The Supreme Court on Tuesday restrained the West Bengal government from implementing its proposal to sterilize elephants or any other wildlife to restrict their population, while pulling up the Union Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) for ignoring the issue regarding safety of elephants.
A bench of Justice Dipak Misra and Justice Vikramjit Sen passed the order while hearing a PIL relating to large number of deaths of elephants on railway tracks in West Bengal, Assam, Odisha, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.
West Bengal’s move to sterilize elephants was brought to the court’s notice by the counsel of Jharkhand, Tapesh Kumar Singh. He pointed out to the state forest minister’s statement that to curb the growing elephant population the administration was contemplating use of immuno contraceptive drug to prevent procreation. This, Singh added, was to avoid accidents of elephants on railway tracks running through wildlife areas.
“If it is so, it is absolutely impermissible and also condemnable,” said Justice Misra, directing West Bengal’s counsel to file an affidavit on the issue.
Calling it a “regressive step,” the bench added: “However, as advised at present, we restrain the authorities of the State of West Bengal from taking any steps to administer any kind of contraceptives or introducing any method of sterilization which hinders natural procreative process of the elephants or any wildlife.”
The bench also directed the MoEF secretary to be personally present at the next hearing to explain the measures the ministry has taken in protecting elephants on the railway tracks.
“At this juncture, we must express our displeasure as the MoEF has not appeared today. The Railways alone cannot determine the safety of the elephants and other wildlife, for it is the obligation of the MoEF to do sp. But unfortunately, the MoEF has started behaving like a Rip Van Winkle remaining in happy slumber in this matter,” the bench said.
On solicitor general Ranjit Kumar’s request the bench court also permitted the railways to operate its goods train services at 25 km per hour on the Siliguri and Alipurduar, considered to be a major spot of elephant deaths on the railway tracks. In December 2013 SC had ordered discontinuation of the goods train service on the route during nights.