New Delhi: With the Centre formally notifying fresh guidelines on tiger conservation, the Supreme Court today cleared the decks for resumption of tourism activities in the areas reserved for the wild cat.
A bench of justices A K Patnaik and Swatanter Kumar gave the green signal for resumption of tourism activities, modifying its July 24 order by which it had earlier halted all tourism related activities in Tiger reserve areas.
While lifting its interim ban on tourism activities in the core tiger reserve areas, the apex court, however, added, "We make it clear that we have not held the guidelines either intra-vires (constitutionally valid) or ultra-vires (unconstitutional)."
Writing the order, Justice Patnaik said the tourism activities in the Tiger reserve areas henceforth would be strictly in accordance with the notification on tiger conservation, issued by the National Tiger Conservation Authority on October 15.
The court also directed the respective state governments to prepare the Tiger conservation plan within six months from today and submit the same to the tiger conservation authority.
The bench said any party aggrieved by the notification will have the liberty to challenge the same before the appropriate authority.
The bench`s direction came after Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Indira Jaising informed the court that the notification was formally issued on October 15 for 41 tiger reserves across the country.
The court on October 9 had allowed the Centre to notify within a week its fresh guidelines on tiger conservation.
Earlier on July 24, the court had banned all tourist activities in the core areas of tiger reserves on a PIL filed by conservationist Ajay Dubey. The PIL had demanded removal of commercial tourism activities from core or critical tiger habitats in the tiger reserves.
On August 29, the apex court had extended the interim ban on tourism activities in core tiger reserve areas till September 27.
While extending the ban, the bench had indicated that it was not averse to permitting regulated tourist activities, subject to the Centre evolving suitable revised guidelines to protect the depleting wild cat population.
The Centre, thereafter on September 26, had placed before the court the fresh guidelines, formulated for states following the apex court`s interim ban.
In its guidelines, the government has said that for preserving tiger population, no new tourism infrastructure should be created.
The Centre said a maximum of 20 percent of the core/ critical tiger habitat usage (not exceeding the present usage) may be permitted for regulated, low-impact tourist visitation.
The guidelines said permanent tourist facilities located inside core/critical tiger habitats, which are being used for wildlife tourism, should be phased out as per a time frame.
Among other measures, the guidelines envisaged keeping visitors at a distance of at least 20 meter from all forms of wildlife and prohibiting them from luring or feeding any wildlife.
Under the guidelines and the rules of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, the states have to notify the list of core and buffer areas of tiger reserves in their respective jurisdictions.
Buffer zones are the areas which lie in the periphery of the core areas also known as critical tiger habitats. Tiger breeding takes place in core areas which are meant to be kept free of any disturbance, including tourism.
The buffer zones constitute the fringe areas of tiger reserves up to a distance of 10 km. The number of tigers in the country is estimated to be over 1,700.