New Delhi : The Supreme Court on Friday extended the jurisdiction, to the whole of the country, of a high-powered committee formed under chairmanship of its former judge, Justice Deepak Verma, in connection with welfare, care and rehabilitation of wild animals.
The committee will consider approvals, disputes, or grievances concerning transfer or import of wild animals into India or their procurement or welfare by any rescue or rehabilitation centre or zoo.
A bench of Justices Krishna Murari and Ahsanuddin Amanullah said: “We deem it appropriate to extend the jurisdiction and scope of High Powered Committee as constituted by the High Court of Tripura, with the modification that the Chief Wild Life Warden(s) of the State(s) to which the issue relates will be the co-opted as Members of the said Committee in place of the Chief Wild Life Wardens of Tripura and Gujarat, throughout the territory of India, leaving it open to the Committee to conduct necessary checks and to undertake fact finding exercise in any pending or future complaint in this regard.”
The top court noted that the pan India level committee will not only serve the real public interest and it would also 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.
The bench added that 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 High Powered Committee for consideration and recommending appropriate action,” it added.
The bench said: “We further direct that all State and Central Authorities shall forthwith report seizure of wild animals or abandonment of captive wild animals to the Committee and the Committee shall be at liberty to recommend transfer of ownership of captive animals or of seized wild animals to any willing rescue centre or zoo for their immediate welfare, care and rehabilitation.”
The top court passed the order on an application filed by Muruly M.S. to “advance the cause of welfare, care and rehabilitation of wild animals” and seeking directions to the Karnataka government to restrict transfer/sale/gift/entrustment of wild and captive elephants within to private individuals and in particular, Radha Krishna Temple Elephant Welfare Trust.
During the hearing, the top court was informed that on November 7, 2022, the Tripura High Court while hearing a PIL had restrained the transfer and transportation of captive bred elephants from northeast India and in particular from Tripura and Arunachal Pradesh to the elephant camp of the trust.
The high court had also constituted a High Powered Committee headed by Justice Verma, as its Chairman, and members including Director General of Forest, Head of Project Elephant Division (MoEF), Member Secretary (Central Zoo Authority of India), Chief Wild Life Warden (Tripura) for elephants from the state, and Chief Wild Life Warden (Gujarat).
“Though the scope and jurisdiction of the High Powered Committee was limited by the High Court to transfer of the elephants from northeast part of the country to the elephant camp of the trust, we see no reason not to extend it pan-India,” added the top court.
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