The Supreme Court has instructed the formation of a committee to address the matter of establishing zoos or safaris within tiger reserves, national parks, and wildlife sanctuaries. It specified that existing safaris, like the one in Jim Corbett National Park under discussion, will remain unaffected, contingent upon the recommendations of the soon-to-be-appointed committee.

In that context, the Bench of Justice BR Gavai, Justice Prashant Kumar Mishra and Justice Sandeep Mehta observed that, "This is a case that shows how a nexus between a Politician and a Forest Officer has resulted in causing heavy damage to the environment for some political and commercial gain. Even the recommendation of the Senior Officers of the Forest Department, the Vigilance Department, and the Police Department which objected to his posting at a sensitive post have been totally ignored. We are amazed at the audacity of the then Hon’ble Forest Minister and Mr. Kishan Chand, DFO in giving a total go-bye to the statutory provisions."

In a similar vein, it was observed that, "It is well known that the presence of a Tiger in the forest is an indicator of the well-being of the ecosystem. Unless steps are taken for the protection of the Tigers, the ecosystem revolving around Tigers cannot be protected. The figures which are placed before us to show that there has been a substantial reduction in tiger poaching and an increase in the tigers’ strength throughout the country. However, that should not be enough. The ground realities cannot be denied. The events like illegal constructions and illicit felling of trees on a rampant scale like the one that happened in the Corbett National Park cannot be ignored. Steps are required to prevent this."

Last year, controversy arose over construction activities in Jim Corbett National Park, including alleged illegal buildings and water bodies.

The issue was brought before the Court through applications in the TN Godavarman Thirumulpad case, a forest protection matter where the Court issued continuous orders since 2002. Amicus curiae presented evidence of unauthorized constructions, including concrete and iron enclosures for safaris, raising concerns about endangered species like tigers.

The Court temporarily halted further construction in core wildlife habitats. Recently, a bench led by Chief Justice DY Chandrachud issued an interim order requiring Supreme Court approval for constructing zoos or safaris outside protected areas, responding to concerns about the Forest Conservation (Amendment) Act 2023.

The Supreme Court observed that, "bringing the culprits to face the proceedings is a different matter and restoration of the damage already done is a different matter. We are of the considered view that the State cannot run away from its responsibilities to restore the damage done to the forest. The State, apart from preventing such acts in the future, should take immediate steps for restoration of the damage already done; undertake an exercise for determining the valuation of the damage done and recover it from the persons found responsible for causing such a damage."

In light of the same, it was directed that, "The Safaris which are already existing and the one under construction at Pakhrau will not be disturbed. However, insofar as the Safari at ‘Pakhrau’ is concerned, we direct the State of Uttarakhand to relocate or establish a rescue centre in the vicinity of the ‘Tiger Safari’. The directions which would be issued by this Court with regard to establishment and maintenance of the ‘Tiger Safaris’ upon receipt of the recommendations of the Committee which we are directing to be appointed would also be applicable to the existing Safaris including the Safari to be established at Pakhrau."

Cause Title: TN Godavaraman Thirumulpad vs Union of India & Ors.

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