India’s Guidelines For Ecotourism – Can Be Turned Around!
A Sanctuary Report
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.
What follows is intended to give 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, 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.
Here 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.”
The text uploaded on the official site, however, moves tourism even further from the stated objective. For the benefit of Sanctuary readers we are listing some of the opinions of credible wildlifers and tourism professionals. We are also listing a mere handful of the contradictions in the official draft to illustrate the lack of application of mind that resulted in the Ministry ignoring a well-presented draft and replacing it with an unimplementable one.
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.
OFFICIAL MoEF TEXT: “Any core area in a Tiger Reserve from which relocation has been carried out, will not be used for tourism activities.”
SANCTUARY COMMENT: 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.
OFFICIAL 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.”
SANCTUARY COMMENT: 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.
OFFICIAL MoEF TEXT: “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.”
SANCTUARY COMMENT: 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.
SYNERGY BETWEEN TOURISM AND CONSERVATION
BY JOANNA VAN GRUISEN
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!
THE CHAIRMAN’S VERSION: GUIDELINES FOR
ECOTOURISM IN AND AROUND PROTECTED AREAS
These are extracts from the final corrected draft prepared by Sujit Banerjee, Chairman, Drafting Committee – Wildlife and Ecotourism. This draft covers virtually every point enunciated in the draft placed on the MoEF website http://moef.nic.in/downloads/public-information/Draft%20Ecotourism%20Guidelines%202%20June.pdf, but eliminates unimplementable clauses and re-introduces key clauses designed to achieve our common goal – to turn tourism into a conservation tool.
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.
This document lays out a detailed set of framework guidelines on the selection, planning, development, implementation and monitoring of ecotourism in India. Recognising however, that India’s wildlife landscapes are diverse, these guidelines are necessarily broad, with specific State Ecotourism Strategies to be developed by the concerned State Governments, and Ecotourism Plans to be developed by the concerned Authorities. Roles and responsibilities are enumerated for different stakeholders: State Governments, PA management, tourist facilities/tour operators, local communities, temple boards and the general public.
1. THE NEED FOR ECOTOURISM GUIDELINES
1.1 Ecotourism is defined as responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people. Such tourism is low impact, educational, and conserves the environment while directly benefiting the economic development of local communities.
1.2 Most wilderness areas across India are fragile ecosystems that provide a whole host of ecosystem services to local residents and people living downstream; and continue to remain important tourist attractions. However, unplanned tourism in such landscapes can destroy the very environment that attracts such tourism in the first place. Hence, there is a need to move towards a model of tourism that is compatible with these fragile landscapes.
1.3 Ecotourism, when practiced correctly, is an important economic and educational activity. It has the scope to link to a wider constituency and build conservation support while raising awareness about the worth and fragility of such ecosystems in the public at large. It also promotes the non-consumptive use of wilderness areas for the benefit of local communities living in and around and dependent on these fragile landscapes.
1.4 In recent years, the mushrooming of tourist facilities around PAs has led to the exploitation, disturbance and misuse of fragile ecosystems. It has also led to misuse of the term ”ecotourism”, often to the detriment of the ecosystem and towards further alienation of local people and communities.
1.5 These directives and guidelines for ecotourism are applicable to any PA, whether rural or urban, including national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, community reserves, conservation reserves, sacred groves, or pilgrimage spots located within PAs and forested areas.
1.6 Under Section 38 O 1 (c) of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, the NTCA may lay down normative standards for tourism activities and guidelines relating to tiger reserves.
1.7 Principles of Ecotourism
These guidelines incorporate the letter and spirit of the chapter on the National Wildlife Action Plan which states that:
Regulated, low-impact tourism has the potential to be a vital conservation tool as it helps win public support for wildlife conservation. However, in recent years the mushrooming of tourist visitation and tourist facilities have led to overuse, disturbance and serious management problems for PA managers.
In case of any conflict between tourism and conservation interests of a PA, the paradigm for decision making must be that tourism exists for the parks, not parks for tourism and that tourism demands must be subservient to and in consonance with the conservation interests of the PA and its wildlife. While revenues earned from tourism can help the management of the PA, maximisation of income must never become the main goal of tourism. The main goal should always remain essentially to impart education and respect for nature.
Those who regulate, implement or participate in ecotourism activities should be guided by the following:
Adopt low-impact tourism in which local communities have an ownership interest that protects the ecological integrity of wilderness areas and secures and enhances the wildlife values of the destination.
Seek to expand the forest ecosystem by motivating and facilitating local land owners to return private holding to forest status by creating locally-owned nature conservancies, whose land use ties in with the management objectives of the relevant PA.
Highlight the heritage value of India’s wilderness and PAs.
Build environmental and cultural awareness and respect.
Facilitate the sustainability of ecotourism enterprises and activities.
Provide livelihood opportunities to local communities.
Use indigenous, locally produced and ecologically sustainable materials for tourism activities.
2. GUIDELINES FOR ECOTOURISM
It is understood that the primary benefit of wildlife and nature tourism must be the destination itself and then the communities living around the destination. Towards this end, with the involvement of civil society institutions, the ecotourism guidelines must find synergy and collaboration between the Central Government, State Government, hospitality sector, State Forest Department and PA management. Travel professionals should be involved in the process as they would be necessary to the process of enriching local communities with paying customers in newly created nature conservancies.
2.1. State Governments
2.1.1. The State Government must develop a State-level Ecotourism Strategy – a comprehensive plan to ensure, inter alia:
Wilderness conservation in biologically rich and ecologically sensitive landscapes.
Local community participation and benefit-sharing through setting up of facilities in revenue/private lands.
Sound environmental design and use of locally produced and sustainable materials.
Conservation education and training.
Adequate monitoring and evaluation of the impact of ecotourism activities.
Capacity building of local communities in planning, providing and managing ecotourism facilities.
2.1.2. The State-level Ecotourism Strategy must be in tune with the framework of guidelines provided here. Ecologically-sensitive land use policies should be prescribed for the landscape surrounding PAs. Adequate provisions must be made to ensure that ecotourism does not get relegated to purely high-end, exclusive tourism, at the cost of local communities. Relevant modifications in State rules and regulations must be carried out in order to ensure adherence to these standards by tourist developers and operators. All States must hold public consultations and one public hearing to consider the draft notification (including in local languages) by December 30, 2011 before finally notifying the State level Ecotourism Strategy by March 31, 2012.
2.1.3. No new tourist facilities are to be set up on forest lands. This is in compliance with the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, and the directives of the Honourable Supreme Court.
2.1.4. The State Government must develop and implement a system by which gate receipts from PAs should be collected and retained by the PA management, and not be diverted as revenue to the State Exchequer. This is to ensure that resources generated from tourism are earmarked for wildlife conservation and local livelihood development.
2.1.5. The State Wildlife Advisory Board should be the arbiter in case of any dispute regarding the ecological advisability of any tourism plans, whether it involves the PA management, a private entity, a temple board or a community, as indicated above, to ensure that biodiversity conservation priorities takes precedence over tourism priorities.
2.1.6. The Chief Wildlife Warden (CWLW) of the State must ensure that each PA prepares an ecotourism plan, as part of the Management Plan/Annual Plan of Operation/Tiger Conservation Plan. A site-specific Ecotourism Plan for each PA must be prepared and approved by the State Government by December 31, 2011(including local languages) and be placed in the public domain.
The CWLW of the State shall develop a monitoring mechanism, on a case by case basis, to prevent over-crowding by lodges located within a five kilometre distance of any PA, boundary. All new lodges involving investments of under Rs. one crore located within five kilometres from a PA boundary must first obtain clearance from the State Wildlife Advisory Board. Lodges with investments of over one crore must seek clearance from the MoEF. The criteria for approvals must be based on the professional assessments, obtained by the respective wildlife boards, from reputed wildlife biologists, scientists, and/or scientific institutions such as the Wildlife Institute of India (WII), Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), Centre for Ecological Studies (CES) and Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).
2.1.7. A State Level Wildlife Tourism Steering Committee (WTSC) should be constituted by the State Wildlife Advisory Board which should undertake quarterly reviews and clear applications to set up new tourism facilities and monitor the working of all existing facilities. The names of the members of this Steering Committee should be put in the public domain and should include representatives from local communities living in and around the PA, the Tribal Welfare department, the Panchayati Raj Institution and various Civil Society Institutions.
2.1.8. As part of the State-level Ecotourism Strategy, after holding a public hearing, the State government should levy a state-wide “local conservation cess” as a percentage of turn-over, on all tourist facilities within five kilometres of the boundary of a PA. The rate of cess should be determined by the State Government, in consultation with tourism professionals and lodge owners, and the monies thus collected should be earmarked to fund PA management, conservation and local livelihood development, and not go to the State Exchequer as stipulated in 2.1.4 above. Each State Government should notify the local conservation cess by March 31, 2012. The rationale for a local conservation cess should be clearly explained to the public at large including through clear signage at local tourist facilities.
2.1.9. Financial assistance/incentives should be provided for communities/individuals who own revenue lands outside PAs and are willing to sign MOUs with the PA management whose help may be obtained to ecologically upgrade such private lands by changing their own land use so as to return such lands to forest status by promoting grasses and scrub, encouraging root stock to regenerate, creating salt licks and allowing wild species to access ponds and lakes. Low-voltage solar fences on such lands would surround dwelling places, but not larger land holdings, thus allowing free movement of wildlife. In time, by creating hides, machaans and other such facilities on their own lands, the financial value of such nature conservancies will surely rise, even as incomes from ecotourism accrue to the land/lodge owners.
2.1.10. A Local Advisory Committee (hereinafter referred to as LAC) must be constituted for each PA by the State Government. The LAC will have the following mandate:
To review the State Ecotourism Strategy with respect to the PA and make recommendations to the State Government.
To ensure site specific restrictions on buildings and infrastructures in private areas in close proximity to core/critical tiger habitat/national park/sanctuary or buffer zone, keeping in mind the value of corridors.
To advise local and State Governments on issues relating to the development of ecotourism in non-forest areas of ecological-tourism zones etc.
Regularly monitor all tourist facilities falling within five kilometres of a PA vis-à-vis environmental clearance, area of coverage, ownership, type of construction, number of employees, etc, and suggest mitigation/retrofitting measures if needed.
Regularly monitor activities of tour operators to ensure that they do not cause disturbance to animals while taking visitors into the PA.
2.1.11. Composition of LAC:
District Collector (Chairman)
PA Manager (Member Secretary)
Local Territorial DFO
Honorary Wildlife Warden (if present)
Official of State Tourism Department
Block Development Officer (1)
Members of local panchayats (2)
Wildlife scientist (1)
Local conservationists (2)
Representatives from the tourism industry
Representative from civil society institutions (1)
In the case of northeastern states, the traditional village councils should be recognised as equivalent to panchayat members, wherever such councils exist.
For tiger reserves, the Tiger Conservation Foundation should be the overseeing authority and should include members that are not represented in the Tiger Conservation Foundation.
The detailed Terms of Reference of individual LACs will be determined at the State level.
2.2. PA Management
2.2.1. Each PA must develop its own Ecotourism Plan, as part of its Tiger Conservation Plan, Management Plan, or Annual Plan of Operation, and should be duly approved by the CWLW of the State and the NTCA (where relevant). The plan should be consistent with the State Ecotourism Strategy and must be approved by the LAC and the State Government. An ecotourism plan for each PA must be put in the public domain (including in local languages) by December 30, 2011 and notified by March 31, 2012.
The plan should:
1. Identify (using GIS) and monitor the ecologically-sensitive areas surrounding PAs, in order to ensure the ecological integrity of corridor/buffer areas so as to prevent corridor pinching/destruction and work to expand/restore such critical areas.
2. Assess the potential of private land holdings to be converted into community conservancies that can accommodate spillover populations of wildlife from core areas and thus reduce pressure on the core areas.
3. Any tourism plan, private or governmental, which the CWLW/WTSC believe negatively impacts the PA should be disallowed. The final decision of how many visitors/cars are to be allowed into the national park or sanctuary confine must be left to the PA management which should set a ceiling on the number of visitors/vehicles allowed to enter a PA at any given time, based on their own assessment of the carrying capacity of the habitat.
4. Indicate the area open to tourism in the reserves to be designated as ecotourism zones.
5. Develop a participatory community-conservancy based tourism strategy to ensure viable, just and long-term local-community benefit-sharing.
6. Develop codes and standards for privately-operated tourist facilities located in the vicinity of core/critical wildlife habitats, eco-sensitive zones or buffer areas, with a view to, inter alia, ensure benefits and income to local communities.
7. Develop monitoring mechanisms to assess both the negative and positive impacts of tourism activities.
8. Develop generic guidelines for environmentally acceptable and culturally appropriate practices, and low-carbon, biodiversity-friendly rules, norms and guidelines for all new constructions/facilities.
2.2.2. Given that traditional tourism has been happening in national parks/sanctuaries; many of which now form part of core/critical tiger habitat or critical wildlife habitat, and also taking note of the need to implement the provisions of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, the following directions should guide the policy and strategy of all state ecotourism plans:
In a phased manner starting October 2012, we should aim by 2020, to ensure that 75 per cent of core areas should be set aside to enhance predator and prey densities, these would be outside the purview of regular tourism routes. Tourism access to such areas may however be allowed provided special permits are issued on a case by case basis by the CWLW. However, any Appointed Member of the PA Advisory Committee, all Members of State and National Wildlife Boards and researchers working on field projects in and around the PA, must have free access to all parts of the reserve, after duly informing the PA management and in the company of a forest guard, or officer, to ensure that effective spot checks and balances and independent monitoring of the PA is possible.
Note: For critical wildlife habitats of national parks and core/critical habitats of tiger reserves, less than 250 sq.km., the same guidelines as above will apply, however, only 50 per cent of the PA will be set aside, where regular tourism routes are not available.
The buffer/fringe area ecological restoration by communities and their tourism professional partners must by guided by the source-sink dynamics of tiger sociology and must be monitored by field biologists, and an officer of the rank of DFO, duly appointed by the CWLW. The resultant community conservancies must be subject to the ecotourism rules and guidelines and the management plan of the respective PAs must incorporate the monitoring and enforcement of wildlife laws on such conservancies as part and parcel of its responsibility.
Note: Forest dwellers that have been relocated will be given priority in terms of livelihood generation activities related to ecotourism in the PA from which they have been relocated.
2.2.3. Tourism infrastructure must conform to environment-friendly, low-impact architecture, including solar energy facilities, waste recycling systems, rainwater harvesting systems, natural cross-ventilation, reduced used of asbestos, controlled sewage disposal and continuity with the surrounding habitat.
2.2.4. In a phased manner (by 2020), permanent residential facilities located inside of core-critical tiger habitat/critical wildlife habitat, which are being used for wildlife tourism should be moved to revenue lands outside.
2.2.5. PA authorities must ensure that all facilities within a five kilometre radius of core/critical wildlife habitats/PAs/reserves adhere to all environmental clearances, noise pollution norms, and are non-polluting, blending in with surroundings. Severe penalties must be imposed for non-compliance.
2.2.6. There shall be a complete ban on burying, burning or otherwise disposing non-biodegradable or toxic waste in the tourism area.
2.2.7. To regulate the number of visitors/vehicles into the park, the state tourism authorities must demonstrate for the benefit of the State Wildlife Advisory Board an advance booking system that is effectively able to control tourist and vehicle numbers. As is the case with air and rail bookings, rules and confirmation must be available on the Internet in a transparent and first-come, first served basis.
2.2.8. PA must delineate suitable areas for visitor interpretation, toilets facilities, which should be planned in a site-specific manner.
2.2.9. In the case of tiger reserves, ecotourism should be under the oversight of the respective Tiger Conservation Foundations for each tiger reserve, to enable Eco Development Committees/ village forest committees/forest cooperatives to strengthen the institutional framework through MoU.
2.3. Tourist facilities/Tour operators
2.3.1. Tourism infrastructure must conform to environment-friendly, low-impact architecture; renewables including solar energy, waste recycling, rainwater harvesting, natural cross-ventilation, no use of asbestos, controlled sewage disposal, and merging with the surrounding landscape.
2.3.2. All tourist facilities falling within five kilometres of a PA must be reviewed regularly by the Local Advisory Committee vis-à-vis environmental clearances, area of coverage, ownership, type of construction, number of employees, etc, for suggesting mitigation/retrofitting measures if needed.
2.3.3. All tourism facilities located within five kilometres of a PA must adhere to noise pollution rules under The Noise Pollution (Regulation and Control) Rules, 2000, and The Noise Pollution (Regulation and Control) (Amendment) Rules, 2010 issued by the MoEF.
2.3.4. All tourist facilities, old and new, must aim to generate at least 50 per cent of their total energy and fuel requirements from alternate energy sources that may include wind, solar and biogas.
2.3.5. There shall be a complete ban on burning or disposing non-biodegradable waste within the PA or in a surrounding eco-sensitive zone or buffer area.
2.3.6. The use of wood as fuel shall be prohibited, except for campfires for which wood must be procured from State Forest Department/Forest Development Corporation depots.
2.3.7. In order to allow free passage to wildlife, there should be a minimum distance of 250 m. between boundary fences of one lodge/residential tourist facility and another and rules should be drafted to ensure this along the lines of the Coastal Zone Regulation Rules which guarantees free access to beaches across India’s coastline.
2.3.8. Tourist facilities/tour operators who have caused disturbance/damage to animals while taking their guests through the forest should be subjected to heavy fines (Rs. 10,000 to Rs. 100,000) per violation, after they have been given an opportunity to be heard. Repeat offences may result in cancellation of the MOU that enables their guests/vehicles to enter the PA.
2.4. Temple/Pilgrimage Boards
2.4.1. Pilgrim sites located inside PAs must be encouraged to shift by 2020. In any event their precincts should be designated as part of the PA, subject to the same rules and guidelines with strict building and expansion controls, in accordance with the Forest Conservation Act, 1980 and the Environment Protection Act, 1986.
2.4.2. All transit camps and places of stay for such pilgrimage must be by special permission, against identity proof and restricted to nominated days in a year.
2.4.3. All rules that apply to tourism facilities including noise, building design, use of alternate energy and free passage to wildlife will apply to such pilgrim facilities.
2.4.4. Temple boards must declare their revenue and the wildlife cess to be collected through the Gram Panchayat/Gram Sabha should be applicable to such boards as well.
2.5. Communities Conservancies
2.5.1. The first benefit from ecotourism must go to the local people, provided they agree to participate in the creation of Community Nature Conservancies in the region of their domicile. In the long-run, capacity-building should be carried out to forge sustainable partnerships between the Forest Department, tourism professionals and local communities.
2.5.2. Soft loans may be provided for Community Credit Programme/Special Trust Funds/Special Central Assistance/Developmental Schemes of Tribal Department/District level Integrated Developmental Programme/Tiger Conservation Foundation, to pre-identified local-community/beneficiaries for promoting ecotourism.
2.6.1. The public/visitors must abide by the code of conduct and the Dos and Don’ts as developed by the respective State Wildlife Boards/WTSCs/PA Management. During peak season (winter months), the staff strength may be increased (only 10 per cent) by deploying “special duty” personnel; this would enhance the ECC to 55 vehicles per day. Further increase in the number of vehicles would lead to deleterious effects on the habitat.
Sanctuary Asia, Vol XXXI No. 4, August 2011