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Monday, April 16, 2012

'I want legal status for tiger capital'

Vijay Pinjarkar, TNN | Apr 16, 2012, 03.01AM IST NAGPUR: Seven-time Congress MP Vilas Muttemwar seems to be very passionate about tigers. He is perhaps the only politician who has volunteered to talk about forests and tigers and their conservation while promoting tourism. With tigers beaming in Vidarbha, TOI had launched the 'Waghpur' campaign in 2011 which led to former union minister for environment & forests Jairam Ramesh declaring Nagpur as the 'Gateway to tiger country'. However, Muttemwar has gone a step ahead and proposed Nagpur as the 'Tiger Capital of the World'. He has even written to prime minister Manmohan Singh, MoEF Jayanthi Natarajan and chief minister Prithviraj Chavan. He also raised the issue in Lok Sabha. TOI talked to Muttemwar on his plans and ideas on the issue. Excerpts from an interview... Q. What is your opinion about 'Waghpur' and the idea behind declaring Nagpur as the 'Tiger capital of the world'? A. Waghpur was TOI's campaign aimed at tiger tourism and conservation, but let me tell you I was the first to raise the issue with Jairam Ramesh on August 3, 2009. The basic idea is Nagpur, with its tiger population of 300-odd tigers and sanctuaries within 270km radius, can be put at an international level. Half of this tiger population is in Vidarbha. These areas are frequented by tourists because of better connectivity from Nagpur. On an average, 8 million foreign tourists visit India annually. If we could divert even one-tenth of them here, Vidarbha's economy could get a big boost. Q. Do you have any concrete proposal on the world capital status? A. Vidarbha's rich biodiversity, wildlife and many historical places themselves are its big strengths. Adventure tourism also has big scope. The state has to play a proactive role if it really wants to take the tiger capital idea forward. It will have to do strong marketing at the global level, develop better roads and accommodation facilities for visitors. I had written to union tourism minister Subodh Kant Sahay in March to include Vidarbha in 'Incredible India'. The campaign shows Ganga, Banaras etc but misses on Vidarbha's tourism potential. I will once again push for it. It is true that tourism is confined to Ajanta and Ellora and Vidarbha is neglected but again the state should target foreigners, many of whom come scouting for tigers. I'm sorry to state that the region's coal potential is exploited but not tourism. Just as Taj Mahal is being explored, tiger tourism should also be promoted here. Q. There is a suggestion to incorporate small steps like announcements at airport, railway station and setting up of a separate Vidarbha Tourism Development Corporation (VTDC) to promote the tiger capital? A. I feel these are small steps that won't make any big difference. Nagpur as the tiger capital will flourish only when it gets a legal sanctity. The aim of promoting the tiger capital is not only tourism but also to make it a safe haven for tigers. There should be the conservation angle to tourism. It needs to be supplemented by protecting corridors, steps like relocation of villages in reserves for which I've sought Rs 100 crore in one go. Funds in piecemeal will delay the process. Another issue is poaching which needs to be tackled are by setting up a special task force for reserves as well as outside. In the last five months, 7 tigers died in Maharashtra, which is alarming. Many resorts are coming up near Tadoba and are blocking the corridor. These resorts should be 10km away from the reserve. Q. Do you think we should look beyond sanctuaries and tiger reserves to promote tourism? A. Yes. There is a point. Tourism in parks like Tadoba and Nagzira have reached a flash point. It's high time areas like Bor, Mansingdeo, Tipeshwar and Melghat and buffer areas around protected areas (PAs) are promoted. The three new sanctuaries around Bor, Nagzira and Navegaon should be developed soon. Besides, Umred-Karangla where there are tigers should be expedited as sanctuary to ease pressure on Tadoba. Our PA network in Vidarbha may stretch up to 4,000 sq km but the area outside these PAs may be five times more to be developed for tourism. Areas outside Tadoba and Nagzira too have tigers. Q. What is your interest in Nagpur as tiger capital? A. Those who say I'm doing it for publicity think it's cheap. It's true that the tiger increases popularity but I'm serious about what I'm saying. I don't run an NGO or a travel agency to think about tourism commercially. I remember the dialogue of superstar Amitabh Bachchan in 'Deewar' - "Mere pass maa hai." I'm also proud to say: "Mere pass sheer hai." I have requested Natarajan to organize a brainstorming session in Nagpur involving NTCA, stakeholders, officials, experts, tour operators and others to boost ecotourism in the region.

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