Environment and EcologyGeneral Studies III

Elephant Corridor Case


The Supreme Court has appointed conservationist Nandita Hazarika as Member of a Technical Committee constituted by it on October 14 last year to hear complaints by land owners against the action taken by the Nilgris Collector, which included sealing of their buildings and allegations about the “arbitrary variance in acreage of the elephant corridor.”

Key Highlights

  • 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 is situated near the Mudumalai National Park in the Nilgiris district.
    • 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.

What is the need of elephant corridor?

  • Despite being a figure of traditional cultural reverence, recognised indeed as the National Heritage Animal, and given the strictest level of protection under the law, the Asian elephant (Elephas maximus) is in a lot of trouble in India today. The crux of the problem is one that affects all wildlife in the country: land.
  • Land degradation: As India’s human population has grown exponentially in the past several decades, so has its demand for resources. At its essence, that demand boils down to the requirement for more land – for agriculture to grow more food, for roads, for dams and mines and railways and housing. This demand for land has led to the degradation and fragmentation of the country’s forest cover.
  • Elephant needs vast areas to roam: browsing, foraging, moving from place to place in search of food and water with the changing seasons.
  • The more forest habitat is degraded, the farther an elephant herd has to roam in search of food and water.
  • As elephants are forced to range farther and farther afield, this brings them into conflict with humans.
  • And as humans encroach on forest areas, planting nutritious crops near forest lands, building homes and roads and railways, this invites conflict with elephants.
  • Human Elephant Conflictis a very serious issue in India today: over 400 humans are killed in encounters with elephants annually, and crops and property worth millions of rupees are damaged.

Why Elephants are crucial for humans?

  • Elephants are a keystone species. Their nomadic behaviour – the daily and seasonal migrations they make through their home ranges – is immensely important to the environment.
  • Landscape architects:Elephants create clearings in the forest as they move about, preventing the overgrowth of certain plant species and allowing space for the regeneration of others, which in turn provide sustenance to other herbivorous animals.
  • Seed dispersal:Elephants eat plants, fruits and seeds, releasing the seeds when they defecate in other places as they travel. This allows for the distribution of various plant species, which benefits biodiversity.
  • Nutrition:Elephant dung provides nourishment to plants and animals and acts as a breeding ground for insects.
  • Water providers:In times of drought they access water by digging holes, which benefits other wildlife. Further, their large footprints collect water when it rains, benefitting smaller creatures.
  • Food chain: Apex predators like tigers will sometimes hunt young elephants. Further, elephant carcasses provide food for other animals.
  • The umbrella effect:By preserving a large area for elephants to roam freely, one provides a suitable habitat for many other animal and plant species of an ecosystem.

Efforts at all- India level:

  • ‘Gaj Yatra’, a nationwide campaign to protect elephants, was launched on the occasion of World Elephant Day in 2017.
  • The campaign is planned to cover 12 elephant range states.
  • The campaign aims to create awareness about elephant corridors to encourage free movement in their habitat.

Forest Ministry guide to managing human-elephant conflict (Best Practices):

  1. Retaining elephants in their natural habitats by creating water sources and management of forest fires.
  2. Elephant Proof trenches in Tamil Nadu.
  3. Hanging fences and rubble walls in Karnataka.
  4. Use of chili smoke in north Bengal and playing the sound of bees or carnivores in Assam.
  5. Use of technology: Individual identification, monitoring of elephants in south Bengal and sending SMS alerts to warn of elephant presence.

Efforts by Private Organizations in this regard:

  • Asian Elephant Alliance, an umbrella initiative by five NGOs, had come together to secure 96 out of the 101 existing corridors used by elephants across 12 States in India.
  • NGOs Elephant Family, International Fund for Animal Welfare, IUCN Netherlands and World Land Trust have teamed up with Wildlife Trust of India’s (WTI) in the alliance.

Other Projects:

Project Elephant – A Successful Scheme For Elephant Conservation

The Indian Elephant is widely seen in 16 of the 28 states of India, especially in the Southern part of the Western Ghats, North-Eastern India, Eastern India, Central India, and Northern India. 

The species is included in the list of protected species according to the Schedule I of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 and in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna (CITES). 

According to recent reports, the elephant population in India is demonstrating a stable trend across elephant reserves in India. The population of elephants in the year 2012, was estimated at 31,368 while it had fallen to 27312 in 2017. The elephant population of India was 27,682 in 2007. The average population throughout the period was about 26700. 

Differing counts have been attributed to a difference in counting methods. Some states such as Manipur, Mizoram, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Andaman & Nicobar had reported sightings for the first time in 2017. 

The following table gives the last estimated population in states where data was available:

State                             Elephants (2017-18)                                     
Tamil Nadu2761
Arunachal Pradesh1614
Uttar Pradesh232
West Bengal194
Andhra Pradesh65
Madhya Pradesh7

Environmentalists have studied why are Indian Elephants endangered for a long time. They came to the conclusion that conversion of habitats into farmland, Human-Elephant conflict and an absence of elephant corridors in India were the main reasons for the decline in the population of elephants. 

Due to the conclusions drawn from these studies, ‘Project Elephant’ was launched by the Government of India in 1992. The population of these animals was about 15000 when the project was started and has increased since then. 

Elephant – The National Heritage Animal

The government of India in the year 2010 declared Elephant as the national heritage animal of the country on the recommendations of the standing committee of the national board for wildlife. This was done to make sure that sufficient protection to elephants was provided before their numbers fall to panic levels like in the case of tigers.

A proposed National elephant conservation authority (NECA) on the lines with NTCA has been proposed to be constituted by amending the Wildlife Protection Act 1972.

Project Elephant – MIKE Programme

MIKE the abbreviation of the Monitoring of Illegal Killing of Elephants program was started in South Asia in 2003 after the conference of parties a resolution of CITES. 

The aim of MIKE was to provide the information required by the elephant range countries for proper management and long-term protection of their elephant populations.

The objectives of the MIKE program is as follows:

To measure the levels and trends in the illegal poaching and ensure changes in the trends for elephant protection. 

To determine the factors responsible for such changes, and to assess the impact of decisions by the conference of parties to CITES.

Campaign Haathi Mere Saathi

The Ministry of Environment and forests in partnership with Wildlife Trust of India has launched a campaign Hathi Mere Sathi. The aim of the campaign was to increase public awareness and develop friendships between elephants and the local population. The campaign Haathi Mere Saathi was for the welfare of the elephants, to conserve and protect the elephants in India. 

The campaign was launched in Delhi on 24th May 2011 at Elephant- 8 ministerial meetings. The countries that are a part of the Elephant-8 ministerial meeting are Kenya, Srilanka, Botswana, Republic of Congo, Tanzania, Indonesia, Thailand, and India.

Elephant Task Force

The increased tension due to rampant retaliatory killing of elephants and human-elephant conflict prompted the government to set up the Elephant Task Force along the lines of the Tiger Task Force. The focus of the Elephant Task Force was to bring pragmatic solutions for the conservation of elephants in the long-term. 

The ETF was headed by a wildlife historian and political analyst, Dr Mahesh Rangarajan. And the other members included were conservation and animal welfare activists, elephant biologists, and a veterinarian.

India has around 25000 – 29000 elephants in the wild. However, the tuskers (male) in India are as threatened as the Tigers as there are only around 1200 tusker elephants left in India.

The Asian elephants are threatened by habitat degradation, man-elephant conflict, and poaching for the Ivory. This problem is more intense in India which has around 50% of the total population of the world’s Asian elephants.

Project Elephant is considered a success in the view of many conservationists as it has been able to keep the population of elephants in India at a stable and sustainable level.


To have elephants in isolated populations, unable to move freely through their home ranges, would therefore have a devastating effect on India’s natural heritage. Many animal species would suffer and the ecosystem balance of several wild habitats would be unalterably upset. It would also, of course, eventually lead to the local extinction of India’s National Heritage Animal, one of the wisest and most beloved species on the planet.

Sanctuaries & Elephant Reserves In India

As notified by the government, there are around 32 elephant Reserves in India. The very first elephant reserve or elephant sanctuary was the Singhbhum Elephant Reserve of Jharkhand. 

The List of Elephant reserves in India is as mentioned below: 

                                       Zone             StateElephant Reserves
North-Western LandscapeUttrakhandShivalik Elephant Reserve
UttarpradeshUttar Pradesh Elephant Reserve
East-Central LandscapeWest Bengal Mayurjharna Elephant Reserve
JharkhandSinghbhum Elephant Reserve
OrissaMayurbhanj Elephant Reserve Mahanadi Elephant Reserve Sambalpur Elephant Reserve Baitami Elephant Reserve South Orissa Elephant Reserve
ChhattisgarhLemru Elephant Reserve Badalkhol – Tamor Pingla Elephant Reserve
Kameng- Sonitpur LandscapeArunachal PradeshKameng Elephant Reserve
AssamSonitpur Elephant Reserve
Eastern-South Bank LandscapeAssamDihing-Patkai Elephant Reserve
Arunachal PradeshSouth Arunachal Elephant Reserve
Kaziranga-Karbi Anglong-Intanki LandscapeAssamKaziranga-Karbi Anglong Elephant Reserve Dhansiri-Lungding Elephant Reserve
NagalandIntanki Elephant Reserve
North Bengal- Greater Manas LandscapeAssamChirang-Ripu Elephant Reserve
West BengalEastern Dooars Elephant Reserve
Meghalaya LandscapeMeghalayaGaro Hills Elephant Reserve Khasi-hills Elephant Reserve
Brahmagiri- Nilgiri-Eastern Ghats LandscapeKarnatakaMysore Elephant Reserve
KeralaWayanad Elephant Reserve Nilambur Elephant Reserve
Tamil NaduCoimbatore Elephant Reserve Nilgiri Elephant Reserve
Andhra PradeshRayala Elephant Reserve
Annamalai- Nelliyampathy- High Range LandscapeTamil NaduAnnamalai Elephant Reserve
KeralaAnamudi Elephant Reserve
Periyar- Agasthyamalai LandscapeKeralaPeriyar Elephant Reserve
 Tamil NaduSrivilliputhur Elephant Reserve

Sources: the Hindu.

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