The big, blurry pic­ture

The new eco-tourism guide­lines spec­ify no penalty for vi­o­la­tors, of­fer no in­cen­tive for good prac­tices and shut doors on all tourists

Tehelka - - 20 -

Why should a prop­erty that keeps 80 per­cent of its land open to wildlife pay the same tax as one that has 80 per­cent built-up area?

In ef­fect, the mes­sage is that as long as a ho­tel pays the cess — a kind of pre-penalty — it can go on con­duct­ing busi­ness as usual. Most ho­tels will any­way pass on the load to clients. A 10 per­cent hike in tar­iff is un­likely to re­duce the num­bers of tourists and ease the pres­sure on forests. If at all, it will dis­pel the notso-well-off tourist who is not nec­es­sar­ily the row­dier or more de­mand­ing of the lot.

The guide­lines do talk about re­strict­ing land use and con­struc­tion, area of cov­er­age, waste re­cy­cling and dis­posal, rain­wa­ter har­vest­ing, so­lar power, noise pol­lu­tion, etc. Dis­trict rev­enue and for­est au­thor­i­ties are sup­posed to en­sure that “se­vere penal­ties” are im­posed for non­com­pli­ance. At the same time, “vi­o­la­tors of these norms will be ap­pro­pri­ately dealt with by the Lo­cal Ad­vi­sory Com­mit­tee, to be con­sti­tuted by re­spec­tive states for each pro­tected area with rep­re­sen­ta­tives from lo­cal pan­chayat, com­mu­ni­ties, NGOs, etc”. This am­bi­gu­ity apart, there is not a word on what these “se­vere penal­ties” are.

Bar­ring tourists from for­est ar­eas re­claimed by mov­ing out vil­lages, the guide­lines stip­u­late a five-year dead­line for shift­ing all tourism ac­tiv­i­ties to buf­fer ar­eas. Mean­while, a max­i­mum of 20 per­cent area of core forests larger than 500 sq km will be open to eco-tourism if 30 per­cent of the sur­round­ing buf­fer is re­stored as a wildlife habi­tat dur­ing those five years. For core ar­eas smaller than 500 sq km, 10 per­cent area will be ac­ces­si­ble for tourism if 20 per­cent of the buf­fer is re­stored. These are ad hoc spec­i­fi­ca­tions, much like the quasi-sci­en­tific equa­tions for cal­cu­lat­ing a for­est’s tourist-car­ry­ing ca­pac­ity.

The pro­posed ban on set­ting up new tourist fa­cil­i­ties on forest­land is a must. But ex­ist­ing rest houses, af­ter dis­man­tling lav­ish ameni­ties, if any, should be made avail­able for tourists who are ready to sac­ri­fice most crea­ture com­forts for a true jun­gle ex­pe­ri­ence. They de­serve ac­cess to any for­est as long as they do not com­plain about hard beds, ba­sic toi­lets, plain meals and no elec­tric­ity.

At the same time, even­tu­ally bar­ring even day-sa­fari tourists from core forests, oth­er­wise made im­preg­nable by law and left solely to the For­est Depart­ment’s charge, will shut the only win­dow to ac­count­abil­ity. The tiger may or may not re­sent be­ing watched. But the for­est staff?

• Tiger rush Sa­fari ve­hi­cles line up inside Band­hav­garh, Mad­hya Pradesh

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