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Supreme Court backs Madras HC order razing all resorts in elephant corridor in Nilgiris


The Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld a Madras High Court order ratifying a state government decision to earmark the Sigur plateau in the Nilgiris as an elephant corridor in 2010 and raze all resorts in nearby Mudumalai to facilitate their movement through the corridor. The top court had in an earlier order passed on July 12, 2018, barred any construction activity in the elephant corridor. It had also asked the District Collector, Nilgiris, to prepare and present a plan of action on how to identify the constructions that have been made so far.

The Hospitality Association of Mudumalai, representing the resorts in the area, had appealed against the High Court decision to hand over the land which fell in the elephant corridor within three months on the ground that it was not a natural elephant corridor but an artificially created one. The High Court observed that many of them had set up barbed wires and electric fences to keep out the animals and directed their eviction. The holiday resorts and other commercial activities with permits to construct only residential houses had heightened the man animal conflict, it said.

The High Court made an exception for traditional dwellers who it said need not be evicted. But in case they were, they would be compensated under the law. Other private dwellers would also be adequately compensated, it said. The High Court order had come on a PIL filed by “elephant” Rajendran so called because of his passionate espousal of their right to free passage. In their appeal, the resort owners claimed that the instances of man-animal conflict in the areas were few and far between.

A bench led by CJI S.A. Bobde rejected their arguments today and upheld the High Court ruling of April 7, 2011. The district collector though claimed that these unauthorized occupants had to be evicted to provide safe passage to the elephants. The top court though backed a High Court order that had created an expert body to examine the objections of those who claimed to have private land in the area to the acquisition of their land.

The mushrooming of such resorts, which were bounded by electric fencing and barbed wires, had severally restricted the movement of elephants and caused an increase in incidents of human-elephant conflict, it said. Accordingly, it directed: “The resort owners and other private land owners are directed to vacate and hand over the vacant possession of the lands falling within the notified “elephant corridor” to the District Collector, Nilgiris, within three months from today.”

The bench though allowed the High Court mandated expert body to continue hearing factual objections of the resort owners and take a call on their fate. Objections can be filed in 4 months, the bench, comprising Justices S. Abdul Nazeer and Sanjiv Khanna, said.

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