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Decoding the Judgment on Jim Corbett


In a March ruling, the Supreme Court exposed the corrupt collaboration between politicians, forest officials, and local contractors responsible for the unlawful felling of 6,000 trees in the Jim Corbett National Park in Uttarakhand. This situation underscores a stark reality: despite conservation objectives being enshrined in policies and laws such as the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972Project Tiger, and the Forest (Conservation) Act of 1980, the primary focus of the state remains revenue generation.


GS-3- Conservation

Mains Question:

The Court’s decision to assess the damage done to the Jim Corbett by felling of 6,000 trees, appears to be a mirage in the absence of a well-defined methodology. Comment. (15 Marks, 250 Words).

More on the Ruling:

  • The illicit deforestation in Jim Corbett blatantly violates the 1983 Supreme Court verdict in Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra vs. State of Uttar Pradesh, which asserted that “economic progress cannot be pursued at the expense of environmental degradation and the people’s right to a healthy environment.”
  • In a recent ruling, both national and state forest authorities have looked towards ecotourism as a means to achieve conservation objectives, boost revenue, and uplift the livelihoods of local communities.
  • However, the Supreme Court, in its latest judgment, cautioned against viewing ecotourism solely as a solution for conservation and financial gains. Instead, the court advocated for an eco-centric approach over anthropocentrism.
  • The court ordered the cessation of tiger safaris in core areas and mandated the formation of a committee to examine the feasibility of allowing such safaris in peripheral regions not only within Jim Corbett but across the entirety of India.
  • Additionally, it disagreed with the 2019 guidelines of the National Tiger Conservation Authority, which permitted tiger safaris resembling zoo-like experiences within national parks.
  • Emphasizing the importance of maintaining ecological integrity, the court stipulated that tigers for such safaris should originate from the same landscape as the reserve itself, rather than being sourced from outside the tiger reserve.

The Precautionary Principle by Norman Myers:

  • According to British environmentalist Norman Myers, the precautionary principle is increasingly recognized as a guiding principle for policymakers addressing environmental challenges.
  • This principle asserts that “in situations where there are threats of serious or irreversible harm, the absence of full scientific certainty should not justify delaying cost-effective measures to prevent such environmental degradation.”
  • The recent ban on safaris in core areas by the Court reflects the application of this principle, aiming to minimize environmental harm.
  • Myers emphasized that the precautionary principle is particularly relevant to biodiversity conservation, as the ongoing mass extinction poses a significant threat.
  • If left unchecked, this extinction event could not only eradicate a substantial portion of species but also impoverish the biosphere for millions of years.

Significance of the Precautionary Principle in the Indian Context:

  • The International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species tracks 1,212 animal species in India, with 12% identified as endangered in 2021.
  • Furthermore, a 2021 report by the Centre for Science and Environment revealed that India has lost 90% of the land area covered by its four biodiversity hotspots.
  • Therefore, the precautionary principle is pertinent not only to the conservation of tigers but also to other endangered species.
  • It underscores the imperative to take proactive measures to safeguard biodiversity and prevent irreversible environmental damage.

Valuing Forest Land in India:

  • According to the European Liability Directive of 2004, the conservation status of natural habitats encompasses the collective influences impacting a habitat and its characteristic species, potentially affecting its long-term natural distribution, structure, functions, and the survival of its typical species.
  • In India, the valuation framework predating the T.N. Godavarman case (1996) aimed at replacing lost natural forests with compensatory plantations.
  • Currently, two legally and institutionally supported options serve as the foundation for valuing forest land in India: compensatory afforestation levy and net present value (NPV).
  • The levy primarily functions as a form of replacement cost, intended to substitute the forest land lost due to diversion towards non-forestry use.
  • However, since the levy often falls short in adequately addressing the loss, the NPV was introduced in 2002 as an additional payment obligation.
  • Yet, both methodologies fail to accurately consider the connection between tree removal and the resulting harm to other environmental goods and services.

Way Forward:

  • Amidst the escalating degradation of biodiversity hotspots and the promotion of revenue-generating eco-tourism, adopting a valuation method rooted in ecosystem services (such as food, water, climate regulation, and flood control) becomes imperative.
  • This approach entails recognizing the benefits people derive from natural ecosystems as opposed to human-made structures.
  • The Court had an opportunity to establish a precedent by emphasizing the significance of ecosystem services, which often yield greater revenue than eco-tourism.
  • What the court overlooked, however, is that its decision to evaluate the damage inflicted on the greenery of Jim Corbett in order to determine the cost of restoration and seek reimbursement from those responsible seems unattainable without a clearly defined methodology.
  • Merely recovering the cost of restoration does not necessarily equate to compensating for the loss of the environment’s ability to provide essential goods and services.
  • Alternatively, it could have underscored the necessity of implementing precise laws and policies concerning ecosystem services.
  • Insights from the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruling in Costa Rica v. Nicaragua (2018) could have been employed to comprehend methodologies for assessing environmental damage. The ICJ affirmed that environmental harm, along with the subsequent loss of the environment’s capacity to provide goods and services, warrants compensation.


Thus, integrating ecosystem service valuation into legal and policy frameworks could have provided a comprehensive approach to addressing environmental degradation and ensuring adequate compensation for its consequences.

May 2024