Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Resorts may stay at tigers' den for now, not the tribals !

Resorts may stay at tigers' den for now, not the tribals !

Palash Biswas

India's top court has suspended tourism in core areas of tiger reserves as the country struggles to stem the dwindling numbers of the endangered wild cats.I am afraid that the Supreme Court Order would be misused against the tribal who inhibit the Core forest areas wher Fifth and sixth schedule of the Constitution and the latest Forest Act 2006, Vanadhikar Adhiniyam is not still implemented. The Luxury Resorts sitauted in all these areas do charge Rs 30,000 thosand to Rs One lac and the business is quite profitable violating forest and environment laws. The states and the centre do protect corpoarte interest and hence, it is imminent that the resorts would continue the grand business, but the Trabals would be ejected out immediately.

A glimpse of the magnificent black and yellow amidst swaying grass or peeping over a rock is enough to titillate one's heart with colourful cameos. You need not be a wildlife enthusiast to appreciate this graceful beauty. So exciting is it, that people abandon all material comforts and roam in the jungles ignoring scorching heat and severe cold.There is no better place on earth to encounter this fascinating beauty in its natural habitat than India. India today has around 80 National Parks and 441 Sanctuaries of which some have been conserved as Tiger reserves under the Project Tiger Scheme.The itinerary for the visit to this beautiful land of India should include a couple of tiger reserves. Being a land of diversity, the climate, vegetation and fauna of these reserves are widely varied and they have been placed in different quarters of the country.Many of these tiger reserves are established in the former hunting grounds of the former Indian and British aristocracy. Some parks do offer modern styled guesthouses with electricity while others only have bungalows with basic amenities. Jeep or Van ride is available everywhere and in some, elephant or boat rides are organized to scan these areas more discreetly.

Coming to the rescue of the big cat, the Supreme Court on Tuesday banned tourism in core areas of tiger reserves. Supreme Court has today ordered that tourism be banned in core areas of all tiger reserves in the country. It has said this ban should continue till it passes final orders in the matter filed by Bhopal-based environment protection NGO Prayatna. The NGO is demanding a ban on tourism in 'core areas' of tiger reserves while it can continue in the 'buffer areas' of tiger reserves.The court had earlier directed the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), under the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), to submit final guidelines related to tourism in core area by July. The court will hear now the matter on August 22 next, to examine the guidelines submitted by the authority.

Hailing the Supreme Court order of disallowing tourism activity in core areas of tiger reserves, Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan today said she would ask the state governments to strictly follow the directives of the apex court. "We welcome the Supreme Court order banning tourism in core areas of tiger reserves. We are very strict about banning tourism in core zones of tiger reserves. I will personally write to all Chief Ministers asking them to strictly follow the Apex Court directive," Natarajan told PTI. The Minister also expressed concern over increased tourism activities in core areas in the tiger reserves.

There are 39 Tiger reserves in India which are governed by Project Tiger(1973). The largest Tiger Reseve is the Nagarjunsagar-Srisailam Tiger Reserve of Andhra Pradesh. These 40,969 km2 (15,818 sq mi) of reserves are operated "to ensure maintenance of a viable population of the conservation dependent Bengal tigers in India for scientific, economic, aesthetic, cultural and ecological values and to preserve for all time areas of biological importance as a national heritage for the benefit, education and enjoyment of the people". The landmark report, Status of the Tigers, Co-predators, and Prey in India, published by the National Tiger Conservation Authority, estimates only 1411 adult tigers in existence in India (plus uncensused tigers in the Sundarbans).

Meanwhile,Tourists have been banned in two major Tiger reserves in Coimbatore and Nilgiris districts, following the ban ordered by Supreme Court on tourism in core areas of tiger reserves across the country.Tourists were thronging major spots like 'Monkey Falls,' 'Top Slip' and Valparai coming under Anamalai Tiger Reserve in the district, as also some places of Panchalingam river and Amaravathi Dam near Udumalpet in Tirupur district. Considering the concern expressed by Supreme Court and subsequent ban, the officials have banned the entry of tourists in these areas, forest department sources said.Similarly, tourists would not be allowed in areas under Mudumalai Tiger Reserve in nearby Nilgiris district, which is famous for its scenic beauty and bio-diversity, they said. The apex court yesterday took strong note of some states failing to implement its directions to conserve the big cat and ordered that tourism be banned in core areas of tiger reserves in the country till further directions.

This is an interim order until the court rules on the guidelines submitted by the authority. The ban has been prompted by foot-dragging by states on an earlier court order to notify buffer zones (a 10-km stretch around the core area) where tourism is expected to be permitted.

The tiger conservation authority has claimed that the trend the world over is towards banning all tourism-related activities in the core areas. Such areas are defined as zones necessary for tiger conservation without affecting the rights of forest-dwellers.The authority's guidelines propose a ban on any new tourist facilities on forestland. It suggests that permanent facilities located inside of the core tiger wildlife habitat should be phased out within five years.

"Tourism causes disturbance in an inviolate area. Therefore, like all biotic disturbance, the core areas have to be free from tourism. Keeping this in mind, guidelines have been issued by Project Tiger to phase out tourism from core areas to buffer areas in tiger reserves," the authority said in a note to the court.

The court order has evoked sharp responses from sections of wildlife tour operators and conservation enthusiasts who have warned that banning tourism will over time hurt tigers rather than protect them.

Tour operators also say tens of thousands of members of local communities around tiger zones depend on tourism for their livelihoods.

"Tourism is the only industry that can co-exist with conservation," said Goverdhan Rathore, an owner of a lodge in Rajasthan's Ranthambore. "Nearly 25,000 people around Ranthambore depend on tourism alone – there'll be large scale destitution in this area."

Conservationists estimate that up to 150,000 tourists visit the Ramthambore park each year, contributing to its business revenue of Rs 60 crore. "The entire livelihood of local people depends on tourism," said Dharmendra Kandal, a conservationist at Ranthambore.

Tour operators around the Jim Corbett Park estimate that nearly half the 90-odd hotels outside the park would shut down and hundreds of safari operators and nature guides would lose jobs if the interim order becomes the final one.

"Tourism brings eyes and ears on the ground – it's crucial for accountability," said Julian Matthews, the chairperson of the Travel Operators for Tigers India, a not-for-profit wildlife association that has been campaigning for sustainable nature tourism.

India's tiger census figures last year estimate 1,706 tigers scattered across 39 tiger reserves across the country. Wildlife scientists believe tigers are well-protected within the core areas.

In almost every tiger reserve, tourism is currently allowed in a small segment of the core area. "This order puts an end to any commercial activity, including tourism, even in those areas," said a wildlife conservationist.

Wildlife biologists have cautiously welcomed the court's order, saying there are problems with the tourism model that has evolved in India in recent years. But even they are uncomfortable about a complete ban on viewing tigers in parts of the core areas.

"We need people to be watching our tigers in their natural habitats, but it should not be only the rich," said Ulhas Karanth, a Bangalore-based tiger expert with the Wildlife Conservation Society, India Programme.

While the court order seems to suggest that tourism could continue in buffer zones around the core areas, both tour operators and conservation scientists point out that buffer zones have virtually no wildlife. "Buffer zones often comprise private land, much of it farmland, and the only animals to be seen there are cattle, dogs and cats," said one lodge operator near the Bandhavgarh reserve.

"Some 30,000 members of the local community are likely to lose their jobs around Kanha and Bandhavgarh," said Amit Sankhala, an operator of lodges at the two tiger reserves. Tour operators predict that unemployment will push locals into poaching.

But the authority has said there is no correlation between tiger abundance and tourism. "It is a myth that tourism ensures tiger protection — on the contrary, areas like Sariska and Panna have lost their tigers despite tourist visitation," the authority said in its report to the court.

Citing simulation studies done by the authority and the Wildlife Institute of India, Dehra Dun, the note said a viable population of 20 breeding tigresses requires an inviolate area of around 800 to 1200sqkm.

"Further, an ecologically sensitive zone (buffer zone, co-existence area, multiple area) of around 1,000 to 3,000sqkm is also required around the inviolate core area for sustaining dispersing tigers, surplus prime tigers and old displaced tigers," it said.

There are 13 tiger range countries, including India. Of them, India has the maximum number of tigers in the world. "However, the concept of core zone, buffer zone is not new," it said, plugging the concept of an "exclusive" tiger agenda for the core and "inclusive" people-friendly agenda for the buffer areas.

That would require state governments to first identify the core area and the buffer areas under them. As the first step towards eco-tourism, the top court today said that all states must notify these areas.

Where Nature shows off its glory

Welcome to the natural abode of the majestic Royal Bengal Tiger. Located opposite the Tiger Reserve Forest at Sajnekhali, the Sunderban Tiger Camp stands on a lush green field adorned with beautiful flowers. Retire to the comforts of your air-conditioned cottage for a night dreaming about the adventures of the day.

State Tiger Reserves Year of Estd. Total Area (km2)
Assam Kaziranga 2006 859
Assam Manas 1973-74 2840
Assam Nameri 1999-2000 344
Arunachal Pradesh Namdapha 1982-83 1985
Arunachal Pradesh Pakhui 1999-2000 862
Andhra Pradesh Nagarjunsagar-Srisailam 1982-83 3568
Bihar Valmiki 1989-90 840
Chhattishgarh Indravati 1982-83 2799
Chhattishgarh Guru Ghasidas
Jharkhand Palamau 1973-74 1026
Karnataka Bandipur 1973-74 866
Karnataka Nagarhole (extension) 1999-2000 643
Karnataka Bhadra 1998-99 492
Karnataka Dandeli-Anashi 2007 875
Kerala Periyar 1978-79 777
Madhya Pradesh Bandhavgarh 1993-94 1162
Madhya Pradesh Bori-Satpura 1999-2000 1486
Madhya Pradesh Kanha 1973-74 1945
Madhya Pradesh Panna 1994-95 542
Madhya Pradesh Pench 1992-93 758
Madhya Pradesh Ratapani 2008-09 674
Maharashtra Melghat 1973-74 1677
Maharashtra Pench 1992-93 257
Maharashtra Tadoba Andhari 1993-94 620
Maharashtra Sahayadri 2008-09 569
Mizoram Dampa 1994-95 500
Orissa Simlipal 1973-74 2750
Orissa Sunabeda 2008-09 856
Rajasthan Ranthambhore 1973-74 1334
Rajasthan Darrah 2009 392
Rajasthan Sariska 1978-79 866
Tamil Nadu Kalakad-Mundathurai 1988-89 800
Uttar Pradesh Dudhwa 1987-88 811
Uttar Pradesh Katerniaghat (extension) 1999-2000 551
Uttar Pradesh Pilibhit 2008-09 1089
Uttarakhand Corbett 1973-74 1316
West Bengal Buxa 1982-83 759
West Bengal Sunderbans 1973-74 2585
Karnataka Biligiriranga Hills 2011
Karnataka Kudremukha 2011

The court also asked, "Why should tourism be allowed in core area? Tigers are practically on the verge of extinction whatever the statistics."

The court also slammed the Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Bihar, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh governments for not notifying the buffer and core areas in tiger reserves in their states. Only once buffers are notified can only tourism be banned in core areas. These states will now have to pay Rs. 10,000 as fine. They have been given three weeks to issue notification on buffer zones in tiger reserve in their states.

Tour operators have been opposing the ban, but the court stuck to its decision. Resuming its hearing on the action taken by states to regulate commercialisation of revenue land around big cat habitats and help preserve the endangered species, the apex court slammed several states for failing to have notified buffer zones around tiger reserves.

"Why should tourism be allowed in core areas of tiger reserves," a bench of justices Swatanter Kumar and Ibrahim Kalifulla asked, while noting the tiger was on the verge of extinction.

No tourism will be allowed in core areas of tiger reserves, the bench categorically said. The bench also warned of contempt proceedings and imposition of exemplary costs on states which failed to notify the buffer zones in their respective tiger reserves.

"We make it clear that till final directions are issued by this court, the core zones or core areas in the tiger reserves will not be used for tourism," the bench said in its order.

However, counsel for Arunachal Pradesh and Jharkhand stated that they were ready with the notification and would file appropriate affidavits during the course of the day.

The SC further warned that if they (states) failed to comply within three weeks the defaulting states shall be saddled with a cost of Rs 50,000 each, recoverable from the Principal Secretary, Forest of the state concerned.

During the last hearing on July 10, the SC had granted two more weeks "as last opportunity" to states which had defaulted in notifying buffer zones around tiger reserves.

Rajasthan's counsel had told the court during the last hearing that the state had already notified the zone.

On April 4, the apex court had asked Jharkhand, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Maharashtra to notify the zones within three months.

Under Section 38(b) and Explanation 1 & 2 of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, the states have to notify the list of core and buffer areas of tiger reserves in their respective jurisdiction.

Under the Act, buffer zones are the areas peripheral to the critical tiger habitats or core areas providing supplementary habitats for dispersing tigers and offering scope for co-existence of human activity.

Conservationist Ajay Dubey in his PIL had demanded removal commercial tourism activities out of core or critical tiger habitats in the tiger reserves.

The buffer zones constitute the fringe areas of tiger reserves up to a distance of 10 kms.

It has been alleged that in violation of the conservation norms, authorities in various states had permitted large-scale construction of hotels, resorts and tourism projects, thereby gravely disturbing wildlife activities.

Ninety travel operators under the banner of Travel Operators for Tigers (TOFT) have expressed their unhappiness at the Supreme Court order disallowing tourism activity in core areas of tiger reserves.

Expressing his anguish over the judgment, Dr Goverdhan Rathore, a lodge owner and son of the legendary conservationist Fateh Singh Rathore, expressed surprise that the Supreme Court has chosen to disregard clear evidence that "wildlife tourism in Indian tiger reserves was not harming tigers".

Mr Rathore cited examples of Corbett, Ranthambor, Bandhavgarh reserves where tiger numbers have gone up even as tourism figures have also increased in contrast to "unseen and unloved sanctuaries" which have lost their tigers and wildlife due to poaching and neglect.

Expressing surprise over the order, Mr Rathore said the Supreme Court had not chosen to pay attention to the disruptive role of religious tourism and its adverse impact to wildlife.

"From next week, more than one million people will enter Ranthambore for the Ganeshmela. In the same way, over one lakh tourists enter Sariska every Tuesday to pray at a Hanuman temple.

"Their presence is much more disruptive whereas the presence of 40 vehicles inside the sanctuary for a six- hour period in a day has been found to be detrimental to wildlife," Mr Rathore added.

The TOFT, in a statement, has urged the apex court to consider a review petition and continue to allow "responsible tourism" across tiger reserves so that nature lovers can get a chance to see animals in their natural habitat.

Wildlife Protection Society of India director Belinda Wright claimed, "Around the world, parks are trying to do both conservation and tourism in a complementary manner but we are doing the opposite."

"Poachers must be celebrating because they will now have a free run of these reserves," said Ms Wright.

Environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan, however, welcomed the court's order stating that she would ask state governments to strictly follow the directives of the top court.

"I will personally write to all chief ministers asking them to strictly follow the top court directive," said Ms Natarajan, expressing concern about the increasing numbers of tourists visiting tourist reserves.

The Supreme Court decision to ban tourism in core area of tiger reserves in the country has sparked mixed reactions among conservationists, tourists and those talking to save tigers.

"It will prove to be a final nail in tiger's coffin," felt Himanshu Bagde, young naturalist and regular visitor to parks and tiger reserves.

While Congress MP from Nagpur Vilas Muttemwar, who is fighting for legal status to Nagpur as tiger capital, supported the ban saying tigers will be able to live more freely. Nagpur, as named by former environment minister Jairam Ramesh, is known as the Gateway to Tiger Country.

"It will also help stop nuisance of so-called leaders and VIPs who had little regard for rules," Muttemwar said.

When asked about losing local support, the MP said locals can be compensated by developing tourism in buffer.

Bittu Sahgal, conservationist and Editor of the popular Sanctuary-Asia, said: "Banning tourism in tiger reserves will neither benefit tigers, nor the communities living around such reserves. 'Yahoo tourism' should be controlled, but stopping everyone from accessing the forest is throwing the baby out with the bath."

"Complete ban on tourism is really shocking and suicidal. Tourism should be done in a controlled way. Tourists are eyes of the forest department and many times they report about unscrupulous elements," said Nitin Desai, Central India director of Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI).

Desai added by banning tourism from core areas "you will not only lose public support but also thousands of eyes and ears that scan the horizons for intruders".

However, Praful Bhamburkar, manager, Wildlife Trust of India (WTI), was cautious. "Complete ban is unjustified. Tourism should be phased out slowly. Problems arise as management is poor. The Taj Mahal is under pressure today. Should we close tourism to it," asked Bhamburkar.

"Those who advocate ban must remember that they will encourage poachers and timber mafias to enter the core of our wilderness. We must decide who we want - poachers or tourists. No longer can we rest on the laurels of our forest department. The debacle and extinction of tigers in Sariska and Panna reveal the horrors of bad governance," said Nishikant Mukherjee, a conservationist who works with Baiga tribals in Kanha.

Former president of Vidarbha Economic Development (VED) Council Vilas Kale says around 40 years ago, when Indira Gandhi started 'Project Tiger' there were close to 3,000 tigers in India.

Kale added four decades later after hundreds of crores of rupees have been spent, many 'brilliant officers' have proclaimed their own greatness, and huge government bureaucracies have been created, there are purportedly only 1700 tigers left.

"So what have they done in the last 40 years with such claims to greatness? Unless of course they will claim that their job is to preside over the eventual and gradual extinction of the tiger," Kale remarked.

"Intelligent tourism plays a critical role in protecting the wilderness and all its endangered species. In place of open gypsies and cars, medium-sized buses, with a closed body and sliding windows may be used for park excursions. But why a complete ban," asks veteran conservationist Gopal Thosar.

A bulk of poaching cases this year has been reported from buffer areas of tiger reserves across the country, leaving conservationists and forest officials to wonder about the effectiveness of the ban on tourism in the big cat's core habitats.

Activists also pointed out that tourism provides additional protection as well as revenue to forests and poachers would have a field day if the core areas are no longer under constant watch. Officials also feared a large number of forest guards would be out of job as a result of the ban.

Of the 18 tiger poaching cases this year, eight have been reported from the buffer or territorial zones. An official of the Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve (TATR) said all recent poaching cases were in its buffer zones. "A tiger was found dead in a metal trap at Padampur in April, a place close to Palasgaon buffer area of TATR. Similarly, the Borda case in which the body of a tiger was found cut into 10 pieces was also in the buffer area," the official said.

Madhya Pradesh chief wildlife warden H S Pabla said tourists are the additional eyes of the forests. "In 2011, the state received a whopping Rs 16 crore as entry fee from different national parks, which is almost equivalent to funds sanctioned by the Centre for forest protection. And these funds were utilized to pay salaries to the staff engaged in forest protection. Banning tourism means we will be left with no other option but to sack them from their jobs, as we won't have funds to pay their salaries. Eventually, we will leave the forests at the mercy of the poachers," Pabla said, adding that 500 forest guards camp inside Kanha alone every day for patrolling.

He said tiger body parts were seized in south Balaghat division, a territorial area of Kanha National Park, earlier this year, the only such case in MP in 2012. "Better protection measures are needed in buffer zones since most poaching cases are reported there. But for that, we need enough central funds for rural infrastructure planning, as buffers also have villages," Pabla said.

Uttarakhand's Kotabagh, from where the year's first case of tiger body parts seizure was reported, also happens to be an adjoining territorial division of Corbett Tiger Reserve. Wildlife biologist Dharmendra Khandal, who has been working in Ranthambore for years, said there is virtually no buffer zone in the park. "All possible tiger areas have been converted into critical habitats. If we have to follow the court verdict, there is no scope of tourism here," he said, adding tourism in Ranthambore provides livelihood to at least 5,000 families around the park. "If we withdraw tourism from the core areas, the villagers will start depending on the forests again, which might lead to a spurt in poaching activities," Khandal said.

Echoing his view, Wildlife Protection Society of India's programme coordinator Tito Joseph said it was high time the government decided whether it wants poachers or tourists inside the forests.

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