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Thursday, August 2, 2012

In tiger reserves, tourists are not the core issue

PANKAJ SEKHSARIA The Hindu OUT OF BOUNDS: Banning tourism may not be the answer, but unless conservation itself is renegotiated, progress will be unlikely on the issues raised by the Supreme Court judgment. Photo: K.R. Deepak If anybody has rights over forest areas, it is the traditional communities that have lived there for generations In an order that will have far reaching consequences, the Supreme Court imposed a blanket ban on tourism in the core areas of tiger reserves with immediate effect on July 24. The order is up for review within three weeks, but the stage has been set for a period of considerable turmoil in matters related to wildlife tourism, particularly that where the tiger is involved. There has been wide coverage of the development in the print and electronic media and the virtual world too has come alive with opinions, claims, allegations and counter allegations. A large section of the wildlife conservation community has been quite outraged and this is an important comment on the political economy of wildlife conservation as also of the wildlife tourism industry. One prominent wildlife photographer who is also hotelier posted a photo of a dead tiger on Facebook with a prominent caption — “Tourism did not kill him — goat herders did.” Other comments have expressed indignation at a situation where villagers will be allowed to stay inside, but tourism will have to leave. It is noteworthy that wildlife conservation and tourism are implicated in an interesting and important overlap of interests. Those wanting conservation of wildlife are increasingly benefitting from it as tourism operators or then as consumers of a wild experience. Dilemmas, contradictions The case has been made for a very long time that tourism benefits wildlife because it constitutes non-consumptive consumption of the resource that can also benefit local communities in the process and secondly, that tourist presence denies poachers the chance to get at their quarry. The simplicity of these arguments conceals the fault lines of a situation that is far more nuanced and complex both on the ground as well as in the policy domain. While conservation has been projected as an important national agenda, there is no denying that in the present paradigm, its majority stake is restricted to a small section of the urban middle and upper-middle class. There is much evidence, in fact, of the hardships experienced by and atrocities inflicted on local communities in the name of conservation. Ironically, the same paradigm is expected to benefit the same people from the same wildlife conservation, albeit through the tourism route. It is unlikely that the math will add up! The dilemmas, even the contradictions perhaps, are evident, for instance, in an editorial of the business newspaper Mint (“Saving India’s forests,” July 30, 2012). It argues that giving tourists access to forests will ensure their protection and conservation but giving forests dwellers rights under the Forest Rights Act is likely to make them “an instrument for their destruction.” Champati Sarath (“Ban on tourists no boon for tigers,” The Hindu, July 31, 2012), similarly, talks a language of the rights of people (read tourists) to visit national parks. We are failing to account for the fact that these tiger-inhabited landscapes have been peopled by forest dwellers and traditional communities for generations and that they have entitlements and rights here. One of the key pleas of the petitioner, that led to the Supreme Court order in fact, was that no tourism should be allowed in places where traditional communities had been displaced in the name of conservation. The case of the Sathyamangalam Tiger Reserve in Tamil Nadu is illustrative. At about the time that the entire country is discussing the ban on tourism in the core of tiger reserves, 19 tribal dominated village panchayats in the Sathyamangalam have been protesting and opposing the tiger reserve for fear of the impacts it would have on their livelihoods. The larger framework within which all of this operates also needs to be borne in mind — the overall economic paradigm where everything is meant for consumption; where GDP and economic growth takes precedence over everything else, where mining, dams, roads and railways are ripping apart habitats of wildlife and homes of traditional communities. This is a paradigm where even wildlife and conservation is being asked to pay for itself. Banning tourism is, perhaps, not the solution but if the parameters of the debate and the discussions around conservation are themselves not renegotiated, there is unlikely to be much progress. For many proponents, tourism, if done sensitively, is part of the solution to the many conservation related challenges we face today. For the moment however, the shoe is on the other foot. The solution has become the problem and the Supreme Court order should be welcomed for the debate it has fostered and a new perspective it could potentially engineer. Whether this results in a wash out or a shake-out depends on how the various stakeholders choose to respond, and in this case the wait in unlikely to be a long one. (Pankaj Sekhsaria edits the bimonthly newsletter on wildlife, Protected Area Update that is published by the environmental action group, Kalpavriksh. Email:

Three more tigers for Sariska

Jaipur: Spread over 866 sq km, the Sariska National Park in Rajasthan was once home to 15 tigers. Poaching reduced the number to zero till re-population began with the shifting of five tigers from another park. Now, three more of the majestic cats are to be relocated to increase their numbers to eight, an official said. "There are at present three tigers and two tigresses in the reserve. A high-level meeting was held recently in which it was decided that at least three more tigers will be relocated to Sariska soon," a senior forest department officer told IANS. He said the modalities of the relocation are being discussed at present. "The relocation is being carried out to enhance the tiger population in Sariska. We are planning to bring more tigresses to the reserve," said the officer. He added that the areas surrounding the reserve will be declared an eco-sensitive zone to provide the tigers a safe environment. During 2004-05, the forest department and the state government faced all-round criticism over the disappearance of tigers from Sariska. A report produced in March 2005 by the Wildlife Institute of India confirmed that there were no tigers left in the Sariska reserve at all. Poaching was found to be a reason for the dwindling tiger population. Facing flak from different quarters, the state government decided to relocate tigers from the Ranthambore National Park in Sawai Madhopur district of Rajasthan to Sariska. Five tigers from Ranthambore have been shifted to Sariska since 2008. The Sariska Tiger Reserve, originally a hunting preserve of the erstwhile princely state of Alwar, was declared a wildlife reserve in 1955 and attained the status of a National Park in 1979. IANS

Coal mining threatens forests, tigers: Greenpeace

PTI | Aug 1, 2012, 07.42PM IST "From 2007 to 2011, the coal mine lease area and coal production capacity have nealry doubled compared to pre-2007 levels" Greenpeace campaigner Ashish Fernandes said. BHUBANESWAR: Environment watchdog Greenpeace on Wednesday sought an immediate moratorium on new coal projects in the country citing evidences that the mining threatened forests and wildlife. "From 2007 to 2011, the coal mine lease area and coal production capacity have nealry doubled compared to pre-2007 levels" Greenpeace campaigner Ashish Fernandes told reporters here. Greenpeace also released a report titled, 'How Coal Mining is Trashing Tigerland', saying how coal mining threatened over 1.1 million hectares of forest in 13 coalfields in central India. Fernandes said virtually all new coal mines and a proportion of the planned power plants were located in central India covering Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and parts of Odisha and eastern Maharashtra. These places were also home to 35 percent of the country's tiger population, he said. A look at landscapes where coal mining was well established such as Singrauli in Madhya Pradesh or Chandrapur in Maharashtra demonstrated the industry's devastating impact on forests, he said. But there are other locations where the problem was already or would soon be equally severe, he said. "If India continues its reliance on coal to meet its energy needs, the destruction already seen in these areas will be multiplied exponentially across much of central India," he said. Saying that blackout in north and east India was not a reason to fast-track coal projects, Fernandes said: "The blackout is a wake-up call for the government to revisit its unsustainable energy policy." The Greepeace report overlaid maps of the 13 coalfields with forest cover, protected area boundaries and the latest government data on tiger, elephant and leopard presence. Almost all the coalfields overlap with endangered species habitat -- of the 1.1 million hectares of forest at risk, over 185,000 hectares are inhabited by tigers, over 270,000 hectares by leopards and over 55,000 hectare by elephants, the report said. "The government continues to clear coal power projects and mines way beyond requirements, often overriding the objections of its officials and committees. We are asking for an immediate moratorium on all new forest clearances, until the criteria for determining forests off limits to mining are agreed upon and implemented, with proper public consultation and input," said Biswajit Mohanty, a National Board for Wildlife member.

MP to move SC for review of ban on tourism in core areas of tiger reserves

New Delhi: Madhya Pradesh government will approach the Supreme Court for a review of its order banning tourism in core areas of tiger reserves as such a move could affect the livelihood of many, state chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan said here today. "This order will definitely have a substantial effect. Kanha, Bandhavgarh and Pench are parks which are visited by not just Indian but also foreign tourists," Chouhan said. "We are going to approach the Supreme court and our request is that the Indian government should also support our cause," he added. Chouhan also said that while saving tigers was important, there was no certainty that the national animal will be saved if tourism is completely banned. "Most of the people who live in these areas are tribals who get employment because of the tourists. So, these people know that if the tigers are there, there would be employment. If we ban tourism totally, these people would be angry and unemployed," Chouhan added. The Madhya Pradesh CM also said that due to spottings by tourists, there was more awareness about the presence of tigers. "If we impose a total ban, who will watch them? In such a scenario, the threat against tigers would increase," he added. Chouhan also said if there is no tourism, the attitude of the people towards the tigers would change. "If the tiger attacks some of their cattle, they'll start wishing that it is no longer there. And then incidents like poisoning the water, which tigers drink, could happen," Chouhan said. The MP CM said a limited ban, which could ensure that tigers are not disturbed in its habitat, could be implemented. He said he had a positive meeting with Union Minister for Environment and Forest Jayanthi Natarajan in this regard. PTI