A Critical Analysis of the National Green Tribunal and the Elephant Corridors

Introduction

Wildlife is one of the most vital ecosystems which have been provided by Mother Earth. The term ‘wildlife’ refers to the collection of animals that live in the wild and are undomesticated. India is known for its rich wildlife, and it has approximately 65,000 species of fauna consisting of fishes, mammals, and birds, but in recent years, India has seen a decline in the number of animal species since most of them are hunted by humans for their utility or their entertainment. Several efforts have been made in India for the protection of wildlife like enacting the Indian forests Act, 1927 which restricted people from hunting in forests and reserves. Also, Article 51-A (g) of the Indian Constitution has imposed the fundamental duty of every Indian Citizen to protect the wildlife in the country, but since this duty is unenforceable in the court of law, no strict action is taken against the people who violate this duty.

Why is NGT in the News?

Recently, an NGO (Odisha Wildlife Society) has moved to the National Green Tribunal (hereafter referred to as ‘NGT’) regarded the strengthening of the elephant corridors and thus in the light of this case, the NGT in its verdict has directed the Odisha Government to prepare an action plan within 3 months on the 14 identified elephant corridors which would provide stress-free migration to the elephants from one habitat to another in the state.

Why did this Issue Arise Now?

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The NGT, in the year 2017, had directed the authorities regarding the demarcation of the elephant corridors and formal notification within a specific time frame but the state governments sought more time from the NGT on formulating an action plan, and thus they failed to do so and thus sighting concerns for the Asian elephant, the NGO approached the NGT.

What is the Demand of the Petitioners?

The NGO (petitioner) demands the NGT to take:

  1. Necessary legal action against those who encroach and violate the provisions of the Indian forests Act, 1927 and the Forest Conservation Act, 1980 in the proposed corridors.
  2. Direct the Indian Government to remove unauthorized buildings where the acute human-elephant conflict arises and makes the forests and reserves in the proposed corridors free from encroachment.

What are the Elephant Corridors and Why Do They Need Strengthening?

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Elephant corridors are linear and narrow strips of land which allows the elephants to move securely from one habitat to another without any human conflict. As per the census of 2017, India has by far the largest number of Asian Elephants in the world which is approximately around 27,312, which is almost 55% of the species global population. Thus, to safeguard them, reserves were created in 14 states covering an area of 65,814 sq. Km of forests but these reserves had a human intervention, and they were not also legally protected.

The Elephant, being a large mammal, requires space for free movement in their areas which helps in maintaining a genetic flow and offset seasonal variations in the availability of food and water. The forest lands started decreasing with the increase in the human population, and thus the need for elephant corridors arose as if the elephants are not able to move freely in their home ranges in isolated populations then it would have a devastating effect on India’s natural heritage.

Here, a question arises as “Why should elephants be protected?”

The answer to the abovementioned question is that the elephants are regarded as the keystone species. The environment they live in, the migrations they make are important to the environment. Other reasons as to why elephants should be protected are as follows:

  1. Elephants are regarded as landscape artists as they clear the forests and thus prevent the plants and trees from overgrowing, which in turn leads to the regeneration of other species in the wildlife.
  2. Elephants help in seed dispersal as they are vegetarian and their main source of food is plants, fruits, and seeds, and these seeds are then defecated by them from place to place as they travel.
  3. The dung of the elephants provides nourishment to plants and other animals and also serves as a breeding ground for insects, and thus, they provide nutrition to the environment.
  4. The elephants, who are allowed to roam freely, create an umbrella effect as they provide a suitable habitat for other species of plants and animals and thus are the saviors of the ecosystem.

Thus, India comprises 101 elephant corridors out of which six have been secured and the next six are in the process of being secured which is a very low number and thus efforts should be taken by the Government of India to secure all the 101 elephant corridors as they provide the elephants with the ‘Right to Passage’.

Efforts Were Undertaken at an All-India Level for Securing the Elephant Habitat

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Several efforts have been undertaken by the Government of India and other organizations and NGOs like Wildlife Trust of India (WTI), etc. which are discussed below:

  1. Gaj-Yatra Campaign: The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change along with the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) on the occasion of World Elephant Day in the year 2017 rolled-out a campaign by the name of ‘Gaj-Yatra’. The campaign is a journey which celebrates India’s National Heritage animal and is launched to create awareness about the elephant corridors and how one can encourage their free movement. This was a 15-Month campaign.
  2. Gaj-Mahotsav: The Wildlife Trust of India, in the year 2018, also held a Gaj-Mahotsav in New Delhi. The Mahotsav was for 4 days where more than 3000 attendees ranging from artists, celebrities to politicians and conservationists came together to celebrate the Asian Elephant’s status as the National Heritage Animal and also inspired each other to protect the elephant corridors.
  3. Forest Ministry’s guide to managing human-elephant conflict: The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change launched a guide where the best practices to manage human and elephant conflict were mentioned and which are as follows:
  4. Retention of elephants in their natural habitats and providing them with water resources and management of forest fires.
  5. Creation of Elephant proof trenches especially in the areas of Tamil Nadu.
  6. Creation of hanging fences and rubber walls, especially in the state of Karnataka.
  7. Setting up of Individual identification and monitoring of elephants system, especially in the region of South Bengal and also sending SMS alerts in case of elephant presence.
  8. Asian Elephant Alliance: The initiative was formed by the collaboration of five NGOs in the year 2019 who had come together to secure 96 out of 101 elephant corridors across 12 states in India.

Conclusion

As discussed in the article, several efforts and initiatives have been made by the Indian Government as well as the people of India, but still, there is a need for stricter laws relating to the protection of wildlife in the country. The statutes such as the Wildlife Act, Indian forests Act, etc. require several amendments with the new provisions of stricter punishments and fines which will be imposed on the encroachers.


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