The Supreme court today allowed the Centre to notify within a week its fresh guidelines on tiger conservation and indicated that it may modify its July 24 order staying all tourism activities in the reserved areas across the country.
A bench of justices A K Patnaik and Swatanter Kumar, however, made it clear that the states, if aggrieved by the guidelines, are free to challenge it before the court.
"We cannot either validate the guidelines or declare any of the guidelines ultra-vires of the Constitution," the bench observed, while posting the matter for further hearing on October 16.
"The guidelines being prepared by the National Tiger Conservation Authority will be notified immediately," Additional Solicitor General Indira Jaising told the court.
The apex court on July 24 had banned all tourist activities in the core areas of tiger reserves and had extended the ban till September 27 on August 29.
While extending the ban, the bench, however, had indicated that it was not averse to permitting regulated tourist activities, subject to the Centre evolving suitable revised guidelines to protect the depleting wild cat population.
The Centre, thereafter on September 26, had placed before the court the fresh guidelines formulated for states following the apex court's interim ban.
In its guidelines, the government has said no new tourism infrastructure should be created to preserve tiger population.
The Centre said a maximum of 20 percent of the core/critical tiger habitat usage (not exceeding the present usage) may be permitted for regulated, low-impact tourist visitation.
The guidelines said permanent tourist facilities located inside core/critical tiger habitats, which are being used for wildlife tourism, should be phased out as per a time frame. Among other measures, the guidelines envisaged keeping visitors at a distance of at least 20 m from all forms of wildlife and prohibiting them from luring or feeding any wildlife.
Under the existing guidelines and rules of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, the states have to notify the list of core and buffer areas of tiger reserves in their respective jurisdictions.
Buffer zones are the areas which lie in the periphery of the core areas also known as critical tiger habitats. Tiger breeding takes place in core areas which are meant to be kept free of any disturbance, including tourism.
The buffer zones constitute the fringe areas of tiger reserves up to a distance of 10 km. The number of tigers in the country are estimated to be over 1,700.