Despite an order from the Supreme Court to remove the concrete wall, erected by Numaligarh Refinery Limited (NRL) blocking the elephant corridor near Kaziranga National Park, continues to block the movement of wild elephants.
An apex court comprising Justices D.Y. Chandrachud and M.R. Shah dismissed the plea of NRL, an oil company in Assam’s Golaghat district, because the 2.2-km-long boundary wall is within 20 km of Kaziranga National Park.
The area where the wall has been erected by NRL, a Miniratna public-sector enterprise under the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas, is also part of the Deopahar Reserve Forest.
The Deopahar Reserve Forest connects Kaziranga to Karbi Anglong hills and has been a traditional animal corridor.
The Assam government notified Deopahar as a reserve forest under Section 17 of the Assam Forest Regulation 1891 on January 19, 2019.
Though NRL submitted to the court that the wall had built on a land it possessed and that it didn’t fall within the elephant corridor, the apex court while dismissing the plea reportedly said: “Elephants have the first right to the forest. Elephants do not go to office in a designated route. We can’t encroach upon the elephants’ areas.”
Earlier, in an order on August 24, 2016, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) directed the district administration of Golaghat to demolish the wall.
This order was issued in response to a petition filed by Rohit Choudhury, a local environmental activist, in August 2015.
It has been reported that after the Supreme Court order, divisional forest officer Jayashree Naiding wrote a letter to the NRL. In reply, the chief general manager (human resources) of the NRL wrote to Naiding on February 14 as quoted by The Wire: “This is to inform you that the matter is sub-judice in the Honourable Gauhati High Court and has been directed to maintain status quo as regard to the remaining hectares of land as on today till the returnable date. The said status quo is in operation till date. Therefore, you are requested to comply with the aforesaid orders of the Honourable Gauhati High Court and maintain the same.”
The report quoted Choudhury as saying: “I am a bit perplexed by the NRL’s argument,” adding, “as the SC order of January 18 clearly stated that pending appeals, if any, shall stand disposed of.”
The report also quoted Naiding as saying that she had “forwarded the response of the NRL to the higher officials” of her department and that she is “awaiting further advice on the issue”.
Naiding added that she had also communicated (the matter) to the district commissioner – Dhiren Hazarika.
Hazarika has also dashed off a letter to the NRL asking them to comply with the order.
The report quoted Hazarika as saying: “I am new to the place and am studying the case.”
However, Hazarika reportedly alleged that the NRL had concealed the fact that it had received a stay order from the Gauhati high court in its appeal to the Supreme Court.
“So I am writing a letter to the advocate general of the state for further advice on how to proceed legally in this case,” said Hazarika.
Choudhury has also written a letter state’s chief secretary Alok Kumar over NRL’s failure to comply with the Supreme Court order even after a month has passed.
Choudhury reportedly has sent copies of the letter to the local administration and the registrar of the Supreme Court.
The report quoted Choudhury’s letter, dated February 20, which reads as: “Non-demolition of the entire boundary wall will attract penalty under Sections 26, 27 and 28 of the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010. It will also be contempt of the honourable Supreme Court’s order. Therefore, it is stated that the illegal boundary wall constructed by NRL in the Deopahar forest of ‘No Development Zone’ be demolished immediately. In case no action is taken urgently to demolish the said boundary wall, then the undersigned will be constrained to take legal recourse as mandated by law against the Chief Secretary [and other officers of the district administration].”