They will monitor tourism activities near protected areas

All tourist facilities within five km of any protected area will be monitored by local communities to guard its environment and wildlife.

According to the eco-tourism guidelines proposed by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests, the local communities will monitor the activities of tour operators to ensure that they do not cause animals disturbance while taking visitors to the protected area.

Furthermore, the State governments will levy a ‘local conservation cess' on all privately run tourist facilities. The rate of cess, a percentage of turnover, will be determined by the States; and the money thus collected will fund protected area management, conservation and local livelihood development, and will not go to the State exchequer. Each State will have to notify the cess by December 31 this year.

The Tiger Task Force Report recommended in 2005 that hotels in a five-km radius of the boundary of a reserve must contribute 30 per cent of their turnover to the reserve, and they could be allowed to claim 100 per cent income tax benefit for the contribution.

Any core area of a tiger reserve from where relocation has been carried out will not be used for tourism activities, the guidelines say. Relocated forest dwellers will be given priority in livelihood generation activities through ecotourism in the protected area from where they have been displaced. Protected area management will make special efforts towards this end.

Each protected area will have to develop its own eco-tourism plan as part of its tiger conservation plan, management plan, or annual plan of operation, duly approved by the Chief Wildlife Warden of the State, and the National Tiger Conservation Authority (wherever relevant). The plan should be able to assess the carrying capacity of the protected area at three levels — physical, real and the effective/permissible carrying capacity of visitors and vehicles — and set a ceiling on the number of visitors allowed to enter the protected area at any given time, based on the carrying capacity of the habitat.

As to human-animal conflicts, compensation should be paid within 15 days, besides the immediate payment of ex gratia. In the case of the north-eastern States, the traditional village councils should be made responsible for this purpose.

Keywords: eco-tourism