Unhappy with the Railways authorities in Assam failing to take temporary measures such as reducing the speed of the train while it crosses through the elephant corridor in Deepor Beel, a wildlife sanctuary, leading to deaths of many pachyderms, and shifting the municipal solid waste plant from the area, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) has reiterated that "earth is not for humans alone. All creatures including the wild animal have a sacred right".
A bench of Justice SP Wangdi, Justice K Ramakrishnan and expert member Satyawan Singh Garbyal referred to the Supreme Court judgment in Indian Council for Enviro-Legal Action vs. Union of India and Ors, as it said, "Economic consideration no doubt is important for development but, it should not be at the cost of ecology, bio-diversity and the environment."
The bench was hearing the plea moved by environment activist Rohit Choudhary concerned over pachyderms being knocked to death by speeding trains as the tracks crisscross the elephant corridor in Deepor Beel.
The elephants come downhill for water and have to cross the deadly train track. That is not all. There is a municipal solid waste plant in the sanctuary which is contaminating the water.
The Tribunal was also not impressed with the submission of the Railways that it along with the Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun had agreed with a proposal of an alternate alignment.
"We may observe that the primary reason for issuing the direction upon the Railways to take appropriate measures was to ensure that the Elephant Corridor through which the existing railway track passes was suitably protected, to ensure unhindered passage for the Elephants which were being obstructed by the Railways. The proposal for realignment, therefore, does not appear to be logical," said the bench.
"Before, we finally decide on the merits of the recommendations of the WII, it would be sufficient for the moment to direct the Railway authorities to take a long term measure for freeing the Elephant Corridor from the railway tracks by adopting either overpass or underpass suitably designed by experts. As a temporary measure, direction had already been issued earlier in terms of the proposal discussed earlier, one of which was to reduce the speed of the trains while crossing the corridor area. This proposal also does not appear to have been acted upon by the Railways expressing practical difficulties…. We are unable to accept such stand and emphasise that the temporary measure which had been suggested earlier should be adopted and the timing of the trains at the level crossings be synchronized accordingly," said the NGT.
The bench was also disquieted over the fact that the Railways also had failed to cut down the speed of the trains that pass through the corridor.
Choudhary's counsel Sharon Mathew informed the bench that the speed limit prescriptions had been adopted in the States of Tamil Nadu and Uttarakhand by installing 'Thermal and Seismic Sensors' on the railway tracks.
She referred to the case of Shakti Prasad Nayak vs. Union of India and Ors wherein the Supreme Court directed the installation of 'Speed Radar Guns' to monitor the speed of locos enroute and to check cases of over-speeding.
"The authorities shall consider these aspects. We are optimistic that a positive view will be taken in the light of these developments," said the NGT.
On the aspect of shifting the waste plant, the bench stopped short of passing any coercive order, as it said, "we withhold ourselves from passing any coercive orders for the moment making it clear that if an alternative place is not been identified in the next meeting of the Committee, the Municipal Solid Waste Plant shall be directed to be closed in addition to imposition of exemplary penalty. It shall be ensured that the second meeting is held without fail within a period of one month and the alternative site finalized. A compliance report shall be filed before the next date".
Read the order here