Event inside Asola Bhati: Can’t expose people to risk, says Delhi HC

Following the recent reports of leopard-spotting in the Sainik Farm area, the Delhi High Court Monday asked the forest department to not press ahead with its plan to hold a ‘Walk with Wildlife’ event inside a nearby wildlife sanctuary later this month as it cannot expose people to the risk of an encounter with the big cat.

Terming the plan a “joke”, Justice Jasmeet Singh questioned the department about the number and location of leopards in the Asola Bhatti Wildlife Sanctuary in the Southern Ridge as well as whether the stray leopard spotted in Sainik Farm was caught.

The forest department official present during the hearing said only a limited number of people will be allowed on the patrol tracks for the event which earlier included Walkathon’, Half Marathon’ and Jungle on Wheels’.

“You are not understanding the gravity. There are 100 people (who are permitted to attend the event). How many leopards are there in the sanctuary?… Have you caught that leopard in Sainik Farm? This is a joke,” Justice Singh said.

“You are ill-equipped to handle a situation like this. I can’t let people to be exposed to this kind of risk,” added the judge.

Amici curiae- advocates Gautam Narayan and Aditya N Prasad- said there was no clarity with respect to the location where the event would be held or the demarcation of core and buffer forest zones in the sanctuary.

The official said there was no concept of core or buffer zone in a sanctuary as small as Asola Bhatti which is spread over an area of around 30 sq km.

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

“First you get your house in order. This is a joke. You will not take any steps,” said the court orally as it listed the matter for resumed hearing on Tuesday.

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.

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