14 Oct 2020 1:42 PM GMT
The Supreme Court has upheld the validity of the Tamil Nadu Government notification declaring an 'Elephant Corridor' in the Sigur Plateau of Nilgiris District.The bench comprising the Chief Justice of India SA Bobde, Justices S. Abdul Nazeer and Sanjiv Khanna upheld the Madras High Court judgment which had directed resort owners and other private landowners to vacate and hand over the...
The Supreme Court has upheld the validity of the Tamil Nadu Government notification declaring an 'Elephant Corridor' in the Sigur Plateau of Nilgiris District.
The bench comprising the Chief Justice of India SA Bobde, Justices S. Abdul Nazeer and Sanjiv Khanna upheld the Madras High Court judgment which had directed resort owners and other private landowners to vacate and hand over the vacant possession of the lands falling within the notified elephant corridor to the District Collector, Nilgiris. The court also appointed a 3 member committee headed by Former Madras High Court judge Justice Justice K. Venkatraman to conduct an inquiry into allegations of arbitrary variance in acreage of the elephant corridor and also to hear the objections of land/resort owners,
The court disposed of the appeals filed by owners of the resorts/guest houses/lands in and around the Nilgiris forest area and also by Hospitality Association of Mudumalai. Before the Apex Court, the appellant raised two contentions 1) That there is no statutory power in order to protect the elephant population in the Sigur Plateau region, it was necessary and appropriate for the State Government to limit commercial activity in the areas falling within the elephant corridor.
While addressing the first contention, the bench noted that the State Government is empowered to take measures to protect forests and wildlife falling within its territory in light of Entries 17A 'Forest' and 17B 'Protection of wild animals and birds' in the concurrent list and the power of the State Government under the Wildlife Act to notify Sanctuaries and other protected areas. Further, it noted that the land in question was notified as private forest in 1991 under the Tamil Nadu Preservation of Private Forests Act, 1949, which prohibits cutting of trees in private forests. The court observed:
"Articles 21, 47, 48A and 51A(g) of the Constitution of India give a clear mandate to the State to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wild life of the country. It is the duty of every citizen of India to protect and improve the natural environment including forests and wild life and to have compassion for living creatures. The Precautionary Principle makes it mandatory for the State Government to anticipate, prevent and attack the causes of environmental degradation. In this light, we have no hesitation in holding that in order to protect the elephant population in the Sigur Plateau region, it was necessary and appropriate for the State Government to limit commercial activity in the areas falling within the elephant corridor"
The bench, while rejecting the second contention, agreed with the findings recorded by the High Court. It said:
These assertions were dealt with by the High Court which held that there was material on record to show presence of elephants as well as a past incident of human-elephant conflict, which resulted in the death of a French tourist, in the region where the appellants' resorts are located. The High Court also held that any absence of elephants from the areas surrounding the appellants' resorts was, in fact, due to the construction activities of the appellants whereby access of the elephants has been restricted through erection of electric fencing. We see no reason to interfere with the above factual findings of the High Court and also do not find fault in the State Government's adoption of the recommendations of the High Court-appointed Expert Committee, through the impugned G.O.
The court, however, observed an inquiry has to be held to establish the veracity of the objections to the acreage of the elephant corridor as notified by the impugned G.O. and the actions taken by the District Collector, For the said purpose, the bench appointed a 3-member Inquiry Committee consisting of: (i) Hon'ble Mr. Justice K. Venkatraman, Former Judge of the Madras High Court (Chairman); (ii) Mr. Ajay Desai, Consultant to World Wide Fund for Nature-India and Member of the Technical Committee to come up with a National Elephant Action Plan (NEAP), constituted by the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MOEF&CC); and (iii) Mr. Praveen Bhargava, Trustee of Wildlife First and Former Member of National Board for Wildlife.
The committee shall decide the individual objections of the appellants and any other persons claiming to be aggrieved by the actions of the District Collector, Nilgiris pursuant to the impugned G.O. and as recorded before us through her Plan of Action Report and her twin Action Taken Reports, as also the allegations regarding arbitrary variance in acreage of the elephant corridor under the impugned G.O., the court added. The following are some observations made in the judgment
Elephant corridors must be protected
"Elephant corridors allow elephants to continue their nomadic mode of survival, despite shrinking forest cover, by facilitating travel between distinct forest habitats. Corridors are narrow and linear patches of forest which establish and facilitate connectivity across habitats. In the context of today's world, where habitat fragmentation has become increasingly common, these corridors play a crucial role in sustaining wildlife by reducing the impact of habitat isolations. In their absence, elephants would be unable to move freely, which would in turn affect many other animal species and the ecosystem balance of several wild habitats would be unalterably upset. It would also eventually lead to the local extinction of elephants, a species which is widely revered in our country and across the world. To secure wild elephants' future, it is essential that we ensure their uninterrupted movement between different forest habitats. For this, elephant corridors must be protected."
Running of private resorts and construction of new buildings with barbed and electric fences within elephant corridors pose a serious threat
"Legal intervention in preservation of these corridors has been necessitated because wildlife corridors are threatened by various social, economic and anthropogenic factors, as noted above. Commercial activities such as running of private resorts and construction of new buildings with barbed and electric fences within elephant corridors pose a serious threat of fragmentation and destruction of habitats. The long-term survival of the species depends on maintaining viable habitats and connecting corridors which maintain variance in the species' gene pool and avoid other 33 risks associated with habitat fragmentation and isolation of species."
Case : HOSPITALITY ASSOCIATION OF MUDUMALAI vs. IN DEFENCE OF ENVIRONMENT AND ANIMALS AND ORS. ETC [CIVIL APPEAL NOS.3438-3439 OF 2020]Coram: Chief Justice Of India SA Bobde, Justices S. Abdul Nazeer and Sanjiv Khanna
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