Tourists can hope to see tigers in their natural habitat once again as the Supreme Court Wednesday softened stand, saying it wasn’t averse to “regulated tourism” in the core areas of reserves.
“It’s the raised construction inside core areas and not tourists who harm tigers. Is it necessary that 100 vehicles go inside at a time? It (tourism) needs a proper regulation,” a bench of justice AK Patnaik and justice Swatanter Kumar said Wednesday.
However, the court’s ban — ordered on July 24 and extended on August 29 — on tourist activities will remain in place till September 27, when the case comes up next. The court is hearing a petition on tiger conservation.
On attorney general GE Vahanvati’s assurance, the court gave the government four weeks to draw comprehensive guidelines to take care of both tourism and tiger conservation.
Wondering if tourism was the primary reason for depleting tiger population, justice Patnaik, who wasn’t part of the bench that passed the July 24 order, said ban on tourism could lead to “several other problems”. “My experience has been if tourists go on around the area, there would be lesser scope of poaching,” he said.
Vahanvati agreed but also admitted that the 2012 guidelines permitting tourism in reserves had ignored the issue of tiger conservation. “There cannot be two set of guidelines but comprehensive one. Tourism activity will flow from the guidelines for project tiger,” he said.
On September 27, the court will also hear a bunch of petitions filed by various states, tour operators and hotels' association, seeking vacation of the ban. It asked all the stakeholders to submit suggestions to the ministry of environment within a week.
The court’s ban order triggered a debate as almost six lakh people, directly or indirectly, depend on tiger-tourism for livelihood.
India has 41 tiger reserves where 1,706 big cats live.