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Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Tiger tourism: Lobbies fight tooth and nail

Nitin Sethi, TNN | Aug 14, 2012, 01.53AM IST NEW DELHI: Should tourism be allowed a free run in forests that are breeding grounds of tigers? A curious case in the Supreme Court to restrict flourishing tourism in the core of tiger reserves has got many agitated. CMs and state forest ministers are writing to the Centre demanding tourism remain unfettered in their territories. The environment minister and wildlife officers in the Paryavaran Bhawan are inundated with calls. High-decibel tiger conservationists and resort owners — at times there is little distinction between the two — are engaged in hectic lobbying with their power buddies across party lines. Forest officials in states have turned unsure of whether tigers bring tourists to their forests or tourism protects the animal. Top lawyers are engaged by various 'interested' parties. Some other conservationists and tribal groups are holding meetings to discuss how to tackle the fallout of the apex court's final decision, which is likely soon. Ironically, amid this hubbub, tribals and poor farmers, who live in proximity to tiger, are caught in the legal cross fire, and are fast becoming collateral damage. It began with a petition in the SC on whether tourism should be allowed in the core of tiger reserves in Madhya Pradesh. The court took up the issue in earnest forcing the Union government to file its recommendations that it was dragging its feet on for several years, unwilling to rein in the powerful tourism-combo. But, the court went a step ahead and also ordered that buffer areas - with thousands of farmers and other poor tribals, besides industry and other businesses — around core of tiger reserves be demarcated. Creating buffer areas gives forest department greater control over land, irrespective of whether they are used for agriculture or mining. The environment ministry took the middle path on tourism. It finally recognized the irony in allowing tour operators, touts, conservationists-turned-entrepreneurs and camera and gear-loaded tourists to walk into forests when poor tribals had been thrown out for conserving the big cat and its breeding grounds. It agreed that the people in vicinity of tiger reserves were making little out of the business where resort-owners can earn upward of Rs 40,000 a night at times against the guarantee of a rare glimpse of the elusive animal. Recommendations were made to weed out tourism from the core of tiger reserves (which are legally meant to be inviolate or free of people) over the next five years and the wildlife tourism business around the national parks and sanctuaries be taxed 10% of their revenue to provide some money to conservation and local tourism. The guidelines, now before the apex court, have got the tourism groups and the state governments (Madhya Pradesh, Rajasathan and Uttarakhand) up in arms and hectic lobbying is on. A motley conglomeration of conservationists and rights groups - Friends of Conservation - have warned that under the ruse of court-imposed deadline, state governments are violating the Wildlife Protection Act and the Forest Rights Act to demarcate the buffers, overriding provisions of these laws which protect the rights of the poor in vicinity of the wildlife zones. Ironic, many point out, since the same state governments are preparing affidavits and writing letters to protect tourism in tiger reserves. Officials warn, albeit in hushed tones, that land around tiger reserves are quietly being hived off in benami transactions to bypass land-transfer rules. Farmers and tribals with little other option are selling their land than facing the brunt of forest-raaj.

Centre gives approval for creation of five new tiger reserves

Press Trust of India / New Delhi August 14, 2012, 14:20 This was stated by Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan in the Rajya Sabha today. Spelling out the initiatives taken by Government for conservation of the big cats, the Minister said in-principle approval has been accorded by the National Tiger Conservation Authority for creation of tiger reserves in Pilibhit (Uttar Pradesh), Ratapani (Madhya Pradesh), Sunabeda (Odisha) and Mukundara Hills (Rajasthan) and Satyamangalam (Tamil Nadu). The proposed Mukundara Hills Tiger Reserve constitutes three wildlife sanctuaries including Darrah, Jawahar Sagar and Chambal. In her written reply, Natarajan said that final approval has been accorded to Kudremukh (Karanataka) for declaring it as a Tiger Reserve. States have also been advised to send proposals for declaring areas including Bor, Nagzira-Navegaon (Maharashtra), Suhelwa (Uttar Pradesh), Guru Ghasidas National Park (Chattisgarh), Mhadei Sanctuary (Goa) and Sriviiliputhur Grizzled Giant Squirrel/Megamalai Wildlife Sanctuaries/ Varushanadu Valley (Tamil Nadu) as tiger reserves. The Minister said country-level tiger population, estimated once in every four years using refined methodology, has shown an increasing trend with a population estimate of 1706, lower and upper limits being 1520 and 1909 respectively in 2010 as compared to the 2006 estimation of 1411, the lower and upper limits being 1165 and 1657 respectively.

Delay on relocation of villages in Mudumalai Tiger Reserve to cost govt dear

Shantha Thiagarajan, TNN | Aug 14, 2012, 05.49AM IST Life at stake: Thirty villages, most of them belonging to mountadan chetty community, have been waiting for relocation for more than five years. UDHAGAMANDALAM: A long delay in the relocation process of forest dwellers and tribals living in 30 villages, including Mudhuguli village, located inside Mudumalai Tiger Reserve (MTR) in the Nilgiris, will cost the state nearly double the amount in compensation as the number of families in the villages has increased significantly in the past five years. Villagers, most of them belonging to the mountadan chetty community, have been waiting to be relocated for the past over five years. In 2005, the community leaders approached Madras high court seeking a directive to the state's forest department to resettle them. The court ruled in their favour in 2007 and told the government that it was duty bound to resettle them. Accordingly a survey was held in 2007 and around 449 families (1,940 people) from 20 villages in Mudumalai panchayat and 10 villages in Nilakottai - both inside the 321 sq km Mudumalai wildlife sanctuary - were found to be eligible for voluntary resettlement under Project Tiger. However, as per National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) guidelines, an individual of age 18 and above is considered a separate family. So the forest department fixed a cut-off date -- December 31, 2010 -- for identifying families that were to be relocated. "We have also come out with a MoU between the forest department and the individuals of the villages on the number of 'families' to be relocated," said P Raghuram Singh, field director, MTR and Mukurthi National Park. "The MoU is technically important to ascertain that the relocation is solely voluntary. After the cut-off date was fixed, we received claims from 763 families from the said 30 villages," he added. As per NTCA guidelines, each family can opt either for a cash package of Rs 10 lakh without involving any rehabilitation or opt for rehabilitation in a village. Almost all villagers who are to be relocated own titled land. The revenue department is scrutinizing the authenticity of the 763 families who have submitted the claims. "Also a sub-committee comprising the forest and revenue officials and representatives from the villages to decide about the allotment of land in Ayyankolli, which has been identified by the forest department for rehabilitation," said A Ameer Haja, deputy director, MTR. Singh too added that the process of relocation has been speeded up. Villagers say they had expected to be relocated at least a year after the court gave its verdict in 2007. They say the government is moving very slowly as it is more than five years since the court directive. "We are desperate now. We are farmers and our livelihood is at stake," said the villagers. Besides, the isolated existence inside the forest has deprived them of hospital and educational facilities. Many of the children are forced to discontinue their studies after class VIII. According to Singh, the government has identified 398.47 hectares of land for relocation near Ayyankolli, of which 289.49 hectares come under the Gudalur forest division.