Nudged by the Supreme Court to put in place a set of comprehensive measures for conservation of tigers and wildlife in entirety, the Union Ministry of Environment and Forest has submitted its final guidelines in the court on ‘Eco-tourism in and around protected areas’.
Stressing on promoting “community-based tourism”, the guidelines suggest a gradual phase-out of tourism-related activities in the tiger reserves of the country.
“Within five years, permanent facilities located inside of core-critical tiger habitat/critical wildlife habitat, which are being used for wildlife tourism, should be phased out,” the guidelines say.
However, on Tuesday, the Bench of Justices Swatanter Kumar and Ibrahim Kalifulla questioned why tourism should be allowed at all in the core areas and prohibited it till the court’s final order on the PIL filed by conservationist Ajay Dubey. The court said it would examine the guidelines after receiving responses from the states and then give a final framework of measures to the central government for notifying.
The guidelines have to be made applicable to protected areas, tiger reserves, wildlife sanctuaries, community reserves, conservation reserves, sacred groves or pilgrimage spots located within protected areas and forest areas.
The ministry, in its guidelines, admitted that mushrooming of tourist facilities around protected areas has led to “exploitation, degradation, degradation and misuse of ecosystems”, besides misuse of the term ‘eco-tourism’. It states that the state-level eco-tourism strategy must be in tune with the framework of these guidelines.
“Ecologically sensitive land use policies should be prescribed for the landscape surrounding protected areas,” said the report, adding all the states should notify the ‘State-level Eco-tourism Strategy’ within one year of the notification of these guidelines by the ministry.
The report said the revenue from the tourism should be utilised for maintenance and development of protected areas instead of being accumulated as state government exchequer.
“A state-level steering committee shall be constituted under the chairmanship of the chief minister of the state or a person authorised by him for a quarterly review vis-a-vis recommendations contained in state-level eco-tourism strategy,” it said.
It said the state government should levy a “local conservation fee” as a minimum 10 per cent of the turn-over, on all tourist facilities within a radius of 5 km of the protected areas.
The guidelines also supported having a Geographic Information System to monitor the ecologically sensitive areas and further set a ceiling limit on the number of visitors allowed to enter a protected area at any given time.