In a recent order, the High Court of Manipur directed the state authorities to take relevant steps for protection of environment, especially the forest cover of the state, to avoid the threat of animal borne diseases in the future.
In its detailed order, the division bench comprised by Chief Justice Ramalingam Sudhakar and Justice A. Bimol Singh observed that destruction of forests and invasion/intrusion of human beings in the forest domain displacing forest species appears to be a major factor for the series of diseases like the present COVID-19.
The bench referred to a number of research papers and reports relating to the subject and concluded that while on one hand there is "clarion call" for halting deforestation, the need to restore lost forest has also become relevant due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"In the light of the above scientific data which clearly established that deforestation coupled with wild animal-human contact as a major cause of diseases, this Court is inclined to direct the State of Manipur, more particularly, the respondents No.1 to 5 to safeguard the forests, environment and ecology on the following parameters," the bench told the state authorities in a PIL filed by the Manipur Valley Village Reserve Forest Rights Protection Association, seeking protection of Forest and reserved forests of Manipur.
In this backdrop the bench has ordered the state authorities:
The court said that the funds collected by the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA) should be utilized to improve the forest cover in the state. [CAMPA was set up at the Centre and in the States at the direction of the Supreme Court in TN Godavarman Thirumulpad v. Union of India & Ors., (2006) 10 SCC 486]
"The need of the hour is to only formulate appropriate schemes and to spend the funds raised till now and those that will come into this kitty in future in a judicious manner to achieve the forest cover of 33% of the total geographical area which is envisaged in the national forest policy and thereby restore the ecology and save the environment," the order states.
Accordingly the Government of Manipur has been directed to submit a report on the utilisation of the funds for afforestation and other forest related activities, with breakup details.
The court has also asked all the Respondents to take measures to educate people living nearby forests the need to protect the forests.
"This can be done by appropriate education tools and forest study camps. It should be made as a part of school subject with practical classes using audio-visual media. The officials of Public Health Department, Medical Department like Virologist, infectious disease specialist, officers of the forest department should work together on a common cause and identify the key areas of wild animal-human being contact. There should be regular screening to identify and isolate zoonotic virus transmission. They should also hold health camps on regular basis to identify and pick-up any new viral or bacterial disease," the bench suggested.
Further the court has asked the Union of India to ensure that ongoing research on infectious diseases is properly funded and monitored.
"The University Grants Commission sanctions huge amount for education, research and faculty development to encourage young students in the field of science, arts, medicine, etc., to excel. The funding will have great impact on research and education and if not properly utilised, it will not serve the purpose in the field of science and medicine which is now grappling with many infectious diseases. It is desirable that the Central Government monitors the fund utilisation with accountability and proper audit. The feedback from students and research scholars may also help in monitoring the proper utilisation of funds," the bench suggested on the basis of an article titled "For Experts Who Study Coronaviruses, a Grim Vindication," authored by Charles Schmidt.
Before parting, the bench noted,
"To believe that human beings are the dominant amongst all living species, fauna and flora, animals, mammals, bacteria, unicellular & multi-cellular organisms, etc. appears to be a misconception. Homo sapiens though a dominant species, cannot claim predominance as one specie is interlinked to the other in their own cycle of life. It has to co-exist within limits thereby maintaining the balance in nature. The indiscriminate population fuelled deforestation and unnecessary animal human contact appears to be the cause of the present pandemic which could have been otherwise avoided."
The Petitioner was represented by Advocate Kh. Tarunkumar and the Respondents by Advocate Lenin Hijam and ASG S. Suresh.
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