Although guided by the need to protect and promote the country’s endangered tiger population, the Supreme Court’s directive on Tuesday banning tourism from core tiger areas appears to be an unnecessarily harsh measure. The apex court’s order tends to give the impression that the tourists who swarm to have a glimpse of the big cat are a threat to the very survival of the tigers, and that once these onlookers are blocked from entering the tigers’ sanctum sanctorum, the big cats can lead a normal life and grow in number. That is of course the wrong way at looking at the issue. The real threat to tigers is from the poachers who have either been dodging the forest security personnel or working in tandem with them to kill tigers and trade their body parts for hefty profits. Neither the apex court nor the Government is unaware of this reality. Between the poachers and the buyers in the international market exists a battery of unscrupulous dealers that facilitates the movement of the body parts of the dead tiger from the forest to the seller and eventually the buyer. How will a ban on tourism check this illegal trade which is the single biggest cause of the depletion in the population of tigers in the country? After all, tigers did not disappear from Kanha and a few other reserves because of the arrival of tourists but due to the unchecked activities of poachers and the callous negligence of forest officials. In fact, the flow of tourists in core tiger areas and the resultant chain of human activity including the enhanced presence of forest staff can actually be an impediment to the poachers who cannot then conduct their nefarious business in peace. Moreover, if the idea is to promote love and appreciation among the people for these dashing big cats, then perhaps the best way is to allow a connect between them and the tigers. But how will that connect happen if the visitors are not allowed to see and admire the tigers in their natural habitat? Besides, tourism generates precious revenue which the authorities can use to improve facilities in the tiger reserves and parks. This does not of course mean that hysterical and garbage-generating tourists can just swamp the core tiger areas with their presence and become a nuisance. There is a strong case for a regulated and a more disciplined form of tourism in tiger reserves. A limit should be placed on the number of tourists that can visit a particular tiger park or reserve in a day. It is to be hoped that the apex court during its next hearing on August 22 will consider the suggestion by the National Tiger Conservation Authority that a judicious balance must be struck between the imperatives of tourism and the need to protect core tiger areas.
But the Supreme Court has done well to pull up State Governments that have been shoddy in earmarking core tiger areas and buffer zones, although the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, mandates the creation of the two. According to reports, there are as many as 10 tiger reserves across the country where the core area has not been identified, thus allowing all sorts of unscrupulous activities, including illegal constructions, to flourish in places where they have no business to exist. States that do not adhere to the stated guidelines must be severely penalised. The Centre can even partly link the availability of financial assistance to the States with the latter’s performance in this regard.