Even as it extended its interim order banning tourist activities in the core areas of tiger reserves, the Supreme Court on Wednesday pulled up the Centre for inaction on protecting the tiger population.
A Bench of Justices A.K. Patnaik and Swatanter Kumar extended the ban when Wasim A. Qadri, counsel for the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) under the Ministry of Environment and Forests, drew the court’s attention to its fresh affidavit filed on Tuesday for review of the July 24 ban order.
Justice Kumar told counsel: “You are trying to make up. You give a report [to this court] after due deliberations. We want to know on what basis you did it. What was the data available with you? What do you mean by the Tiger project? What are you going to do to save tigers? Earlier, it [tiger population] was 13,000, now it has come down to 1,200. You are more worried about commercial activities than saving the tiger population.”
The court had passed the ban order acting on a petition filed by conservationist Ajay Dubey.
On Wednesday, besides the NTCA, several States and others filed applications for lifting the ban.
Justice Kumar told Mr. Qadri “What have you done for the tiger project? What about the core areas you have promised to take steps for? The Union of India has not done anything except filling affidavits. Why did you initially recommend the ban?”
Counsel said the Centre received several representations from States seeking a review of the ban.
The Bench, while posting further hearing to August 29, made it clear to counsel that it needed answers on the points it raised. The July 24 interim order would continue.
In its affidavit, the Centre contended that States had expressed concern that banning tourism would result in loss of income to locals depending on tourism, leading to discontent, which, in turn, might become a threat to wildlife and forests.
The additional affidavit, jointly filed by the NTCA and the Ministry, said the earlier guidelines framed by the Authority, on the basis of which the court imposed the interim ban, needed to be reviewed.
Following pressure from the States, the Centre sought permission to review the guidelines, issued under the Wildlife Protection Act, asking them to ban all tourism activities in the core areas of tiger reserve forests.