The Supreme Court on Monday asked the animal rights organisations to make representations before the Centre regarding three notifications declaring Nilgais, monkeys and wild boars as vermins, with the Animal Welfare Board of India terming it as an “arbitrary” decision.
The board, which is an statutory advisory body on animal welfare laws and promotes animal welfare in India, questioned the notifications issued by Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change declaring these animals as vermins for one year in the states of Bihar, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand.
“The arbitrariness is there. We have seen the video. There has to be a basis. How can the Ministry do this? There has to be compassion towards animals,” the lawyer appearing for the board told a vacation bench of Justices Adarsh Kumar Goel and A M Khanwilkar.
However, Solicitor General Ranjit Kumar said the board has not challenged these notifications.
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The bench said it would hear the contentions of the board when the main matter is heard.
The bench, which refused to issue notice on the petitions, asked the Centre to consider the representations within two weeks and take appropriate steps as required.
During the hearing, the bench posed several queries to the petitioners on whether these notifications specifically talk about forest areas.
“Prohibition (on hunting) will apply to forest area or animal habitat and not outside that. Absolute prohibition applies to animal habitat only. You cannot hunt them in their home. Suppose they are found outside their habitat, then how to deal with it,” the bench asked.
Responding to the query, senior advocate Siddharth Luthra, who appeared for one of the petitioners, referred to killing of Nilgais in Bihar and said “there are scientific ways to deal with such situations. Wild animals cannot be killed like this.”
The first notification issued by the Ministry dated December 1, 2015, declared Nilgai and wild boar as vermin in some districts of Bihar for one year.
The second notification dated February 3 this year declared wild boar as vermin in some districts of Uttarakhand for a period of one year, while the third notification, issued on May 24 declared rhesus macaque (monkey) to be vermin in some districts of Himachal Pradesh.
Luthra told the bench that the wildlife department was competent to tackle such issues.
“They (wildlife department) can come and capture the animals and if the animal has become a man eater then it can be killed,” he said.
During the hearing, the bench asked, “Have you made any representation before the Central government?.”
“Further notification or corrigendum to a notification has to be issued by Central government,” the bench said, adding, “The authority is with the Central government to issue a notification. You make a representation and we expect that the Central government will take action whatever is required.
The main petition can be kept pending.”
Senior advocate Anand Grover, who appeared for another petitioner, said Center had asked the state governments to give them information about conflicts between animals and humans.
He claimed that Bihar and Himachal Pradesh had neither given any report to the Centre nor had they conducted any such study despite the fact that people had complained about it.
Referring to the Bihar incident, Grover said men from Mumbai were hired to kill animals and they were “shooters”.
To this, the bench said, “this statement is questionable.”
Grover, however, said, “I am not casting aspersions. They were shooting the animals at random.”
He also said that the conflicts between humans and animals were outside the forest area.
One of the counsel representing another petitioner told the bench that intent of Parliament was to reduce the number of vermins.
“A scientific study has to be there. One state admittedly say they have not conducted study. All the material is with Central government but still they issued such notification,” he said.
The Solicitor General, however, questioned maintainability of these petitions and said that the apex court was not the appropriate forum.
He said these notifications were applicable for outside forest area.
To this, Luthra said they were challenging notifications issued with respect to Bihar, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh and it was a national issue.
The bench, however, observed, “it is difficult to make this court as the first court.”
At the fag end of the hearing, Luthra requested the bench to issue notice but the court said it would not issue any notice on Monday.
“We are not issuing any direction. We are not issuing any notice today. We are adjourning the matter,” the bench said.
When the bench asked petitioners to make representation before the concerned authority, the SG said they would look into it.
The bench has now fixed the matter for further hearing on July 15.
“The impugned notifications have been passed in absolute disregard of the human-wildlife conflict plaguing the country and without any scientific survey backing them,” one of the pleas filed before the apex court has said.
It has said that once an animal is declared vermin, it is deprived of the protection provided to the wild animals by the Wildlife Protection Act.
It has said that the provisions of the Act “authorises the government to permit mindless slaughter of protected wildlife without any inquiry or investigation into the need for declaring protected species of wildlife as vermin for purpose of slaughter.”