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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Resorts in MTR buffer zone to face the heat

TNN | Jul 18, 2012, 05.23AM IST UDHAGAMANDALAM: As the Union environment and forests ministry has submitted eco-tourism guidelines to the Supreme Court, a number of tourist resorts located in and around the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve (MTR) in the Nilgiris are likely to face trouble as many of them would fall under the prposed buffer zone. However, the buffer zone surrounding MTR is yet to be notified as a proposal for the same is still pending with the state government. According to the proposal, at least 10-15 km of forest area surrounding the core tiger reserve will come under the buffer zone. About 6-10 km of patta and revenue lands surrounding the area will also come under the buffer zone. As per the guidelines of the Union government, all tourist operators within five kilometers of all 600 plus tiger reserves, national parks, wildlife sanctuaries and corridors in the country will have to share a minimum of 10% of their turnover as 'local conservation fee'. The guidelines also suggest that the charges will be utilised for protecting wildlife areas besides providing financial assistance to communities living around the protected areas. If the proposed MTR buffer zone is accepted by the government, most of the resorts in the Masinagudi and Bokkapuram areas surrounding the MTR will fall under the buffer zone. According to green activists, there are more than 80 resorts operating close to MTR and most of them are illegal. However, forest officials clarified that the proposed buffer zone will not adversely affect the tribals in the area. "The rights of tribals and other forest dwellers in the buffer zone will not be affected even if the proposed buffer zone is declared", said A Ameer Haja, deputy director, MTR and Mukurthi National Park. "The forest dwellers will be financially supported the project tiger scheme. They will also be involved in eco-tourism activities", he added. According to Haja, eco-tourism guidelines will only curb big time developments like mining and other anti-conservation activities in the buffer zones. "The eco-tourism guidelines by the environment and forest ministry is a good idea as people's participation in conservation is facilitated and it is a win-win situation", said AC Soundararajan, an environmentalist. However, there are drawbacks also. "How many of the tourist operators functioning in the buffer zones of the eco sensitive areas would show the real turnovers to the government?" he asked. Implementation of guidelines will be a challenge for the government, he said. Among the three tiger reserves in Tamil Nadu, the proposed buffer zone in MTR houses many tourist resorts. Many of these resorts also fall under the proposed Sigur elephant corridor in the Nilgiris. A case in this connection is pending with the Supreme Court. Till 90s there was not much human interference in areas close to MTR. Masinagudi and Bokapuram presently proposed buffer zone of the MTR had enjoyed the status of 'Natural Forest' irrespective of the ownership of the land. But, during the past few years several resorts came up in these areas without considering the ecological fragile condition and the safety of wildlife in the area. According to activists many of them are built after allegedly obtaining license from panchayat for constructing residential buildings. In the recent past there is significant increase in the number of visitors also.

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