IL Feature

Animal Instincts

The legislative assembly of the state has adopted a resolution urging the central government to amend the Wildlife Protection Act to alleviate human-wildlife conflicts which are on the rise. What are the demands?

The resolution to amend the Wildlife Act was passed shortly after a 42-year-old man was trampled to death by a wild elephant in the Mananthavady area of the mountainous district of Wayanad. Wildlife incursions in habitations adjacent to forests and fatal attacks on residents had impelled the state government to request the centre to change the law in tune with new realities. Members across the aisles supported the resolution focused on eliminating wildlife that trespass on human habitations, endangering the life and property of citizens.

In the resolution, the minister pointed out that the central laws, rules, guidelines protecting wildlife were rigorous and made it difficult to control, regulate or kill animals, thus causing threat for the locals. The resolution demanded that wild boar, which has become a major threat to human life and crops in the state, be declared as vermin.

It also sought an amendment in the Act to grant permission to cull a wild animal which has become a threat to human life. It also requested the centre to initiate scientific and humane measures to control the wildlife population.

The amendments sought in the resolution was to give powers to the chief wildlife warden to take immediate action in cases of animal attacks or incursions into human habitations. Section 11(1) (a) of the Act empowers the chief wildlife warden to permit any person to hunt a wild animal specified in schedule one if the officer feels that it has become dangerous to human life or is severely disabled or sick beyond recovery. The resolution sought amendment to the same that the powers given to the chief wildlife warden be transferred to the chief forest conservators for taking immediate steps. 

The Kerala government has been facing attacks from the opposition in the state for allegedly failing to protect the life and property of nearly 50 lakh families, a majority of them living near forests. The centre had issued a detailed advisory to states, regarding measures to keep wildlife at bay, which included digging ditches, setting fences around farmlands and plantations.

Wildlife threats posed an almost empirical hazard to the state’s declining rural economy. Since 2019, wild elephants and wild boars hunting for food have caused crop losses estimated at Rs 68 crore. During February, from the Bandipur forest area in the Karnataka-Kerala border, a viral video showed a wild elephant chasing two people while they stepped out of the car to take a selfie. One of the men collapsed while running and the elephant even tried to run over him. Last year, in January, in a span of two weeks, a farmer had died in an attack by a tiger in Wayanad and a forest watcher was killed in a wild elephant attack at Idukki district in Kerala.

In September 2022, the Kerala High Court directed the authorities to ensure that the steps taken for addressing issues related to human-wildlife conflict be implemented by the state government and the forest officials in letter and spirit. The division bench of Chief Justice S Manikumar and Justice Shaji P Chaly disposed of a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) alleging that due to the constant attacks of wild elephants, agricultural crops are destroyed, livelihoods are lost and life becomes unbearable. It was contended that the people in the said area are in a state of panic after elephants raided the habitable residential areas in Varandarappilly panchayat, and in fact, killed two plantation workers in recent days. 

It was also pointed out in the PIL that in the last few years, six people had been killed in wild elephant attacks in the area and agricultural produce and properties worth millions were lost. Therefore, according to the petitioner, if the state government is not taking appropriate action in order to prevent wild animals encroaching into the residential and agricultural areas, the residents of the locality would be put to serious miseries and irreparable injuries. In that view of the matter, making Elephant Proof Trenches and electric fencing are the only ways to protect this. The bench further directed the respondents to ensure that the government orders in respect of the installation of electric fencing, etc., are carried out strictly at the earliest possible time, where it is not already done in the area in question.

Last year in May, the Patna High Court had opined that it is for the state to balance considerations so as to mitigate human-animal conflict and decide on the measures to be taken which also has to be in accordance with the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972. The bench of Chief Justice K Vinod Chandran and Justice Madhuresh Prasad dismissed a PIL filed and concerned with the shooting of vermin and the empanelment of shooters by the state government.

In order to see that the human-elephant conflict is minimised and the forest area is maintained and the encroachment removed, the Gauhati High Court in 2022 had passed a certain direction for the state government. The division bench of Chief Justice RM Chhaya and Justice Soumitra Saikia disposed of a suo motu PIL regarding encroachment of forest land in the Goalpara Forest Division. The Court directed the state government in the environment & forest department to adhere to the steps already initiated by it in order to curb any mischief or loss of life of wild elephants and human beings. The state government was further directed to constitute a special task force to be headed by the principal chief conservator of forest, which would include the divisional forest officer as well as the superintendent of police and the deputy commissioner of Goalpara district as members of such task force which shall monitor the steps permanently.

In addition, the development commissioner of Goalpara district and divisional forest officer, Goalpara, was asked to conduct a survey of encroachments made in the forest area within a period of three months from the date of receipt of the copy of the order and instructed to immediately initiate steps for the eviction of such illegal encroachment in accordance with the law. 

The Court further clarified that while conducting eviction drives, the authorities shall follow the due process of law and the respondent authorities shall create facilities of veterinary treatment for injured elephants at the headquarter of district Goalpara. It would also be the responsibilities of the principal chief conservator of forest & head of Forests Force, Assam, to carry out the directions.

India is home to approximately 60% of the population of Asian elephants which is classified as endangered. An increase in animal population and increased cultivation near wildlife habitats are the reasons for the increase in man-animal conflicts in the state. Those living near wildlife habitats suffer financial damage due to frequent raids by elephants and wild boars. According to a report from the ministry of environment, approximately 500 human lives and 100 elephant lives are lost annually due to conflicts. 

—By Shivam Sharma and India Legal Bureau