Libertatem Magazine

Supreme Court Appoints Committee To Examine Arbitrariness of Sealing of Resorts in Elephant Corridor, Tamil Nadu

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A Full Bench headed by the Chief Justice of India, in the matter of Hospitality Association of Mudumalai V. In Defence of Environment and Animals and Ors. reiterated the precautionary principle to be a part of the constitutional and other laws in India. In making this observation, the Bench held that the State Government has the appropriate authority to take measures to protect the forests and wildlife.

Brief Facts of the Case

The High Court of Madras directed the resort and other private landowners to vacate and to hand over the vacant lands located in Sigur Plateau. Such lands were observed to fall within the notified Elephant Corridor in the Nilgiris District of Tamil Nadu. 

The Appellants challenged this judgment in the present appeal.

Arguments in the Court 

The areas which have been notified as the Elephant Corridor by the State Government vary with all authoritative studies on historic Elephant corridors in Sigur Plateau from 1972 to date. Thereby the Appellants’ lands did not fall within an Elephant Corridor.

It was contended that the area notified did not fall within any recognized Elephant Corridor. It only sought to cover areas that were not traversed by elephants. Thus, it is erroneous and cannot be accepted. 

Also, it was argued that such resorts help tourists get sensitivity towards animals and the environment while preventing any exploitation or damage by their very presence.

Moreover, the unilateral addition and deletion of private/Government lands vide the Government Order is arbitrary and illegal. The expansion of the corridor areas amounted to the creation of a new Elephant Corridor that did not exist. Hence, it was submitted to be unlawful.

Court’s Observations

The Bench rejected the argument that the State Government did not have any statutory power for creating/recognition of new corridors. Under the Concurrent List, the State Government has been empowered to take measures to protect forests and wildlife falling within its territory. It also has the power under the Wildlife Act to notify Sanctuaries and other protected areas. 

It was observed that the Appellant’s land has been notified as a Private Forest in 1991 under the Tamil Nadu Preservation of Private Forests Act, 1949. It then prohibited the cutting of trees in private forests. 

The Bench also reiterated the “Precautionary Principle” as held in M.C. Mehta v. Union of India and Ors. 1997 (3) SCC 715. The principle has been accepted as a part of the law of our land. Articles 21, 47, 48A, and 51A (g) of the Constitution of India lay down a clear mandate to the State to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wildlife of the country.

 Court’s Decision

The Court upheld that High Court judgment to seal the lands that fall under the Elephant Corridor in the Sigur Plateau in Tamil Nadu. It appointed a 3 member Committee to check the arbitrariness of the actions to shut down the resorts following the High Court order.

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