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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Tour operators back to business

WEDNESDAY, 17 OCTOBER 2012 00:00 PIONEER NEWS SERVICE | NEW DELHI After notification of fresh guidelines by MoEF allowing “regulated low impact tourism” in the core and critical tiger habitat, the tiger tour operators could not have asked for a better opening of the present tourism season as the Supresme Court on Tuesday lifted its ban on wildlife tourism. “Following a period of ban and uncertainty, it is now time to get back to work to ensure that revenues that flow through park fees back into conservation and communities start flowing again, that livelihoods are restored, and legitimate businesses are allowed to continue to show India’s very best natural heritage to its citizens,” said Vishal Singh, Director Travel Operators For Tigers (ToFT). The ban according to him would have badly affected hundreds of thousands of local livelihoods, and legitimate businesses, both directly or indirectly. For a decade TOFT had involved local communities in various aspects of nature tourism that include evidence based science, park geography, ground reality, carry capacity and community and management issues, and drawing on the best of practices and experiences from around the world, pointed out the members. Pointing to the latest MoEF guidelines on eco-tourism, Chairman TOFT, Julian Matthews expressed concern saying “97 per cent of India’s remaining forest landscape, which today remains is virtually unprotected and unknown, and is increasingly devoid of wildlife, overgrazed and exploited”. Unfortunately, there is nothing in these guidelines that presents a legal ‘roadmap’ as to how they can be restored, restocked and revitalised. The members of TOFT, however, pointed out that this ban and the heated debates that it had generated since the past few months has helped to usher unity amongst the stakeholders — panchayat heads, Field Directors, park guides and lodge owners — to work together, and in far greater harmony, for the future.

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