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News Analysis

Biodiversity & Environment

Nilgiri Elephant Corridor Case

  • 30 Jan 2021
  • 8 min read

Why in News

Recently, the Supreme Court (SC) appointed a conservationist as Member of a Technical Committee constituted in the October 2020 case to hear complaints by landowners against sealing of their buildings infringing the Nilgiri Elephant Corridor in Tamil Nadu by the state authorities.

Key Points

  • About the October 2020 Case:
    • In October 2020, SC had upheld the Tamil Nadu government’s authority to notify an ‘elephant corridor’ and protect the migratory path of the animals through the Nilgiri biosphere reserve.
    • The SC had said it was the State’s duty to protect a “keystone species” such as elephants, immensely important to the environment.
    • The SC also allowed the formation of a committee led by a retired HC judge and two other persons to hear the individual objections of resort owners and private landowners within the corridor space.
    • The SC judgment was based on appeals filed by resorts/private landowners, against a Madras High Court decision of July 2011.
  • Madras HC Judgement:
    • In 2011, the Madras HC upheld the validity of the Tamil Nadu government’s notification (of 2010) declaring an ‘Elephant Corridor’ in the Sigur Plateau of Nilgiris District.
    • It said that the government is fully empowered under the 'Project Elephant' of the Union government as well as Article 51 A(g) of the Constitution to notify the elephant corridor in the state’s Nilgiris district.
      • Article 51 A(g): It shall be the fundamental duty of every citizen of India to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wildlife and to have compassion for living creatures.
    • Further, it upheld directions to the resort owners and other private landowners to vacate lands falling within the notified Nilgiri elephant corridor.
  • Nilgiris Elephant Corridor:
    • The corridor is situated in the ecologically fragile Sigur plateau, which connects the Western and the Eastern Ghats and sustains elephant populations and their genetic diversity.
    • It has the Nilgiri hills on its southwestern side and the Moyar river valley on its northeastern side. The elephants cross the plateau in search of food and water.
    • There are about 100 elephant corridors in India of which almost 70% are used regularly.
      • 75% of the corridors are in the southern, central and north-eastern forests.
      • There are an estimated 6,500 elephants in just the Brahmagiri-Nilgiris-Eastern Ghats ranges.
  • Challenges for Elephant Corridors: ‘Right of Passage’, an 800-page study released in August 2017, authored by experts and published by the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) identifies and records details pertaining to 101 elephant corridors across India.
    • Narrowing Passage Width: Only 22% corridors are of a width of one to three kilometres in 2017, compared with 41% in 2005, pointing to how constricted corridors have become in the past 12 years.
    • Human Encroachment of Corridors: 21.8% of corridors were free of human settlements in 2017 compared with 22.8% in 2005.
    • Intercepted Corridors: About 36.4% of the elephant corridors in northwestern India, 32% in central India, 35.7% in northern West Bengal and 13% of the elephant corridors in northeastern India have a railway line passing through them.
      • Almost two-thirds of the corridors have a National or State Highway passing through them, fragmenting habitats and hindering elephant movement further.
      • 11% of corridors have canals passing through them.
      • 12% are affected by mining and the extraction of boulders.
    • Land-use Along Corridors: In terms of land use, only 12.9% of the corridors are totally under forest cover in 2017 compared with 24% in 2005.
      • Two in every three elephant corridors in the country are now affected by agricultural activities.
  • Other Initiatives for Conservation of Elephants:

Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve

  • Origin:
    • The name ’Nilgiris’ with literary meaning ‘blue mountains’ has originated from the blue flower clad mountains of the Nilgiris plateau within the State of Tamil Nadu.
    • It was the first biosphere reserve in India established in the year 1986.
  • Geography:
    • The total area of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve is 5,520 sq. km.
    • It is located in the Western Ghats and encompasses parts of Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka.
  • Ecological Characteristics:
    • Confluence of Biotic zones: It exemplifies the tropical forest biome which portrays the confluence of Afro-tropical and Indo-Malayan biotic zones of the world.
    • Biodiversity Hotspot: Biogeographically, Western Ghats is the most important region and one of the noted Biodiversity Hotspots (biogeographic regions having highest density of endemic species) for speciation in the tropics.
  • Vegetation:
    • The NBR harbors a wide spectrum of ecosystem types. Major parts of the core areas spread over Kerala and Tamil Nadu States, include evergreen, semi evergreen, moist deciduous montane sholas and grassland types of vegetation.
    • Whereas the core area spread over the State of Karnataka contains mostly dry deciduous forests and a few patches of moist deciduous, semi evergreen and scrub jungles.
  • Fauna:
    • Animals like Nilgiri tahr, Nilgiri langur, slender loris, blackbuck, tiger, gaur, Indian elephant and marten are found here.
    • Freshwater fishes such as Nilgiri danio (Devario neilgherriensis), Nilgiri barb (Hypselobarbus dubuis) and Bowany barb (Puntius bovanicus) are endemic to this Biosphere Reserve.
  • Water resources:
    • Many of the major tributaries of the river Cauvery like the Bhavani, Moyar, Kabini and other rivers like Chaliyar, Punampuzha, etc., have their source and catchment areas within the reserve boundary.
  • Tribal Population:
    • Tribal groups like the Todas, Kotas, Irullas, Kurumbas, Paniyas, Adiyans, Edanadan Chettis, Cholanaickens, Allar, Malayan, etc., are native to the reserve.
  • Protected Areas in NBR:
    • The Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary, Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary, Bandipur National Park, Nagarhole National Park, Mukurthi National Park and Silent Valley are the protected areas present within this reserve.


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