The Supreme Court Tuesday took serious view of a report that said the West Bengal government had decided to take “regressive” steps to reduce the elephant population by introducing contraceptives/sterilization to avoid train-elephant accidents.
Taking note, a bench of Justice Dipak Misra and Justice Vikramajit Sen said: “If it is so, it is absolutely impermissible and also condemnable.”
Frowning at the reported decision, the court asked the West Bengal government counsel Avijit Bhattacharjee to take instructions in this regard and file an affidavit of the competent authority.
Pronouncing the order, Justice Misra said: “However, as advised at present, we restrain the authorities of the state of West Bengal from taking any steps to administer any kind of contraceptives or introducing any method of sterilization which hinders natural procreative process of the elephants or any wildlife.”
The court passed the order taking note of a statement made by who appeared for Jharkhand in the course of hearing of Shakti Prasad Nayak’s PIL seeking directions to regulate the movement of the trains to prevent deaths of elephants on account of collisions.
Saying that the hearing in the matter could not take place in the absence of union environment and forest ministry (MoEF), the court expressed its displeasure over its absence in the course of the hearing and directed the presence of the environment and forest secretary on the next hearing (Sep 23).
“At this juncture, we must express our displeasure as the MOEF has not appeared today. The present case is one where the presence of MOEF, through its counsel, is absolutely necessary.
“The railways alone cannot determine about the safety of the elephants and other wildlife, for it is the obligation of the MOEF to do so and if required to advise and see that the advice is carried out, but unfortunately, the MOEF has started behaving like a Rip Van Winkle remaining in happy slumber in this matter,” the court said.
“We do not appreciate it and, therefore, it is directed that the secretary, MOEF shall remain personally present on the next date of hearing so that he may be in a position to assist the court. The secretary, MOEF shall file an affidavit on the aspects that we have mentioned today, clearly indicating what steps the MOEF has taken in this regard so far,” the court said.
Taking on record different suggestions for protecting elephants and other wildlife coming in the course of the hearing, the court modified its Dec 10, 2013, order to permit movement of goods train at night on 168 km stretch between Siliguri and Alipurduar to facilitate supply of essential goods to seven northeastern states.
However, the court said that the “trains shall move at the speed of 25 km per hour, as suggested by the MoEF vide letter dated Oct 17, 2007 in four identified sanctuaries so that the accidents do not occur”.
“We hasten to add that aforesaid suggestions are required to be considered by the MoEF, as the singular purpose is to avoid deaths of elephants in railway accidents.
“Be it stated, the depleting rate of elephants in the country has been a concern of everyone who has interest in the environment. Needless to say that it is a necessity to sustain the environment and ecological balance. In the present era, sustenance of species is a categorical imperative and neither MoEF nor the railways can treat it as a matter of non-concern by not taking steps or causing delay in taking steps,” said the court.