Tourism in the State may or may not have taken a hit as a result of the recent Supreme Court order banning tourism activities in core areas of the tiger reserves across the country. But one thing is certain. There has been a long story of indifference and disregard by the State of the suggestions proffered by tiger conservation bodies and the Prime Minister himself, writes Zafar Alam Khan
Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan during his recent visit to New Delhi, urged Minister of Environment and Forests (MOEF) Jayanti Natrajan to strongly put forth MP’s point of view before the apex court.
But tiger conservationists in the State have a different take. They say the State Government’s plan to move the apex court is guided by another
motive. Leaders of both the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Opposition Congress or their kin have business interests in wildlife tourism in the State, they say.
Wildlife activist Ajay Dubey, who moved the apex court seeking a ban on tourism in core areas of tiger reserves, while talking to Viva City on the
issue, said “let the State Government first come out with a white paper, listing the ownership of hotels and resorts in and around national parks. Many BJP
leaders, including Ministers’ close kin, legislators of both BJP and Congress, have business interests in hotels and resorts in those areas.”
Dubey further said a Minister’s son, who was a member of State wildlife board earlier, was running a resort near Panna Tiger Reserve (PTR) while another BJP legislator and a Congress legislator had similar business interests in Bandhavgarh tiger reserve. Another senior BJP leader’s close relative had interest in resorts in Kanha National Park while a former legislator and relative of a late Congress leader had similar interests in Bandhavgarh, he added.
He said the State Government move was aimed at benefiting the powerful tourism lobby and not at protecting
the livelihood of local communities. The apex court did not ban tourism per se but only sought to shift it from “core areas” to “buffer zones” till further orders. He said the argument that the ban would leave the locals unemployed and that they would lean towards Naxalism, as ridiculous.
The Chief Minister, on the other hand said that it would adversely affect domestic and foreign tourism in the State.
Dubey, whose environmental action group, ‘Prayatna’ had moved the court for protection and conservation of tigers, said during the last three-and-a-half years, the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) and Forest and Mining departments of the State had filed replies in the court from time to time, stating their position.
Quoting eco-tourism guidelines formulated by the NTCA under the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), he said all tourist operations within 5 km of the 600-plus tiger reserves, national parks, sanctuaries and wildlife corridors in the country, would have to fork out a minimum of 10 per cent of their turnover as “local conservation fee”, which would be used not only to protect wildlife areas but also provide financial assistance to communities and people living in and around the green patches.
“This fund was meant to be spent on forest resource conservation, managing human-animal conflict and generating income for communities,” he said adding that this would benefit the unemployed tribals and other weaker sections and would also help prevent Naxalites making inroads into these areas.
Meanwhile, an action committee, ‘Pachmarhi Bachao Samiti’, has been formed to save the hill station, known as Queen of Satpura, from the impact of the court order banning tourism in core areas of tiger reserve. The region forms part of the Satpura Tiger Reserve. Congress MP Udaya Pratap Singh and local legislators participated in a meeting, which resolved to fight for keeping Pachmarhi out of the purview of the ban.
Two years before the Supreme Court clamped on tourism inside core areas of tiger reserves, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had written a letter to Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan on the need to protect tigers in the State’s forests.
A slew of measures, including declaration of buffer areas in tiger reserves and constitution of a special force to protect the wild cats were suggested by the Prime Minister two years ago. The Prime Minister had emphasised on the “urgent need” to secure tigers through concerted efforts, according to a copy of the PM’s letter made public by Dubey.
The Prime Minister suggested steps, including regulation of tourism-related commercial activities in the core areas of tiger reserves by declaring buffer areas and making the core or critical tiger habitats inviolate in a time-bound manner by expediting relocation of human settlements with the enhanced relocation package of Project Tiger.
Besides, it was suggested that the Government would step up protection of wild cats in a professional manner by constituting Special Tiger Protection Force and expedite the notification of buffer areas of tiger reserves vis-a-vis
the provisions of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.
While pressing for immediate steps, the PM had said, “The core or critical tiger habitats of tiger reserves have to be safeguarded immediately from several decimating factors like man-tiger conflicts, poaching and resource dependency of local people, while ensuring availability of forest areas in the fringes for the spillover population of wild animals.”
Two years has passed since the PM sent the letter to the Madhya Pradesh Government, but little has been done on the recommendations.
“The Madhya Pradesh Government could not constitute a tiger protection force. It could not regulate tourism in and around the tiger habitats nor could it make the critical tiger habitats inviolate,” Dubey said.
He said it was only when the Madhya Pradesh High Court in 2010 issued notices (on hearing a petition filed by Dubey) to the State Government, buffer zones in five of the six tiger reserves, Kanha, Bandhavgarh, Satpuda, Pench and Sanjay, were notified. “PTR, which has the highest tiger population is still not notified for buffer zone,” Dubey said.
While hearing a PIL filed by Dubey, the Supreme Court had on July 24 held that there shall be no tourism activity in any of the core zones of tiger reserves.
Following the court order, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister had on July 31 met Union Environment and Forest Minister Jayanthi Natarajan and sought her cooperation to cope with the fallout of the recent Supreme Court directive banning tourism in core areas of tiger reserves across the country.
During the meeting, the Chief Minister urged her to intervene in the matter saying the apex court
verdict would affect livelihoods of thousands of persons dwelling in and around the forest covers.