The Union government on Wednesday pleaded in the Supreme Court for a partial lifting of the ban on tourist activities in core areas of tiger reserve forests. It sought permission to have 20 per cent of the area under tourism.

The National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), Ministry of Environment and Forests said this in its fresh Comprehensive Guidelines on Strategy, Tiger Conservation and Tourism in and around Tiger Reserves.

After the court’s July 24 ban order, several States and other stakeholders urged the Centre to revisit the guidelines and lift the ban. Following the Centre’s application seeking modification of the order, the court asked the Centre to hold consultations with all parites concerned and come out with fresh guidelines.

Explaining the need to shift the focus from wildlife tourism to ecotourism, the NTCA recommended that a maximum of 20 per cent of the core/critical tiger habitat usage (not exceeding the present usage) may be permitted for regulated, low-impact tourist visits.

The NTCA said:

“Conservation of the tiger, our national animal, is the paramount objective of tiger reserves and generating public support through regulated tourism is an invaluable tool for harnessing public and community support for tiger conservation. Regulated tourism results in enhanced awareness and is of educational value especially for the younger generation.

“In case the current usage exceeds 20 per cent, the local area committee may decide on a timeframe for bringing [it] down. Such area may be demarcated as a tourism zone and there should be strict adherence to site-specific carrying capacity. Any core area in a tiger reserve, from which relocation has been carried out, will not be used for tourism infrastructure.”

Observing that the government’s efforts, through Project Tiger, had put the endangered animal on the path of recovery, the NTCA said: “Due to the ongoing conservation efforts under Project Tiger in designated tiger reserves, India has the maximum number of tigers, along with its source areas, amongst the 13 tiger range countries in the world. Project Tiger has put the endangered tiger on an assured path of recovery, as revealed in the country-level assessment of tiger, co-predators, prey and habitat. The recent [2010] findings in this context indicate a poor status of tiger population in areas outside tiger reserves and protected areas.”

Fostering ecotourism

It said, “Ecotourism is proposed to be fostered under Project Tiger to benefit the host community in accordance with tiger reserve specific tourism plan, forming part of the Tiger Conservation Plan, subject to regulation as per carrying capacity, with a focus on buffer areas. However, no new tourism infrastructure should be permitted in such core/critical tiger habitats.”

The NTCA said 39 of the 41 core/critical tiger habitats had, as per the July 24 order,been notified by the respective States under Section 38 V of the Wildlife [Protection] Act, 1972.

“Further, out of 41 buffer/peripheral areas, 28 have been notified by the respective States after due NTCA recommendation.”

The NTCA suggested that “States should enact a law to regulate tiger-tourism/tourist facilities; tour operators should not cause disturbance to animals; tourism infrastructure must be environment-friendly [and implement measures] like solar energy, waste recycling and rainwater harvesting etc; permanent tourist facilities located inside core areas should be phased out on a timeframe and 10 per cent of revenue generated from pilgrim centres located in tiger reserves must be used for development of local communities.”

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