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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

MoEF takes a U-turn on tourism ban in core of tiger reserves

Dhananjay Mahapatra, TNN | Aug 22, 2012, 04.23AM IST NEW DELHI: A month after the Supreme Court relied on the government's guidelines to ban tourism in core areas of tiger reserves, making popular destinations like Corbett National Park out of bounds for wildlife enthusiasts, the ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) on Tuesday did an about turn, telling the court that it needed to re-think the guidelines. The SC's July 24 order banning tourism in core areas had led to loud protests from states and thriving commercial ventures in and around tiger reserves. The ministry, which had gone to great lengths to finalize the detailed guidelines, appears to have wilted under political and commercial pressure and sought time from the court to review its "finalized" guidelines. On July 9, MoEF filed the 'Guidelines for Ecotourism in and around Protected Areas' in the apex court and said, "Any core area in tiger reserve from which relocation has been carried out will not be used for tourism activities." The guidelines were based on key recommendations of the Tiger Task Force (2005) and were in sync with Section 38(v) of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 (as amended in 2006), which defined core/critical wildlife habitats as such areas that needed to be kept inviolate for tiger conservation without affecting the rights of Scheduled Tribes or forest dwellers. But on Tuesday, the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) functioning under the MoEF in its affidavit through advocate Wasim A Qadri said the Union government had received inputs and suggestions from states in the context of the SC's interim order banning tourism in core areas of tiger reserves and that it needed time to consider them. "The states have expressed concern that many local people depend on tourism for their livelihood and hence stoppage of tourism in core areas of tiger reserves would result in loss of such income leading to discontent which may be a threat to wildlife and forests," the NTCA said. "Besides, the common citizen would be deprived of an opportunity to appreciate our natural heritage. Further, concerns have been expressed from various quarters on the process adopted by states in notifying the buffer areas of tiger reserve," it said. Citing the loss of income to local population and people being deprived of appreciating wildlife heritage, the Union government requested the court to permit it to "review the guidelines and conduct more consultations with all stakeholders including state governments and representatives of local and indigenous communities besides reviewing the process adopted by states in notifying buffer areas of tiger reserves". But in the guidelines submitted to the court on July 9, the Centre was well aware of the tourism activities happening in core areas of tiger reserves. "Given that tourism has been happening in these core/critical areas, there is a need for phasing this out and moving it to peripheral/buffer areas to benefit local communities," it had said. "Within five years, permanent facilities located inside of core tiger habitat/critical wildlife habitat, which are being used for wildlife tourism, should be phased out," it added.

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