In a major boost to save India’s dwindling tiger count, the Supreme Court on Tuesday directed all national parks, wildlife sanctuaries and tiger reserves in the country to notify “buffer” zone required under the Wildlife Protection Act 1972 within three months.
The order by a Bench of Justices Dalveer Bhandari and Dipak Misra came pursuant to a list supplied to the Court by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) about 15 tiger reserves yet to issue the mandatory notification of buffer zone as provided under Section 38-V(ii) and the Explanation to the provision.
It defines ‘buffer’ or ‘peripheral area’ as consisting of the area peripheral to the critical tiger habitat or core area, where a lesser degree of habitat protection is required to ensure the integrity of the critical tiger habitat, providing supplementary habitat for dispersing tigers, besides offering scope for coexistence of human activity. The limits of the buffer/peripheral areas are to be determined on the basis of scientific and objective criteria in consultation with the concerned gram sabha and an Expert Committee constituted for the purpose.
With the Court hearing a petition filed by wildlife conservationist Ajay Dubey where a demand was made to move all tourism activities out of core or critical tiger habitat in the tiger reserves. While all States have complied with the core area notification, the buffer zone notification was missing in key tiger reserves of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, and Bihar.
Issuing notice to the above States, the bench said, “We direct all concerned States to notify the buffer/peripheral area as required under the Act as expeditiously as possible and in all event within a period of three months.” The major erring tiger reserves included Ranthambore (Rajasthan), Panna (Madhya Pradesh), Sariska (Rajasthan), Dudhwa (Uttar Pradesh), among others.
In addition, the Court noted that an Expert Committee of NTCA under the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) is expected to submit a report on framing of guidelines relating to eco-tourism in and around tiger reserves. The Committee is expected to submit final report by May 16, submitted advocate for NTCA Wasim Ahmed Quadri, following which the Court posted the matter to July 10.
Welcoming the order passed by the SC bench, senior advocate Raj Panjwani assisting the Court as amicus curiae said that the order would go a long way in protection and preservation of tiger reserves.