Order of the Orissa High Court regarding Olive Ridley conservation, 26/02/2021

Order of the Orissa High Court in the matter of W.P.(C) PIL No.7118 of 2021 regarding conservation of Olive Ridley turtles.

An affidavit on behalf of Bikash Ranjan Dash, Divisional Forest Officer, Mangrove Forest Division (Wildlife), Rajnagar has been placed on record before the court. It sets out the steps taken for protection and monitoring of turtles from November 2020 till March, 2021. It was stated that as per the decision of the High Level Committee for protection and conservation of Olive Ridley Sea turtles, chaired by the Chief Secretary to Government of Odisha, the DRDO authority at Wheeler Island and the Dhamra Port authority have been dimming the lights at their respective establishments near the nesting beach during the season; the missile testing is also being kept on hold during this period.  

It is claimed that because of the efforts of the stakeholders, the mortality of turtles has reduced significantly to less than 50% this year as compared to previous years.  

Mohit Agarwal, Amicus Curiae, pointed out that the area where fishing activities have been completely banned extends to 20 kilometres off the coastline and length-wise, it is a distance of 70 kilometres. He said that such a large area cannot be effectively monitored by the coast guards and that it might be useful to have Thermal Imaging Cameras (TICs) installed at various critical points along the coastline to enable an effective check of the illegal fishing activities.

The Orissa High Court directed the Government of Odisha to examine the feasibility of installing such TICs immediately - so that during the nesting season that can be an effective check on illegal fishing in the area.

Amicus Curiae also pointed out to the directions issued earlier by the High Court in OJC No.3128 of 1994 (WWF-India v. State of Orissa) requiring a Turtle Excluder Device (TED) to be installed in all the fishing trawlers/boats, which are deployed in the area in question by fishermen. It is expected that such TED device would considerably reduce the mortality of the Olive Ridley turtles. He further pointed out that it was not clear whether those directions have been complied with at all.

With a view to ensuring that the directions earlier issued by the Orissa High Court both in OJC No.3128 of 1994 as well as OJC No.14889 of 1998 and whether, in fact, the steps as claimed in the affidavit dated 25th February 2021 are in fact being taken and have the desired effect, the Court directed the constitution of a three member team, comprising:

(i) Dr. Kartik Shanker, Professor, Centre for Ecological Sciences, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore,

(ii) Shri Susanta Nanda, IFS, Director Environment holding additional charge of CEO, Chilika Development Authority, Bhubaneswar and

(iii) Mr. Mohit Agarwal, Amicus Curiae

The team would undertake a visit to the two major nesting sites i.e. the Gahirmatha (Marine) Wildlife Sanctuary and the Rushikulya beach and submit a report to the Court, not later than March 10, 2021.

It would be open to the team to interact with the local population, the fishermen and any other party that may be involved in the aspects of conservation and protection of the ecological biodiversity in the area.