Bombay High Court

Bombay High Court: While taking suo- motu cognizance of the news item published in Times of India, (Nagpur edition), dated 05-09-2022, which mentioned the proposed move of the Forest Department to shift wild elephants to some zoo; the Division Bench of Sunil B. Shukre and Valmiki SA Menezes, JJ., observed that the issue highlighted in the news is of seminal importance the view-point of the public interest. The Court was also of the view that the issue raises an even more fundamental question regarding the rights of wild animals within a society dominated by human beings in general and within the framework of the Constitution in particular.

Background: The above-mentioned news article was brought to the Court’s attention by J.T. Gilda, Senior Advocate, who stated that the proposed move is contrary to the directions laid down by the Supreme Court.

He further submitted that migration of wild elephants to Gadchiroli forest from some other areas is a sign of good health of the forest and should be seen as a welcome development. However, instead of treating this development in a positive way, the Forest Department is taking regressive steps, which are against the interest of wild animals of the forests of Maharashtra, the tribal population of Gadchiroli and the environment in general.

It was also submitted that wild elephants have chosen forest areas lying within Gadchiroli district as their natural habitat, and that these elephants cannot be taken out of this area without proper resolution having been passed by the Kamalpur village panchayat and in this case, the village panchayat has passed a resolution against shifting of wild elephants elsewhere.

Observations and Directions: Noting the importance of the issue, the Bench poignantly observed that animals (both wild and domesticated) have not been bestowed with mental faculties including faculty of speech as a human being, it is difficult for human society to seek consent of the affected animals before they are forcibly removed from one area to another area; but that should not deter a human being from devising some method where rights of the wild animals against their forcible removal and in respect of other matters are equally respected as that of man and a balance is struck between the rights of man and rights of animals including wild animals.

The Court also pointed out that ancient Hindu texts have already recognized the rights of animals, birds and every living creature and regarded every living being as having emerged from same divine power as man, thus deserving due respect, love and affection. The Bench also referred to an Abhang composed by Sant Tukaram to put emphasis on its observation.

The Bench also noted the concerns vis-a-vis biodiversity conservation and preservation. It was observed that the presence of wild elephants adds to biodiversity of Gadchiroli forest and, therefore, it is the duty of the State to do everything to preserve the population of wild elephants in Gadchiroli. Any move to shift them to a zoo would result in harming the biodiversity and would be against the spirit of the Biological Diversity Act, 2002.

Directions: With the afore-stated observations, the Court directed that the Union of India, State of Maharashtra and concerned departments be added as respondents. J.T. Gilda, Senior Advocate was appointed as an Amicus Curiae.

The next date of hearing was fixed on 08-09-2022, where the Court directed that additional parties be impleaded as respondents and appropriate petition to be drafted. The next date of the hearing has been fixed for 15-09-2022.

[Court on its Own Motion, 2022 SCC OnLine Bom 2047, decided on 07-09-2022]

Advocates who appeared in this case :

J.T. Gilda, Senior Advocate assisted by P.S. Tembhare, Advocate

*Sucheta Sarkar, Editorial Assistant has prepared this brief.

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