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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Govt backs off on tourism ban in core tiger areas

Anindo Dey, TNN | Aug 22, 2012, 12.59AM IST JAIPUR: A month after the Supreme Court banned tourism in core areas of tiger reserves on the basis of Union environment ministry's guidelines, the ministry did an about turn on Tuesday, telling the court that it needed to rethink the guidelines. The SC order banning tourism in core areas had led to loud protests from states and thriving commercial ventures in and around tiger reserves. In an affidavit, the Centre cited loss of livelihood and a threat to wildlife and forests in the event of a ban on tourism. The affidavit also mentions loss of a chance for the common people to see the natural heritage. The affidavit, jointly filed by the National Tiger Conservation Authority and the ministry of environment and forests, says that the earlier guidelines need to be reviewed as it required more consultations with stakeholders. State govt keen to lift ban on tiger tourism The Centre on Tuesday moved the Supreme Court seeking its permission to review the existing guidelines on tiger sanctuaries in the country, on which basis the court had imposed a ban on tourism in the core area of tiger reserves. In fact, Rajasthan has been taking a keen initiative to get the ban lifted. On Tuesday morning, minister for tourism, forests and environment Bina Kak got a call from the ministry of forests and environment (MoEF) confirming the receipt of a letter she had sent to the chairperson of the National Advisory Committee (NAC) Sonia Gandhi, after the court order. "I had written to the chairperson of the NAC and president of Congress Sonia Gandhi requesting her to direct the MoEF for a review and a revision of the guidelines submitted to the court for tourism in tiger reserves. This morning I got a call from Union minister Jayanthi Natarajan that a copy of my letter has been forwarded to her by the NAC chairperson," said Kak. The minister has also been coordinating with forests ministers from other tiger states for becoming a party to the case. "I have spoken to Chhagan Bhujbal in Maharashtra and to the forest ministers from Uttarakhand and Madhya Pradesh and Union minister Subodh Kant Sahay. We will all be a party in the case now," she said. "Wildlife is important but so is tourism. However, tourism should be regulated. Often tourists serve as an eye for us. As far as Rajasthan is concerned, we have done everything that was told to us by the NTCA. This time when I went to Ranthambore even the small time hotel owners were also on a dharna following the order but they have confidence in the government of Rajasthan. They assured us that they will do whatever we tell them to. Even if the Supreme Court allows them inside but if we tell them not to do so they will abide by us," Kak added. Not different are the view of conservation groups. "We have all seen the guidelines of the MoEF ever since the court order. There are definite flaws in them. In fact, the government of Rajasthan, which has a hotel inside the forest premises, feel more than the others. There are some NGOs that might too intervene," said conservation biologist Dharmendra Khandal of Tiger Watch.

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