On 8th January, the Uttarakhand High Court stayed the early approval given by the State Wildlife Advisory Board on 24th November 2020 for the de-notification of the Shivalik Elephant Reserve.
The decision was taken by the board for the expansion of the Dehradun Airport Project and now the High Court seeks a reply from the state and central government, the State Biodiversity Board, and the Wildlife Board in the matter.
A division bench comprising Chief Justice RS Chauhan and Justice Lok Pal Singh issued a notification on the same while hearing a Public Interest Litigation.
This Public Interest Litigation was filed by Reenu Paul, a Dehradun-based activist.
Abhijit Negi, representing the petitioner, stated that as per the PIL submitted it was stated that,
“Supreme Court in a recent decision delivered by a three-judge bench led by the Chief Justice of India on October 14, 2020, had 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 apex court.”
He further stated that relying on the provisions Under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 and the Biological Diversity Act 2002 it was not open to the State Welfare Board to take the decision and de-notify the reserve in such a manner without accessing the ecological catastrophe that it can push the state and the entire region into.
In September 2020 the state government had asked for the approval of the Union Environment Ministry under Section 2 of the Forest Act, 1980 for the non-forestry use of 87.0815 hectares of forest land.
Part of this land falls under the Shivalik Elephant Reserve and as per the official’s estimation, 10,000 trees would be cut for the expansion.
In October 2020 the Union Ministry of Environment told the state government to explore alternate solutions in order to avoid sensitive areas like the Shivalik Elephant Reserve being exploited.
In November 2020, the state government stated that an alternate land would not serve the very purpose and thereby a completely new airport would have to be established in that case.
In November 2020, the board decision for the de-notification was passed and the Forest Minister, Harak Singh Rawat stated that the State Wildlife Board during its meeting approved the de-notification as there was no law to define an elephant reserve.
He also stated that as per the norms of the central government there was an absence of law or act under the legal provisions to give legal status to the Elephant Reserve.
As per the Elephant census released in June 2020 the Uttarakhand has over 2,000 elephants currently.