Supreme Court Disapproves Of Building Zoos Inside Tiger Reserves; Stops Constructions Within Core Areas Of National Parks, Wildlife Sanctuaries
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The Supreme Court on Wednesday put a stop to all construction activities in the core areas within tiger reserves, national parks, and wildlife sanctuaries, amidst the recent controversy over the Uttarakhand government’s proposal to construct animal enclosures inside the Jim Corbett National Park.
This development follows closely on the heels of a court-constituted panel recommending the guidelines related to setting up zoos and safaris within tiger reserves and wildlife sanctuaries to be withdrawn or amended to discourage the use of wildlife habitats for non-site-specific tourism activities.
A bench comprising Justices BR Gavai and Vikram Nath ordered :
“Issue notice to Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change and the National Tiger Conservation Authority returnable on March 15. The perusal of the report would reveal that various illegal constructions have been carried out inside tiger reserves. The photographs would show that a cordoned area has been constructed within the reserve. Prima facie, we do not appreciate the necessity of having a zoo inside the tiger reserves or national parks. The concept of protecting these is to permit animals to reside in their natural environs and not artificial environs. We, therefore, also call upon the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) to explain the rationale behind permitting such safaris within tiger reserves and national parks. Until further orders, the authorities are restrained from making any constructions within the core areas of national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, and tiger reserves.”
The bench was hearing a batch of applications, raising the issue of the alleged illegal construction of buildings and waterbodies, and unlawful felling of trees for the purpose, in Uttarakhand’s Jim Corbett National Park. These interlocutory applications were filed in the T.N. Godavarman Thirumulpad case, an omnibus forest protection matter in which the top court issued the longest-standing continuing mandamus in the field of environmental litigation. In 2002, a Central Empowered Committee (CEC) was also constituted for monitoring the implementation of the court’s orders and bringing to its attention, incidents of non-compliance.
“It is virtually a zoo in the name of a safari, within a tiger reserve! It is absolutely shocking these new buildings are constructed inside the core area in Corbett without any statutory prior approval. There has to be an immediate seizure,” exclaimed amicus curiae K. Parameshwar on Wednesday, before proceeding to give the court a brief timeline of past events. The counsel explained that although permission had been granted to the state of Uttarakhand for conducting a tiger safari in Corbett, which housed “one of the richest densities of tigers in India and the world”, later investigations by the National Tiger Conservation Authority and a high-powered committee appointed by the Uttarakhand High Court revealed that there were “major irregularities and illegalities” in the construction activities that took place subsequently, purportedly to provide accommodation for the forest staff.
Reports suggested the involvement of a former divisional forest officer of the Kalagarh Tiger Reserve, who was arrested on December 22 after evading arrest for several days.
“The statement of the divisional forest officer that ongoing construction activities have been approved has turned out to be completely false. No statutory prior approval was obtained. There was no administrative or financial sanction from the competent authority. The design of the constructions repudiates the claim that they were built for the forest staff,” submitted Parameshwar. He also informed the bench that after the NTCA and the High Court-appointed committee furnished their reports, the principal chief conservator of the forest also investigated the situation and found several irregularities in the construction activities.
The counsel explained, “Because there was so much pressure from the High Court committee and the NTCA, the forest department led an inspection on January 22 and found out that the construction activities have taken place in complete violation of the Supreme Court’s orders.”
“Where did the money come from?” asked Justice Nath. Parameshwar replied, “The state government sanctioned it without approval. Contractors were let in, and construction began without financial sanction.” The bills are pending, added Senior Advocate A.D.N. Rao, also appointed to assist the court.
“How did contractors start construction without getting any work order?” countered Justice Nath.
“The work order was given by the former divisional forest officer,” Rao responded.
Parameshwar further pointed out that the entire project was based on the idea of having “some kind of a tiger safari inside the national park”. “They say there will be an enclosure with tigers in it, for educational purposes and tourism. They have made a concrete and iron enclosure in the name of a safari,” he said, holding up an incriminating photograph. “Why will there be a zoo inside a natural forest? There are innumerable zoos across the country,” said Justice Gavai, incredulous.
“Exactly, this kind of safari is unheard of. This court will have to appreciate both the facts and the policy dimension. Does the policy allow a zoo to be created inside a national park, by calling it a safari, while enclosing animals within geographical boundaries using concrete and iron? We will address this court on these, but not today,” said Parameshwar while urging the court to pass an appropriate interim order directing the construction activities in Corbett National Park to be stopped immediately.
On behalf of the state of Uttarakhand, Dr. Abhishek Atrey explained that such a novel feature would boost jungle tourism. He said, “Safaris are not just allowed in every state of the country, but all over the world.”
“Safari is something different. You go on a drive through a jungle in a jeep, and you come back,” Justice Nath sharply retorted. “How is the question of making an enclosure for the animals of the jungle coming up?” the judge asked.
Before concluding, Parameshwar also informed the bench that “in the name of a safari”, 6,093 trees in the national park had been cut. “This is not an unofficial document. This number has been recorded by the Forest Survey of India.”
After hearing the submissions made by the counsel, Justice Gavai issued a temporary injunction on further construction activities within the core areas of national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, and tiger reserves, besides expressing their severe disapproval of the policy of constructing animal enclosures or ‘zoos’ inside these protected forests.
In Re: T.N. Godavarman Thirumulpad v. Union of India & Ors. | Writ Petition (Civil) No. 202 of 1995
Citation : 2023 LiveLaw (SC) 104
Environment Protection - Supreme Court disapproves of constructing zoos and enclosures within national parks- ve. Prima facie, we do not appreciate the necessity of having a zoo inside the tiger reserves or national parks. The concept of protecting these is to permit animals to reside in their natural environs and not artificial environs. We, therefore, also call upon the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) to explain the rationale behind permitting such safaris within tiger reserves and national parks. Until further orders, the authorities are restrained from making any constructions within the core areas of national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, and tiger reserves