New Delhi: In a big victory for conservationists, the Supreme Court on Tuesday banned tourism in the core areas of tiger reserves.
The order came in response to a public interest litigation by activists which argued that tourism activities were putting pressure on crucial tiger habitats and that tiger safaris and resorts should be shifted to buffer zones instead.
According to the latest tiger census, there are approximately 1700 big cats left in India.
A bench of justices Swatanter Kumar and Ibrahim Kalifulla also warned of contempt proceedings and imposition of exemplary costs on states which failed to notify the buffer zones in their respective tiger reserves.
"We make it clear that till final directions are issued by this court, the core zones or core areas in the tiger reserves will not be used for tourism," the bench said in its order.
The apex court was also furious that several states despite its earlier directions of April 4 and July 10 had failed to notify the buffer zones in their respective reserves and warned that if they failed to comply within three weeks the defaulting states shall be saddled with a cost of Rs 50,000 each, recoverable from the Principal Secretary, Forest of the state concerned.
The apex court also imposed a cost of Rs 10,000 each on Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Bihar, Maharashtra and Jharkhand for not complying with its directions.
However, counsel for Arunachal Pradesh and Jharkhand stated that they were ready with the notification and would file appropriate affidavits during the course of the day.
The court was hearing a PIL filed by conservationist Ajay Dubey demanding removal of commercial tourism activities from core or critical tiger habitats in the tiger reserves.
On July 10, the apex court had granted two more weeks "as last opportunity" to states which had defaulted in notifying buffer zones around tiger reserves to regulate commercialisation of revenue land around big cat habitats and help preserve the endangered species.
On April 4, the court had asked Jharkhand, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Maharashtra to notify the zones within three months.
Rajasthan had informed the court that it had notified the zones.
Under Section 38(b) and Explanation 1 and 2 of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, the states have to notify the list of core and buffer areas of tiger reserves under their respective jurisdiction.
Under the Act, buffer zones are the areas peripheral to the critical tiger habitats or core areas providing supplementary habitats for dispersing tigers and offering scope for co-existence of human activity.
The buffer zones constitute the fringe areas of tiger reserves up to a distance of 10 kms.
It has been alleged in the PIL that in violation of the conservation norms, authorities in various states had permitted large-scale construction of hotels, resorts and tourism projects, thereby gravely disturbing wildlife activities.
(With additional inputs from PTI)