Middle path

The Supreme Court has done well to reverse its interim decision banning safaris in core tiger areas. New government regulations  that allow for tourism in these areas even as they further the cause of conservation of tigers – only 20 per cent of tiger habitats will be open to tourists and the creation of new facilities in tiger areas is forbidden – appears to have convinced the apex court to change its mind on the matter. The ruling is welcome as the earlier ban was seen to be a rather extreme step. It dealt a blow to tourism in the country. A key attraction for thousands of Indian and foreign tourists has been the opportunity to see tigers in their natural habitat. The ban on tiger safaris denied tourists this attraction. Besides, the tourism industry including those employed in tiger resorts and working as tourist guides were hit badly. Their livelihoods were in jeopardy. The court order will allow these sections to return to their jobs.

The boom in tiger tourism, the flood of people and vehicles, as well as the noise and pollution it brought into tiger areas in its wake had prompted the Supreme Court’s ban. It was to protect the tiger that the court had forbidden safaris. The move was well-intentioned. However, tiger conservationists pointed out that by banning safaris in tiger areas the court had removed tourists, who for decades have served as informal monitors and protected the tiger from poaching. With fewer people in tiger areas thanks to the safari ban, the fear was that the killing of tigers would become more frequent and instead of protecting the wild cat, it would end up contributing to its extinction.

With the government acting to allow some tiger tourism even as it limited it, the way was cleared for the court to rethink its decision. The court has endorsed the compromise. It has also called on governments to prepare tiger conservation plans within six months. The ball is now in the court of the state governments. It was their reluctance to act robustly to protect the tiger that forced the apex court to impose a total ban on tiger safaris. A lethargic response again on their part could invite the court’s ire again. A comprehensive plan that protects tigers, tourism and tourists is possible.

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