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While Planning a hike in Western Ghats, India by studying Satellite Images, I came through various identifications for a forest area like National Park, Wildlife Sanctuary, etc.

On studying further I came across some more terms and areas, and read that it is illegal to venture in some of them, but I wasn't able to find any valid documentation on the same.

Some of the terms I have come across are (There might be more terms/areas I haven't come across):

  • Wildlife sanctuaries
  • Biosphere reserves
  • Reserved and protected forests
  • Conservation reserves
  • Private protected areas
  • Conservation areas
  • National Parks

What is the difference between the above mentioned areas and what is the law about hiking/camping through these areas? Here I am asking the question with respect to Indian forests/protected areas.

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Disclaimer: I am no expert in this field, and I must admit that I had to go through various documents (PDFs) that I had archived over a period of time, but was too lazy to understand them fully. I usually refer to sections that I want to know about. And I have never memorised this information.


First thing, it's never too clear for any veteran trekker in India to know how these terms differ from each-other. I consider myself no better than an amateur-ish trekker, so I and many of us follow one rule of thumb:

"Although, people have access to Forest Laws through various resources, people take them very lightly. Indian forest laws are documented in a proper way, but authorities apply them as per convenience."

Ever since Sahyadri Tiger Project is taken seriously, the administration of these laws in certain containable regions is looking very impressive, and a thing to be glad about. So, the whole point is, don't go by my answer directly while deciding on whether or not to enter a protected area, ask the local people/officials, and then proceed. Authorities here do not hesitate to bend the laws against us right away.



There are two aspects to this whole thing: 1. Typically in particular interest of Wildlife 2. Typically in interest of Forest as an ecosystem

Let's looks at the first way to start with, referring to The Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972:

Sanctuaries:

To understand the legal definition of a Sanctuary: Chapter IV, section 18 states:

18. Declaration of National Parks. –

(1) The State Government may, by notification, declare its intention to constitute any area other than area comprised with any reserve forest or the territorial waters as a sanctuary if it considers that such area is of adequate ecological, faunal, floral, geomorphological, natural, or zoological significance, for the purpose of protecting, propagating or developing wildlife or its environment.

And, the next section states (more conveniently, and practically as well):

(2) The notification referred to in sub-section (1) shall specify, as nearly as possible, the situation and limits of such an area.

For access rights: Chapter IV, section 27, 28, 30, 31 and 32 clearly state the following:

27: Restriction on entry in sanctuary -

(1) No person other than,
(a) a public servant on duty;
(b) a person who has been permitted by the Chief Wildlife Warden or the authorised officer to reside within the limits of the sanctuary;
(c) a person who has any right over immovable property within the limits of the sanctuary;
(d) a person passing through the sanctuary along a public highway, and
(e) the dependents of the person referred to in CI. (a), (b) or (c) shall enter or reside in the sanctuary, except under and in accordance with the conditions of a permit granted under section 28.

(2) Every person shall, so long as he resides in the sanctuary, be bound
(a) to prevent the commission, in the sanctuary, or an offence against this Act;
(b) where there is reason to believe that any such offence against this Act has been committed in such sanctuary, to help in discovering and arresting the offender;
(c) to report the death of any wild animal and to safeguard its remains until the Chief Wildlife Warden or the authorised officer takes charge thereof;
(d) to extinguish any fire in such sanctuary of which he has knowledge or information and to prevent from spreading by any lawful means in his power, any fire within the vicinity of such sanctuary of which he has knowledge or information; and
(e) to assist any forest officer, Chief Wildlife Warden, Wildlife Warden or police officer demanding his aid for preventing the commission of any offence against this Act or in the investigation of any such offence.

(3) No person shall, with intent to cause damage to any boundary-mark of a sanctuary or to cause any wrongful gain as defined in the Indian Penal Code (45 of 1860), alter, destroy, move, or deface such boundary-mark.

(4) No person shall tease or molest any wild animal or litter the grounds or sanctuary.

28: Grant of permit. – (1) The Chief Wildlife Warden may, on application, grant to any person a permit to enter or reside in a sanctuary for all or any of the following purposes, namely:
(a) investigation or study of wildlife and purposes ancillary or incidental thereto; (b) photography; (c) scientific research; (d) tourism; (e) transaction of lawful business with any person residing in the sanctuary.

(2) A permit to enter or reside in a sanctuary shall be issued subject to such conditions and on payment of such fee as may be prescribed.

30. Causing fire prohibited. – No person shall set fire to a sanctuary, or kindle any fire, or leave any fire burning, in a sanctuary, in such manner as to endanger such sanctuary.

31 Prohibition of entry into sanctuary with weapon. – No person shall enter a sanctuary with any weapon except with the previous permission in writing of the Chief Wildlife Warden or the authorised officer.

32. Ban on use of injurious substances. – No person shall use in a sanctuary, chemicals, explosives or any other substances which may cause injury to, or endanger, any wildlife in such sanctuary.


National Parks:

To understand the legal definition of a National Park: Chapter IV, Section 35:

35. Declaration of National Parks. –

(1) Whenever it appears to the State Government that an area, whether within a sanctuary or not, is, by reason of its ecological, faunal, floral, geo-morphological, or zoological association or importance, needed to be constituted as a National Park for the purpose of protecting & propagating or developing wildlife therein or its environment, it may, by notification, declare its intention to constitute such area as a National Park.

Furtherly to sum-up the access rights:

(6) No person shall destroy, exploit, or remove any wildlife from a National Park or destroy or damage the habitat or any wild animal or deprive any wild animal or its habitat within such National Park except under and in accordance with a permit granted by the Chief Wildlife Warden and no such permit shall be granted unless the State Government, being satisfied that such destruction, exploitation, or removal of wildlife from the National Park is necessary for the improvement and better management of wildlife therein, authorises the issue of such permit.

(7) No grazing of any livestock shall be permitted in a National Park and no livestock shall be allowed to enter except where such [livestock] is used as a vehicle by a person authorised to enter such National Park. (8) The provisions of secs. 27 and 28, secs.30 to 32 (both inclusive), and CIS, (a), (b) and (c) of [Sec.33, 33A14] and sec.34 shall, as far as may be, apply in relation to a National Park as they apply in relation to a sanctuary


Reserved Forests:

Chapter I, Section 2.: "Definitions" state,

“reserve forest” means the forest declared to be reserved by the State Government under sec.20. of the Indian Forest Act, 1927

And, surprisingly, Section 20 falls under section that talk about Sanctuaries. It was all about your access rights, now take a look at what rights Authorities hold. When it's about Authorities access over a person under a kind of reserved land, no section seems to be segregating the statements.
In a nutshell, it is obviously a long section, but I'll just quote the first sub-section so that you get the gist of it.

Chapter VI: Prevention and Detection of Offences: It states,

50. Power of entry, search, arrest and detention. -

(1) Notwithstanding anything contained in any other law for the time being in force, the Director or any other authorised by him in this behalf or the Chief Wildlife Warden or the authorised officer or any forest officer or any police officer not below the rank of a sub-inspector may, if he has reasonable grounds for believing that any person has committed an offence against this Act,
(a) require any such person to produce for inspection any captive animal, wild animal, animal article, meat, [trophy, uncured trophy, or any specified plant or part or derivative thereof] in his control, custody or possession, or any licence, permit or any other document granted to him or required to be kept by him under the provisions of this Act;
(b) stop any vehicle or vessel in order to conduct search or inquiry or enter upon and search any premises, land, vehicle, or vessel in the occupation of such person, and open and search any baggage or other things in his possession;
(c) seize any captive animal, wild animal, animal article, meat, trophy or uncured trophy, or any specified plant or part or derivative thereof in respect of which an offence against this Act appears to have been committed, in the possession of any person together with any trap, tool, vehicle, vessel, or weapon used for committing any such offence and unless he is satisfied that such person will appear and answer any charge which may be preferred against him arrest him without warrant and detain him.
Provided that where a fisherman, residing within ten kilometres of a sanctuary or National Park, inadvertently enters on a boat not used for commercial fishing, in the territorial waters in that sanctuary or National Park, a fishing tackle or net no such boat shall not be seized.


Lets look at what Forest Laws says about it all: The Indian Forest Act 1927

Reserved Forests

Chapter II:Reserved Forests: Jumping to section 26 which is about "Access" that are in interest of a trekker/hiker, it states:

26. Acts prohibited in such forests.

(1) Any person who
(a) makes any fresh clearing prohibited by section 5, or
(b) sets fire to a reserved forest, or, in contravention of any rules made by the State Government in this behalf, kindles any fire, or leaves any fire burning, in such manner as to endanger such a forest; or who, in a reserved forest
(c) kindles, keeps or carries any fire except at such seasons as the Forest-officer may notify in this behalf,
(d) trespasses or pastures cattle, or permits cattle to trespass;
(e) causes any damage by negligence in felling any tree or cutting or dragging any timber;
(f) fells, girdles, lops, or bums any tree or strips off the bark or leaves from, or otherwise damages, the same;
(g) quarries stone, bums lime or charcoal, or collects, subjects to any manufacturing process, or removes, any forest-produce;
(h) clears or breaks up any land for cultivation or any other purpose;
(i) in contravention of any rules made in this behalf by the State Government hunts, shoots, fishes, poisons water or sets traps or snares; or
(j) in any area in which the Elephant's Preservation Act, 1879 (6 of 1879), is not in force, kills or catches elephants in contravention of any rules so made, shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to six months, or with fine which may extend to five hundred rupees, or with both, in addition to such compensation for damage done to the forest as the convicting Court may direct to be paid.

(2) Nothing in this section shall be deemed to prohibit
(a) any act done by permission in writing of the Forest-officer, or under any rule made by the state Government; or
(b) the exercise of any right continued under clause (c) of sub-section (2) of section 15, or created by grant or contract in writing made by or on behalf of the Government under section 23.

(3) Whenever fire is caused willfully or by gross negligence in a reserved forest, the State Government may (notwithstanding that any penalty has been inflicted under this section) direct that in such forest or any portion there of the exercise of all rights of pasture or to forest produce shall be suspended for such period as it thinks fit.


Village Forests:

Chapter III:

28. Formation of village-forests.-

(1) The State Government may assign to any village-community the rights of Government to or over any land which has been constituted a reserved forest, and may cancel such assignment. All forests so assigned shall be called village-forests.

(2) The State Government may make rules for regulating the management of village forests, prescribing the conditions under which the community to which any such assignment is made may be provided with timber or other forest-produce or pasture, and their duties for the protection and improvement of such forest.

(3) All the provisions of this Act relating to reserved forests shall (so far as they are not inconsistent with the rules so made) apply to village-forests.

Example: Devrai may be?


Protected Forests:

Chapter IV:

29. Protected forests.

(1) The State Government may, by notification in the Official Gazette, declare the provisions of this Chapter applicable to any forest-land or waste-land which, is not included in a reserved forest but which is the property of Government, or over which the Government has proprietary rights, or to the whole or any part of the forest produce of which the Government is entitled.

(2) The forest-land and waste-lands comprised in any such notification shall be called a "protected forest"

Example: Kalsubai - Harishchandragad Forest


International Union for Conservation of Nature:


tl;dr To answer your real question, I'll cite some examples:

In my opinion, in India:

  1. You can visit a national park: The kind of access like,
    • If you must have a guide with you or not, or
    • If you can walk/hike or you must have a vehicle and a driver arranged by national park authorities
    • If you must stay in authority-provided shelters/camps or you can't stay for night at all

are all varying with respect to places.

Example: Sanjay Gandhi National Park? It's also interesting to know how the two Acts that we referred to align with each other. For example, Sanjay Gandhi National Park. It's a National Park, right? But, there are some villages along the boundaries which had not been rehab'ed elsewhere. So, people living in those villages have a valid access to a certain region around their village INSIDE the National Park. If you read the Forest Act carefully, you will be tempted to consider this 'certain region' as a Protected forest, because we (those who do not live in those villages) are also allowed to enter it with a fee paid at the entrance. Beyond that certain region, we are not allowed any access, which I am tempted to consider as a Reserved Forest. So, maybe we can have a live example of a Protected and a Reserved forest inside a National Park.

  1. In the state of Maharashtra, there are some cases where you can visit/hike/trek through a wildlife and/or a bird sanctuary which is NOT considered under Sahyadri Tiger Project, with or without prior permission. For example, you can trek/hike up to Bhimashankar (which is in Bhimashankar Wildlife Sanctuary) without an advance permission, and/or advance payment. But, when you visit Karnala Bird Sanctuary you have to pay and register your details at the gate, however no prior indication of arrival is required.

  2. In state of Maharashtra, you can not officially/legally visit/hike/trek through any section of forest that is considered under Sahyadri Tiger Reserve, example: Chandoli National Park, Koyna Tiger Reserve.

  3. In state of Maharashtra, there are some cases where you can officially/legally visit/hike/trek through a restricted section of forest that is considered under Sahyadri Tiger Reserve, but is also a separate wildlife sanctuary, with a guide. Example: Radhanagari Wildlife Sanctuary

  4. In the state of Maharashtra, there are some cases where you can visit/trek/hike through a section of forest which is a reserved forest but is not a National Park or a sanctuary, but is considered under a hotspot under Sahyadri Tiger Reserve, with or without a guide. Example: Forest of Amboli.

  5. This all said, I have came across people in India, who call a certain region as a Buffer region to a National Park. In some cases, the buffer region is allowed to be ventured into with no security check, in many of the cases this region can be accessed by informing the officials and a payment. But, I haven't seen any references of this 'Buffer' region in both the Acts that I have referred so far.

  • 1
    +1 for the research and efforts taken. – Captain Jun 23 '18 at 19:34
  • 1
    What I understand is that even though there are laws. It's more about having updated conformation from the locals and the authorities. Laws are really interesting and thought through. – Captain Jun 23 '18 at 19:38

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