Sunday, December 10, 2023

Supreme Court extends jurisdiction of High Powered Committee formed for import of wild animals in India at pan India level

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The Supreme Court has extended the jurisdiction of a High Powered Committee that the High Court of Tripura formed for transfer or import of wild animals in India at Pan India level.

The order on the same was given by a bench that comprised of Justice Krishna Murari and Justice A Amanullah.

Petitioner approached the Supreme Court for seeking clarification on a previous order by the court regarding a PIL concerning the transfer/sale/gift/entrustment of wild and captive elephants within the State of Karnataka to private individuals and, in particular, to the Radha Krishna Temple Elephant Welfare Trust.

The main ground of challenge in the PIL was that it was the responsibility of the State to take care of abandoned or rescued elephants and such animals should not be entrusted to any private Trust.

The petitioner requested clarification that the directions given by the High Court and the Supreme Court were applicable only to the population of elephants within the State of Karnataka and not to any other state or territory.

Per contra, Radha Krishna Temple Elephant Welfare Trust submitted that such PILs were baseless and were often filed against persons acting with philanthropic objectives of taking care of abandoned or rescued elephants and caused unnecessary drain on their resources which could otherwise be used by them for welfare of the rescued animals.

The trust clarified that it rescued and rehabilitated wild/captive elephants, who were in need of long term care due to injury/old age, abusive captivity, such as circus, street begging, etc. The trust also argued that it was not a breeding centre and was not making any profits commercially in any manner from the rescued and rehabilitated animals.

The Supreme Court dismissed the PIL on the ground that it lacked any merit. It further took into account a High Court of Tripura judgement which, while dealing with a PIL such as the one in the present case, declined relief and constituted a High Powered Committee to overlook transfer of the elephants from Northeast part of the country to the elephant camp of Radha Krishna Temple Elephant Welfare Trust.

The HPC is headed by the retired Judge of Supreme Court, Justice Deepak Verma, as its Chairman. Members of the HPC included Director General of Forests (Union of India), Head of Project Elephant Division (MoEF), Member Secretary (Central Zoo Authority of India), Chief Wild Life Warden (State of Tripura) for Elephants from State of Tripura. and Chief Wild Life Warden (State of Gujarat).

While opining that such a committee would not only advance the cause of welfare, care, and rehabilitation of wild animals, but will also curb the filing of frivolous PILs before different High Courts in the matter, the court directed to extend the jurisdiction of HPC at a pan-India level.

The court stated–”We deem it appropriate to extend the jurisdiction and scope of High Powered Committee as constituted by the High Court of Tripura, with the modification that the Chief Wild Life Warden(s) of the State(s) to which the issue relates will be the co-opted as Members of the said Committee in place of the Chief Wild Life Wardens of Tripura and Gujarat, throughout the territory of India, leaving it open to the Committee to conduct necessary checks and to undertake fact finding exercise in any pending or future complaint in this regard.

“The court also stated that the Committee may also consider the request for approval, dispute or grievance, concerning transfer or import into India or procurement or welfare of wild animals by any rescue or rehabilitation centre or zoo, by taking assistance and co-operation whenever needed from all departments and authorities across India.

The court added–”We further direct that all State and Central Authorities shall forthwith report seizure of wild animals or abandonment of captive wild animals to the Committee and the Committee shall be at liberty to recommend transfer of ownership of captive animals or of seized wild animals to any willing rescue centre or zoo for their immediate welfare, care and rehabilitation.”

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