- Apprentice Lawyer
The Uttarakhand High Court has stayed the Uttarakhand Government's decision to denotify the Shivalik Elephant Reserve to expand the Jolly Grant Airport (Reena Paul v. State of Uttarakhand).
A Bench of recently appointed Chief Justice RS Chauhan and Justice Lok Pal Singh passed an order to this effect in a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) petition moved on the issue by one, Reena Paul through Advocate Abhijay Negi.
"The recommendation dated 24.11.2020 of the State Wildlife Board, which provides for de-notification of the Shiwalik Elephant Reserve, is hereby stayed till the next date of listing," an order passed on January 8 said.
On a related note, a number of lawyers had also written to the High Court's Chief Justice in December, urging the Court to take suo motu cognizance of the matter.
"The decision prima facie appears to be hasty and short sighted and taken without due consideration for the natural environment and wildlife conservation, despite the ongoing reality of Climate Change and rapidly rising pollution", the letter said.
The letter added that the proposed development/expansion activity will threaten hundreds of species of fauna, an elephant corridor and increase man-animal conflict. It would also require felling at least 10,000 trees and will exacerbate soil erosion risks, it was highlighted.
As such, the lawyers asserted that in moving ahead with the proposal, the State had completely lost sight of its duties and obligations under the Constitution to protect and improve the environment.
It was also pointed out that the High Court itself had accorded the status of legal person to animals, conferring on them distinct rights and declaring that the natives of Uttarakhand are obliged to ensure the welfare of animals.
Recently, in Hospitality Association of Mudumalai v. In Defence of Environment and Animals and ors, a Division Bench of the High Court reaffirmed the right of passage of animals and ordered the closure of resorts in environmental interest, it was recalled.
In this backdrop, the lawyers had urged the Chief Justice to similarly intervene in the present issue and set aside the denotification of the Shivalik Elephant Reserve and to protect the wild elephants in the State of Uttarakhand.
On Friday, Chief Standing Counsel CS Rawat took notice for the State in the PIL now moved over the issue. VK Kaparuwan accepted notice for the Central Government.
Update: Despite the Court's January 8 stay on the move to de-reserve the Shivalik elephant reserve, the State government notified the controversial de-reservation on the same day. This prompted the same petitioner to move an application to stay the January 8 government notification as well.
On January 11, the High Court Bench of Chief Justice RS Chauhan and Justce Manoj Kumar Tiwari granted a stay on the January 8 notification as well, reasoning that the petitioner had made out a prima facie case in questioning the legality of the elephant reserve's denotification.
The High Court further noted:
The case concerns the preservation and conservation of wildlife as warranted by Article 48-A of the Constitution of India.
The issue would be how to ensure the sustainable development of the State.
The balance of convenience is in favour of the petitioner.
If the challenged notification were permitted to operate and, in case, the proposed area is diverted for the purpose of expansion of the airport, an irrevocable loss would be caused, both to the environment, and to the elephant population. Moreover, the irrevocable loss would be caused at the cost of violation of Section 2 of the Forest (Conservation) Act.
With these, among other, observations, the denotification of the elephant reserve has been stayed until the next hearing in the matter. The case has been listed for hearing next on March 3, 2021.