HC restrains forest dept from holding event inside Asola Bhatti Wildlife Sanctuary
The Delhi High Court on Thursday restrained the forest department from holding a 'Walk with Wildlife' event inside the Asola Bhatti Wildlife Sanctuary in the southern Ridge here later this month, saying it could endanger the lives of the participants and wild animals inside the jungle in the absence of adequate arrangements for their safety and security.
Justice Jasmeet Singh observed the proposed event, which included a walkathon to be held on December 9 and 10, could turn out to be a ''misadventure'' as the location of the animals is unknown, their area of movement not isolated, their numbers and species only a guesswork, and no effective plan in place. ''There has been a recent spotting of a leopard in Sainik Farm which adjoins Asola. Six days have passed and yet the forest officers have failed to locate the stray leopard. According to the press news, this leopard has strayed in from the Asola Bhatti Wildlife Sanctuary and three people have been attacked. This is worrisome,'' the court said. ''The Respondents are restrained from conducting the proposed event, i.e. Cyclothon and Walkathon, till further orders,'' the court directed.
The issues concerning the event, which was to be held on a 13 km track inside the sanctuary, were flagged before the court last week by the amici curiae appointed in a case related to conservation of the Ridge and removal of encroachment from there.
Amici curiae- advocates Gautam Narayan, Aditya N Prasad and Prabhsahay Kaur- had argued there can be no human activity inside Asola Bhatti which is a protected zone having wildlife, and the approval to hold the event was granted without any application of mind.
The government lawyer had assured the court that the decision was taken ''at the highest level'' in compliance with norms, and the event was aimed at introducing people to the flora and fauna in the sanctuary.
In its order, Justice Singh said Asola Bhatti has no demarcation of core and buffer zone to determine the movement of leopards and other animals such as pythons and hyenas, which are also not tagged, and the record showed that the permission for the proposed event was granted in a mechanical manner with no analysis of the threat perception to the people, the animals and the sanctuary. Tagging wild animals is a common practice adopted to gather information about their behaviour, movement patterns, population dynamics, and ecological interactions.
''The advertisement shows a walkathon and a Cyclothon to be conducted in the reserved and notified forest land, which according to me cannot be permitted as it not only endangers the lives of citizens who will be willing to participate in the event but also the lives of the animals existing in the wildlife sanctuary, no arrangement for safety and security put forth,'' the court stated. ''Asola Bhatti Wildlife Sanctuary was made on a stretch of 32.71 sq.kms. The DCF, who is present in court, on my query, states that there are many kinds of species/animals in the Sanctuary, ranging from reptiles, herbivores and carnivores. He states that in addition to the flora and fauna, there are about 7-8 leopards, however, it is admitted that neither the animals are tagged nor is the area isolated,'' it added.
The court said under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, there are stringent restrictions on entry into sanctuaries barring in exceptional circumstances and, in the present case, no such exceptional reasons have been given for grant of permission except that it is for “eco-tourism”.
It added that the authorities are expecting at least 100 participants for the event but there is no arrangement for the disposal of waste including human waste and prevention of loud noise created at such mass events. The court stated that Asola Bhatti Wildlife Sanctuary has been restricted to 32 sq km due to heavy encroachment on forest land in the Southern Ridge and safaris and entries into sanctuaries are required to be planned activities to ensure a good balance between eco-tourism and the protection of wildlife.
''Admittedly, sanctuaries are made for the preservation and protection of wildlife in their natural habitat. It is given that animals and humans must co-exist, but lately, man has been encroaching on the habitat of wildlife,'' the court said.
''The updated Guidelines on Sustainable Eco-Tourism in Forest and Wildlife Areas mandate the promotion of eco-tourism on the basis of science-based planning. This includes the demarcation of eco-tourism zones upon assessment of management requirements of target wildlife, the habitat or geographic entity and their behavioural and ecological entities.
''It mandates the monitoring mechanism to include biological parameters to monitor stress on wildlife vis-a-vis the number and pattern of tourist visitation. Nothing has been shown to me to show that these guidelines are enforced,'' it added.
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