The Uttarakhand High Court has put a stay on the denotification of the Shivalik Elephant Reserve—the state’s only jumbo reserve.
The order by a division bench of the high court comprising Chief Justice R S Chauhan and Justice Lokpal Singh came on a PIL filed by environmental activist Reenu Phul on Friday. Earlier on January 4, another division bench of the court had issued notices to the Centre, the state government and the state wildlife board over the decision to denotify the elephant reserve. They were given four weeks’ time to reply.
The stay order was granted on the first working day of the newly-appointed chief justice of the High Court.
Previously, around 80 people had written to acting Chief Justice Ravi Malimath, pleading to stop the denotification of the Shivalik Elephant Reserve by the government.
On Friday, a fresh Public Interest Litigation (PIL) was filed stating that the asiatic elephant is at its westernmost habitat in Uttarakhand and it would be cruel to destroy it.
The Shivalik Elephant reserve was notified in 2002 under ‘Project Elephant’, which was launched by the government of India in 1992.
The state wildlife board had in November 2020 decided to denotify the reserve, arguing that the move will pave the way for development work in an area spanning over 4,500 sq km, including expansion of Dehradun’s Jolly Grant Airport.
Sources said the board had passed the proposal at a meeting chaired by Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat as forest officials argued that the notification for elephant reserve was creating hurdles in development work in that area.
The officials said at the meeting that the elephant reserve has no legal sanctity and there is no provision for it in forest and wildlife Acts.
Chief Wildlife Warden J S Suhag had said that even after the notification is canceled, the area will remain a reserve forest and rules of the Forest Conservation Act will remain applicable there.
Another official said that an elephant reserve is unlike a tiger reserve where there are restrictions and punishments for violating them.
“Certain formalities of obtaining clearances for development work will get reduced after cancellation of the notification,” the official said.