Hospitality Association of Mudumalai v. In defence of Environment and animals & Ors.
Civil Appeal No. 3437 of 2020 decided on 14.10.2020
Bench: S. A Bodbe, S. Abdul Nazeer, Sanjiv Khanna, JJ.
The Tamil Nadu government had released a notification declaring an ‘Elephant Corridor’ in the Sigur Plateau of Nilgiris District. The validity of this notification was challenged by the owners of the guest houses/ resorts/ lands in and around the Nilgiris Forest Area and also by the Hospitality Association of Mudumalai.
The present appeal has been filed against the Madras High Court judgement that had upheld the validity of the Tamil Nadu Government Notification which notified the ‘Elephant Corridor’ and directed the resort owners and other landowners to vacate and hand over the vacant possession of the lands falling within the elephant corridor to the District Collector of Nilgiris.
Issue: Does the State Government have statutory power for creating/ recognition of new corridors?
Held: The court held that the State Government is empowered to take measures to protect forests and wildlife falling within its territory in light of Entries 17A ‘Forest’ and 17B ‘Protection of wild animals and birds’ in the concurrent list and the power of the State Government under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 to notify sanctuaries and other protected areas. State Government was empowered to protect the habitats situated on the appellants’ land by notifying an elephant corridor thereupon. In order to protect the elephant population in the Sigur Plateau region, it was necessary and appropriate for the State Government to limit commercial activity in the areas falling within the elephant corridor.
The court held that the ‘Precautionary Principle’ has been accepted as a part of the law of our land. The Precautionary Principle makes it mandatory for the State Government to anticipate, prevent and attack the causes of environmental degradation.
· Court noted that the legal intervention in the preservation of these corridors has been necessitated because wildlife corridors are threatened by various social, economic and anthropogenic factors. Commercial activities such as running of private resorts and construction of new buildings with barbed and electric fences within elephant corridors pose a serious threat of fragmentation and destruction of habitats.
It was observed that, the corridor in the Sigur plateau of Tamil Nadu connects the Western and the Eastern Ghats and sustains elephant populations and their genetic diversity. Depending on the season, the elephants migrate in search of food and water and during the course of their migration, they have to cross the Sigur plateau. This migratory path is considered to be very crucial as it connects several forests areas which form the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve.
· The court appointed a 3 member committee which is to be headed by Former Madras High Court Judge Justice K. Venkatraman, to hear the objections of land/resort owners and to inquire into allegations of arbitrary variance in the acreage of the elephant corridor.