SC allows new home in Madhya Pradesh for Gujarat lions

New Delhi, April 15 (IANS) Endangered Asiatic lions from Gujarat are all set to get a new home as the Supreme Court Monday gave its nod for the translocation of the big cats to a sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh and held that the constitution casts an obligation on humans to protect a species becoming extinct.

“We may indicate that our top priority is to protect Asiatic lions, an endangered species, and to provide a second home,” said the apex court bench of Justice K.S. Radhakrishnan and Justice C.K. Prasad.

Paving the way for the introduction of Asiatic lions in Kuno wildlife sanctuary, the court said: “Kuno … was proved to be a historical habitat of Asiatic lions.”

The court junked the Gujarat government’s claim on the exclusive possession of the Asiatic lions and said: “No state, organisation or person can claim ownership or possession over wild animals in the forest.”

“Animals in the wild are properties of the nation for which no state can claim ownership and the state’s duty is to protect the wildlife and conserve it, for ensuring the ecological and environmental security of the country.”

“Article 21 of the constitution protects not only the human rights but also casts an obligation on human beings to protect and preserve a species becoming extinct, conservation and protection of environment is an inseparable part of the right to life,” Justice Radhakrishnan said speaking for the bench.

“We, as human beings, have a duty to prevent the species from going extinct and have to advocate for an effective species protection regimes,” the court said.

“No species can survive on the brink of extinction indefinitely and that the continued existence of any species depends upon various factors like human-animal conflict, epidemics, forest fire and other natural calamities,” the court said.

The court said that the environment and forests ministry’s decision for “re-introduction of Asiatic lions from Gir to Kuno is that of utmost importance.”

The judges over-ruled the ministry’s decision to reject its decision to introduce African cheetahs from Namibia to India holding it “arbitrary” and “illegal”.

Justice Radhakrishnan said the decision of the ministry to introduce African cheetahs first to Kuno and then Asiatic lions was arbitrary an illegal and clear violation of the statutory requirements provided under the Wildlife Protection Act.

“The order of the ministry to introduce African Cheetahs into Kuno cannot stand in the eye of Law and the same is quashed,” the court said.

Directing the ministry to take “urgent steps” for the re-introduction of Asiatic lions from Gir forests to Kuno, the court said: “Various steps have been taken for the last few decades, but nothing transpired so far. Crores of rupees have been spent by the government of India and the state of Madhya Pradesh for re-introduction of Asiatic lions to Kuno.”

The court highlighted the necessity of an exclusive parliamentary legislation for the preservation and protection of endangered species.

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