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Monday, August 27, 2012

NGO files plea over buffer notification

Dipannita Das, TNN Aug 26, 2012, 02.17AM IST Supreme Court|rush|Ashish Kothari|ashish PUNE: An intervention application filed by city-based NGO Kalpavriksh in the Supreme Court states that state governments are likely to bypass and violate the processes put down in the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 and the Forest Rights' Act, 2006, in the rush to notify buffer areas around tiger reserves. The apex court, in the Ajay Dubey vs. National Tiger Conservation Authority (special leave petition no(s).21339/2011) case, had issued a directive on July 24 asking state governments to notify the buffer areas within three weeks. The application pointed out that in most states there was no consultation with the affected villagers, or a very cursory one with a few meetings. "This is conducive for greater mistrust and suspicion, hence more conflicts between the local people and the forest department. In such a rush, the notification is issued without proper scientific basis. All this could backfire on wildlife conservation too," the organization said. The NGO has requested the Supreme Court to recognise these issues. Ashish Kothari, petitioner on behalf of Kalpavriksh, told TOI, "If the court allows, we would like to argue for a review of this case through a proper process. Notification of buffer areas around national parks and sanctuaries is to curb destructive developmental activities. There are other options too like declaring areas as eco-sensitive or as biodiversity heritage sites, which can curtail destructive activities while allowing livelihoods to continue. All options must be considered using the best available knowledge and democratic processes.'' In an earlier order on April 3, 2012, the apex court had directed states to issue the notification within three months. Taking exception to the fact that some states (including Maharashtra) had not done so, the court ordered them to issue them within three weeks, failing which contempt proceedings would be initiated, and state secretaries asked to pay Rs 50,000 fine, each. Kalpavriksh's contention is that the short time was contrary to the provisions of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 which provides for specific conditions to be fulfilled prior to declaration of the buffer areas. It states that the 'buffer and peripheral areas' are to be declared in such a manner that the rights of scheduled tribes as well as other forest dwellers are recognized. This requires full implementation of the Forest Rights Act, which has not been done in any of the core or buffer areas of tiger reserves. "As per the Wildlife Act, the limits of a buffer area are to be determined on the basis of scientific and objective criteria developed on the basis of consultation with the gram sabha. An expert committee should be constituted and the buffer zone area should be identified keeping in view and recognizing the livelihood, developmental, social and cultural rights of the local people. It should aim at promoting coexistence of wildlife and human activity. Hence, the notification process would take time,'' Kothari said. Conservationists and environmentalists who participated in a national consultation on protected areas and forest rights recently in New Delhi had the same views. The group is part of 'Future of Conservation Network (FoC),' a network of ecological and social organizations and individuals committed to effective and equitable conservation of bio-diversity. Neema Pathak, a member of Kalpavriksh and of FOC, said the court had given very little time for identifying and notifying the buffer areas and holding consultation with gram sabhas. These areas have a significant human population, and the law mandates discussions with gram sabhas and formation of an experts' committee. "It is not clear if the amicus curae has informed the court about all aspects of the real situation. We have already sent a letter to the ministry of tribal affairs,'' she added.

Tour operators' Pench proposal glosses over govt norms on tiger tourism

Nitin Sethi, TNN Aug 26, 2012, 05.43AM IST Tour Operators for Tigers|TOFT|Tiger tourism|Pench Tiger reserve|National NEW DELHI: Lease out 150 sq km of prime forest land to private tourism companies next to a prominent tiger reserve for 50 years. Buy it, if possible. Run an exclusive resort on the cordoned off land with rents upto $4,000 a night providing revenue of upto $4 million a year. Hire a few locals for minor services like supervisors, guards and other lower-level functionaries. This is the proposal from Tour Operators for Tigers (TOFT) — one of the most prominent association of tiger-tourism operators, who have opposed the Union government's regulations on eco-tourism and the Supreme Court's interim ban on tourism on core of tiger reserves. TOI accessed the business proposal that TOFT had submitted to the Madhya Pradesh government to run the exclusive Africa-style eco-tourism zone adjacent to Mowgli land-Pench Tiger Reserve. TOFT, which has several high-end eco-resort owners and tour operators as partners across the most prominent tiger reserves, has openly solicited and collected funds from tour operators in several countries to fight the Supreme Court's ban and the government's guidelines restricting tourism in the name of Guide Association of Madhya Pradesh and Kanha Lodge Association. The association, along with prominent wildlife NGOs like Wildlife Protection Society of India, whose head Belinda Wright also runs a resort in MP, has taken a public stand against stopping tourism in the core of tiger reserves. TOFT has opposed the imposition of a cess on its revenues to be used for conserving wildlife and providing livelihood to locals as proposed in the government guidelines. The TOFT Pench proposal was advocated in 2009 and got an in-principle approval from the MP government, which too has opposed the restrictions on tiger tourism, but is yet to take off. TOI, however, could not determine the current status. Julian Matthews, who heads TOFT, did not respond to TOI's emailed queries. But the details of the proposal give an insight into the kind of tourism TOFT advocates in India. Documents show that the 'conservancy' operation was to be run by a company called Great Plains Safari Company, which runs similar operations in Africa and National Geographic Society. It was supported by a carbon trading firm backed by the international bank Credit Suisse and the then WWF chairman. The multi-million dollar operation promised to hire 228 locals, including about 65 for running resorts, and the rest of the employees would continue to work for "government work guarantee scheme". TOFT sought a three-year tax holiday for its venture. It claimed that the total annual profits would be about $1 million by the end of fifth month of its operations — of which half would be shared with 'communities'. It has claimed that it would start the controversial carbon trading system in the area by banning cutting of bamboo and restricting harvesting of other timber out of which the `communities' would get $1 million annually. The company would also buy livestock from locals to reduce pressure on the forest land. TOFT has not stepped back even though this particular proposal hasn't come to fruition. On its website it is running a campaign against the guidelines and the court order stating, "Most of today's conservationists fell in love with nature when staying in these rest houses and lodges (inside the tiger reserves). Valmik Thapar, Bittu Saghal, Billy Arjan Singh to name a few you know. How can you destroy our children's chance of experiencing nature in this natural way?" Ads by Google Local Airport Taxi Reliable Airport Taxi Sevices, Easy to Book by Phone or Online Switzerland Tour Packages Traveling to Switzerland? Save 40% on Hotel+Airfare Deals. Book Now! TOFT is asking for a different set of norms. It says, "These guidelines must plan for a huge increase in numbers of visitors, both from International visitors but more especially from our own Indian markets - and you must encourage and incentivize us (with other great wildlife habitats and wildlife experiences) to spread our clients." It seeks a "clear 'road map' as to how to build a better nature tourism industry that delivers both an exceptional wildlife experience to our clients — comparable with many other parts of the world in which we are in fierce competition — but most importantly a powerful tool for conservation to save our Forests and Wildlife." But it notes, "sadly, the guidelines do not yet offer any of these benefits."

'Man-eater' tiger trapped

TNN | Aug 27, 2012, 04.56AM IST MYSORE: The tiger, which supposedly killed a tribal woman, was trapped by forest department officials at Heggadadevana Kote on Sunday. The big cat was shifted to the Mysore zoo to treat an injury on its left front limb. It had two scars from old injuries on its back. Five hours after the 'man-eater' was sighted at around 12.30 pm near Heballa, forest officials succeeded in rescuing the tiger, aged around 10 years, by tranquilizing it. Initially, sharp shooters Akram and Karumbaiah missed the tiger twice as it sat hidden behind a bush. As there was no elevated place nearby, an elephant from Ane Chowkur elephant camp was pressed into action to rescue the injured cat. Abhimanyu, a Dasara elephant, was brought to the spot at around 4pm. The sharp shooters then sat on Abhimanyu, along with mahout Vasanth and tranquilized the animal within an hour. "The tiger sat near a bush and was struggling to move due to the injury," veterinarian K S Umashankar told TOI. Mysore territorial DCF Gaonkar said after the attack on Mahadevamma, the tribal woman, at the vicinity of Bommalapura, the department had been on high alert. An officer said the tiger may have entered human habitat in search of an easy prey as the animal was aged and injured. The authorities are yet to take a decision on leaving the tiger back to the forest after treatment, considering that it had turned a man-eater.

Abandoned cub in Panna to get a new home in Kanha

TNN | Aug 27, 2012, 02.07AM IST BHOPAL: The six -month old tiger cub that was abandoned by a tigress in the Panna Tiger Reserve (PTR) would shortly get a new home in the world's famous Kanha Tiger Reserve (KTR). "We are going to shift the tiger cub by road to KTR where it would be housed in an enclosure before being released in the wild," PTR field director RS Murthy told TOI. A divisional forest officer (DFO) and veterinarian would accompany the cub from PTR to KTR, he added. "Possibly we might shift the cub on Monday or later this week," Murthy said. All preparations have to be made at KTR for housing the cub, officials said. Kanha sanctuary has perfected the art of hand-rearing cubs by successfully raising two orphaned tigresses. KTR is having an enclosure in which the two orphaned tigresses were reared and later on trans-located to PTR to revive the big cat population. More than three months ago, a tigress christened T-1 abandoned the cub in PTR after which the NTCA asked the MP forest department to shift it to Van Vihar zoo and animal rescue and rehabilitation here. But the forest officials had asked National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) that it wants to shift the cub to KTR which was cleared. The tigress christened T- 1 gave birth to this cub along with three others in a cave of PTR on February 16. On March 29, the tigress shifted to another cave some 2 km away from the first but didn't carry the fragile cub. But, it returned to its previous cave on April 2 and fed this abandoned cub. This time also, T - 1 didn't take the cub with it after which the PTR authorities with electronic gadgets, kept a watch on its movement and when its condition deteriorated it was rescued from the cave on April 12 and kept in a well-equipped room in PTR. Felines usually abandon their cubs when they turn weak, according to wildlife experts.

Illegal construction of resort near Nagzira core area stalled

TNN | Aug 27, 2012, 01.28AM IST GONDIA: The construction of a commercial resort barely 5 metres from Nagzira Wildlife Sanctuary core area border was stalled on Thursday after sustained efforts by the green volunteers. An entrepreneur of Raipur had started resort work by flouting norms about a year and a half back, taking advantage of duel jurisdiction of forest and revenue departments. But Nisarga Mandal pursued the matter and the forest department finally stalled the resort work on Thursday. With the completion of Adani thermal power plant, the number of visitors to Nagzira was expected to go up substantially. Seeing an opportunity, Dr Jaffar Khan of Raipur purchased 8 acres land allegedly in the name of his tribal employees near village Jambli (Khamba) in Sakoli tehsil on the outskirts of the sanctuary. The work on the huge resort was started soon. Eyebrows were raised as no construction activity is allowed within 10km of the wildlife sanctuary. But the problem was that this area technically came under the revenue jurisdiction of Bhandara district while the sanctuary was under the Gondia jurisdiction. The developer was claiming that he had all the mandatory sanctions required for the project from National Board of Wildlife or revenue department, New Delhi. And the work continued unabated till recently. When Nisarga Mandal started opposing the resort citing the Supreme Court directives on protection of tigers and necessity for corridors, assistant conservator of forest (wildlife), Umarzari, issued a notice to Jaffar Khan on May 31. It said the construction activity had increased poaching in the area and a bison was killed on May 27. The letter also said the noise of generators and construction work was disturbing wildlife. It was also posing a hindrance to the proposed tiger corridor connecting Pench, Kanha National Park, Nagzira, Navegaon and Tadoba Andhari reserve. The department asked the developer to stop resort work and submit the various permissions and NOCs. Despite serving a notice, the construction was continuing till now. However, due to pressure from Nisarga Mandal, a team of forest and revenue department officials visited the spot and directed the developer to stop work immediately. The work was subsequently stopped. Ashok Khune, ACF (wildlife) of the newly formed New Nagzira Wildlife Zone, Umarzari, said the construction was hardly a couple of metres away from the core area border and needed to be destroyed immediately. Sakoli ACF (wildlife) DD Patle under whom the disputed construction comes said the developer had been asked to stop the work. "The developer has given a written undertaking that the work would not be started till he produced the requisite permission," said Patle. Speaking to TOI, Dr Jaffar Khan denied the allegations and claimed that such stories were spread by some officers of the forest department having vested interests. He said, "this was not a tribal land since the last 75 years as per revenue records. Moreover, these restrictions were applicable only for tiger protection routes and Nagzira was never a tiger project," he added. Swahila, wife of Dr Jaffar Khan Rubi Khan, purchased 2.25 acre land on February 27 last year. She obtained non-agriculture certificate from the tehsildar on May 12, 2011 and also a no objection certificate from Khanba-Jamdi Gram Panchayat after a resolution was passed on September 25, 2011. The land was measured by the revenue department in the presence of RFO, he said. Khan claimed that the caretaker at the site was forced by the forest officers to give an undertaking to stop construction on August 24. He said, "this was done without my consent and therefore was not binding."

Andhra Pradesh cool to tiger tourism ban debate

Sudipta Sengupta, TNN | Aug 27, 2012, 03.38AM IST HYDERABAD: Hitting headlines and engaging environmentalists in unending debates is the Union ministry of environment & forest's (MoEF) flip-flop over banning tourism in core areas of India's tiger reserves. But back home in Andhra Pradesh these goings-on have failed to even remotely perturb officials of the forest department who maintain that the ban has little or no relevance in the state. Incidentally, AP houses India's largest tiger reserve, the Nagarjunasagar-Srisailam Tiger Reserve (NSTR), which is spread over an area of 4,500 square kilometres. The tiger count here is pegged between 53 and 67 at present. The official indifference is largely rooted in the complete absence of tourism activity in and around NSTR. Barring two vehicles deployed for a mini safari from Farahabad into the forest, the tiger reserve has no other tourist packages on offer. But, following the SC ban, even this service has been suspended. The Mallela Theertham waterfall in the middle of dense growth, though still open to public, continues to register negligible footfall. The average annual count of tourists to these sites, maintained by local tribals under the state's community-based eco-tourism (CBET) programme, is just about 3,000-4,000. Miles away from the 'den', even the peripheral pocket of Mannanur (check-post located at the entrance to the forest) receives only a handful of tourists at the 10 government cottages available there. "All of them are pilgrims either returning from or on their way to the Srisailam temple. A stop in the forest is just incidental," said Farida Tampal, state director of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF-India). While Tampal was for a ban on over-commercialisation of tiger reserves, she feels that a 'controlled-tourism' concept should be implemented to make people aware of AP's wildlife wealth. "Camps and tours in the peripheral region might not be a bad idea. Right now, the NSTR is completely off the tourism radar," she added. The reserve's core area covers close to 3,500sqkm with a buffer zone of 1,100sqkm. Forest officials, however, aren't complaining. The missing tourists, they argue, help preserve the sanctity of NSTR. "The tiger reserve has little scope for tourism owing to its rocky terrain. The probability of sighting tigers here is very low. Why would tourists want to come here?" questioned Rahul Pandey, field director, NSTR. That such limited access to the forest deters revenue collection as well is a problem that does not seem to bother the department either. "The government does not earn even a penny from this tiger reserve. Both Mallela Theertam and Mannanur are managed by locals under CBET. The revenue generated from these places is shared among them," Pandey said. That the collections are abysmally low, estimated to be at around Rs 15 lakh per year, is another story. But while the state government department, irrespective of the interim ban, insists that it has no plans to boost tourism in NSTR, some environmentalists seem to believe otherwise. They say that forest officials had been engaged in drawing up an eco-tourism project within the reserve's core area prior to the SC ruling. "The project has obviously been stalled now. But depending upon the court's final verdict, it might resurface again," the wildlife expert said on condition of anonymity.