The Supreme Court on Wednesday directed the Odisha government to complete the process of declaration of the traditional elephant corridor as a conservation reserve aligned with the provisions of the Wildlife (Protection) Act.
It also asked the state government to implement a Comprehensive Wildlife Management Plan before permitting any mining activity in the eco-sensitive zone.
A bench of Justices L. Nageswara Rao and B.R. Gavai said: “The State of Odisha is directed to implement the Comprehensive Wildlife Management Plan as suggested by the Standing Committee of NBWL (Standing Committee of National Board for Wildlife) before permitting any mining activity in the eco-sensitive zone.”
“The state is also directed to complete the process of declaration of the traditional elephant corridor as conservation reserve as per Section 36A of the Act expeditiously. The mining operations of 97 quarries shall be permitted only thereafter.”
The Advocate General for Odisha submitted before the top court that mining operations will be permitted only after implementation of the Comprehensive Wildlife Management Plan. He added that compliance of Section 36A of the Act for declaration of the elephant corridor as conservation reserve is in the advanced stage of consideration by the government.
Additional Solicitor General Aishwarya Bhati, appearing on behalf of Union Ministry of Environment, Forest & Climate Change, submitted that it has no objection to the operation of stone quarries outside the eco-sensitive zone if the requirement of Section 36A and the conditions in Comprehensive Wildlife Management Plan are complied with.
The matter reached the Supreme Court, after the Odisha government challenged a National Green Tribunal (NGT) order to stop stone quarrying activities in the vicinity of Similipal-Hadgarh-Kuldiha-Similipal Elephant Corridor. The lease holders of stone quarries moved the top court challenging the NGT order.
The Odisha government’s Forest and Environment Department on January 29, 2001, issued a notification that area comprising of portions of Mayurbhanj, Balasore, Bhadrak and Keonjhar was declared as an elephant reserve – Mayubhanj (Similipal-KuldihaHadgarh) Elephant Reserve, under the Centre’s “Project Elephant”. The total area of the elephant reserve was shown as 3,213.81 sq km and the core area was 845 sq km of the existing Similipal Sanctuary.
The state government had opposed stopping mining activity in the area which does not fall within the eco-sensitive zone. Its stand was opposed by an NGO contending environmental clearances for any project that falls within 10 km boundary of the national parks and sanctuaries has to be subject to the recommendations of the NBWL.