Applications for any activity will have to be routed through a high-level committee

The State government is in a piquant situation with a section of political leaders putting up a stiff resistance to the demarcation of eco-sensitive zones around tiger reserves, violating the directions of the Supreme Court.

Sources in the Forest Department said these leaders could be championing the cause of mining and quarrying companies while opposing the demarcation. Incidentally, the Supreme Court banned the entry of tourists into the fringe areas of wildlife reserves for several months last year although it was subsequently lifted with a string of guidelines put in place.

The resistance to eco-zones began after the authorities demarcated a 2-km zone around the Bandipur Tiger Reserve, which also led to a total ban on quarrying within the zone. There is a ban on new resorts too and applications for any activity in the zone will have to be routed through a high-level committee headed by the Revenue Regional Commissioner.

The Supreme Court in an order last year stipulated that not more than 20 per cent of the reserve forests known for wildlife could be opened for tourism and even this should be within the carrying capacity of the forest.

Tourism activities have been restricted to less than 15 per cent of the total area of wildlife reserves in Karnataka.

P. Anur Reddy, managing director, Jungle Lodges and Resorts Ltd., said the State’s efforts to conserve and protect wildlife had resulted in Karnataka recording the highest tiger population in the country with 300 tigers. Of this, Bandipur alone accounted for 95 tigers.

The five tiger reserves in Karnataka are the Nagarahole Tiger Reserve, Bandipur Tiger Reserve, Bhadra Tiger Reserve, Anshi-Dandeli Tiger Reserves and the Biligiri Rangan Temple Tiger Reserve.

The carrying capacities in these places have been determined, limiting the number of tourists who can be allowed inside wildlife areas.

As per the directions of the Karnataka High Court and a notification issued by the government, only Jungle Lodges & Resorts Ltd. can carry tourists into forests and there is a ban on vehicles of private resorts.

Much to the chagrin of the promoters of lodges and resorts in forests, the Forest Department has ensured that wildlife areas are not overexploited for tourism unlike in central and northern parts of the country, where unbridled and uncontrolled tourism has caused a lot of damage and disturbance to wildlife. These restrictions coupled with the regulated safaris run by Jungle Lodges & Resorts are stated to have brought about orderliness in wildlife tourism.

As per the National Wildlife Policy, controlled tourism can be used as a conservation tool and needs to be encouraged and the Karnataka Wilderness Tourism policy also reiterates the issue of regulated tourism which has a bearing on long term conservation.