The Supreme Court on Monday refused to put on hold three notifications allowing the culling of Nilgai, wild boar and Rhesus Macaque (monkeys) in Bihar, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh and asked the petitioners—an animal rights activist and two organisations—to approach the central government about the flaws in its notifications.
An apex court vacation bench of Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel and Justice A.M. Khanwilkar asked the government to respond to the representations in two weeks' time, and directed the listing of the three petitions on July 15.
Asking the petitioners to make a representation to the Ministry of Environment and Forests, the bench also said none of the three animal species would be culled in forest areas.
The court refused to issue notice to the Centre and others on the three petitions. "We are not inclined to issue notice," Justice Goel said as senior counsel Vijay Hansaria urged the vacation bench to issue notice.
The Ministry of Environment and Forests by three notifications issued on December 1, 2015, February 3, 2016, and May 24, 2016, had declared Nilgai or blue bulls and wild boar as "vermin" in some districts of Bihar, wild boar as vermin in Uttarakhand, and Rhesus Macaque (monkeys) as vermin in Himachal Pradesh for one year.
Hansaria's plea that the Centre should be restrained from issuing two other notifications which were in the pipeline too did not find favour with the bench.
"If they have the powers, they can issue notifications, the correctness of the exercise of that power would be tested by us," Justice Khanwilkar observed.
PIL petitioners animal rights activist Gauri Maulekhi, the Wildlife Rescue and Research Organisation and the Federation of Indian Animals Protection Organisations had challenged before the apex court the three notifications.
The petitioners also challenged the constitutional validity of Section 62 of the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972, under which the three notifications were issued.
The Animal Welfare Board of India also told the court that the notifications were flawed.
At the outset of the hearing, senior counsel Sidharth Luthra referred to Section 11(1)(b) of the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972, pointing out that the Chief Wildlife Warden or the authorised officer could order the hunting of a wild animal that had become dangerous to human life or property, including standing crop on any land.
A wild animal could also be ordered to be killed if it becomes disabled or diseased and is beyond recovery.
The bench observed that the law prohibited the hunting of wild animals in their habitat only, and not when they are found outside their habitat.
As the bench observed that vermin was a different category, Luthra said wild animals could not be categorised as vermin for hunting and killing them. He said that for culling wild animals, there has to be a scientific study and a rationale.
The bench was told that Uttarakhand has admitted that they have not undertaken any study prior to asking the Centre to issue the notification. "Uttarakhand has categorically said that they have not studied the matter," Luthra told the bench.
He said there was no basis for the issuance of the three notifications and their "arbitrariness is there for all to see".
Another senior counsel, Anand Grover told the bench that "they already have hired people from Bombay. They are sharpshooters. They are shooting them randomly".
Justice Khanwilkar singled out the word "sharpshooter" as it has different connotation in another context.
Opposing the plea of the three petitioners, Solicitor General Ranjit Kumar told the court that the Bihar notification was issued in December 2015 and it was already seven months down the line and its total duration was only for one year.
Apparently piqued over advocate Anjali Sharma, appearing for Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI), pointing out flaws in the notification, Solicitor General Ranjit Kumar said, "They can challenge the notification. You are a statutory authority."