fears that farming will become impossible once the buffer zone regime kicks in.

‘Faulty report’

The Supreme Court order of June 3 prescribing the buffer zone regime came at a most inopportune moment for the State government. Only recently the government managed to wriggle out of the socio political imbroglio created by another church — the Kerala Latin Catholic Church — which had rallied the fisher folk at Vizhinjam in Thiruvananthapuram to hold a protest against an upcoming international seaport project. That agitation lasted for more than a hundred days.

Even before the apex court order, the Kerala government had prepared a buffer zone regime for its 24 protected areas, including 18 wildlife sanctuaries and six national parks. Yielding to public resistance, it submitted proposals to the Union Ministry for Environment, Forest and Climate Change marking the buffer as zero in the case of the protected areas with human settlements in the vicinity beginning 2020. The Union Ministry released the proposals to the public domain seeking comments from the stakeholders. But these had to be redrawn following the June 3 order of the Supreme Court.

In its order, the apex court had directed the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests of each State and Union Territory (UTs) to draw up a list of subsisting structures and other relevant details within the respective ESZs and furnish a report within three months. The court had indicated that the States/UTs could take the assistance of any governmental agency for satellite imaging or photography using drones for the purpose of preparing the list. The Kerala government engaged the Kerala State Remote Sensing and Environment Centre (KSRSEC) for this task. The court also warned that in the event of any State/UT failing to submit a proposal, an area of 10 kilometre would be considered as buffer zone in respect of such sanctuaries or national parks and restrictions would be imposed in those areas. This, too, prompted the Kerala government to act swiftly in the case of its protected areas.

However, the KSRSEC report, which had initially identified forest boundaries and marked settlements using satellite imagery, didn’t find traction with the general public. Complaints that the report was faulty started pouring in even as the January 11 deadline for the submission of the report to the Supreme Court loomed large. There were also allegations that the motive behind the survey was to relocate people from the forest fringes and thus expand forest cover in the State.

The KSRSEC report identified 49,330 existing structures using satellite images, including 14,771 residential buildings and 2,803 commercial buildings. The KSRSEC had also reported that 115 villages in Kerala would come under the buffer zone of the protected areas of the State. According to its report, a total area of 1,588.709 sq. km would come under ESZs. The sanctuaries and national parks in the State are spread over an area of 3,441.207 sq. km. The assessment found that 83 tribal settlements were located within the ESZs of the State.

With several organisations of farmers, factions of the Church, and political parties protesting against the ‘inaccuracy’ of the study, the Kerala government was forced to appoint an expert committee headed by Thottathil Radhakrishnan, a former Chief Justice of the Calcutta High Court, for field verification of the report.

The aerial survey report on the buffer zone has stoked fears among hundreds of farmers of Chempanoda village located nearly 57 km away from Kozhikode.

“The report has come at a time when we are fighting wild animal attacks and decreasing prices of agricultural produces,” says 73-year-old V.M. Thomas, who migrated to Chakkittapara from Kottayam district nearly 50 years ago. He was forced to relocate from the Peruvannamuzhi dam area to Chakkittappara panchayat two decades ago when the dam’s reservoir area was expanded. He fears that the buffer zone regulations may once again displace him and leave him at the mercy of bureaucracy.

The price of land has plummeted following the release of the aerial survey report. Landowners worry that this will affect their plans based on the asset value of their holdings. Among them are those who had plans of migrating to urban areas. “The option of encouraging our children to migrate overseas so that we can survive on their earnings has also been affected by the recent developments,” says P. Joseph, a farmer from Koorachundu. He worries that the educational aspirations of students from rural areas will be affected.

The study

Surveyors say the study has been carried out in line with the Supreme Court orders. “The KSRSEC carried out a scientific study along the lines prescribed by the Supreme Court to identify the subsisting structures. The spatial land use pattern of the 115 villages that fall within a kilometre from the protected area was demarcated from the satellite data. The work was carried out using the cadastral maps and the present land use/land cover pattern of the boundary sharing villages from satellite data on the GIS platform,” explains S. Jane Mithra, the lead scientist of the project.

The surveyors classified individual structures as residential, commercial, educational, religious, industrial, etc. The canopy cover, especially in forest areas, masked several land use/cover patterns including subsisting structures and roads. “The thick and dense canopy restricts the identification of all the subsisting structures and roads in the visual interpretation process. Yet, we could mark around 85% of the structures,” he points out. “The apex court has not sought the exact number of structures but wanted the subsisting structures to be recorded. We carried out the scientific assessment and prepared the list as instructed by the court.”

With public protest raging across districts, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, with support from the Opposition parties, is trying to cool public sentiment. While assuring the people that the government will safeguard the interests of the farmers, Vijayan also announced a host of measures including setting up help desks in the 115 panchayats of the State that come under the ESZ regime for physical verification of the holdings and settlements that come under the zone.

The Chief Minister has distanced himself from the report. At arecent press conference convened to explain the steps taken by the State government to protect the interests of the farmers andsettlers, he said thatthere were some issues in the report prepared by the KSRSEC. He also saidthat the State government would explore all the legal options and seek more time from the Supreme Court to file the report.

V. Venu, Additional Chief Secretary, Kerala government, feels that there is no need for worry for the State as the apex court has pointed out that the minimum width of the ESZ may be diluted in the public interest. Kerala has moved the Central Empowered Committee (CEC) and the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, which will give its recommendations on the State’s plea to the Supreme Court. The top court had kept this door open for the States, Venu points out.

Incidentally, the apex court had suggested that the State governments should be able to convince the CEC and the Ministry of overwhelming public interest for any dilution of ESZ stipulation. The court had offered to look into the recommendations of the Committee and the Ministry on the issue and pass appropriate orders.

When the case comes up before the apex court on January 11, Kerala is expected to reiterate its original proposal to exclude human habitations and settlements from the ambit of the buffer zone. The State will make use of the aerial survey report to highlight the density of the population and the presence of human habitations in the zone to take advantage of the apex court’s suggestion that an ESZ may be diluted in overwhelming public interest. “The Ministry has already filed a revision petition before the court, pointing out that efforts to demarcate the ESZ were nearing completion in a few States including Kerala. It has requested the court to allow these States to complete the process, which may benefit the State,” hopes Venu.

But the protests have not fully subsided. For a State sandwiched between the mountains and the sea, any attempt to alter or fine-tune the ecological regulatory mechanism is sure to trigger a volley of protests.

The report has come at a time when we are fighting wild animal attacks and decreasing prices of agricultural produce.

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