Emphasising that there is a need to protect the elephants and forests, the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court recently directed the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to undertake an investigation into cases of elephant deaths and elephant poaching (S Manoj Immanuel v. Union of India and ors).
On a prima facie assessment of the way in which elephants were being killed, leading to its own adverse impact on forests, the Court quoted Canadian astrophysicist Hubert Reeves in observing,
”Man is the most insane species. He worships an invisible God and destroys a visible Nature, unaware that this Nature he is destroying is this God he is worshipping.”
Recalling the words of Thiruvalluvar, the Court added that the “a Man, who shares his belongings with fellow living beings and takes care of them is more virtuous endowed, with wisdom than what the greatest Literatures would teach.”
Prima facie, elephant poaching been happening for a while, following demands for ivory, the Court found on the basis of a 2019 Wildlife Crime Control Bureau, Chennai report.
The quantity of ivory recovered also appears to be large, the Bench said, noting that in one case, 300 kilograms of ivory were ordered and handed over, with eight elephants being killed.
“Though the report also suggests that ivories have been removed from the electrocuted Elephants, we are at a loss to understand as to why only the male Elephants could get killed more than the female Elephants and calf also died…
Forest is protected through the Forest Guards and Forest Watchers. How such deaths escape from their watchful eyes is a mystery“, the Court added, while directing a CBI probe into the matter.
The Bench of Justices MM Sundresh and N Sathish Kumar passed the order earlier this month, after taking note of material which indicated that the elephant poaching activities were not confined to Tamil Nadu alone, but involved several players across the country, with demands for elephant ivory coming in from abroad as well.
To illustrate, the Court cited the case of Eagle Rajan, whose statement indicated the involvment of persons, including middlemen, from Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Rajan’s statement also showed that he had received payments for ivory statues from Delhi and Kerala. The Court observed,
“… it appears that the crime which happened on ground in the forest over a decade prior to 2015, got extended beyond the boundaries of not only the State but also the Country. It further indicates the network involved across such boundaries. Therefore, we are not dealing with a mere case of poaching, but also a demand created by customers, whose names would double up only after investigation, other than the names we have already recorded….The greed of the man could well be seen from the transactions that happened. It is not a mere case of poaching for livelihood, but a trading on wildlife driven by the sadistic pleasure of man. We do not wish to say anything more. The report speaks for itself.”
While some arrests may have been made at the bottom levels of the poaching ring, the middlemen and kingpins were left untouched, the Court suspected.
Expressing that it may not be sufficient to leave the investigation in this matter to the State authorities, the Bench remarked,
“… even after the report having been addressed, the respondents turned a furtive look feigning ignorance. These cases involve investigation crossing the borders as indicated earlier. Thus, we are not in a position to agree with the submissions made by the learned Additional Advocate General that further investigation would be made with the co-operation of the nearby State. Under the Wile Life (Protection) Act, 1972, not only the poaching but also mere possession is an offence…. despite the fact that it has been brought to the notice by the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau as early as on 23.09.2019, nothing fruitful happened.”
The case saw the Bench emphasise that the Universe is sustained by the role played by various living beings, expecially when it comes to a forest, where each animal contributes to its subsistence and development. Any interference in the chain of biodiversity would lead to dire consequences, the Court observed.
“Such consequence would not only be felt on the forest, but the World as a whole. The Forest is not only the lung space, but provider of rain water”, the Court added.
In this backdrop, the Court remarked that man is refusing to acknowledge the implications of his selfish adventurism.
“Any activity in the name of development sans environmental concern, having a narrow view from the perspective of one specie, certainly would have its own cascading effect”, the Bench said.
The elephant, being a gentle giant is rightly called as ”Guardian of the Forest”, the Court said. However, continuous poaching has affected the elephant population and the male-female ratio of elephants rather adversely, the Court observed.
“For survival, many male Elephants do not develop tusks, a situation brought forth by the credence of man. It is reported in many places, including Sri Lanka that male Elephants called ”Magna” are more prevalent recently”, the Judges added.
The Court proceeded to direct the CBI to undertake a probe in this case, in response to which the Assistant General of India, L Victoria Gowri, submitted that such a direction would be complied with considering the gravity of the offence and involvement of persons from different parts of the country.
The Bench added that the CBI can undertake investigation both into pending complaints as well as in cases where a complaint is yet to be made. In fresh cases, the CBI is to act in co-ordination with the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau, Chennai, the Bench said. A status report in the matter is to be filed on June 10.
In the course of the hearing, the Court also took note of certain suggestions made by the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau to curb the deaths of elephants due to electrocution. The State informed that these suggestions were accepted and are being implemented at least in respect of the Megamalai Forest Region. Directing the State to do the same with respect to other forest areas as well, the Court has sought for a compliance report on this aspect as well by June 10.