The Supreme Court on Tuesday said it may modify its July 24 order banning all tourism activities in the core areas of tiger reserves, but asked the Centre to notify within a week fresh guidelines for the conservation of the wild cat in the country.
A bench of justices A K Patnaik and Swatanter Kumar also made it clear that the states, if aggrieved by the guidelines, are free to challenge it before the court.
"We cannot either validate the guidelines or declare any of the guidelines ultra-vires of the Constitution," the bench observed, while posting the matter for further hearing on October 16.
The apex court while refraining from giving any stamp of approval, however, said that it was not opposed to tourism as such since the interim ban imposed by it was only to regulate it.
"The purpose is not to stop it(tourism) but regulate it. We will certainly modify it. Notify it and we will modify it," the bench told the Centre.
Additional Solicitor General Indira Jaising told the court that the guidelines being prepared by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) will be notified "within a day," but the court granted the Government a week's time to notify.
The bench, however, refused to give any approval for the guidelines saying the constitutionality of the same was amenable to challenge by states.
"We can't give a stamp that all is Constitutionally valid at this stage. We are not an appellate authority. See it was unregulated. You have not laid down guidelines. Now you want to issue guidelines. They are entitled to be challenged," the bench observed.
The apex court on July 24 had banned all tourist activities in the core areas of tiger reserves and had extended the ban till September 27 on August 29.
However, the ban was opposed by several states like Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Kerala on the ground that it would adversely affect tourism interests, though they had assured all measures to protect the wild cat.
The Centre, thereafter on September 26, had placed before the court the fresh guidelines formulated for states following the apex court's interim ban.
In its guidelines, the government has said no new tourism infrastructure should be created to preserve tiger population.
The Centre said a maximum of 20 per cent of the core/critical tiger habitat usage (not exceeding the present usage) may be permitted for regulated, low-impact tourist visitation.
The guidelines said permanent tourist facilities located inside core/critical tiger habitats, which are being used for wildlife tourism, should be phased out as per a time frame.
Among other measures, the guidelines envisaged keeping visitors at a distance of at least 20 m from all forms of wildlife and prohibiting them from luring or feeding any wildlife.
Under the existing guidelines and rules of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, the states have to notify the list of core and buffer areas of tiger reserves in their respective jurisdictions.
Buffer zones are the areas which lie in the periphery of the core areas also known as critical tiger habitats. Tiger breeding takes place in core areas which are meant to be kept free of any disturbance, including tourism.
The buffer zones constitute the fringe areas of tiger reserves up to a distance of 10 km. The number of tigers in the country is estimated to be over 1,700.