Answer from Praveen Bhargav, Trustee, Wildlife First:
- The Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 (WLPA) makes no distinction between a private and a government tourism company. So a State Tourism department is not exempted from the provisions of the WLPA. (Link to the Wildlife Protection Act).
- Section 29 of the WLPA prohibits any kind of destruction or diversion of habitat within a Sanctuary without a permit and no such permit shall be granted unless it is for the improvement of wildlife. The State Government must first get the proposal approved by the State Board for Wildlife. Further, based on directions of the Supreme Court in WP 337/1995 the proposal will also need the approval of the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL).
- Section 33 (a) of the WLPA contains a restriction on construction of ‘commercial tourist lodges’, hotels etc within the limits of a Sanctuary (means either on land notified as a Sanctuary or private land in an enclosure located within the outer boundary (limits) of a Sanctuary). All proposals must obtain the prior approval of the NBWL. [ Ordinarily, NBWL does not entertain such proposals].
- The Supreme Court in IA 1220 of IA 548/2000 in WP 202 /1995 (the Godavarman matter) has directed that only such construction activities that are necessary for protection and conservation may be undertaken but imposed a ban on any type of commercial exploitation.
- This means that no construction work on the proposed tourism project can be started within the limits of a Sanctuary without the prior permission of NBWL and the Supreme Court. In other words, any work undertaken without the SC permission would amount to contempt.
How to deal with such an issue:
- Document ( photos, video, etc) the current status of the area where the hotel is probably going to come up before the issue comes into spotlight. (It may become difficult later)
- A letter inquiring whether any tourism project has/is being planned in ………Sanctuary may be written to the Chief Wildlife Warden (CWLW). A seperate letter to the Director of tourism may be separately sent without citing the letter to the CWLW. On a confirmation the details must be sought thru RTI.
- Details of the proposal, exact location, building plan, area involved, agencies involved, the detailed project report (DPR), etc. must be sought. Inspection of records can also be sought via RTI. (Link to the RTI Toolkits)
- A follow up letter explaining the legal position can be written to the CWLW with a clear request/demand that the project must not be permitted. If no response is received (or parallely) it can be released to the media.
- If there is no official reaction and assurance that the proposal is dropped, the next course of action ie interventions can be planned including petitioning courts etc.
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