The High Court of Manipur has linked deforestation to diseases including COVID-19 and ordered the State authorities to restore the forest cover for avoiding the threat of animal-borne diseases.
A two-judge bench of Chief Justice Ramalingam Sudhakar and Justice A. Bimol Singh had in the order on June 3 said there was a need to keep the forest intact to the extent possible with the pandemic having ‘trampled’ upon continents to decimate humans. It also advised drawing a research-based “Lakshman rekha” for each forest across the country.
The court referred to several books and articles written by naturalist Charles Darwin, Nobel laureate and biologist Sir Peter Medawar, journalist Jim Robbins and Carl Bergstrom of the University of Washington, an authority on pandemic and infectious diseases.
“There are ever so many animal viruses that are yet to come and cause global pandemics which make it imperative that we protect forests, reforest empty land and provide buffer zones separating humans and wildlife to prevent such extinction events from occurring again and again,” the court quoted from Prof. Bergstrom’s article.
“In the light of the above scientific data which clearly established that deforestation coupled with wild animal-human contact as a major cause of diseases, this court is inclined to direct the State of Manipur... to safeguard the forests, environment and ecology...,” the bench said after hearing a PIL filed by an NGO named Manipur Valley Village Reserve Forest Rights Protection Association.
The court outlined some parameters that included taking “immediate measures to arrest wild fires which appear to be man-made in many cases,” arresting the “illegal encroachment of forest areas for human habitations, protecting wild animals, birds, flora and fauna and re-greening land subjected to deforestation”.
It also suggested the marking of forest boundaries with warning signs and monitoring to avoid “human contact with the wild animals, birds, flora and fauna other than for scientific research and studies”.
Citing other scientific papers, the court said the need to restore the lost forest had now become relevant due to the pandemic. “The restoration of forest, wherever destroyed, will ensure that ecology is restored to bring back the fine balance that nature has envisioned for itself.”