Strictly adhere to National Tourism Conservation Authority guidelines, says court

The Supreme Court on Tuesday lifted the ban on tourist activities in core areas of tiger reserve forests.

This follows Additional Solicitor-General Indira Jaising’s submission that on October 15 the government notified the revised guidelines for the 41 tiger reserves to be followed by States.

A Bench of Justices A.K. Patnaik and Swatanter Kumar said: “This court passed an order on July 24 that till final guidelines are issued, core areas won’t be used for tourism. Now that the National Tourism Conservation Authority [NTCA] has notified the comprehensive guidelines under the Wildlife Act for tourism in and around tiger reserves, we modify the interim order and direct that henceforth tourism activities will be strictly in accordance with the guidelines.”

The court said, “All concerned authorities will ensure that the guidelines shall be strictly in accordance with notification and requirements of guidelines are complied with before commencing tourism.” The Bench directed the States to prepare a tiger conservation plan within six months from today (Tuesday) and submit it to the NTCA.

Fresh guidelines

After the ban, several States and other stake holders urged the Centre to revisit the guidelines and sought the lifting of the ban. Accordingly, the Centre filed an application seeking modification of the order. Subsequently, the court asked the Centre to hold consultations with the States and others and come out with fresh guidelines. Accordingly, the NTCA formulated fresh guidelines.

The Comprehensive Guidelines on Strategy, Tiger Conservation and Tourism in and around Tiger Reserves envisaged that 20 per cent of the core reserve area should be permitted for tourism. Shifting the focus from wildlife tourism to eco-tourism, the NTCA had recommended that a maximum of 20 per cent of the core/critical tiger habitat usage (not exceeding the present usage) for regulated, low-impact tourist visitation might be permitted by the court. It said, “In case the current usage exceeds 20 per cent, the Local Area Committee may decide on a time frame for bringing down the usage to 20 per cent. Such area may be demarcated as tourism zone and there should be strict adherence to site-specific carrying capacity.”

Other suggestions are: “The States should enact law to regulate tiger tourism — tourist facilities; tour operators should not cause disturbance to animals; tourism infrastructure must be environment-friendly like usage of solar energy, waste recycling and rainwater harvesting etc; permanent tourist facilities located inside the core areas should be phased out in a time frame and 10 per cent of the revenue generated from pilgrim centres located in tiger reserves must be used for development of local communities.”