SC stays order evicting resorts near Mudumalai sanctuary

Madras High Court had given three months to vacate the area

 
By Sumana Narayanan
Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

The Supreme Court has stayed an order of the Madras High Court evicting all the resorts near Mudumalai wildlife sanctuary in Tamil Nadu’s Nilgiris Mountains for two months. The high court, in its April 2011 order, had given resort owners three months to vacate the area. The court had also said that the resort owners were not eligible for compensation.

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The high court order came after G Rajendran, an advocate in the high court and head of the non-profit In Defense of Animals, filed a petition in the court seeking declaration of the area an elephant corridor and keeping it free of encroachments.

The declaration of the area as an elephant corridor has been beset with problems. The forest department and conservationists have been pushing for most of the Segur plateau (2,973 ha) to be included in the corridor so that development is controlled in the area (See 'Villagers dispute elephant corridor', Down To Earth, March 15, 2010). But the residents of Masinagudi (a village that has grown rapidly on the tourist influx), the resort owners and the tribal people living in the area have been fighting the proposal. The tribals have also petitioned the high court; they await the settlement of rights under the Forest Rights Act, 2006.

The resorts claim they have pattas (titles) and in spite of this no compensation was forthcoming. They also said that the resorts were built after getting the necessary permissions and that it was unfair to not even give a chance to put their view forward in court. The petitioners (the resort owners) were not impleaded in the original petition in the high court. Only the tribals’ petition was added on to the original petition by Rajendran. “The original petition was to secure 200 odd ha, the court has now okayed the state’s plan to secure 2,900 ha. We have been told by scientists that we are not in the corridor, so why is the government bent on pushing us out? Our business is based on wildlife, so we have a stake in protecting the forests,” says one of the resort owners on the condition of anonymity. According to a tourism study done by WWF-India in 2008, the 55 resorts in six villages attract 73,000 people annually.

There has also been confusion over how much area is needed as an elephant corridor. The resort owners and Masinagudi residents point to the list of elephant corridors identified in the book published by Wildlife Trust of India. The book, Right of Passage, lists four corridors in the region which run between various settlements. “In the late 1990s the entire area was used by elephants as there were no fences to impede them. Now both farmers and resorts have fenced off areas, blocking the elephants’ path. Hence the forest department is trying to acquire land and remove this pressure,” says a wildlife researcher, who has worked in the region. He refused to be named. It would be great to have the entire area as a corridor but it may not be essential, he added.

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