The Supreme Court Friday expanded the jurisdiction of a high powered committee (HPC) formed by the Tripura High Court to pan India level to look after the welfare, care and rehabilitation of wild animals.
The apex court said the committee, headed by retired judge Justice Deepak Verma, may also consider the request for approval, dispute or grievance over transfer or import into India or procurement or welfare of wild animals by any rescue or rehabilitation centre or zoo by taking assistance and cooperation, whenever needed, from all departments and authorities across India.
The top court said though the scope and jurisdiction of the HPC was limited by the high court to transfer of elephants from Northeastern part of the country to the elephant camp of Radha Krishna Temple Elephant Welfare Trust in Gujarat’s Jamnagar, it does not find any reason not to extend it to pan India level.
” we see no reason not to extend it to Pan India, particularly, when by extending the jurisdiction of HPC at Pan India level will not only serve the real public interest and would advance the cause of welfare, care and rehabilitation of wild animals, but will also curb the filing of frivolous PILs before different high courts by busy bees,” a bench of Justices Krishna Murari and Ahsanuddin Amanullah said.
The apex court’s decision came while disposing of an application seeking clarification of its August 1, 2022 order by which an appeal against the Karnataka High Court order was dismissed.
The Karnataka High Court had dismissed a petition seeking directions to the state government to restrict transfer/ sale/ gift/ entrustment of wild and captive elephants within the state to private individuals and in particular, to the trust.
In the application before the apex court, the petitioner had sought clarification to the effect that the earlier directions of the high court and the top court were confined to elephant population exclusively within Karnataka and not to any other state or union territory.
The clarifications sought by the PIL petitioner were opposed by the trust which contended that from time to time various petitions in the nature of public interest litigation have been filed against it and other people acting with non profit philanthropic and noble object of taking care of abandoned or rescued elephants and other animals.
The grounds raised in the PIL included that it is the responsibility of the State to take care of abandoned or rescued elephants and other animals which should not be abdicated in favour of the private respondent, the trust.
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The high court-appointed HPC was headed by Justice Deepak Verma as its Chairman and other members included Director General of Forests (Union of India), Head of Project Elephant Division (MoEF), Member Secretary (Central Zoo Authority of India), Chief Wild Life Warden (State of Tripura) for Elephants from State of Tripura and Chief Wild Life Warden (State of Gujarat).
The apex court extended the jurisdiction and scope of HPC with the modification that the Chief Wild Life warden of the state to which the issue relates will be co-opted as member of the committee in place of wardens of Tripura and Gujarat throughout the territory of India.
It left open to the committee to conduct necessary checks and to undertake fact finding exercise in any pending or future complaint.
“The committee may also consider the request for approval, dispute or grievance, concerning transfer or import into India or procurement or welfare of wild animals by any rescue or rehabilitation centre or zoo, by taking assistance and co-operation whenever needed from all departments and authorities across India. We also direct that all complaints in this regard may be forwarded forthwith to the HPC for consideration and recommending appropriate action,” the bench said.
It directed that all the state and central authorities shall forthwith report seizure of wild animals or abandonment of captive wild animals to the committee which shall be at liberty to recommend transfer of ownership of those animals to any willing rescue centre or zoo for their immediate welfare, care and rehabilitation.
The bench said its directions are in addition to the directions made in the November 7, 2022 judgment of the Tripura High Court.
“We are of the considered opinion that the directions issued by us shall serve real public interest and would advance the cause of welfare, care and rehabilitation of wild animals,” the apex court said.
The trust had submitted that such frivolous PILs filed by busy bees in different high courts of the country disrupt the functioning of not only the trust but such other charitable institutions engaged in rescue and rehabilitation of wildlife, while causing unnecessary drain on their resources which could otherwise be used by them for the noble cause of welfare of the rescued animals.