Rarely, the interests of the Indian Army and those of Wildlife protection conflict with each other. In Pachmarhi, Madhya Pradesh, where they appeared to conflict, the Supreme Court favoured dialogue between the representatives of the State Government and the Union Ministry of Defence, so that an amicable solution is found to the needs of the State Government as well as the Army.
“The needs of the Army must certainly be taken into consideration, while at the same time the need for protecting wild life in Pachmarhi particularly in the sanctuary area must also be taken into consideration”, the Supreme Court bench of Justices Madan B.Lokur and Deepak Gupta, observed on August 14, while hearing an application filed by the Army Training Corps College and Centre, Pachmarhi, for excluding 395 hectares of its land to be taken out of the sanctuary.
The Madhya Pradesh Government issued a notification under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, declaring large tracts of land measuring about 1,59,000 hectares in Hoshangabad district as a wild life sanctuary. This sanctuary included about 1001.192 hectares of land of Pachmarhi Cantonment. Subsequently, the Collector in Hoshangabad passed an order in 2000 under Section 24 of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, by which it was held that the land belonging to the Cantonment Board may be taken out of the sanctuary area. The order passed by the Collector has not yet attained finality because of the pendency of these proceedings. The Army’s plea for exclusion of its 395 hectares of land from the sanctuary area, is in addition to 1001.192 hectares of land which the Cantonment Board claims as its own.
The option of dialogue, rather than a decision through the adjudicatory mechanism of the Supreme Court, was suggested by the counsel for the parties including the counsel for the Central Empowered Committee, which the bench favours.
The bench requested the Secretary, Ministry of Defence to either personally look into the issue or nominate a senior officer of the Ministry ( not below the rank of Joint Secretary) to look into the issue and have a dialogue with the Chief Secretary of the State of Madhya Pradesh or his nominee (not below the rank of Principal Secretary) to look into the entire issue.
The bench made it clear that the dialogue or conversation need not be held only between these two officials, but should be a wide-ranging dialogue which may involve and include officials from the Wild Life Department, Forest Department, and any other department, either of the Central or the State Government.
One of the issues to be resolved is with regard to construction activities. The bench is likely to consider a proposal to severely restrict the construction on the sanctuary area, in the event it is decided to exclude 1001.192 hectares of land or any part thereof from it. It was felt that construction on this area might have a larger impact on the sanctuary and its surroundings. This was suggested by the CEC, so that there is no cluttering up of buildings etc. within the area that is excluded.
The other view is to permit the rules and regulations of the Cantonment Board to remain as they are. This was pressed by the Cantonment Board.
The bench desired that the officials, taking part in the proposed dialogue, may take a view on this. The bench also asked the officials to consider whether the area should be bound by the rules and regulations of the Cantonment Board.
The bench directed the officials to take a decision within eight weeks, and file the decision through the standing counsel of the Union of India. The Court gave liberty to the Secretary in the Ministry of Defence to approach it for any clarification.
The Interlocutory Application Numbers 2202-2203 in In Re: T.N.Godavarman Thirumulpad v Union of India, which has given rise to this case, will be heard again on October 31.