Supreme Court won’t give its seal of approval

The Supreme Court has permitted the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), Ministry of Environment and Forests, to notify its fresh Comprehensive Guidelines on Strategy, Tiger Conservation and Tourism in and around Tiger Reserves.

A Bench of Justices A.K. Patnaik and Swatanter Kumar, however, made it clear that it would not validate or invalidate or give its seal of approval to the guidelines. With several States pointing out certain deficiencies in the guidelines, the Bench said, it would be open to the aggrieved parties to challenge them.

The Bench said the plea of the Centre and the States for lifting the ban imposed on tourist activities in core areas would be considered at the next hearing on October 16 after the Centre issued the notification on the fresh guidelines, which envisage that 20 per cent of the core reserve area be permitted for tourism.

After the court had imposed the ban on July 24, several States and other stakeholders urged the Centre to revisit the guidelines. Accordingly the Centre filed an application seeking modification of the order.

Subsequently the court asked the Centre to hold consultations with all the States and others and come out with fresh guidelines. During the resumed hearing, Additional Solicitor General Indira Jaising told the Bench, “I am presenting the guidelines for approval.”

Justice Patnaik told the ASG, “We can’t approve these guidelines. If it is ultra vires the States’ powers, can we grant our stamp of approval? You [Centre] notify the guidelines and let them challenge and test its vires.”

The ASG said the government would notify the guidelines immediately.

‘Shift focus to ecotourism’

Explaining the need for shifting the focus from wildlife tourism to ecotourism, the NTCA 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 visits be permitted by the court. “In case the current usage exceeds 20 per cent, the Local Area Committee may decide on a time frame for bringing it down to 20 per cent. Such area may be demarcated as a tourism zone and there should be strict adherence to the site specific carrying capacity… Ecotourism is proposed to be fostered under Project Tiger to benefit the host community in accordance with the Tiger Reserve-specific Tourism Plan forming part of the Conservation Plan, subject to regulation as per carrying capacity, with the focus on buffer areas. However, no new tourism infrastructure should be permitted in such core/critical tiger habitats.”