U’khand HC Directs Govt To Use Drones, CCTVs To Check Poaching, Mining In Corbett, Rajaji National Parks

It must be stated at the outset itself that as poaching, illegal mining and unauthorized occupants in the Tiger Reserve Area in Uttarakhand continue to take toll on wildlife with eight tigers dying in the state this year in 2018, the Uttarakhand High Court in the landmark case of Vishvanath Singh v State of Uttarakhand & others in Writ Petition (PIL) No. 47 of 2016 dated 14 June 2018 has directed the state to deploy drones and CCTV cameras in order to detect poaching/illegal mining in the Corbett National Park and Rajaji National Park within three months. Even though the petitioner was not present in person in the Court nor is he represented by any counsel but the Uttarakhand High Court still proceeded with the matter taking into consideration the question of great public importance involved in the present writ petition (PIL). Very rightly so!
                                     While craving for the exclusive indulgence of my esteemed readers, it must be revealed here that the landmark order of the Uttarakhand High Court Bench came on what it called a “private litigation filed in the garb of Public Interest Litigation” wherein one Vishvanath Singh had challenged the impugned notification dated February 26, 2010, vide which core area of 821.99 sq. km. and Buffer area of 466.32 sq. km., total area of 1288.31 sq.km. of Corbett National Park situated in the State of Uttarakhand, has been declared as “Tiger Reserve” as intended by National Tiger Conservation Authority in its letter dated November 9, 2009. But it must be noted here that the petitioner himself did not come with clean hands. He too had been violating rules.
                               For my esteemed readers exclusive indulgence, it must be also informed here that so piqued was the Bench upon learning from a counter-affidavit filed by the state that the petitioner himself was in illegal occupation of a government accommodation in Kalagarh Tiger Reserve in Pauri Garhwal, that it slapped a cost of Rs 5 lakh on him. The Bench minced just no words in conveying its displeasure loud and clear by holding that, “This is a private litigation in the garb of Public Interest Litigation. The Court cannot be privy to such like petition. It is also intriguing to note that the petitioner who is found to be a rank encroacher has not been vacated till date. This cannot happen without the collusion and connivance of the State functionaries. The State machinery must protect its property. The notification has been issued strictly as per the mandate of Wild Life Protection Act, 1972.”  The Bench also pointed out that there is no averment in the petition how  the notification dated 26.02.2010 is in violation of Wild Life Protection Act, 1972.
                                       Needless to say, the Bench also observed in para 5 of its judgment that, “The petitioner himself is an un-authorized occupant of Quarter no. D-134, New Colony, Kalagarh. It is submitted by the learned counsel appearing for the State that number of employees, even after their retirement, have not vacated the government accommodation. In other words they are in un-authorized occupation of the government accommodation. The Hon’ble Supreme Court after accepting the report, vide order dated 2nd December, 2013, has directed the authorities to evict the unauthorized accommodation at Kalagarh. Similar directions were also issued by the National Green Tribunal in its order dated 21st September, 2017.”
                                     Furthermore, in para 6, the Bench laments that, “It is shocking that till date the State Government has neither implemented the directions issued by the Hon’ble Supreme Court or by the National Green Tribunal. The persons are still in un-authorized occupation of the government accommodation. In Tiger Reserves, these un-authorized occupants are threat to the Wildlife. The possibility of their involvement in poaching cannot be overlooked.”
                                       While expressing its grave concern on the alarming increase in the number of tigers dying as is being widely reported in the media, the Bench observed in para 7 that, “It is being highlighted repeatedly in the newspapers that more than 8 tigers have died in the State in the year 2018 alone. It is an alarming situation. It is required to be arrested forthwith. The court in earlier Public Interest Litigation has directed the State Government to constitute the Tiger Reserve Police. Learned Chief Standing Counsel was put a query whether Tiger Reserve Forests has been constituted or not. He apprised the Court after seeking instructions that the process has commenced and the same will be completed within a period of 45 days.”
                                             Also, in para 8, it goes on to say that, “The possibility of the tigers being killed by poachers cannot be ignored. The State Government is required to install state of art equipment for surveillance i.e. drone, CCTV camera in order to protect the Wildlife in the National Parks including Corbett National Park and Rajaji National Park from poaching and to detect the illegal mining.”
                                  Simply put, the Bench of Uttarakhand High Court comprising of Justice Rajiv Sharma and Justice Lok Pal Singh also pulled back no punches in holding that, “We have noticed non-compliance of the directions issued in larger public interest from time to time by the State functionaries.” In para 10, the Bench very firmly directs that, “We direct the authorities to whom the directions have been issued in PILs, to apprise the Registrar General of this Court about the implementation of the judgments/orders punctually to maintain rule of law.
                                      Finally and most importantly, the Bench in para 11 while cracking the whip on the state government for its lackadaisical attitude towards wildlife protection held that, “Accordingly, the present writ petition is disposed of with the following mandatory directions: -
A.  The Chief Secretary to the State of Uttarakhand is directed to take all necessary steps for the eviction of unauthorized occupants from the government buildings at Kalagarh, including the petitioner, within a period of three weeks from today.
B.  The respondent/state is also directed that in case of the unnatural death of a tiger, the Sub-Divisional Magistrate concerned shall conduct an inquiry of the circumstances leading to tiger’s death.
C.   The Directors, Tiger Reserve, Corbett National Park and Rajaji National Park, are directed to preserve the viscera of the dead tigers to ascertain the cause of death. The entire exercise of conducting post-mortem of the tiger is ordered to be videographed.
D. The state government is directed to deploy the drones and CCTV cameras in order to detect poaching/illegal mining in the Corbett National Park and Rajaji National Park within three months from today.
E.  The exemplary cost of Rs 5,00,000 (Rupees five lakh only) is imposed upon the petitioner for gross misuse of the process of the court. The cost shall be deposited by the petitioner in the registry of this court within a period of one month, failing which the District Magistrate, Pauri Garhwal, shall recover the same by way of arrears of land revenue.”
                                  No doubt, it is a very landmark judgment with far reaching consequences. It is the primary duty and obligation of the State to implement what the Uttarakhand High Court has directed it to do. This landmark judgment has also sent a very loud and clear message that, “If you come to the court seeking relief, come with clean hands. If you come with stained hands then you also would be made to pay just like the petitioner has been made to pay in this case.” There can be no denying or disputing it!    
Sanjeev Sirohi, Advocate,
s/o Col BPS Sirohi,
A 82, Defence Enclave,
Sardhana Road, Kankerkhera,
Meerut – 250001, Uttar Pradesh.