SC concerned over lakhs of devotees visiting temple in Sariska Tiger Reserve, sets up panel to find solution

 Voicing concern over lakhs of devotees visiting the ancient Pandupol temple situated in the core area of Sariska Tiger Reserve in Rajasthan, the Supreme Court on Wednesday constituted a high-level panel to suggest an “ever lasting solution” for effective management of the protected area.

A bench of Justices BR Gavai, JB Pardiwala and Sanjay Kumar said since lakhs of people are visiting the temple every year, a body of experts needs to be constituted to find a solution.

The bench constituted a panel of additional forest secretary (forest administration), principal chief conservator of forest and chief wildlife warden of Rajasthan, a joint secretary rank officer of the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests and Climate Change, and a representative of the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA).

The court said the chief wildlife warden will act as the convenor of the committee, which will submit its report to the court in six weeks.

Advocate K Parameshwar, who has been appointed as an amicus curiae (friend of the court) in the matter, said the Rajasthan government has filed an affidavit suggesting some solutions to the issue.

Senior advocate Manish Singhvi, appearing for Rajasthan, said the affidavit was in response to the April 17 note of the amicus curiae.

On Parameshwar’s suggestion that entry to the tiger reserve be allowed only on electric buses, Singhvi said the state government has proposed stationing such vehicles at two of the three entry points leading to the protected area. While 19 electric buses will be parked at Sariska Gate, two will be present at Tehla Gate to carry the devotees.

“In furtherance of the same, forest department has tied up with ICICI Foundation for operating 21 electric buses from two gates,” the sate government said in its affidavit.

Singhvi said progress has been made towards preparing a Detailed Project Report (DPR) for the construction of a 23 km elevated road from Thanagazi to Natni Ka Baran on the Jaipur- Alwar state highway to ensure free movement of wildlife.

He said the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) will start construction work after getting the necessary approvals.

On the amicus curiae’s suggestion that wildlife corridors be created from Siliberi Gate to Pandupol Temple, Singhvi said the proposal has been prepared and sent for necessary consideration of the competent authorities.

Singhvi said restriction on all vehicles other than electric buses will be considered in a phased manner in accordance with the directions of the state government.

During the hearing, Parameshwar said ancient temples are situated in most of the tiger reserves and lakhs of pilgrims visit them during the monsoon season when almost all national parks and sanctuaries are closed.

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Justice Pardiwala expressed concern over villages and human settlements situated inside tiger reserves and asked why they can’t be re-located outside the protected area.

Singhvi said the state is looking at relocating villages which are situated inside the tiger reserve.

On April 17, the top court had treated the note submitted by the amicus curiae as suo moto proceedings and said it will consider Sariska Tiger Reserve as a pilot case.

On July 9, the number of big cats in Sariska Tiger Reserve was reported to have risen to 30 with the birth of two cubs.

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