Delhi HC reserves verdict on permitting event inside Asola Bhatti wildlife sanctuary

The Delhi High Court Tuesday reserved its verdict on whether to accord permission to the forest department to hold a ‘Walk with Wildlife’ event inside the Asola Bhatti wildlife sanctuary in the Southern Ridge here later this month.

Justice Jasmeet Singh reiterated his concern with respect to the safety of people inside the sanctuary which was stated to be a home to 8-9 leopards as well as other wild animals like hyenas and jackals, and reserved his order after hearing the counsel for the parties.

“How do we expose people to this? You are hoping that leopard is a shy animal. This kind of adventure (cannot be permitted). What if one person is hurt? There may be kids,” the court observed.

Amici curiae- advocates Gautam Narayan and Aditya N Prasad- argued there can be no human activity inside Asola Bhatti which is a protected zone. The court was informed that the stray leopard from the sanctuary, which was spotted in a nearby residential colony last week, was yet to be caught.

“They are unable to catch a leopard but they want people to be walking on a 16 km track. They (admittedly) don’t have the manpower,” Narayan said.

“We are encroaching on an area meant for wildlife… Is there no other way to educate people of animal wealth?” one of the amici curiae said as he submitted that no plan was in place to deal with issues like noise and waste disposal during the event which included a Walkathon’, and Half Marathon’.

The Delhi government counsel said the event was duly approved by the authorities in terms of the management plan for Asola Bhatti which does not have demarcated areas like a core or buffer zone.

He said only 200-100 persons will be permitted to participate in the events in small batches.

Narayan also contended that the event was not an initiative of the forest department but of a trust for which approval was granted without any application of mind.

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He also argued that the distinction between a safari, which takes place in a regulated and planned manner, and the proposed event in a wildlife sanctuary must be kept in mind.

“This (event) is a slippery slope. This is a sanctuary…This is not a safari,” Narayan said.

The issue involving the event was flagged before the court last week by the amici curiae appointed in a case concerning conservation of the Ridge and removal of encroachment from there.

Justice Singh had then asked the government counsel to seek instructions, saying the sanctuary was not Masai Mara or Serengeti. Masai Mara is a game reserve in Kenya and Serengeti a national park in Tanzania.

The government lawyer had then assured the court that the decision was taken “at the highest level” in compliance with norms and the event was aimed at introducing people to the flora and fauna present in the sanctuary.

On Monday, the court had asked the department to get its house in order before proceeding further with its proposal to hold the event on December 9 and 10.

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