Supreme Court pulls up ex-Uttarakhand minister, DFO for damaging Jim Corbett | Latest News India - Hindustan Times

Supreme Court pulls up ex-Uttarakhand minister, DFO for damaging Jim Corbett

ByAbraham Thomas
Mar 06, 2024 02:29 PM IST

SC also formed a committee to look into whether tiger safaris can be permitted in buffer or fringe areas of national parks in the country

The Supreme Court on Wednesday criticised former Uttarakhand forest minister Harak Singh Rawat and ex-divisional forest officer (DFO) Kishan Chand for allowing illegal construction and felling of trees in the Corbett tiger reserve.

The Court restrained from directing any action as CBI probe is pending in the matter. (HT file photo)
The Court restrained from directing any action as CBI probe is pending in the matter. (HT file photo)

The Court took a grim view of how the work for the Pakhro tiger safari was started at Corbett due to collusion by the then DFO Chand and Rawat which led to massive felling of trees of construction of permanent structures.

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The bench said, “This is a classic case to show how the public trust doctrine has been thrown into the dustbin. It shows how nexus between politician and bureaucrat led to heavy damage to the environment.”

The Court restrained from directing any action as CBI probe is pending in the matter as the Court hoped that law will take its own course.

The Court further stated that the state cannot escape its responsibility of restituting the damage caused to the environment and its duty to restore the harm caused.

The court held that zoos cannot be permitted in protected areas such as national parks and wildlife sanctuaries as it struck down the 2019 guidelines issued by the national tiger conservation authority (NTCA) permitting zoos in tiger reserves.

The top court gave conditional nod for the Pakhro tiger safari at Jim Corbett tiger reserve limiting only injured, rescued or orphaned cubs in the wild to be kept there and no animals to be sourced from outside.

A bench headed by justice BR Gavai said, “We are permitting the Pakhro tiger safari only under Clause 9 of the NTCA 2016 guidelines.” Clause 9 of the 2016 guidelines provided that “No tiger shall be obtained from a zoo exhibit,” and only injured (after getting treatment) and conflict tigers could be kept apart from orphaned tiger cubs.

Also Read: SC seeks information on exact location of road within Corbett Tiger Reserve

The bench, also comprising justices PK Mishra and Sandeep Mehta said, “After considering the 2012 and 2016 NTCA guidelines and we prima facie find no infirmity to establish tiger reserve in buffer and fringe areas of tiger reserves providing for injured, conflict tigers and orphaned cubs.”

It added, “The 2019 NTCA guidelines provide for zoos which is contrary to the purpose of tiger conservation... the 2019 guidelines stand quashed to this extent.”

To determine the guidelines governing management of tiger safaris in view of these directions, the Court constituted a four-member committee having representatives from NTCA, Wildlife Institute of India, central empowered committee, and ministry of environment, forests and climate change (MoEFCC) to submit a report in three months.

The Court entrusted the committee to recommend the permitted activities in safari, animals to be sourced considering that such safaris to be in proximity with rescue and rehabilitation centres, restrictions of noise level, effective management of safaris on a pan-India basis, and construction to be permitted that is in line with conservation of ecology and protecting environment.

The orders were passed on a petition filed by environment activist and lawyer Gaurav Bansal who pointed out that the site for tiger safari at Pakhro was not appropriate and brought to the attention of the Court how trees were felled, and illegal construction made to facilitate this project.

The bench had earlier ordered the structures to be demolished and the state government initiated disciplinary proceedings against the delinquent officers besides handing over investigation to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).

The court asked the state to complete its departmental action against the responsible officers and directed both CBI and state government to file updated status reports in three months.

The Court further noted that the 2019 guidelines have entrusted selection of animals for the safari to the central zoo authority (CZA). Even this was not found to be in tune with tiger conservation as the bench said, “NTCA shall have final authority as the tiger safari is for in-situ rehabilitation of tigers.

The committee constituted by the Court was directed to make recommendations on how to restore the damage caused to its original state, to assess the cost to be recovered for the damage and identify the people responsible for the damage. These funds would be utilised for restoring the environmental damage caused at Corbett, the Court held.

The tiger safari planned at Pakhro is on a land measuring 106 hectares. The state government had informed the Court that this area constitutes only 0.082% of the total area at Corbett and 0.22% of the buffer area of the tiger reserve.

The project started with all requisite approvals from the national tier conservation authority (NTCA) in 2015, the central zoo authority (CZA) in 2019 and the forest clearances from the ministry of environment, forests and climate change (MoEFCC) in October 2020 and September 2021.

Though the Centre pointed out that number of tigers in the country has shown an increase and tiger poaching has come down, the bench in its judgment observed, “The increase in tiger strength is not enough, the ground reality cannot be denied as the rampant felling of trees in Corbett cannot be ignored.”

Steps must be taken to protect tigers, as the Court cited a quote from Mahabharata that said, “Tiger perishes without forest and forest perishes without tigers.”

The Court had reserved orders on Bansal’s petition on January 12 after hearing the petitioner, state, Centre, NTCA and amicus curiae K Parameshwar. The Court even directed the state government to pay a sum of 10 lakh to Parameshwar for his services rendered in the matter.

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