The Madras High Court directed the Conservator of Forests and Chief Wildlife Warden (authorities) to enforce guidelines regulating the influx of pilgrims during the temple festival at the Sathyamangalam Tiger Reserve.

The Court listed the matter for March 15, 2024, in a writ petition seeking action against the authorities for establishing a carrying capacity for the temple situated within the protected reserve.

The Bench headed by Chief Justice Sanjay Vijaykumar Gangapurwala and comprising Justice D. Bharatha Chakravarthy observed, “the steps that are proposed to be taken by respondents 2 and 3 should be implemented during the ensuing festival. We are informed that the said festival is now scheduled in the month of February, 2024. We hope and trust that all the steps that are detailed in paragraphs 10 and 11 of the affidavit of the second respondent, reproduced supra, would be adhered to and followed by the authorities and the temple”.

A Writ Petition was filed before the High Court seeking directions against the second respondent to establish a carrying capacity for a temple located in the Sathyamangalam Tiger Reserve. The Petitioner requested restrictions on allowing more devotees than the determined carrying capacity, claiming that large gatherings during temple festivals lead to violations of guidelines and norms. The Petitioner asserted a carrying capacity of 29 vehicles, while the second respondent suggested a capacity of 76 vehicles.

Allegedly, during festivals, up to 50,000 devotees gather, causing pollution, food preparation on-site, overnight stays, transportation of liquor bottles, and damage to firewood. The Petitioner argued that Respondents were not adequately safeguarding the Tiger Reserve Forest.

Whereas, the Respondents disputed the claimed number of attendees during festivals, asserting that only 5,000 to 7,000 pilgrims participate. The Respondent asserted that the temple has been in existence for centuries, and its volunteers claim to take precautions to maintain cleanliness and avoid activities that would harm the Tiger Reserve Forest or its species.

The Court noted that the Second Respondent, through an affidavit, outlined various measures taken to regulate the festival activities of the temple in the Sathyamangalam Tiger Reserve. These measures included conducting a peace committee meeting before the festival, with representatives from relevant departments, to discuss and pass resolutions for regulating the festival. The resolutions included guidelines on carrying intoxicating substances, protecting the forest and wildlife, parking vehicles in designated areas, avoiding flammable and plastic items, restricting access to certain areas for safety, and providing essential facilities.

The Court noted that, after obtaining approval from the Chief Conservator of Forests and Field Director, specific conditions were imposed for the temple festival, such as limiting the stay of devotees to the night of the festival, controlling the number of vehicles, organizing night patrolling for security, designating an area for goat sacrifice, and ensuring proper waste disposal. Additionally, the Bench noted that provisions were made for food supply, separate toilet facilities, and strict adherence to environmental regulations.

The Court observed that the proposed measures ought to be implemented during the upcoming festival in February 2024 and emphasized the importance of adhering to the outlined guidelines to safeguard the Tiger Reserve Forest and its wildlife.

Accordingly, the Court listed the matter for March 15, 2024.

Cause Title: Dr R Karpagam v Principal Chief Conservator of Forests and Chief Wildlife Warden and Others

Click here to read/download Order