The Supreme Court on Tuesday agreed to hear on June 24 a plea seeking urgent steps to protect forests, wildlife and birds from wildfires in Uttarakhand, saying "it is a serious issue and in the meantime, pray for rain".
A vacation bench of justices Deepak Gupta and Surya Kant listed the matter for June 24 after the petitioner, advocate Rituparn Uniyal, sought an urgent listing of the matter.
"We are listing the petition for Monday (June 24). It's a serious issue and in the meantime, you pray for rain," the bench observed.
Uniyal moved the apex court last Friday to seek urgent steps to protect forests, wildlife and birds from wildfires in Uttarakhand, saying forest blazes have increased over the years and cause huge loss to the environment.
The petition sought directions to the Centre, the Uttarakhand government and the principal chief conservator of forests in the state to make pre-fire arrangements and frame a policy to prevent forest fires.
It also sought an investigation into the matter by an independent agency and directions to declare the animal kingdom as legal entities having a distinct persona with corresponding rights, duties and liabilities of a living person.
"Forest fires in Uttarakhand have been a regular and historic feature. Every year, forest fires in Uttarakhand cause great loss to the forest ecosystem, diversity of flora and fauna and economic wealth. Forest fire is one of the major disasters in the forests of Uttarakhand.
"Despite a consistent history of forest fires, the ignorance, inactiveness, negligence and unreadiness of the respondents (Centre, state government and chief conservator of forests) have rendered a great loss to forests, wildlife and birds in Uttarakhand and thus, caused ecological imbalance," the plea said.
It claimed that one of the most prominent forest research centres of the country was at Uttarakhand but the authorities have not consulted the institution for remedies to tackle wildfires.
"Uttarakhand has one of the prominent forest research centres, that is the Forest Research Institute, Dehradun. Surprisingly, the respondents have never consulted the institution for the reasons and solutions of devastating forest fires in the state. This clearly shows a lackadaisical approach of the respondents in tackling forest fires," it said.
The plea further said that forest and wildlife were the most important natural resources and play a significant role in human life and the environment.
"Forests are socially and environmentally inter-linked with the people in the hilly areas, and play an important role in the economic welfare and development of the region," it said.
The plea claimed that the authorities concerned have no clue of how these fires took place and on the ways to stop them and questioned the training received by its officials.
It said two national parks -- Corbett National Park and Rajaji National Park -- were under threat because of these forest fires.
"One of the major fallouts of the wildfire was the generation of 'black carbon'. Black carbon, which is created by the incomplete combustion of any bio-matter and fossil fuels coats the Himalayan glaciers in the region. This makes the glaciers attract more heat and melt faster-causing floods in the plains," it said.
The plea added that destruction of grasslands and lack of fodder for the livestock in the area was another worry which was starting to haunt the locals and the villagers.
"The loss of income from lack of tourism due to the forest fires was another pressing concern," it said.
Seeking legal rights for animals, the petition said 'Life' under the Constitution meant something more than mere survival or existence or instrumental value for human beings, but to lead a life with some intrinsic worth, honour or dignity.
"All animals have honour and dignity. Thus, in order to protect and promote greater welfare of animals, including avian and aquatic, animals are required to be conferred with the status of legal entity/legal person," it said.