Following resistance to the ban on tourism in core areas of tiger reserves by several States, NGOs and interested parties, the Supreme Court on Wednesday permitted the Centre to review existing norms and come up with comprehensive guidelines on ‘Tiger Project’ and ‘sustainable tourism.’

A Bench of Justices A.K. Patnaik and Swatanter Kumar gave this permission after Attorney General G.E. Vahanvati drew the court’s attention to the objections received and the Centre’s intention to revisit the guidelines framed under the Wildlife (Protection) Act.

Mr. Vahanvati said the Centre wanted to promote responsible tourism in the reserves while ensuring the protection of the big cats.

Justice Swatanter Kumar told the Attorney General: “There seems to be some kind of clash, some kind of difference of opinion between the Centre and the States. Please ensure these are resolved. Also identify which activities shall be allowed and not allowed inside core areas.”

Justice Kumar urged the Centre to also consult experts before submitting the final guidelines to the Ministry for vetting. “Give us definite projections on how you are going to take care of the tigers,” he said. Mr. Vahanvati submitted that tourism “makes for anti-poaching.” “There is always a watch when tourism is allowed,” the Attorney General said.

The Attorney General, on being asked by the Bench if there could be a complete ban on tourism in the core areas of tiger reserves to protect the animals from poachers, said: “There cannot be two sets of guidelines, one to protect tigers and another to promote tourism. We want to make comprehensive guidelines to promote both. Everybody’s interest will be taken care of.”

Regulated tourism

Justice Kumar wanted the government to regulate tourism in these reserves and said it had been “a free-for-all till now.” He gave the example of about 100 vehicles entering a reserve a day and asked: “Is it necessary to take 100 vehicles into the core areas?” He also sought to know whether the government had any plan regarding maintenance of tigers in zoos.

Senior counsel Raj Panjwani, appearing for petitioner Ajay Dubey, at whose instance the court imposed the ban on July 24, argued that for 22 years the government had done nothing. The Bench, however, made it clear that the interim ban order would continue. It asked the Centre to consult all stakeholders — hotel associations affected by the ban, guides and tour operators, and State governments — while framing the revised guidelines. It agreed to take up all issues, including the plea for lifting the ban, for further hearing on September 27.

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