The Madras High Court on Thursday said the Tamil Nadu government is fully empowered to notify the ‘Elephant Corridor' in The Nilgiris district as a management strategy.
The government is also authorised by the Centre's ‘Project Elephant' since there was no impediment in the Wildlife Protection Act to declaring the corridor by the State government.
In its common order on petitions, a Division Bench comprising Justices Elipe Dharma Rao and D. Hariparanthaman said the State government's action to identify the corridor could not be found fault with since it had only acted towards implementing its obligations 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.
In its public interest litigation petition, ‘In Defence of Environment and Animals,' represented by its managing trustee, Elephant G. Rajendran, sought a direction to the authorities to keep the corridor without any encroachment and any other disturbance for the free movement of elephants and other animals.
The legality or otherwise of the Tamil Nadu government's decision to identify and notify the ‘Elephant Corridor' and its consequential actions were questioned by various parties.
The contention of petitioners challenging the G.O. dated August 31, 2010 included that the constitution of an expert committee, whose report led to the issue of the impugned G.O., was in violation of law, the corridor as identified by the committee was erroneous and the G.O. violated the Scheduled Tribes and other Traditional Forest Dwellers Act.
Writing the order for the Bench, Mr. Justice Elipe Dharma Rao said while hearing the PIL the High Court had thought it fit and proper to frame a body of experts to go into the matter.
The committee's formation was not interfered with by the Supreme Court in the proceedings initiated by some of the petitioners. Further no motive could be imparted to the panel. Hence, the petitioners' arguments could not be appreciated. The Bench said the greatest threat being 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 G.O. had been issued after a detailed study of the committee's report and considering the objections. On a complete analysis of the entire material and upon hearing the parties, the Bench said it was unable to find any illegality or irregularity in the State Government's action in notifying the corridor.
The Bench directed the resort owners and other private land owners to vacate and hand over vacant possession of land falling within the notified corridor to the Collector within three months.
In the meanwhile, it permitted the Tamil Nadu Government to go on with the project implementation. As regards forest dwellers, the State government should 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.