JAIPUR: It was a day of mixed fortunes for Rajasthan that has been advocating regulated tourism in tiger reserves rather than a complete ban.
The Supreme Court on Wednesday asked the Centre to formulate fresh guidelines for protection of tigers in core and buffer zones, providing room for an alternate route to be considered.
However, with the court deciding to continue the ban till the next hearing on September 27, just days before the Ranthambore tiger reserve opens to visitors on October 1, tourism at the park is sure to take a beating.
The online booking of Gypsies and canters for a safari at the park by the forest department is yet to begin. "Normally, online bookings start a month or two before the park opens for the season. However, this time with the Supreme Court ban, there is no way we can begin bookings. Else, tourists' money will get stuck," said AC Chaubey, chief wildlife warden, Rajasthan.
Till the last season, to get a Gypsy booked for a safari was a matter of luck as bookings are closed within the first week of the season owing to heavy rush of tourists.
Requests for cancellation of rooms at hotels too have started pouring in. Balendu Singh, president, Hotel Owners' Association in Ranthambhore said, "October November are major months for us. With festivals lined up, tourists head to Ranthambhore. This is not the case this year. Most people who are travelling on a holiday like to plan their tour well in advance but with the Supreme Court ban there is an uncertainty about visits to the park. The effect can be felt in the number of bookings."
With the court fixing the date of hearing in the case so close to the time when the park opens to public, hoteliers said fate of several bookings have been left to the last minute.
"First, we had told them (tourists) that by Wednesday the court would come up with a decision, but now with the ban being extended, we will have to intimate them once again through e-mails. We hope that the ban is eventually lifted. Ranthambhore has managed well with regulated tourism since several years and other states can learn from us. Even during peak season, just 40 vehicles are allowed to go inside the park everyday," he adds.
On the brighter side, with the Supreme Court in its fresh order asking stakeholders to make their submissions within a week to the committee set up for framing the guidelines for consideration, it is possible that many states, including Rajasthan, that have earlier sent their recommendations to the ministry will now approach the court straight away.
Rajasthan that has been leading a crusade of sorts gathering all tigers states in the country under an umbrella so that the total ban is lifted might just decide to represent its case on its own. However, officials refused to comment anything on the matter and said, "It is too early to decide on such things now."