Temples in sanctuaries may have to share revenue with Forest dept

NTCA guidelines submitted to the Supreme Court propose regulatory measures

The return of tiger tourism, following the October 16 Supreme Court order, has ushered in fresh regulations with regard to the management of religious places in tiger reserves across the Country.

Both sectors, which were earlier unregulated, are now expected to come under stringent government oversight.

Religious places such as the Biligiri Ranganatha temple in the BRT Wildlife Sanctuary, the Himavat Gopalaswamy temple in the Bandipur Tiger Reserve and several other temples, typically witness a large influx of devotees. Under the guidelines proposed by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), during the hearing of petition related to tiger tourism in the apex court, the temples will now be required to share a portion of their revenue with the Forest Department.

In its guidelines, the Authority has suggested to all state governments to form a Local Advisory Committee for each tiger reserve to review the tourism strategy and make recommendations. The committee will also periodically review pilgrimage sites within tiger reserves in accordance with the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, and the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 to prevent any further expansion.  

Accordingly, all these transit camps and places of stay for pilgrims shall be restricted to specially designated days in a year. The protected area managers will now be required to work with temple authorities to develop a system for controlling the number of pilgrims so as to maintain the ecological integrity of the area within three years of the notification of these guidelines. “This includes those temples which require to stay open for certain period of time for a temporary period in an year, (mela)” explained Dipak Sarmah, Principal Chief Conservator of Forests and Chief Wildlife Warden.

As per the guidelines, all rules related to tourism facilities - noise, building design, use of alternate energy and free passage for wildlife  - will apply to pilgrimage sites. Temple boards will be required to negotiate terms of revenue sharing with local communities and channel a minimum of 10 per cent of their gross revenue collected to the development of local communities through the Gram Sabha.

The guidelines also suggest that tourist operators, drivers and temple-controlling authorities be educated on the importance of forest ecosystem, their ecological services and dos and don’ts during their visits to forests and tiger reserves. The guidelines shall be applicable to the tiger reserves but the State government shall lay down norms on similar lines for tourism in other protected areas. “Contravention of any provision of these guidelines or conditions laid therein by any person or organisation will be an offence under sub-section (2) of 38-O of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972,” the guidelines states.

New ruling

Karnataka State Forest Department officials, however, said that the new ruling would do little to generate revenue here as the State did not have major religious places capable of generating large revenue such as Kerala’s Sabarimala. “We have just small temples which do not generate revenue,” a forest official said.

Wildlife enthusiasts, on the other hand, agreed that the regulations will do much good in curbing seasonal pilgrimages in tiger reserves such as Bandipur, Nagarahole and the Anshi Dandeli tiger reserve.

The Bandipur tiger reserve alone has ten temples including Himavat Goplaswamy temple in Gopalaswamy hills. The others are Tavarekatte Madappa in Bandipur range, Venugopalaswamy temple in Gopalaswamy Hills, Kanive Madappa in Gopalaswamy Hills, Marigudi in Maddur range, Ayanur Marigudi in Ayanur Marigudi, Beladakuppe Mahadeshwara in Hediyala Range, Alaganchi Marigudi in Moleyur Range, Basaveshwara temple in N Begur Range, Durga temple in Gundre Range and Devara Madu Madeshwara in Kundukere Range.

In Anshi Dandeli, visitors pass through the reserve to reach the Ulavi Chennabasaveshwara Shrine — the holy place of Veerashaivas. The Kavala caves within the park draws crowds during Mahashivarathri, while tribals around Nagarhole visit a temple Aiyangudi during a particular time.

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