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Thursday, August 16, 2012

Valparai tourism to implead in SC case on tiger reserves

K A Shaji, TNN | Aug 16, 2012, 02.32AM IST COIMBATORE: Tourist cottage owners and merchants in the plantation town of Valparai have decided to implead in the case presently going on in Supreme Court with regard to allowing tourism in tiger reserves. The decision in this regard was taken a day after Tamil Nadu government notified buffer zones for tiger reserves in the state to resume tourism activities and Valparai was classified as buffer zone of Anamalai Tiger Reserve. Over 40 homestay providers and more than 600 traders in the tea country have jointly decided to pursue their case in the Supreme Court by availing the services of an eminent advocate in New Delhi. According to them, Valparai is the only municipality in the entire country to come under a tiger reserve, be it core area or buffer zone. What irks the tourism and commercial operators in the hill station is the lack of clarity on what kind of tourism would be permitted in a buffer zone. As per the 2001 census, Valparai has an urban population of 94,962 people and their normal life would be badly affected even if the whole municipality and adjoining tea estates are treated as buffer zone, according to the tourism industry. Before it became Anamalai Tiger Reserve, the Indira Gandhi National Park had a 126-sq-km core area and 832 sq km of buffer zone. Both the core area and the buffer zone had exempted Valparai municipality and surroundings. The tourism industry here wants the same kind of exclusion from the Supreme Court now. "The issue of Valparai is very peculiar. Other areas in the country which stand close to tiger reserves are not urban like Valparai. We are here for generations and being in the buffer zone would land us in trouble,'' says S Jebaraj of Valparai Merchants Association. At present, entry to Valparai is through Aliyar and Attakatty checkposts and they continue to remain part of the core areas of Anamalai Tiger Reserve. So vehicular movement would definitely get affected and even locals would face difficulty in traveling to the plains at night to access hospitals, says Jebaraj. Even small eco-friendly construction works in the buffer zone require long procedures and there are chances of the restricted tourism becoming totally controlled by the forest department, he adds. "It is not a question of tourism alone. We have approached the local municipality, tea plantations and civil society movements to join us in impleading in the case in the Supreme Court. It is easy for the state government to demarcate core and buffer the same way as it was when the ATR was just a national park,'' says Mohammed Shafi, secretary of Valparai Tourist Cottages Welfare Association. Meanwhile, they clarified that the organizations are not against improving the green cover of Valparai and improving forest management in a way that would not escalate the human-animal conflict.

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