August 2012: The Supreme Court of India, by way of an interim order, has banned tourism in the core areas of national parks and sanctuaries in response to a Public Interest Litigation filed.
The court order is primarily about the non-compliance by various state governments in filing affidavits regarding notifying core and buffer areas of tiger reserves. The court has given the states three weeks to file their affidavits in response, following which the Court will look at tourism in the context of the Guidelines published by the NTCA.
While everyone waits for the text of the final ruling, clearly this is a topic that has set the country abuzz with its implications and perhaps is even dividing conservationists.
Dr. Ullas Karanth welcomed the interim order of the Hon. Supreme Court regulating commercial tourism in core tiger reserves. However, he said, “care should be taken to ensure that the non-commercial and educational values of nature tourism and public support to conservation they generate are not lost sight of. Certainly all tourist residential facilities should be moved out of core habitats and critical corridors at the earliest. The economic power of tourism should be leveraged to create more habitat outside, not to overload existing tiger habitats, as all too often happens.”
Diya Banerjee posted on the Sanctuary Facebook page: “The welcome court order slapped this lot out of their comfort zone. For now, it is a blow to their business-as-usual ethics rather than their business. The ban has come after the monsoon closure of all tiger reserves and, in all likelihood, will be relaxed by the time the parks open. One would want them to use the time to introspect, or maybe feel a tad chastened. Instead, they are whining like a bunch of pampered kids.”
Sanctuary believes that this is an excellent opportunity for further debate and consultation before a final decision is taken. Hopefully the law will not confuse the current impact of tourism (negative) and the future potential of tourism for conservation (positive). Banning tourism because it is bad today is like banning cricket because there is gambling. The answer surely is to regulate tourism and make it difficult or impossible for builders and contractors to turn forests to cement. A genuine concern is that by banning tourism in the core areas the eyes and ears of non-governmental agencies have been walled out of forests where tree-cutting, illegal mining, road building, poaching and worse are rampant.
The mushrooming of resorts in the buffer area has been very negative to wildlife in a few key parks including Corbett and Bandhavgarh, for instance. However, no resorts have come up in core areas for years now. We also wait to see what the Supreme Court ruling might be on the issue of the very destructive temple tourism, which afflicts scores of our most fragile wildlife parks and sanctuaries. We also believe that tourism should be encouraged to spill into the buffer over a period of 10 years by a) returning farms that were carved out of forests back to forest status by enabling and financing locals to regenerate lands and thus invite wildlife outside and b) by ensuring that locals working with tourism professionals are able to offer excellent quality homestays in buffers of wildlife reserves.
This said, it is vital that core and buffer zones be demarcated. Core areas MUST be kept free of destructive human activities and that includes the worst aspects of tourism, mining, canals, roads, agriculture and what have you. But these areas MUST be subject to scrutiny from outside agencies such as researchers, for instance, plus trusted individuals (including Central and State Wildlife Board Members, local park committees that include community representatives, lodge owners, teachers in local schools, journalists, district officials, etc.). We also cannot lose sight of the fact that sustainable tourism has the potential to provide employment to thousands of people and deliver equity and justice to people who have moved out from core areas into buffer areas, whose biodiversity can and should deliver right livelihoods, dignity and an improved quality of life.
None of this will be possible unless we are able to collectively work to restore the buffers of our wildlife reserves, which is the only way that visitors will be attracted to these geographies. Nor will any of this be possible, if, while in the process of regenerating buffers, the viability of home stays is killed by preventing potential paying visitors from entering the gates of parks such as Kanha, Bandhavgarh, Periyar, Tadoba, Melghat, Ranthambhore, Corbett and scores of others where access is impossible without going through gates located in the core area.
The entire text of the Supreme Court Order banning tourism is available now. https://www.facebook.com/sanctuaryasiapage
Write to the Prime Minister of India and the Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan asking for
Tight regulation of tourism in core and buffers of tiger reserves.
Clauses that enable local communities to benefit from tourism through homestays and a share in wildlife tourism revenues.
A ban on commercial projects as listed by the Environment Protection Act for Ecologically Sensitive Zones.
Dr. Manmohan Singh
Prime Minister of India, South Block, Raisina Hill, New Delhi, India – 110011.
Tel.: 91-11-23012312, Fax: 91-11-23019545 / 91-11-23016857.
Minister of State (Independent Charge),
Ministry of Environment and Forests,
Paryavaran Bhawan, CGO Complex, Lodhi Road, New Delhi – 110 003.
Tel.: +91-011-24360721, Email:
Chief Minister of Karnataka
Room no. 323, 3rd floor, Vidhana Soudha, Bangalore – 560001.
Published in Sanctuary Magazine Vol XXXII No. 4, August 2012