Home Tourism India's Guidelines for Ecotourism Can be turned around!

India's Guidelines for Ecotourism Can be turned around!

India's Guidelines for Ecotourism Can be turned around!

India's Guidelines for Ecotourism Can be turned around!

Credit: Dhritiman Mukherjee

August 2011: The extremely quixotic text of the official draft Tourism Policy posted on the Ministry of Environment and Forests' (MoEF) website has not thrown too much clarity on the ecotourism canvas. The Drafting Committee Chairman, Sujit Banerjee, former Secretary Tourism, Government of India, wrote to Jairam Ramesh to state that many critical recommendations of the committee  had been ignored, while new points that had not even been discussed by the committee had been inserted. Most of India's leading travel operators, environmentalists and wildlifers seemed to agree.In the event, the Chairman corrected the MoEF's official draft and sent it to the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) after consulting as many of the other members as he could. Hopefully, the new Minister for Environment and Forests, Jayanthi Natarajan, will ensure that practicality and professionalism rule the day.


Sanctuary readers a flavour of the responses generated by the original flawed draft and the rationale for key portions of the reworked draft. In the Committee Chairman's view and that of Sanctuary this would give both wildlife and the communities living around our Protected Area (PA) Network a reasonable chance to end years of conflict, while boosting the chances of a tiger and tiger habitat recovery.


Interestingly, the official draft in its current form is actually unimplementable, an embarrassing state of affairs that  was pointed out to the Member Secretary, NTCA. The alternate draft, edited by the Committee Chairman, (turn to page 32 or visit www.sanctuaryasia.com)  is the one that should be debated, vetted, corrected and, finally, accepted so that a visionary, practical and enforceable set of guidelines replaces the official draft without loss of time.


Credit: Dr.Anish AndheriaHere is the stated objective of the proposed tourism policy.

"Healthy natural ecosystems are critical to the ecological well-being of all living entities, and especially for the economic security of people. Ecotourism has the potential to enhance wilderness protection and wildlife conservation, while providing nature-compatible livelihoods and greater incomes for a large number of people living around natural ecosystems. This can help to contribute directly to the protection of wildlife or forest areas, while making the local community stakeholders and owners in the process."


Sanctuary intends to engage the MoEF and the NTCA in a constructive manner in the days ahead so that the lost impetus and trust between players is regained.



"Any core area in a Tiger Reserve from which relocation has been carried out, will not be used for tourism activities."  



Unimplementable! Effectively this would mean preventing people from visiting Kanha, Bandhavgarh, Corbett, Nagarahole, Melghat, Tadoba, Periyar, Keoladeo Ghana (Bharatpur), Gir and virtually every other sanctuary and national park. It would also prevent communities that have moved into the periphery to benefit from tourism revenues on their own lands.


Credit: Dr.Anish AndheriaOFFICIAL MoEF TEXT:

"For critical wildlife habitats of national parks/sanctuaries and for core/critical tiger habitats of tiger reserves a) Larger than 500 sq.km, 20 per cent of such areas may be permitted for regulated ecotourism access, subject to the condition that 30 per cent of the surrounding buffer/fringe area should be restored as a wildlife habitat in five years. b) Smaller than 500 sq. km.,  15 per cent of such areas may be permitted for regulated ecotourism access, subject to the condition that 20 per cent of the surrounding buffer/fringe area should be restored as a wildlife habitat in five years."



Unimplementable! Keoladeo ghana national park, for instance, would be forced to restrict something like one lakh tourists to a tiny fragment of forest, under five square kilometres, thus effectively damaging the park beyond repair. Also, the time frame that the committee had agreed upon for instituting the guidelines was 2020. By deleting this date, the entire effort has been rendered meaningless since it is beyond the capability of either government or private agencies to implement the policy without a phased date plan.



"As part of the State-level Ecotourism Strategy, the state government should levy a "local conservation cess" as a percentage of turn-over, on all privately-run tourist facilities within five kilometres of the boundary of a PA."



Unimplementable! The text is vague and unimplementable. In Mumbai, for instance, the 30 per cent cess as recommended by the Tiger Task Force Chaired by Sunita Narain would need to be paid by scores of hotels large and small that have nothing to do with wildlife at all.




The Draft Guidelines fail to recognise the synergy between conservation and tourism - an extraordinary fact given the subject they are dealing with and the definition presented at the outset. I would argue that there is another perspective hidden within this document and that is one that would like to see tourism removed from PAs.


Ecotourism discussions and practise have the potential to forge interactions and relationships between groups of people who at present are at loggerheads with each other. Indeed to some extent some of the tourist lodges around the tiger reserves already play this useful role. As a buffer and mediator between the local communities who are often antagonistic towards the PA and the Forest Department, they can be invaluable. Anyone who has lived or worked in a rural area cannot help but be aware of the extreme (and often understandable) dislike (to put it mildly) the local communities have towards the Forest Department. Unfortunately, this is often taken out against wildlife and their habitats, due to the lack of avenues to address grievances with the government itself. Many members of the tourism industry work hard to reduce this and to bridge this gap, on several direct and indirect fronts. Instead of being the means for drawing people together, these guidelines reflect an antagonism against another section of society and thus could serve to extend the list of those hostile towards the Forest Department!


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