Supreme Court upholds 2011 Madras High Court order on T.N. elephant corridor


Judgment comes on 32 appeals filed by resorts/private land owners, including Bollywood actor Mithun Chakraborty

NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld a July 2011 judgment of the Madras High Court that declared that the Tamil Nadu government was fully empowered to notify the ‘elephant corridor’ in the ecologically fragile Nilgiris district.

The Supreme Court judgment came on 32 appeals filed by resorts/private land owners, including Bollywood actor Mithun Chakraborty, against the High Court decision.

The judgment read out by Justice S. Abdul Nazeer allowed the formation of a committee led by a retired High Court judge and two other persons to hear the individual objections of resort owners and private land owners within the corridor space.

The court had made its empathy for the pachyderm clear even during the hearing.

“The elephant is a gentleman and man should give way for the elephant”, the court said, while indicating that it would uphold the Tamil Nadu government order that notified the Nilgris elephant corridor in August 2010.

“Elephants are big, powerful but fragile. We are dealing with a fragile eco-system,” Chief Justice S.A. Bobde, who led the Bench also comprising Justice Sanjeev Khanna, observed while hearing a report filed by amicus curiae A.D.N. Rao to seal or demolish 821 buildings, except tribal houses, within the areas marked as elephant corridor by the Tamil Nadu government. The case was reserved for judgment in January 22.

The elephant corridor is situated in the Masinagudi area near the Mudumalai National Park (near the Serugu plateau) at Nilgris. It is on the way from Ooty to Mysore.

The court had at the point of time clarified that it would not take any decision on individual cases of sealing or demolition. Chief Justice Bobde had orally said that the court would appoint a committee led by a retired High Court judge to hear and decide the individual grievances of those affected by the government notification under the Tamil Nadu Preservation of Private Forest (TNPPF) Act, 1949.

When the resort owners proferred their view that elephant and man did co-exist, Chief Justice Bobde wryly replied, “It is because the elephant is a gentleman… Why do you have to go inside the forest?”

Endorsing the plan of action prepared by the District Collector in 2018, the amicus curiae had also suggested a rehabilitation plan for 186 households belonging to Scheduled Caste, Backward Caste and Most Backward Caste people.

The Madras High Court had held that the government was authorised by the Centre’s ‘Project Elephant’ to earmark the corridor since there was no impediment in the Wildlife Protection Act.

It had held that the State government’s action to identify the corridor was in complete obligation to its duties under Article 51-A (g) of the Constitution, which said it was the duty of every citizen to protect and improve the natural environment, including wildlife.

The Supreme Court appreciated the efforts of advocate ‘Elephant’ Rajendran, whose petition under ‘In Defence of Environment and Animals,’ sought the protection of the free movement of the elephants.

The High Court had said the greatest threat faced by many species was the widespread destruction of habitat and hunting. By protecting the habitat, entire communities of animals could be protected together.

The had directed the resort owners and other private land owners to vacate their lands. It had directed the State government to strictly adhere to the Scheduled Tribes and other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act. In case any forest dweller was evicted, he should be provided an alternative and suitable accommodation. Forest dwellers who were denied alternative accommodation should be provided compensation, the High Court had ordered in 2011.

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