In an extraordinary judgment which it declared on 26.7.2023, the Bombay High Court sitting at Goa, after hearing a petition filed by the Goa Foundation, issued the following directions, with time-lines for implementation:
(i) We direct the State Government to notify the Mhadei WLS and other areas referred to in NTCA’s communications (and the plans prepared by the Goa Forest Department Officials) as a tiger reserve under Section 38-V (1) of the WLPA within three months from today;
(ii) We direct the State Government to take all steps to prepare a tiger conservation plan as contemplated by Section 38-V (3) of the WLPA and to forward the same to the NTCA within three months from notifying the Mhadei WLS and other areas as a tiger reserve;
(iii) We direct the NTCA to render full assistance to the State Government for completing the above process and after that to expeditiously process the State Government’s Tiger Conservation Plan and take a decision thereon within three months of receiving the tiger conservation plan from the State Government;
(iv) We direct the State Government to set up antipoaching camps at strategic locations to be staffed by forest guards, watchers, etc., in the WLS and National Parks in the State of Goa. This exercise must be completed within six months;
(v) We direct the State Government and the Forest Department authorities to take emergent steps to ensure that there are no encroachments in the protected forest areas like WLS and National Parks pending notification of the tiger reserve, and even after that;
(vi) We direct the State Government to determine and settle the rights and claims of the Scheduled Tribes and other forest dwellers following the law as expeditiously as possible and preferably within 12 months from today.
The Public Interest Litigation was launched in March 2020, within weeks of the killing of a female tiger and her three cubs through poisoning by persons living within the Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary, and after a two member committee of the National Tiger Conservation Authority – the country’s apex body for the conservation of the tiger – had visited the state for an inquiry into the deaths and squarely blamed the Goa government and its handling of the sanctuaries in the state.
The state of Goa filed an affidavit claiming it was not really against the tiger reserve, but there were some issues that required to be solved first, including the settling of the rights of persons affected by the notification of the Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary in the year 1999.
It also made the claim that the Goa government did not feel the need to single out the tiger for special protection because it was concerned about the condition of all the wildlife within the sanctuaries.
The Goa Foundation produced a huge volume of material including correspondence between the NTCA and the Goa government, with the former actually pleading for notification of a tiger reserve in the state. The NTCA had come to the conclusion that Goa’s sanctuaries were an important corridor for tigers from Kali Tiger Reserve to Bhimgad wildlife sanctuary, and if the tigers were deprived of the space and movement required for species propagation, Goa’s sanctuaries would become “a death-knell” for tigers.
The Goa Foundation was also able to convince the court that the settlement of the rights of persons affected by the 1999 notification creating the Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary would be settled after the notification of the tiger reserve. More, adequate funds would come to the government to settle these issues which were largely pending due to lack of resources with the state.