Delhi HC restrains govt from holding ‘Walk with Wildlife’ event inside Asola Bhatti Wildlife Sanctuary | Delhi News


Restraining the Delhi government’s Forest department from holding a proposed event — Walk with Wildlife — inside the city’s Asola Bhatti Wildlife Sanctuary this month, the Delhi High Court Thursday said that the department gave permission for the event in a mechanical manner. It added that the department did not analyse the threat perception as the event has trappings of a misadventure.

The high court in its order also remarked that while wildlife sanctuaries are made for the preservation and protection of wildlife in their natural habitats, “lately, man has been encroaching on the habitat of wildlife”.

Referring to the purpose of creating a sanctuary under the Wildlife Protection Act, a single-judge bench of Justice Jasmeet Singh observed that the Deputy Conservator of Forest concerned, on the court’s query, had said that there are many animals in the Asola Sanctuary, including seven to eight leopards. However, admittedly neither the “animals are tagged nor is the area is isolated”.

The court also observed that as per the Management Plan, there is no demarcation of core and buffer zones in the Asola Sanctuary built on a stretch of 32.71 This means that there is “no separate, exclusive, core area where the movements of leopards and other animals such as pythons, hyenas are confined to”, the court said.

Justice Singh also took note of the recent spotting of a leopard in Sainik Farm adjoining Asola and said, “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 from the Asola Bhatti Wildlife Sanctuary and three people have been attacked. This is worrisome.”

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“The above-narrated facts show that the conducting of such an event has all the trappings of it turning out to be a misadventure as the location of the animals are unknown, their area of movement is not isolated, the certainty with regard to number and species are guesswork and there appears to be no plan in place,” the high court said.

Justice Singh perused through Sections 27 and 28 of the Wildlife (Protection) Act and observed that the provisions mandate “stringent restrictions on entry in Sanctuaries and only in exceptional circumstances, as contained in section 28, the Chief Wildlife Warden may permit the entry for specific purposes”.

With respect to the event, the high court said that no such exceptional reasons have been given for grant of permission/approval except that it is for “eco-tourism”.

Justice Singh, on the ‘Copy of notings’ presented by the department, remarked that the permission for the proposed event had been granted in a “mechanical manner with no analysis of the threat perception to the people, the animals and the Sanctuary”.

The locations frequented by the “leopards, jackals, hyenas, and pythons” have not been discussed by the department while granting permission, the court further observed.

The court was informed that the proposed event will take place on December 9 and 10, restricted to a “Walkathon and a Cyclothon”, to be conducted on a 16 km stretch. It earlier also comprised a “Half Marathon” and a “Jungle on Wheels”.

“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 the 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,” Justice Singh underscored.

The court further said as per the literature shown to the court, “safaris and entries into Sanctuaries are to be very delicately, minutely worked out” to ensure a good balance between eco-tourism and the protection of wildlife. It, however, said for the proposed event, the Forest department is expecting “at least 100 participants”.

However, the court said there was nothing on record to show any arrangement for the expected participants, no plan for disposal of “waste including human waste” and no arrangement shown for preventing “loud noise” created by the organising of mass events like this.

Noting that the sanctuary has been restricted to 32 due to “heavy encroachment” on Forest Land on the Aravalli range in the Southern Ridge, the high court directed, “Respondents are restrained from conducting the proposed event, i.e. Cyclothon and Walkathon, till further orders”.

The order came in a 2016 plea seeking the removal of “illegal and unauthorised encroachment” in the reserved and notified forest land on the Aravalli hill range in Asola, a village which forms part of the Southern Ridge.

Last week, the amici curiae appointed in the matter, advocates Gautam Narayan, Aditya N Prasad and Prabhsahay Kaur, had apprised the court with a note raising concerns about the proposed event at the sanctuary.

The court also took note of Policy for Eco-Tourism in Forest and Wildlife Areas, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change in September 2018 which called for effective eco-tourism management, a State/District/Protected Area Steering Committee may be set up that shall oversee the implementation of the eco-tourism strategies, making recommendations to the Eco-Tourism board and to monitor activities of the tour operator to ensure that all safety norms are followed.

Justice Singh observed that this eco-tourism board is to review the tourism activities and make suggestions/advise the state government accordingly and noted that the guidelines in the policy have been updated in October 2021.

The updated ‘Guidelines on Sustainable Eco-Tourism in Forest and Wildlife Areas’ mandate promotion of eco-tourism based on scientific planning, including “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 also mandates monitoring “stress on wildlife vis-a-vis the number and pattern of tourist visitation”.

Justice Singh thereafter observed that nothing had been shown to the court to show that these guidelines are enforced and the existing Management plan for Asola Bhatti Sanctuary was made prior to the guidelines.

The main plea is now listed on December 15.


Mohd Aman

Editor in Chief Approved by Indian Government

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