Pradip Kumar Maitra , Hindustan Times

The Supreme Court's Tuesday order to ban tourism in the core areas of tiger reserves would boost the protection and conservation of big cats in the tiger projects in the state, particularly Tadoba, Pench and Melghat reserves, feel nature-lovers and conservationists.

The Court order came in response to a public interest litigation which claimed that tourism activities were putting pressure on crucial tiger habitats and tiger safaris and resorts should instead be shifted to buffer zones.

A bench of Justice Swatanter Kumar and Ibrahim Kalifulla also warned of contempt proceedings and imposition of exemplary costs on states which failed to notify the buffer zones in their respective tiger reserves. "The tourism activities in all tiger reserves of Maharashtra, particularly Tadoba, Pench and Melghat will be stopped following the Apex court's order, as all the entry gates of these reserves are in core areas," said Kishore Rithe, member, National Board for Wildlife.

However, the Maharashtra government had already notified buffer zones in three of its four tiger reserves, recently. They are Tadoba, Pench and Melghat while nothing was done in Sahyadri tiger reserve of western Maharashtra in this regard.

The Pench tiger reserve in Nagpur district, with a core area of 275 sq kms, has a 500-sq km buffer zone while the Melghat reserve, with a total area of 2,300 sq kms, has 1,268 sq km buffer zone. Tadoba is spread over 623 sq kms and 1150 sq kms as its buffer zone. The buffer zones were notified in accordance with the 2006 amendment to the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, which make buffer zones mandatory for protection areas notified as critical tiger habitats (CTH). All these three tiger reserves received CTH status in December 2007.

The Supreme Court expressed its strong displeasure that several states, despite earlier directions, failed to notify the buffer zones in their respective reserves and warned that if they failed to comply within three weeks the defaulting states shall be saddled with a cost of Rs. 50,000 each, recoverable from the principal secretary, forest department of the concerned state. The apex court also imposed a cost of Rs. 10,000 each on Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Bihar and Jharkhand for not complying with its directions.

SWH Naqvi, the state wildlife warden and principal chief conservator of forests (wildlife), Maharashtra, claimed that declaring a buffer zone in Sahyadri tiger reserve was under process. "We have already declared buffer zones for three reserves. We also value and respect the Supreme Court order and will act accordingly," he added.

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