BY PRAVEENA SHARMA
Supreme Court’s (SC) refusal, on Monday, to admit the Special Leave Petition (SLP) filed by the Goa government has ensured the process of the notification of the tiger reserve in the Cotigao-Mhadei complex continues unhindered.
Early this month, the state government had approached the apex court challenging the verdict of the High Court of Bombay at Goa, directing it to notify the tiger reserve in three months.
This had threatened to halt the efforts of the state forest department and other authorities to notify the Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary and surrounding areas as a tiger habitat.
They can, now, carry on with their task of notification without disruption as the high court’s July 24 order will continue to be in force with the SC declining to put a stay on it.
This is a major relief for supporters of the tiger reserve in the state and somewhat of a setback for the Goa government.
The SC has not completely thrown out the state’s case as it has issued notices to Goa Foundation, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) and the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) in the matter.
The state government’s SLP in the SC could have acted as a legal hurdle in the execution of the high court order and could have set the clock back for the declaration of the tiger reserve.
Two months have already elapsed since the Bombay High Court delivered its verdict.
The state has one more month to execute the court’s order.
In its judgement, the high court has asked the state to prepare a tiger conservation plan as “contemplated by Sec 38-V(3) of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972” for submission to the NTCA. This section specifies; “the state government shall, on recommendation of the Tiger Conservation Authority, notify an area as a tiger reserve”.
The central tiger conservation body has already made such a recommendation.
The NTCA, in its various reports, has made claims of the presence of tigers in the Goa region of the Western Ghats and has repeatedly called for the Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary to be elevated to a tiger reserve to provide it the much-needed access to technical, financial and monitoring support (from the central government fund).
The Goa government has maintained the state did not “fit the criteria” for a tiger reserve while environmentalists believe Goa’s Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary has the ideal ecosystem for tiger dwelling.
The two have been at loggerheads since 2011 when the idea of a tiger reserve was germinated.
The state’s tiger reserve project has failed to take off because of high political stakes. This has not only stalled the whole process but also seen acrimonious standoffs between its supporters and those fiercely against it.