On March 4, 2022, the Madras High Court had ruled that cattle should not be allowed to graze in any of the areas declared as “forests” within Tamilnadu.
The litigant Thirumurugan said that due to the continuous grazing of cattle on Megamalai, the place where Vaigai river originates, the catchments are being damaged and thereby the volume of water reaching the river gets reduced; He further said that the Forest Department officials are issuing grazing permits in large numbers to help the cattle graze in the forests; Such a clearance would devastate the Megamalai forest area and eventually prevent the flow of water to the five districts. Hence, he sought a direction to stop the traditional practice of cow-grazing. It was in this case that the judges delivered the above verdict.
Who will be affected by this judgment? Who will benefit? Can anyone guarantee that if the cows stop grazing, the water resources in Vaigai river will not be affected? Well, if one is making a case on an issue, should the opinion of the respondents in that case be heard or not? There was no such necessity for the court.
In the Megamalai region, grazing is the second most common occupation after agriculture. Already, the forest department has been harassing those seeking permission to graze cows with cases, fines, etc.
The first reason for the shortfall in the supply of water to the Vaigai river is the mismanagement of the irrigation department. Moreover, there is a rampant water theft on both sides of the river above the Vaigai dam; There are many important reasons such as improper practices of the irrigation department in diverting water to unrelated areas.
A report compiled by the Theni District Collector and the Irrigation Department on water theft was released last year. It was clarified that the reason for the scarcity of water was that even before the river water reached the Vaigai dam, hundreds of pumps were placed and the water was transported for several miles indulging in illegal irrigation. Ignoring all this, the High Court provided justice with its eyes closed when it comes to the common man.
“Megamalai is a biodiversity reserve forest, a protected area, an area inhabited by squirrels and tigers; Therefore, the cows should not be allowed inside’’. – the Court ruled on this basis.
The submissions made by conservation biologist Priya, who had been appointed as amicus curiae to assist the court, said that since Megamalai forests are a sanctuary area, risk of transmission of diseases like Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) and Anthrax from domesticated cattle to wild animals is a huge risk; The noisy sounds made by the cows torment the wild animals; Therefore, cows should not be allowed to graze.
A bogus viewpoint is being created as if Megamalai has been an animal sanctuary for centuries, and suddenly some people started grazing cows and causing harm to wild animals.
Prior to 1947, Megamalai was a land area under the Kandamanur Zamindar. There are many privately owned tea gardens, private tourist resorts and properties belonging to the rich.
In 1978, the Government of Tamilnadu issued a legal notification to define settlement rights in parts of Megamalai amidst many difficulties. According to the notification, finally in 2010, about 25,000 hectares of land was designated as reserved forests. In the meantime, many people, including the inhabitants, the surrounding villagers, and the pastoralists, continued to graze.
The forest department was also involved in providing arbitrary licensing, imposing certain restrictions and harassing the herdsmen. But it didn’t stop completely. It is not legally possible under the existing laws to enforce such a ban.
Within the last ten years, the government further expanded the reserve forest area and declared about 63,000 hectares of land as Megamalai Wildlife Sanctuary. It then incorporated the nearby Srivilliputhur forests and declared it as a squirrels and tiger reserve recently. Even then, it was declared that about 37,500 hectares of land could be used for grazing purposes and that no one should come close to 64,000 hectares of land.
The pastoralists were there before the animal sanctuary was established. Neither is the Tamilnadu government willing to speak of the fact that they have a hereditary right, nor is the court willing to listen to the views of the pastoralists who speak this fact.
The concept of “wildlife sanctuaries in which no one enters” is not an accepted unanimous scientific basis. Many countries in the world have declared such comments to be “unscientific ideas that stand out from the people”.
It is only in countries like ours, which have accepted colonial laws as they are, there are ‘intellectuals’ who rely solely on literacy and ‘wildlife enthusiasts’ who have sculptured them by watching television channels like Animal Planet, National Geographic, etc. They are now teaching the people who have been grazing sheep and cattle in the forests for hundreds of years.
The litigant is seeking a ban on herding goats and cows in Megamalai, while the court is banning the grazing of cows in forest areas across Tamilnadu. If a factory management has issued a termination order without due legal proceedings for a worker, will the High Court hearing a case in this regard, deliver justice to all such sacked workers across Tamilnadu without due legal action? It is in this question that the class outlook of the court lies hidden.
The Supreme Court verdict in the case filed against the eight-lane expressway is not that the eight-lane expressway should not be allowed; Only the conversion of land acquired from farmers for the eight-lane expressway into government land has been banned. At the same time, the verdict is that the government can issue a fresh notification formally after obtaining environmental clearance. Isn’t there any damage to wildlife, mountains and forests along the way of the eight-lane expressway project, which has been developed for the need of foreign capital?
How dramatical it is for the government, which works based on the policies of privatisation-liberalisation schemes aimed at ceding agricultural land, forests and mountains to multinational companies, to say, “We are going to increase forest cover, save nature and protect the environment”! The courts are the best accompaniment to this drama.
When the question arises, “Is it the capitalist or the nature?” the courts stand by the side of the capitalists. When it comes to “People or Nature?”, the courts side with nature. None of the people are ready to believe in this justice the courts provide.