Published on: 13 August 2022 at 21:59 IST
Protecting wildlife and preventing forest deterioration has become a significant concern in the country. In the wake of this, the Madras High Court passed an order with far-reaching consequences. The judgement, delivered on March 4th 2022, was based on a petition filed asking the court to direct the respondents to completely ban cattle grazing in the Megamalai Wildlife Division & Sanctuary.
It was a “Reserved Forest“ in 2009. Subsequently, it was notified as a “Wildlife Sanctuary” in the year 2011. In the year 2021, it was declared as a “Tiger Reserve”, namely, the Srivilliputhur Megamalai Tiger Reserve. This order resulted in wide protests happening in the state. To understand the reasons behind the protest, it is necessary to get an overview of the case.
OVERVIEW OF THE CASE
In the G.Thirumurugan @ Theeran Thi Vs Union of India & Ors (W.P.(MD)No.8466 of 2020), the petition was filed under Article 226 of the Constitution of India seeking a Writ of Mandamus to direct the respondents to completely ban cattle grazing in the Megamalai Wildlife Division & Sanctuary.
The case was heard by a division bench of the Madras High Court comprising the Hon’ble Mr. Justice V. Bharathidasan and the Hon’ble Mr. Justice N. Satish Kumar.
In the petition, the petitioners contended that the cattle owners are letting their quadrupeds graze inside the forest area, thereby causing degradation of the forest. The respondents are indiscriminately issuing grazing passes, which results in cattle grazers letting a large number of cattle into the forest illegally.
This results in various problems such as the killing of young regeneration, transmission of diseases to wild animals, and affecting the flow of the Vaigai river, which ultimately affects the agriculture and other operations in five districts in southern Tamil Nadu.
The respondents argued that the permits were issued for the grazing of these animals in a specified block in a portion of the reserved forest for a limited period. Further, these permits are issued to the local villagers without any fees for grazing only to a limited number of livestock in the Theni Forest Division and Megamalai Wildlife Division, under Section 21(2)(a) of the Tamil Nadu Forest Act, 1882, and based on various Notifications issued by the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests.
It is further argued by the respondents that livestock can be fed only in limited areas as provided in the notification. Any kind of violation of the conditions of the permits will be accordingly punished under Section 21 of the Tamil Nadu Forest Act.
They also claim that feeding domestic livestock to wild herbivores will lead to the potential danger of the spread of several diseases like anthrax, foot and mouth diseases, etc. Considering all these facts, grazing is permitted in the forest area with restrictions in the Theni Forest Division and Megamalai Wildlife Division.
It is further argued by the respondents that there are 136 owners/breeders/grazers of ‘Malaimaadu’, an Indian indigenous species of Uthamapalayam and Andipatti taluks of Theni District. According to them, this specie is an endangered breed and cannot exist like ordinary cattle, which can be domesticated and fed in captive environments.
During the monsoon between October-December and April-June, these cattle are sent to forest areas for grazing, and in the offseason, after the harvest of paddy and other crops, the cattle are let into the fallow lands for the purpose of grazing and penning. Cattle are also not allowed to go into the core forest. Therefore, there is no question of affecting the flow of the Vagai river.
The court took into account the provisions related to the trespass of cattle into the Reserved Forest or Tiger Reserve. The following provisions of the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972 were taken into consideration –
- Section 27, of the Act which deals with restrictions on entry into a sanctuary. According to this section, only a public servant on duty and a person who was permitted by the Chief Wild Life Warden or authorized officer to reside within the limits of the sanctuary or a person having immovable property within the limits of sanctuary and a person passing through the sanctuary along a public highway alone are permitted to enter or reside inside the sanctuary.
- Section 28, of the Act deals with the grant of permits for entry or residing in a sanctuary for investigation, the study of wildlife, photography, scientific research, tourism, and transaction of lawful business with any person residing in the sanctuary.
- Section 29, of the Act prohibits destruction in the sanctuary without a permit.
- Section 30, of the Act prohibits any person to set fire or leave any fire burning in the sanctuary in such manner as to endanger such sanctuary.
- Section 33, of the Act, empowers the Chief Wildlife Warden to control, manage and maintain all sanctuaries, and Sub-Section (d) of Section 33, empowers the Chief Wildlife Warden to regulate, control, or prohibit in keeping with the interest of wildlife, grazing or movement of livestock.
- Sub Section (7) of Section 35, prohibits grazing any livestock in a National Park.
Section 57, of the Tamil Nadu Forest Act, 1882, prohibits cattle trespasses. Section 21(d), of the Tamil Nadu Forest Act states that, pastures or allowing cattle to trespass is an offense, punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to six months or with a fine which may extend to five hundred rupees or with both.
The court rejected the respondents’ claim that the Malaimaadu specie cannot exist in the same way that ordinary cattle can. It is observed that this breed is not recognized as a native breed either by the Tamil Nadu Animal Husbandry Department or the Tamil Nadu Veterinary and Animal Sciences University or in any other scientific literature.
Thus, these cattle do not form an exclusive genetic identity, and hence they are not a unique breed. These cattle are brought to their farmlands during summer and again driven back into the forest during the monsoon season, which clearly shows that the cattle can thrive on an agricultural or farm-based diet and are not exclusively dependent on a forest-based fodder diet.
Based on all the above materials, the court observed that allowing the cattle to graze inside the forest will cause damage to the wildlife habitats, pose a serious threat to the wildlife, and is also prohibited under law. Therefore, the authorities were directed not to allow any domesticated cattle to venture into the forest area for grazing throughout the forest area in Tamil Nadu.
AFTER EFFECTS OF THE ORDER
The order triggered a protest in the state of Tamil Nadu on March 15 2022. At the insistence of the amicus curiae, T. Mohan argued that cattle-grazing has been recognised under the Tamil Nadu Forest Act 1882. He cited Section 16 of the Tamil Nadu Forest Act 1882, which states “the authorities may be permitted to allow cattle grazing rights.” The court then revised its order on March 17. Cattle grazing has become legally permissible in forests outside tiger reserves, sanctuaries, and national parks.
In effect, the verdict removed 8,101.79 sq. km, or 35.42 percent of forests and 6.23% of the state’s total area, from Tamil Nadu’s grazing area – even from those who were legitimate right-holders.
Sometimes acts done with good intentions do not lead to positive impacts if they are done without careful thought. This seems to be true in the Madras High Court order, which restricted cattle grazing in the state’s protected forest areas. This happened after a petition was filed under Article 226 of the Constitution of India seeking a Writ of Mandamus to direct the respondents to completely ban cattle grazing in the Megamalai Wildlife Division & Sanctuary.
The court was of the view that allowing the cattle to graze inside the forest would cause damage to the wildlife habitats, pose a serious threat to the wildlife, and also be prohibited under law. Therefore, the authorities were directed not to allow any domesticated cattle to venture into the forest area for the purpose of grazing throughout the forest area in Tamil Nadu.
This order angered the cattle owners, grazers, and breeders, and protests were held in the state for two days. The Court, on the insistence of the amicus curiae, T. Mohan, revised its order and allowed cattle grazing in forests outside tiger reserves, sanctuaries, and national parks.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ayushi Budholia is a third-year B.A.LL.B student of Lloyd Law College, Greater Noida.