In an order that has far reaching consequences, the National Green Tribunal, East Zone Bench, Kolkata, has directed the Odisha government not to allow any activities, which are not permissible in highly eco-sensitive areas, in identified elephant corridors.
Hearing a case filed by the Wildlife Society of Orissa (WS), a non-government organisation that has been working on wildlife issues, the NGT Division Bench, comprising Justice S. P. Wangdi and Expert Member P. C. Mishra, said, “in view of proposal which appears to have been made by the Odisha Forest and Environment department, we direct, as an interim measure that all such activities which are not permissible to be carried out in such highly eco-sensitive zone, shall not be carried out until further orders.”
The order was passed on October 20 in connection with the elephant corridor proposal notification case filed by the WSO. The Odisha government was not able to file a report on status of elephant corridors even though the Tribunal had asked the government file one.
Shankar Prasad Pani, WSO counsel, fought the case.
“Under the guidelines for declaration of Ecological Sensitive Zones (ESZ), commercial mining and quarrying, saw mills, industries causing air, water, soil and noise pollution, use of firewood for commercial purpose, major hydro electric projects, discharge of effluents into land or water bodies are prohibited,” said Biswajit Mohanty, noted environmentalist and WSO Secretary, here on Monday.
“This is a landmark order as this is the first order regarding prohibition of destructive activities in elephant corridors which are proposed though not notified so far,” said Mr. Mohanty.
According to Mr Mohanty, a total of 183 elephant corridors including 138 State corridors, 38 inter-State corridors and 17 international corridors have been identified all over the country for the smooth movement of wild elephants that migrate from one forest to the other. Odisha has 21 State and 9 inter-State corridors.
Mr. Mohanty alleged , “these areas need to be protected from development activities and hence have been proposed by the Chief Wildlife Wardens of various States for notification under section 3 of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986. However, not a single elephant corridor in India has received legal protection by being notified under the EP Act, 1986.”
He added that due to powerful mining lobby, 14 elephant corridors identified so far were yet to be notified. Though the corridors lacked legal protection, the State had spent Rs. 20.08 crore during past three years.
In 1979, there were 2,044 elephants in Odisha mostly confined to rich forested districts like Mayurbhanj, Keonjhar, Angul, Dhenkanal, Sundargarh and Cuttack. Now, number of these big mammals is 1954.