New Delhi: The Supreme Court is likely to decide today on permitting regulated tourism in core areas of tiger reserves across the country.
On July 24 the apex court had banned all tourism activities in the core tiger reserve areas.
The Centre later sought the Supreme Court`s permission to review existing guidelines for conservation of tigers, citing concerns expressed by the states.
A bench of justices comprising of A K Patnaik and Swatanter Kumar on August 29 granted four weeks to the Centre to evolve the fresh guidelines after consultations with states, all stake-holders, hotel associations,guides and tour operators affected by the ban.
"There is always a watch when tourism is allowed. If there is no tourism there will be no humans to watch the tigers.
"Poachers will immediately be caught by tourists and the guides. Poachers actually work undercover. If no tourists are allowed, it will be a field day for poachers," the bench told Attorney General GE Vahanvati, who agreed with the observations.
The apex court passed the observation after the AG sought permission to revise the existing guidelines to ensure that tigers were protected even while tourism is promoted.
The bench asked the Centre whether the existing tiger conservation guidelines envisage a complete ban on all activities inside core areas.
The Centre submitted that the rules did not envisage a complete ban, rather provided for 20 per cent activities inside the core areas.
The bench asked the AG to ensure regulated tourism as hundreds of vehicles are trooping in an out of the core areas.
Senior counsel Dushyant Dave, appearing for Rajasthan and states like MP, cited instances of Uganda, Kenya and certain other countries to claim that tourism regenerates wildlife and that there was no justification for the apex court to ban it.
Another senior counsel Ranjit Kumar, appearing for the Hotel Association of India, maintained that tourists did not venture into the core areas, but were only taken on guided excursions for a short period of time.
In its affidavit, the Centre had also contended that the states have expressed concern that many local people depend on tourism for their livelihood and banning tourism in core areas of the tiger reserves would result in loss of such income leading to discontent which may be a threat to wildlife and forests.
Under the existing guidelines and 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.
As per the guidelines, buffer zones are the areas which lie in the periphery of 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 kms. There are over 1,700 tigers in the country.
(With PTI inputs)