Supreme Court orders committee to address damage in Corbett Tiger Reserve

SC says the panel will assess the environmental impact caused to the reserve and quantify the cost of restoration

The SC observed that the presence of tigers in a forest is an indicator of a healthy ecosystem (photo: National Herald archives)
The SC observed that the presence of tigers in a forest is an indicator of a healthy ecosystem (photo: National Herald archives)


Observing that the presence of a tiger in a forest is an indicator of the well-being of the ecosystem, the Supreme Court has ordered the setting up of a committee to suggest measures to address the damage caused by illegal construction and felling of trees inside Corbett Tiger Reserve in Uttarakhand.

The top court said the committee, to be formed by the Union ministry of forest, environment and climate change, will assess the environmental damage caused to the reserve and quantify the cost of restoration.

A three-judge bench of the Supreme Court comprising justices B.R. Gavai, Prashant Kumar Mishra and Sandeep Mehta said the committee shall consider the question as to whether tiger safaris can be permitted in the buffer or fringe area. If such safaris can be permitted, what should be the guidelines for it, the court asked.

The committee will recommend measures for restoration of the reserve to the state in which it was before the damage was done, it said. "Identify the persons/officials responsible for such a damage. Needless to state that the State shall recover the cost so quantified from the persons/delinquent officers found responsible for the same. The cost so recovered shall be exclusively used for the purpose of restoration of the damage caused to the environment," the bench said.

The apex court said the committee will consist of a representative each from the National Tiger Conservation Authority, the Wildlife Institute of India, Central Empowered Committee and an officer of the environment ministry not below the rank of joint secretary as its member secretary.

Highlighting the importance of tigers in the ecosystem, the top court quoted from the epic Mahabharata to say, "The tiger perishes without the forest and the forest perishes without its tigers. Therefore, the tiger should stand guard over the forest and the forest should protect all its tigers."

The SC said unless steps are taken for the protection of tigers, the ecosystem revolving around them cannot be protected. It also directed that the committee would recommend the type of activities that should be permitted and prohibited in the buffer zone and fringe areas of the reserve. "While doing so, if tourism is to be promoted, it has to be eco-tourism," it said.

The type of construction that should be permissible in such places would have to be in tune with the natural environment. The committee, it said, shall suggest the number and type of resorts that should be permitted within the close proximity of the protected areas, besides restrictions to be imposed on resorts so that they are managed in tune with the object of protecting and maintaining the ecosystem.

The committee shall also make recommendations about noise restrictions, it said. "The measures required to be taken for effective management and protection of tiger reserves which shall be applicable on a pan India basis," the court said of the tasks of the proposed panel.

The court's judgement came on a petition filed by environment activist and lawyer Gaurav Bansal alleging destruction of the tiger habitat and a decline in tiger density in the Lansdowne forest division owing to illegal constructions in the Pakhro Tiger Safari as well as unlawful felling of thousands of trees.

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