Centre throws open 20 pc tiger reserve to tourism

The central government on Monday opened up 20 per cent of core areas in tiger reserves to tourists and proposed a new conservation fee for the tourism industry, which will be used in improving ecology and quality of life of local community living nearby.

The new guideline on tiger tourism also makes it mandatory for each tiger reserve to have its own specific tourism plan and completely bars creation of any new tourist infrastructure inside the core areas.

The guidelines from national tiger conservation authority under the union environment ministry come a day before the Supreme Court was to take stock of the tiger conservation situation in an ongoing public interest litigation. The apex court had given one week time to the government to notify the guideline.

The guidelines suggest that permitting up to 20 per cent of the core or critical tiger habitat as a tourism zone should not have an adverse effect on the tiger biology needs, subject to the adherence to all other regulations. Arguing in favour of partial opening up of the tiger reserves, the NTCA guideline says that tiger density and recruitment does not seem to be impacted in current tourism zones where only tourist visits are permitted and there are no consumptive uses.

“The 20 per cent figure is completely arbitrary. There are examples of parks where 60 per cent of the core area is opened to the tourist but still the tiger population increases. At the same time, there are parks with dwindling tiger counts where less than 20 per cent of the critical area is open to the public,” said a wildlife scientist who does not want to be identified.

The quantum of the conservation fee as suggested in the new guideline may vary between Rs 500 to Rs 3000, depending on the facilities available in the room.

The rate will be decided by the state government and the fund collected will be used for local livelihood development, managing human-wildlife conflict and eco-development. The fund will not go to the state exchequer.

The fund will be administered by tiger conservation foundations with tourism industry having a say in how and where it will be utilised.

 “The tour operators should not have any say on the utilisation of fund because of their vested interests,” Tushar Das, a conservationist from Vasundhara who was a part of the government panel that framed the guideline told Deccan Herald.

The guidelines would be detrimental to the Forest Rights Act (for tribal) and Wildlife protection act, due to certain flawed provisions.

Absence of any clear and legal means for marking the core and buffer areas in a tiger reserve is another drawback.

While the document gives a holistic picture on the government's overall plans with tiger reserves, Das said such a move was objected in the guideline-framing meeting convened by the NTCA chief Rajesh Gopal.

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