Society for Conservation of Nature

A HISTORIC JUDGEMENT BY THE SUPREME COURT IN ELEPHANT CORRIDORS

HISTORIC JUDGEMENT HELPING THE PACHYDERMS

(Published in www.downtoearth.org.in Monday 10 September 2018)

Elephant Corridors are narrow strips of land that connect two large habitats. The ‘Wildlife Trust of India’ (WTI) in collaboration with the ‘Project Elephant’ and the U.K based NGO ‘’Elephant Family has identified 101 elephant corridors in India. Out of these 101 corridors, 28 have been identified in south India, 25 in central India, 23 in north-eastern India, 14 in northern West Bengal and 11 in north-western India. While 70% of the 101 corridors are regularly used, 25% are used occasionally and 6% rarely. In general 93% of the elephant corridors in south India, 86% in northern West Bengal and 66% in north-eastern India are regularly used. The study made in 2017 reports that about 74% corridors have a width of one kilometre or less today, when compared with 45.5% in 2005, and 22% corridors have a width of one to three kilometres now when compared with 41% in 2005, showing how the corridors have become narrower. While about 400-500 human casualties are caused by elephants and 100 elephants are killed in retaliation annually, it is really high time that effective action is needed in saving the elephant corridors that are traditionally used by the elephants.

Elephant herds are in the habit of migrating across 350-500 sq.km annually. As more and more forest areas are facing fragmentation due to unscrupulous encroachment and other developmental activities, the pachyderms are forced to land in human-dominated landscapes   leading to man-elephant conflict. Cattle grazing, coffee and tea plantations, private tourist resorts, electric fence, expansion of agricultural fields, vehicular traffic especially during night hours and human settlements along the elephant corridors pose greater threat for the free movement of the elephants. The private resorts pose serious threat of fragmentation and destruction of habitats, loss of connectivity between habitats due to construction of new buildings and erection of barbed and electric fences, etc. Besides the local tour vehicle operators, the resort owners also indulge in operating night safari violating the provisions of the Indian Wildlife protection Act, 1972. The jeeps and trucks which are engaged in taking the tourists for watching the wildlife have also increased manifold in recent years.

In order to avoid such unpleasant incidents, the Supreme Court intervened based on a Public Interested Litigation Petition and ordered closure of 39 resorts built illegally in August, 2018 paving way for the free movement of the elephants through their traditional migratory paths. After the apex court’s order, the decade-long battle over illegal constructions, encroachments and other disturbances in the Sigur valley elephant corridor will come to an end allowing a free walk for the jumbos in their regular path of migration.

As most of the private lands are covered under the Tamil Nadu Preservation of Private Forest Act (TNPPF-Act), selling of the land and any development without proper permission will be considered violations. If any such violations are noticed, the District Collector is empowered to cancel the sale deed in case of any sale proceedings. Under this scenario, the new constructions in the name of resorts also attract the provisions of the TNPPF-Act. Since the corridor has considerable extent of revenue lands under the clutches of encroachers, the district administration should initiate speedy action to evict the encroachments and make the way available for free movement of the elephants. Hill Area conservation Authority (HACA) is also being implemented in this region. As many resorts and other developmental activities have been carried out without proper permission of the Director of Town and Country Planning, they are liable for penal action. In certain cases, the local Panchayat or the Executive Officer is in the habit of issuing permission. But legally speaking, this kind of permission is unauthorised and issuing of any such permission in future should be banned.

A few instances wherein violations were noticed by conducting night safari in protected areas, the persons who contravened the provisions of the Wildlife protection Act, 1972   have been fined heavily by the wildlife authorities.

Sigur plateau, an important elephant corridor with a width of 1.5 kilometres and length of 22 kilometres connecting the Western and the Eastern Ghats sustains elephant and tiger population and their genetic diversity. This corridor has the Nilgiri Hills on its south-western side and the Moyar Valley on its north-eastern side. South-West monsoon will be active between June and September in the Western Ghats and the North-East monsoon between October and January in the Eastern Ghats. Depending on the rainy seasons, the elephants use to migrate in search of food and water and during the course of their migration, they have to cross over the Sigur Plateau necessarily. This elephant corridor acts as an important link connecting the protected areas of Tamil Nadu and Kerala. This migratory path is considered to be very crucial connecting several contiguous protected areas forming the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve, the largest protected forest area in India. This reserve supports over 6,300 elephants. The Nilgiri Biosphere reserve, which includes Sigur Plateau and the Nilgiri Hills is part of the UNESCO World Network of Biosphere Reserves.

While elephants play a key role as the ‘Keystone Species’ in the forest ecosystem and are termed as the ‘National Heritage Animals of India’ by the Environment Ministry, shockingly their population has decreased from 4,015 in 2012 to 2,761 in 2017. Though Tamil Nadu has the fourth highest number of elephants in the country, the data of Government of India shows that the population has decreased by more than 30% in the last five years. 130 people have died because of human-animal conflict during the last 3 years in Tamil Nadu. It is strongly believed that fragmentation, degradation and loss of wildlife habitats due to development projects taking place near wildlife habitats have forced the wild animals to move out of their natural habitat.

Under the above mentioned circumstances, the Landmark Judgment delivered by the Honourable Supreme court is definitely a Historical Judgement helping the pachyderms to walk free through their traditional migratory paths as used by their ancestors from time immemorial.

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HERD OF ELEPHANTS THAT PASS THROUGH THE CORRIDOR ADJOINING MTR