"Elephants Have First Right On Forest," Says SC While Asking Assam Refinery To Demolish Wall
In a landmark decision, the Supreme Court on January 18 had asked a public oil refinery in Assam to remove a wall that stood in the way of an elephant corridor in Deopahar Reserve Forest, next to Kaziranga National Park in Golaghat. “Elephants Have First Right On Forest,” Says SC While Asking Assam Refinery To Demolish Wall
State-run fossil fuel facility, Numaligarh Refinery Limited (NRL) built the 2.2 km-long wall in 2011 to expand its operations into the Deopahar forest.
“Elephants have the first right on forest”
The National Green Tribunal (NGT) dragged NRL to court in August 2018. NGT has been trying to demolish the wall since 2016. The wall separates the township from the rest of the forest area. The wall is the reason behind eight elephant deaths. The wall encroaches upon the Reserve forest and the as well as the No-Development Zone, reported LiveLaw.
“Elephants have first right on the forest,” Justice D Y Chandrachud, one of the two judges overseeing the case’s proceedings said. “Elephants do not go to office in a designated route. We cannot encroach upon the elephant’s area,” said the bench.
In 2016, NGT declared “As regards the wall with barbed wire fencing which comes in the way of Elephant Corridor, the same should be demolished. The area, where the wall has come up and the proposed township is to come up is a part of Deopahar PRF. It also falls within the No-Development Zone notification, issued by the MoEF in 1996.”
The NRL filed for a review and said that they were given permission to build a township in the area, but the review was rejected by a bench headed by A.K Goel in 2018. “The wall should be demolished within a period of one month and the proposed township should not come up in the present location,” said NGT then.
They came to a conclusion that both the wall and the proposed township were falling under No-Development zone. Rohit Choudhury, an environment activist from Assam who has been fighting for environmental conservation in the region said “I am extremely happy about what the Supreme Court has said on the matter…a strongly worded statement in favour of wildlife and elephants. I hope the NRL will now fall in line and demolish the wall, after which elephants will be able to walk again in the Deopahar Reserve Forest.”
In 2015, a video went viral which showed an elephant dying of a haemorrhage after it repeatedly banged on the wall with its head, trying to break it. Many times, elephants come to the wall and go back when they cannot cross.