A bench headed by Chief Justice D.Y. Chandrachud said, “In the recommendations submitted in Gajah report, there was a recommendation to the effect that ‘Project Elephant’ be converted into a statutory agency.”
The top court was hearing a plea by activist Prerna Singh Bindra.
According to the government, the elephant population has reached 29,964 (as per the census 2017) in India, the elephant habitats are being consolidated across India, and the Elephant Reserves area has been increased.
The government emphasised that it is deeply committed to protect the safety of the elephants and continued to take various steps to prevent their death including electrocution. Additional Solicitor General Aishwarya Bhati represented the central government in the apex court.
The bench, also comprising Justices P.S. Narasimha and J.B. Pardiwala, added that the task force has proposed that the new body may be termed as the ‘National Elephant Conservation Authority’ (NECA). It further suggested that amendments can be introduced to effectuate the conferment of a statutory status on the authority.
“Since the proposal would envisage requisite legislative amendments, this is something of which would be appropriate for the Ministry of Environment and Forest and Climate Change to respond,” it said.
During the hearing in the matter, the bench also sought a status report on setting up of the central project elephant monitoring committee for the purpose of monitoring and implementation of relevant directions and guidelines in connection with the protection of elephants.
In a written response, the Central government said: “Continuous efforts have been made to minimise the human elephant conflict and also to ensure the welfare of captive elephants in India.”
After hearing arguments, the apex court directed the Ministry and the Central Electricity Authority to facilitate an inspection of the protected areas to avoid electrocution of elephants.
The bench gave Centre four weeks’ time to file a response in a PIL filed by activist Bindra.
The petitioner had contended that the electrocution is one of the major reasons for deaths of elephants and sought a direction for insulation of high voltage power transmission lines passing through protected areas, elephant reserves, identified elephant corridors and known areas of elephant movement.