Calcutta HC: Authorities cannot make distinction whether wild animal attack in core forest area or not in giving compensation

Ordering disbursal of Rs five lakh compensation to the widow of a fisherman who died in a wild animal attack in the Sunderbans, the Calcutta High Court has held that the authorities cannot make a distinction whether the person entered the core forest area or the buffer zone for earning his livelihood.

Lakhai Naskar (37) suffered a tiger attack while fishing in the Sunderbans on November 18, 2021, while fishing from his boat and was taken to Jaynagar rural hospital in South 24 Parganas district where he succumbed to his injuries, the petitioner widow of the deceased said.

Justice Sabyasachi Bhattacharyya earlier this week directed the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, West Bengal, to disburse the compensation of Rs five lakh to the widow of the deceased within October 13, 2023, “for the sad demise of her husband by tiger attack in the Sundarban area.

The court said that even if, for argument’s sake, petitioner Shantibala Naskar’s husband is construed to have transgressed the law for earning his livelihood and stepped into the core area, “it cannot be the law that the family of the poor victim in such cases will be deprived of compensation merely for the transgression of law as perceived by the Forest authorities.

The court noted that a communication of the Chief Conservator of Forests, Headquarter, West Bengal, on March 8, 2021, states a revision in compensation for the loss of life and property due to depredation by wild animals.

“None of the said orders or communications distinguishes between such demise in the core areas or the buffer areas of the forest,” Justice Bhattacharyya said.

The court said that a perusal of the order dated February 26, 2021, issued by the Government of West Bengal, Department of Forests, indicates that the revised payment of compensation as reflected therein pertains to the loss of life and property due to depredation by wild animals.

As per the said order, an ex-gratia grant was sanctioned to be given to the victims or the legal heirs of the victims of depredation caused by wild animals as per the scales as given therein.

“In case of family of the deceased for loss of life, the rate of compensation is enumerated at Rs 5,00,000,” the court noted in its order.

The petitioner contended that upon the demise of her husband by a tiger attack, the post mortem report obtained also indicated that the death was due to the effects of injury caused by a big animal like tiger etc.

Shantibala is the mother of two sons, with one of them being a minor, her lawyers said.

Counsel for the Forest authorities submitted before the court that none of the range offices or forest camps recorded any such incident of tiger attack or death by a tiger attack on the said date and as such, there is no question of grant of any compensation to the petitioner.

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It was further submitted that there are core areas and buffer areas of the forests and that if Naskar had entered into the core area without permission of the Forest authorities, it is not the liability of the Forest department to grant compensation to the petitioner for such illegal act of the deceased.

Noting that the compensation has to be subject to certification regarding the cause of death from the appropriate authority, the court said that in the present case, Naskar was admitted before his demise to Jaynagar rural hospital and a postmortem report was issued by the superintendent of the Alipore Police Hospital.

The court said that both the authorities are government institutions and, as such, there is no occasion for the respondents to deny the veracity of the said documents.

“Since a post mortem report has been filed by the petitioner regarding the cause of death of her husband being a wild animal attack in the Sundarban area, the respondent authorities are duty bound to pay compensation for such demise to the petitioner, who is the wife of the said deceased,” Justice Bhattacharyya said.

Every year, some people who enter the world’s largest mangrove forest in search of honey and fish for livelihood, fall prey to attacks by tigers, crocodiles and snakebites.

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