NEW DELHI: Extending the ban on tourism in core tiger reserve areas till September 27, the Supreme Court today indicated it was not averse to permit regulated tourist activities, subject to the Centre evolving suitable revised guidelines to protect the dwindling tiger population.
A bench of Mr Justice A K Patnaik and Mr Justice Swatanter Kumar granted four weeks to the Centre to evolved the fresh guidelines after consultations with states, all stake-holders, hotel associations affected by the ban, guides and tour operators. On July 24, the Supreme Court had banned all tourism activities in the core tiger reserve areas. The government sought permission to revise the existing guidelines to ensure that tigers were protected even while tourism is promoted.
During the nearly hour-long hearing, on Wednesday, the bench asked the Centre whether the existing tiger conservation guidelines envisage a complete ban on all activities inside core areas. The Centre submitted that the rules provided for 20 per cent activities inside the core areas.
"There seems to be some kind of clash, some kind of difference of opinion between Centre and the states. Please ensure these are resolved. Also identify which activities shall be allowed and not allowed inside core areas," the bench observed adding it wanted comprehensive guidelines to promote both growth of tiger population and regulated tourism.
"There is always a watch when tourism is allowed. If there is no tourism there will be no humans to watch the tigers. Poachers will immediately be caught by tourists and the guides. Poachers actually work undercover. If no tourists are allowed, it will be a field day for poachers," the bench told the Attorney General, Mr G E Vahanvati, who agreed with the observations.
The senior counsel, Mr Dushyant Dave, appearing for states like Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, urged the court to immediately lift the ban to ensure that the parks are opened by October 1, 2012. The counsel cited instances of Uganda, Kenya and certain other countries to claim that tourism regenerates wildlife and that there was no justification for the ban.
The Centre had earlier filed an affidavit seeking permission to review the existing guidelines for conservation of tigers in the wake of the court's order banning tourism in core areas of tiger reserves.
Nearly six lakh people, directly or indirectly, depend on tiger-tourism for their livelihood. India has 41 tiger reserves with over 1700 tigers.