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Leopard not caught yet, can’t expose public to risk: Delhi HC on event at Asola | Delhi News

After being told by the Delhi government’s forest department that a leopard which escaped from Asola Bhatti Wildlife Sanctuary was spotted near Sainik Farms last week and has not been caught yet, the Delhi High Court Monday expressed concern and observed that the department is “ill-equipped” to handle the situation. It said this while hearing a matter on the proposed ‘Walk with Wildlife’ event at the sanctuary this month.

A single-judge bench of Justice Jasmeet Singh asked the Deputy Conservator of Forest concerned about the core and buffer area in the sanctuary and the number of leopards therein, to which the official said the concept of core and buffer zone does not apply to a sanctuary “which is as small as Asola”.

“The concept of core and buffer zones apply to large national parks like Corbett and Ranthambore because they are spread over an area of almost 1,400 sq km; so there you cannot throw open the entire area to tourists. Asola is about 30 sqkm. Here we are limiting people to move only on the patrolling tracks. Our vehicles, staff and myself; we move on those tracks day in and day out,” the official said, adding that visitors won’t be allowed to venture off the track.

To this, Justice Singh orally remarked, “Are you not understanding the gravity of the situation? Tell me how many leopards are there in your sanctuary. Where are they?”
The HC thereafter asked the official if the leopard spotted near South Delhi’s Sainik farm area on Saturday had been caught yet and questioned if the feline had come from Asola or not.

The official replied in the affirmative and said the department had not caught it yet.

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“You are totally ill-equipped to handle this kind of situation. I can’t let people be exposed to this kind of risk. You first get your house in order. You will not take any steps,” Justice Singh said, adding that the court will hear the matter on Tuesday (December 5) and decide.

The department had previously stated that the main objective of the proposed event, to be held on December 9 and 10, is to “make people aware of the existence of the sanctuary”. The event would involve participants walking and cycling to the forest on the existing track in small groups, it had said.

Advocates Gautam Narayan, Aditya N Prasad, Prabhsahay Kaur, appointed as amici curiae appeared in the matter, where Narayan said as per the department, “no event is proposed to be taken up in the eco-sensitive zone” of the sanctuary. However, “where it is going to be held, no one knows” as the same was not coming forth as per the department’s documents.

“In a sanctuary, the heart of it is the core area, around which the buffer area is located. In every sanctuary, the buffer is the area where tourists are permitted under supervision and escort of forest officials in their vehicles at designated time slots based on permits. That is what the Chief Wildlife Warden is authorised to give under Section 28 of the Wildlife (Protection) Act (grant of permit),” Narayan submitted.

Last week, Justice Singh had asked about the number of animals, including leopards, in the sanctuary. Questioning the department on the buffer/core areas, Justice Singh expressed concern about what would happen if a leopard were to stray inside this area. The HC had thereafter called for the original file and documents on the proposed event to show it was planned as per norms.

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