The Supreme Court questioned the West Bengal government on Monday over the use of fire torches to drive away elephants and directed the state to place before it the names and designations of the forest officials, who would be held responsible for any accident due to this.
The top court observed that the use of fire or fire torches "cannot be the only answer" for driving away elephants in West Bengal and directed that the tender floated by the state government for procuring burnt mobil oil for distribution among villagers be not processed in the meanwhile.
When the counsel appearing for West Bengal said using fire torches was the only way to avoid man-animal conflicts, a bench of justices Madan B Lokur and Deepak Gupta said, "You will kill all the animals and then there will be no man-animal conflict."
"Wildlife is just being decimated. See the newspaper reports, so many elephants have died. Fire cannot be the only answer. You cannot go on burning everything. What is there to prevent somebody from throwing fire torches at the animals?," the bench asked the counsel appearing for the state.
It directed the state to file an affidavit within two weeks, giving the names and designations of the officials from each forest division who would be held accountable and responsible in case of an accident due to the use of fire or fire torches.
The counsel appearing for the petitioner, who had raised the issue of the use of spikes and fireballs in some states to drive away elephants, told the apex court that instead of fire torches, the West Bengal government should provide high-beam lights to villagers.
Meanwhile, Additional Solicitor General A N S Nadkarni, appearing for the Centre, said they had in-principle agreed to the suggestion of setting up a task force, which would formulate and implement measures to effectively deal with conflicts with elephants across the country.
When the issue of use of fire in West Bengal was raked up, Nadkarni said, "Fireballs are not to be used."
The bench posted the matter for further hearing on December 4.
On October 22, the court had observed that human-animal conflicts, especially involving elephants, were a "problem" and the Centre should consider setting up a task force to ensure adherence to the guidelines in this regard.
The court had said the "Project Elephant", which was launched in 1992 by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) to provide support to the states for protection of elephants and their habitats, might have been good, but the issue was its implementation.
The top court had earlier termed the use of spikes and fireballs to drive away elephants "barbaric" and directed the states to desist from using such methods.
The directions of the court had come after it was told that these methods were allegedly being adopted in states, including Karnataka, West Bengal and Jharkhand.
The Karnataka government had earlier told the court that in July itself, the state authority had written letters to all the officers concerned for removing the spikes.
The counsel for West Bengal had said the state had issued guidelines that none of these harmful things would be used to drive away elephants.
Similarly, the Jharkhand government had also said it had not imposed any restrictions on the movement of wild elephants.