The Supreme Court's 'green signal' to wildlife tourism in tiger reserves.
The Supreme Court of India, on October 16th, passed an order permitting wildlife tourism in the tiger reserves of the country as per the revised eco-tourism guidelines notified by the Ministry of Environment and Forests.
While this news has come as a respite for the entire tourism industry, it is now the time to introspect and look at wildlife tourism as a responsible and sustainable activity. The guidelines specify the following principles while implemention: - Adopt low-imapct tourism which protects the integrity of forest and wildlife areas
- Engage with and ensure participation and consent Gram Sabhas and Panchayats to facilitate decision-making
- Develop mechnisms to generate revenues from wildlife tourism for the welfare and economic upliftment of local communities
- Highlight the biodiversity richness and their ecological services to people
- Highlight the heritage value of tiger reserves
- Build environmental and cultural awareness and respect
- Provide livelihood opportunities to local communities
- Promote sustainable use of indigenous materials for tourism activities
- Promote processes for forest dwellers to control and maintain their resources, culture and rights
Involvement of local communities is a key aspect of these ecotourism guidelines. While this is a welcome step and realisation, it needs to be seen how and what further steps are taken to achieve this prime objective. One important decision taken is to develop a system to ensure that the gate recepits from tiger reserves should remain with the local authorities and these are to be used for conservation work, local livelihood development, tackling human-wildlife conflict and welfare omeasures of field staff.
The State Governments will charge a 'conservation fee' between Rs.500 to Rs.3000 per room per month from the resorts around the tiger reserves. Again an idealistic approach that may not go down well with the tourism industry as the fee range given seems to be quite steep and will ultimately be passed on to the guests and in turn may affect the bookings thus resulting in the drop in revenue of gate receipts. This needs a rethink. An alternative may be to ensure that all resorts have a minimum ecological footprint on the area i.e they become more energy-effiecient, harvest rainwater for use in toilets and swimming pools, etc.
The State Government will constitute a Local Advisory Committee for each tiger reserve that will review the tourism strategy with respect to the tiger reserve, snsure site specific norms on infrastructure, monitor all tourist facilities in and around tiger reserves vis-a-vis environmental clearances, etc.
Hope the State Governments set up these committees soon as chaos and confusion was seen in some repouted tiger reserves since the beginning of this tourist season. The number of safari vehicles entering the tiger reserves were reduced abruptly without consulting the stakeholders. This defeats the very purpose of these ecotourism guidelines. As a result, the local people involved in and dependent on tourism protested. Thereafter, the vehicle numbers were increased and then again decreased. Such haphazard decision-making needs to be phased out before anything else. Let the process be transparent as has been emphasised in the guidelines.
The Corbett Foundation, with its experience in the field and excellent rapport with the local communities, is willing to work with the forest department on the issue of wildlife tourism.