We reproduce the Time of India Report on interim ban on all tourist activities in core areas of Project Tiger forests.
Popular destinations inside tiger reserves like Dhikala in Corbett will soon be out of bounds for tourists as the Supreme Court on Tuesday imposed an interim ban on all tourist activities in core areas of Project Tiger forests.
Irked by the lethargy of states in complying with the court’s three-month-old order directing them to notify core and buffer zones of tiger reserves, national parks and sanctuaries, a bench of Justices Swatanter Kumar and F M I Kalifulla said if there was no action within three weeks, environment secretaries concerned could face contempt proceedings in addition to being saddled with a cost of Rs 50,000.
“Till final directions of the court, core areas in tiger reserves will not be used for tourism activities,” the bench said in an interim order passed on a PIL filed by Ajay Dubey alleging that commercial exploitation of core areas through tourism was seriously intruding into breeding of tigers and their habitat.
States are reluctant to notify buffer zones as this can mean relocation of villages and resorts which is a social and economic problem they would rather not have to deal with. The interim ban is expected to goad the states in the right direction by shutting down the core areas which in some reserves like Corbett are fairly overcrowded.
The bench pointed to the gravity of the situation, saying, “The effect we can see is that tigers are virtually on the verge of extinction. You will only have statistics to count upon.” It came down hard on Jharkhand, Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra for delaying notification demarcating core and buffer zones under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.
The bench took exception to non-compliance of its April 3 and July 10 orders asking states to notify the core and buffer boundaries with only Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka and Rajasthan reporting full compliance. It imposed a cost of Rs 10,000 on non-complying states.
Former deputy chairman of Uttarakhand Forest and Environment Advisory Committee Anil Baluni reacted sharply, saying this would deal a death blow to tourism in Corbett as popular tourist destinations Dhikala and Bijrani fell in the core area. He said he would move the court with data to apprise it about interdependence of tourism and conservation.
However, senior advocate Raj Panjwani, who assisted the court as amicus curiae, said it was a good order for conservation of tigers. He also requested the court to approve the guidelines framed by National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) on eco-tourism, which attempted to strike a balance between tourism and protection of the ecosystem in tiger reserves. The court posted further hearing on the PIL for August 22.
The NTCA, in its report to the Supreme Court, had recommended ban on tourism activities in the core areas and wanted it limited to buffer areas. “There is a need to adhere to the amended provisions of the Wildlife Protection Act in terms of the core/critical tiger habitat or critical wildlife habitat that have defined the need to provide inviolate core and buffer areas (designed for co-existence) in tiger reserves,” It had said.
The core area is kept free of biotic disturbances and forestry operations, where collection of minor forest produce, grazing and human disturbances are not allowed. The Act defines buffer zone as the area peripheral to the critical tiger habitat or core area providing supplementary habitat for dispersing tigers, besides offering scope for co-existence of human activity.
The NTCA had said, “The buffer zone of a tiger reserve will not have the status of a national park or sanctuary. Buffer areas with forest connectivity are imperative for tiger dynamics, since such areas foster sub adults, young adults, transients and old members of the population. Habitat management and improvement activities will be carried out in the existing habitat of tiger and its prey species through active involvement of local communities.”
During the earlier hearing, the court was told that buffer zone constituted of fringe areas of tiger reserves up to a radial distance of 10 km, which had in the past witnessed largescale construction of hotels, mass tourism, and night safaris — all disturbing the roaming of wild animals at night in search of corridors.
The NTCA had said that fringe areas had corridor value and their ecological sustainability was important to prevent the area from becoming ecological sinks on account of overuse of resources and unwise land use.
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