‘Elephants Do Not Go to Office’: Apex Court Confirms Jumbo’s Rights to Forest Routes

After the wall was built, in May 2015, a male elephant bashed its head against the wall while trying to break it, finally dying of haemorrhage.

Something my older son said to me when we took him on a safari last year has stayed with me.

He asked why we were in a jeep invading the tiger’s home. I tried explaining that we were on a safari and were there to see the tigers, but his question was both pertinent and important.

Over the years, under the garb of industrialisation and progress, forest land has been gradually taken over, and in most cases, the animals, displaced.

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In what can only be celebrated as great news, a two-judge bench of Justices D Y Chandrachud and M R Shah of the Supreme Court in its order dated January 18, 2019, ordered Numaligarh Refinery Ltd (NRL) to demolish a 2.2-kilometre boundary wall in the middle of an elephant corridor in Assam’s Golaghat district. The wall had been topped with barbed wire.

Facts as known

In 2011, NRL had built a wall for its housing estate in Assam. While this township had some of the best infrastructure and facilities, it cut through the path of an elephant corridor.

After the wall was built, in May 2015, a male elephant bashed its head against the wall while trying to break it, finally dying of haemorrhage.

Several such videos started emerging on social media, and in August 20015, RTI activist Rohit Choudhury filed a petition in the National Green Tribunal seeking answers about the constructed wall.

The NGT, in its order dated August 24, 2016, said that the wall should be demolished within one month and the proposed township should not come up in the present location.

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However, in a review application filed by the NRL, they said that the State Environment Impact Assessment Authority had cleared the construction and therefore, there was no reason to demolish the wall.

Rejecting the appeal in August 2018, the bench headed by NGT Chairperson Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel said that the elephant corridors had to be preserved to protect their habitats from fragmentation.

In a strongly worded order, Justice Chandrachud observed, “Elephants have the first right on the forest. Elephants do not go to office in a designated route. We cannot encroach upon the elephant’s area.”

With this, the Supreme Court has reinforced that the Right on the Forest first rests with the animals. Environmentalists and animal conservationists have also hailed this decision.

(Edited by Shruti Singhal)

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