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Bombay High Court issues notice to Centre, Maharashtra on proposed shifting of wild elephants to Gujarat Zoo

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The Bombay High Court has added as respondents and issued notice to the Central government, the State of Maharashtra and others over a petition challenging the proposed move of Forest Department to shift wild elephants from Gadchiroli forest to a zoo in Gujarat.

Taking suo motu cognisance of an item published in Nagpur edition of a daily newspaper, the High Court observed that preserving the biodiversity of Gadchiroli forest was the duty of Maharashtra government.

Senior Advocate J.T. Gilda submitted before the Nagpur Division Bench of Justice Sunil B. Shukre and Justice Valmiki Sa Menezes that migration of wild elephants to Gadchiroli forest from some other areas was a sign of good health of the forest and should have been seen as a welcome development.

Instead of treating this development in a positive way, the Forest department was bent on taking regressive steps, which were against the interest of wild animals in Maharashtra, tribal populace of Gachiroli and the environment in general, pointed out the lawyer.

He said since these wild elephants have chosen the forest areas lying within the Gadchiroli district as their natural habitat, they cannot be taken out of this area without passing of a proper resolution by the concerned village panchayat, which is Kamlapur and in this case, Kamlapur Village Panchayat has passed a resolution against shifting of wild elephants elsewhere.

The Court observed that the issue raised by the Senior Advocate was of seminal importance from the view point of public interest. The matter also raised a fundamental issue regarding rights of wild animals within the society dominated by human beings in general and within the framework of the Constitution in particular, it added.

It said the rights of wild animals against their forcible removal and in respect of other matters should be equally respected as that of man and a balance should be struck between the rights of man and the rights of animals, including wild animals.

If this could be done, much of the problems arising from the man-animal conflict would be redressed, pointed out the Court.

The Bench noted that the Biological Diversity Act, 2002 has conservation of biological diversity as one of its objects. Since the presence of wild elephants added to the biodiversity of Gadchiroli forest, any move to shift them to a Zoo would result in harming the biodiversity, and would be against the spirit of the Act, it added.

The Court directed the Registry to list the suo motu PIL on the basis of the said news item and place it before it for further consideration on September 8.

The Court directed the following parties to be added as respondents and issued notice to them:-

(1) Union of India, through the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change.

(2) The State of Maharashtra, through Chief Secretary, Mantralaya, Mumbai.

(3) The Principal Secretary, Revenue and Forest Department, Mantralaya, Mumbai.

(4) The Principal Secretary, Tribal Development Department, Mantralaya Mumbai.

(5) The Principal Secretary, Social Welfare Department, Mantralaya, Mumbai.

(6) The Chairperson, Maharashtra State Biodiversity Board, Seminary Hills, Nagpur.

(7) The Chairman, Central Zoo Authority of India, Lodhi Road, New Delhi.

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