New Delhi, Sept. 16: The Supreme Court today directed the Bengal government to place before it a World Wildlife Federation research proposal for evolving an “immuno-contraception” drug to reduce the state’s elephant population.
A bench headed by Justice Dipak Misra passed the directive after the state’s counsel, Avijit Bhattacharya, told the court that Bengal had not taken any steps yet for sterilising elephants, whose numbers are said to have increased three-fold in north Bengal since 1989.
The counsel, however, said there was need for “serious scientific research” while referring to the proposal that WWF-India had sent to the Bengal government for evolving an “immuno-contraception” drug.
It was after this that the court directed both the state government and the Centre to place before it details of the research project mooted by WWF-India, before fixing October 15 for the next hearing.
The court was dealing with a public interest petition filed by a journalist, Shakti Prasad Nayak, on deaths of elephants mowed down by speeding trains, a common occurrence in north Bengal where vast stretches of railway tracks run through forests.
At an earlier hearing, the petitioner’s counsel, Sanjeeb Panigrahi, had brought to the court’s notice alleged sterilisation of elephants by the Bengal government to reduce their population.
In its affidavit today, the state said it was “incorrect” to say that the government had any plans for sterilising wild elephants to control track-related fatalities but voiced the need for research on the subject.
It said the government was “committed to the cause of conservation of elephants” and “all possible measures” were being taken to “conserve” the lumbering beasts, one of the main attractions of the wild for tourists.
“West Bengal,” the affidavit said, “has two elephant reserves and has declared 39.05 per cent of the forest areas of the state as ‘protected area’ with 6 national parks, 15 wildlife sanctuaries and two tiger reserves.”
Referring to an earlier affidavit the state had filed in October 2013, it said: “In the matter of preventing the killings of elephants on railway tracks in (the) northern part of West Bengal, a series of measures are suggested which would be helpful in reducing the deaths of elephants on railway tracks and there is no mention of any elephant sterilisation nor introduction of any contraceptive as a measure to avoid elephant train collision. Hence it is incorrect that (the) State of West Bengal has any plan for sterilisation of wild elephants to control elephants-train collision.”
The state said it had received the research proposal from WWF-India – entitled Mitigating Human Elephant conflict in north Bengal – for consideration and collaboration.
In the proposal, the government said, WWF-India had suggested developing a human-elephant conflict management plan for north Bengal. “This plan if developed shall be of great use for the mitigation of serious human elephant conflict in northern West Bengal as elephants as well as people are being adversely affected due to this conflict,” the state said.
It said WWF-India had also proposed to test the efficacy of “innovative” elephant-management measures and would identify an “early warning system” for preventing human-elephant conflict.
WWF-India, the affidavit added, had also proposed a “pilot project” for an experiment to find out the suitability of an “immuno-contraception drug” on Asian elephants. “Currently there exists no such drug or method for Asian elephant(s) which can be used for immuno-contraception.”
The state said this proposed pilot project was purely a matter of scientific research and had no link with elephant deaths on tracks. “(The) Government of West Bengal has not taken any decision on the matter and hence no work on the issue has commenced,” it said. “However, it is felt that there is need for scientific research on the subject so as to keep pace with the latest advancement in the matter worldwide and to be in preparedness to deal with human elephant conflict ensuring elephant conservation.”
The affidavit also said the wild elephant population in north Bengal had increased from 175 in 1989 to 529 in 2010.