A herd in the Telalia wetlands of Meghalaya. There were incidents of elephant deaths in rail or road accidents or by electrocution. (Photo: AP)
With several states not responding to its order on creating elephant corridors to check animal deaths and curb human-animal conflict, the Supreme Court on Thursday said it was a “hopeless” situation and asked the Centre whether it felt “helpless”.
A bench of Justices Madan B Lokur and Deepak Gupta was informed by the Centre that there were 27 “critical” elephant corridors falling in 22 states, but despite the top court’s directions, 13 of these states have not responded to the government on the matter.
“What is to be done? No state is listening to Government of India. Yesterday, we had the same problem, today we have the same problem. It is hopeless. There has to be a solution of this. Is the Government of India helpless,” the bench asked Additional Solicitor General (ASG) A N S Nadkarni, who appeared for the Centre.
“Nobody listens to the Government of India,” the bench said.
Nadkarni, while referring to the apex court’s April 23 order directing 19 states to file their responses within four weeks, said “this time also to the Supreme Court. The order was of the Supreme Court”.
When the ASG said that the states were showing scant regard to the Union of India and the Supreme Court also, the bench said, “also to the Constitution of India”.
“It is a crisis. If state governments will say we will do whatever we want and let the Government of India say anything, there will be a complete breakup of the system. It is an amazing situation,” the bench, which was hearing a batch of pleas which have raised the issue of having elephant corridors across India, said.
At the outset, Nadkarni referred to the April 23 order of the apex court and said that out of the 22 states, three states — Kerala, Meghalaya and West Bengal — had responded earlier while five others have also given their responses to the Centre.
He said there were incidents of elephant deaths in rail or road accidents or by electrocution.
The counsel appearing for Nagaland said they have also given their response to the Centre on the issue.
The bench noted in its order that 13 states, including Uttarakhand, Odisha, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Punjab and Rajasthan have not responded to the Centre on the issue of elephant corridors.
“This shows the respect these states have to the direction of this court as well as to the Union of India,” the bench said.
During the hearing, one of the counsel alleged that 400 hotels and resorts have come up on the elephant corridor areas in Tamil Nadu.
The bench made it clear that no construction activity would be carried out in these areas in Tamil Nadu and asked the Collector of the Nilgiri area, where hotels and resorts have allegedly come up, to file a report in this regard.
It asked the collector to also apprise the court as to how these establishments can be identified, when they were built and how.
The counsel also told the court that around 18,000 elephants come to Tamil Nadu during the monsoon season and the court should direct that the power connection to these resorts and hotels should be snapped.
“We want a plan of action first,” the bench said, adding, “the plan of action should be with respect to the elephant corridors”.
The owners of some of these hotels and resorts have also filed appeals in the apex court against a Madras High Court order against them in this regard.
The bench said these issues would be heard in August.
Another lawyer said that mining activities were going on in elephant corridor areas in Assam.
The apex court had earlier said it was “extremely unfortunate” that several states have not responded to two communications sent by the Centre on the issue of elephant corridors to curb human-animal conflict and reduce animal fatalities.
The Centre had told the court that a committee has already been formed to consider the suggestions, including making corridors across India for safe passage of elephants and other endangered animals.
The apex court had earlier stressed on the need to have elephant corridors across the county to reduce animal fatalities due to accidents and other reasons and had asked the Centre to come out with some “workable solution” in this regard.