Uttarakhand High Court stays denotification of Shivalik elephant reserve
Express News Service
DEHRADUN: Uttarakhand High Court on Friday stayed the State Wildlife Board decision to denotify Shivalik Elephant Reserve.
The division bench of newly appointed Chief Justice RS Chauhan and Justice Lokpal Singh also asked the state government, central government, Uttarakhand State Biodiversity Board, and State Wildlife Board to submit their replies in the matter within four weeks of time.
“In a major development, the division bench of the Uttarakhand High Court has been pleased to stay decision dated November 24, 2020, taken by the Uttarakhand State Wildlife Board,” Abhijay Negi, counsel for the petitioner said.
The stay is a setback to the state government which denotified the elephant reserve to ease the felling of over 10,000 trees to expand Jolly Grant airport of Dehradun.
The Shivalik Elephant Reserve, spread over 5,000 sq km in 14 state forest divisions, was notified in 2002. The move had invited the ire of the local population, environmentalists, and activists.
In a petition filed by Dehradun-based activist, Reenu Paul she had stated that in a recent decision by a three-judge bench led by the Chief Justice of India on October 14, last year, passed several guidelines for elephant conservation and the decision of the Uttarakhand State Wildlife Board was in the teeth of the said decision of the Hon’ble Supreme Court.
Citing provisions of the Biological Diversity Act 2002 and the Wildlife Protection Act 1972, the petitioner argued that it was not open to the State Wildlife Board to denotify the Shivalik Elephant Reserve in such a manner without assessing the ecological catastrophe that it can push the hill state of Uttarakhand and the entire region into.
Pointing out that the Asiatic elephant is at its westernmost habitat in the state, the petition had requested the High Court to stay the said decision.
After denotification of the reserve in November 2020, in a recreation of the famous ‘Chipko Movement’ dating back to 1973, thousands gathered in Thano of Dehradun opposing felling of over 10,000 trees for expansion of Dehradun airport.
After an activist from Dehradun wrote to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) on November 16 appealing to save the Thano forest of the Shivalik Elephant Reserve, the PMO on Saturday assigned the matter to chief wildlife warden, Uttarakhand.
The move had come after Dr. Aanchal Sharma, a dentist by profession had approached various international organisations like the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) through social media.
A total of 85 lawyers from different parts of the country had requested the Chief Justice (CJ) of the Uttarakhand high court (HC) to intervene in the matter of Shivalik Elephant Reserve and protect it.
The lawyers in their letter requested the high court to “take suo moto cognisance of the entire situation in interest of the natural environment and conservation of wildlife and further quash the thoughtless decision of the Uttarakhand State Wildlife Board to denotify the Shivalik Elephant Reserve and restore the protection granted to the habitat and corridors of the wild Indian Elephants in the state of Uttarakhand.”
The state government had sought the NWB’s approval to transfer 243 acres of forest land to the Airports Authority of India (AAI) for expanding the airport.
The current length of the runway at Jolly Grant Airport of Dehradun is 2,140 meters and it is proposed to be expanded to 2,765 meters with the construction of an additional 625 meters stretch for the runway.
Interestingly, Uttarakhand has lost about 50,000 hectares of its forests to ‘develop activities’ in the last 20 years.