The Chief Justice of India Dr D.Y. Chandrachud verbally remarked that if the proposal from the state government ought to be the first step then no state government would ever make a recommendation to declare a tiger reserve.
ON Monday, the Supreme Court issued notice to the Goa Foundation, a group of Goan environmentalists.
The notice was issued on an appeal filed by the Goa government challenging a decision of the High Court of Bombay at Goa.
On July 24, the high court haddirected the state government to notify the Cotigao–Mhadei forest complex of Goa as a ‘tiger reserve’ within three months.
A Bench comprising the Chief Justice of India (CJI) D.Y. Chandrachud and Justices J.B. Pardiwala and Manoj Misra issued the notice after hearing senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi for the Goa government.
The Bench did not grant stay of the high court’s Order.
The Bench opined that it would want to know the view of the Union government.
Senior advocate Indira Jaising, appearing for the Goa Foundation, submitted that the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) favoured the declaration of a tiger reserve in Goa before the Bombay High Court.
Rohatgi argued that there ought to be a proposal from the state government to the NTCA and only after that can the NTCA recommend to the state government to declare the area a tiger reserve.
Rohatgi referred to a letter dated March 31, 2016 from the NTCA to the principal chief conservator of forests (wildlife) and chief wildlife warden, Goa.
In the letter, the NTCA mentioned that the Cotigao–Mhadei forest complex had recorded tiger presence, which had the potential to have a tiger population.
Consequently, the NTCA had requested the Goa government to notify the said area as a tiger reserve.
This would, in turn, enable the NTCA to provide assistance to the state government to upgrade the protection of the said landscape.
Reading this letter, Rohtagi argued that this letter could not be treated as a recommendation of the NTCA. He contended that there ought to be a proposal from the state government.
The CJI verbally remarked that if the proposal from the state government ought to be the first step then no state government would ever make a recommendation to declare a tiger reserve.
When Rohatgi sought to rely upon a letter dated August 8, 2023, that is, a letter procured after the judgment of the Bombay High Court from the NTCA, Jaising opposed it submitting that Rohatgi could not be permitted to rely on documents that were not present before the high court.
This letter allegedly indicates a procedure for declaring an area as a tiger reserve. The procedure includes issuance of an advisory by the NTCA or submission of a proposal by the state to the NTCA to declare an area as a forest reserve based on field inputs like the presence of tigers in the area and its importance at the landscape level.
The second step of the procedure provides that the NTCA examine the proposal sent by a state government, wherever relevant.
‘In-principle’ approval is accorded in cases where the proposal is found to be incomplete with respect to core, buffer and corridor delineation, etc. In such cases, states are requested to resubmit the complete proposal for further consideration.
Though Rohatgi prayed for the stay of the high court Order or in alternate status quo to be maintained, the Bench simply issued notice in the matter after Jaising vehemently opposed the stay of the high court.
Section38V of the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972 provides for a ‘tiger conservation plan’. It says, “The state government shall, on the recommendation of the Tiger Conservation Authority, notify an area as a tiger reserve.”
The high court had held that the word “shall’ be given its ordinary meaning since no absurd or inconvenient consequences follow in doing so.