Missing people in tiger versus tourism debate
Decoding the Supreme Court’s order banning tourism activity in core area of tiger reserves shows that the court’s intention was to have zones inviolate from human interference to protect tigers.
Nothing unusual as that was also the aim of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, that was amended after tigers disappeared from Sariska in Rajasthan. Sadly, it remained on paper in most (read nine tiger) states as strong tourism lobby pushed the state governments to delay declaration of the inviolate areas.
The same lobby is terming the Supreme Court order as unjustified even though the court has reiterated the law and made the state governments accountable for just a minor enforcement of the existing law. Fortunately, the court brought only tiger reserves under ambit of its order and not over 600 wildlife parks and sanctuaries, which are also covered in the wildlife act.
The point that even the court missed and got lost in the tiger versus tourism debate is the future of over 10,000 families that live inside these tiger reserves and wildlife habitats. Nobody, it appears, mentioned before that the court declaring core or inviolate areas will not be possible without relocating them, which at the present compensation rate would cost around Rs 60,000 crore.
As former Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh said relocating them is not possible in the next 20 years as the government does not have enough resources. Integrating them with tiger conservation is possible and tourism can play an important role in that outside the core areas.
I agree with the view of the Supreme Court that tourism cannot be allowed inside core areas and now steps needs to be taken to provide “community driven” tourism activity in buffer zone. If the tourism industry is really serious about protecting tigers it should cooperate with the state governments to create an economically viable tourist facilities in the buffer zones of tiger reserves.
It will also help in improving the habitat of buffer zones, essential for survival of tigers and other wildlife, and create corridors linking wildlife habitats to ensure easy mobility of animals. India’s pursuit for growth and increasing demographic pressure has resulted in most of the traditional wildlife corridors — linking Madhya Pradesh tiger reserves with Rajasthan or connecting wildlife zones of eastern and western ghats — been almost lost. The cash rich tourism industry can help in restoring some of these corridors if they are really serious about wildlife conservation rather than crying hoarse over the SC order.
The new tourism model, a logical follow-up of the SC order, needs to have some essential components. First, it should be low cost to ensure that a common Indian also gets a chance to watch the country’s wildlife heritage. Second, there should be strong regulatory mechanism to ensure that a certain proportion of money earned through wildlife tourism is spent on benefit of the local forest communities, best suited to protect forests and wildlife.
It is noteworthy to mention here that country best forests and wildlife areas are in the 150 tribal dominated districts, also most poor and backward. This is also enough to suggest that locals have not gained economically from the existing high cost tourism industry in the wildlife areas. They have got petty jobs from the tourism industry and maximum they earn is by traditional dancing and singing in front of rich tourists from India and abroad.
So, as the National Tiger Conservation Authority has rightly suggested to the court, the new tourism model has to be community driven. It needs a strong monitoring mechanism to ensure that its aims and objectives are met and it does not fail like other government programmes.
We, the outsiders, can’t save tigers. Those who live there can. Empower them economically and socially, tiger protection will happen automatically. Visit Periyar tiger reserve in Kerala and you will believe me.