The grundnorm of the country i.e. The Constitution of India under Article 51A(g) confers a direct duty on every citizen to protect the environment and be compassionate towards all living creatures. However, as the most abled species on the planet, we have consciously intruded and caused nuisance to them in their natural habitats.
On October 14th, 2020, the Supreme Court of India in a landmark judgment while hearing an appeal in the case of Hospitality Association of Madumalai vs In Defence of Environment and Animals and ors. etc. has reaffirmed the most campaigned yet unrealised issue; these speechless trumpets of the ‘keynote species’ need to be heard!! This appeal was filed by forest dwellers and an association whose members are owners of resort/guest houses located in the Nilgiris forest areas against the order dated April 7th, 2011 by the High Court of Judicature at Madras. The High Court in 2011 upheld a notification by the Government of Tamil Nadu under the ‘Project Elephant’ (1993) notifying an ‘Elephant Corridor’ in the Sigur Plateau of Nilgiris. The result of this notification was the direct order for resort owners and private landowners to vacate the area in 3 months of time against compensation like in most land acquisition cases. Hence, this appeal was filed.
The recurring instance of human intrusion for land, food and raw materials has significantly fragmented the vast area of land needed by these Asian Elephants for survival. These fragmentations have resulted into elephants wandering from one forest area to another through patches of forest called corridors. This natural movement of elephants helps to maintain the natural ecosystem and the population of elephants themselves as they do not breed in their own family. As part of the lesser aggressive species, the elephants have always tried to avoid deadly confrontations with the humans but as the Chief Justice of India, Justice S. A. Bobde says, “It is because the elephant is a gentleman… Why do you have to go inside the forest?” The question of intrusion by various resort owners, commercial farmers, the scheduled caste and tribes of the area became a crucial one to explore. After the report of various committees and appeals, the Madras High Court in 2011 and the Supreme Court again have upheld that natural ways of elephants need to be respected and forest dwellings of any sort in those areas shall be removed immediately after settlement through the Inquiry Committee (set-up by virtue of the above-mentioned judgement rendered by the Supreme Court).
Not just retrospective, but from the prospective view, this means no future developments in these recognized corridors. Legal interference has been foully welcomed due to human mischief citing reasons social, economic or anthropological. The minimal pain of adhering to the precautionary principle today would only reduce the future devastating effects on the nature.