SC seeks Centre’s stand on having statutory body for elephants
The Supreme Court asked the Centre whether it intended to have a statutory authority for protecting elephants similar to the lines of the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA)
The Supreme Court on Wednesday asked the Centre whether it intended to have a statutory authority for protecting elephants similar to the lines of the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) and sought a reply in this regard within four weeks.
Hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by journalist Prerna Singh Bindra and two other activists, a bench headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud said, “We direct that within four weeks the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) shall specifically respond to recommendation made in the ‘Gajah’ report of 2010 on conferring statutory status on the proposed body called National Elephant Conservation Authority (NECA).
In the light of frequent electrocution deaths of elephants, the court asked the Centre along with the Central Electricity Authority and the states concerned to hold joint inspection in the protected areas (including wildlife sanctuaries, national parks), elephant reserves, and the vicinity of protected areas frequented by elephants, including elephant corridors, and submit a report to the court.
Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Aishwarya Bhati appearing for Centre informed the court that pursuant to the Elephant Task Force report of 2010 called “Gajah report” several recommendations were accepted by the MoEF&CC in August 2019. She stated that pursuant to action taken by Centre, the elephant reserve area has increased to over 77,000 square kilometre with 32 elephant reserves existing in the country. She further stated that 52% of the 88 elephant corridors listed in the Gajah report have been validated by Centre while the process is ongoing for the remaining corridors. As regards Project Elephant, she informed that a director working under the Ministry heads the project.
The bench, also comprising justices PS Narasimha and JB Pardiwala said, “Take instructions whether the recommendation in the report to convert Project Elephant into a statutory authority is being considered. We can give ad-hoc directions but that will not help.”
The petitioner represented by advocate Kartik Shukul highlighted alarming numbers of unnatural elephant deaths due to electrocution and an urgent need to preserve the population of Asian elephants, an endangered species under the Wildlife Protection Act.
“The future of the Asian elephant (Elephas maximus), declared the National Heritage Animal in 2010, looks uncertain and bleak in India...The sheer number of elephant deaths due to electrocution go on to show the collective failure of the respondent governments in honouring the constitutional mandate of safeguarding the forests and wildlife of the country,” stated the petition filed through advocate Abhikalp Pratap Singh.
As per information provided by the central government to the petitioners under the right to information (RTI) Act, between 2009 and 2021, 741 elephants died due to electrocution, the biggest factor for elephant deaths so far. During the corresponding period, 186 elephants were killed in train accidents and 169 fell prey to poachers. In July-August 2021, 19 elephants died due to electrocution.
The elephant population in India is estimated to be 27,312 as per the 2017 census. To arrest the steady decline in their number, the Centre had constituted the Elephant Task Force which in its report in 2010 made a slew of recommendations to protect and preserve the elephant population.
The petition demanded immediate implementation of these recommendations and sought insulation of high voltage power transmission lines passing through wildlife sanctuaries, national parks, elephant reserves, identified elephant corridors. It has further suggested discontinuation of electric fencing within and around protected areas and designated elephant corridors outside these areas.