What the Central government failed to achieve in years, the Supreme Court did with a single stroke. On Tuesday, the apex court asked all state governments to notify core and buffer zones in 41 tiger reserves, over 600 wildlife sanctuaries and national parks in the next three months.
The Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, mandated every state to notify core and buffer zone in each wildlife area. Despite the specific clause in the law, the state governments had refused to implement it for political and socio-economic reasons.
India’s tiger state Madhya Pradesh had refused to notify the buffer or peripheral zone in Panna tiger reserve citing political constraint. State chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan had gone on record against notification of buffer zones and local BJP leaders have threatened agitation if the buffer --- home for diamond mining --- is demarcated.
In Rajasthan, the buffer in both Sariska and Ramthambore has not been notified as number of resorts and state highways fall in the buffer zone. Similar is the case with Dudhwa tiger reserve in Uttar Pradesh and Sahyadari in Maharashtra.
Of the 41 tiger reserves in India, 15 have not notified the buffer area. Except, Valmiki tiger reserve in Bihar, all others tiger reserves have notified a core-critical or inviolate (safe tiger areas) tiger areas. An area of 800-1,000 sq km should be core area and remaining forest land should be notified as buffer.
According to National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), mining or industrial activity is debarred in buffer zones. Only restricted tourism is allowed, an official said. The court’s order could have huge implications as there could be new restrictions on commercial activity in the buffer.
Once all tiger reserves notify core and buffer zones, the government plans to ban tourism in the core areas on the ground that human disturbance leads to inbreeding. “Entire tourism would be restricted to the buffer,” an official said. The NTCA has already issued guidelines on allowing tiger safari in buffer zones.
The NTCA has constituted a committee of experts on tourism in tiger reserve which is expected to submit its report by March 17. The committee is examining environment ministry’s draft guideline which proposes to impose 30 % tax on tiger tourism and provide for sustainable tourism.
The Supreme Court had sought tiger tourism guidelines once the committee submits its report and is expected to issues directions on tourism in and around tiger reserves.
The court’s order came on an innocuous petition, where Right To Information activist Ajay Dubey, had challenged the decision of the Madhya Pradesh high court not to ban tourism activity inside core areas of tiger reserves in the state. The NTCA had supported Dubey’s petition.