“Protect tigers but protect us too”….. This is the appeal of several sections of society in Valparai, a hilly town located amid lush green plantations 100 km from here. Contending that the Supreme Court’s decision to ban tourism in core zones has the scope for adverse implications, sections of the local population, especially the plantation sector and the trading community, argue that the local society has never been against regulated tourism and is acutely conscious of the need for tiger conservation. However, the implementation of any tiger conservation programme should not be carried out without taking into the local people’s interests.
Various Associations are now coming together under the banner of Valparai Taluk Merchants’ Federation. The Federation is planning to move the Court and implead itself as a party in the ongoing case on tiger reserves in the country. Being the only local body in the midst of core zone of the Anamalai Tiger Reserve (ATR), the Valparai municipality has a population of about 95,000 (2001 Census). It remains a buffer zone as per the State’s orders of 2007.
Explaining how the Supreme Court directive can cripple local population, Federation president A. Jebaraj says the Aliyar checkpost near Pollachi on the foothills of Valparai comes under the core zone. If one were to go by the notification and the spirit of the Supreme Court order, vehicular traffic can be banned any time.
Referring to the recent move to ban vehicular traffic during night on the Gudalur-Mudumalai-Gundalpet section of Mudumalai Tiger Reserve and Bandipur, Mr. Jebaraj says such a situation might arise in Valparai too. At one stage when there is a rise in the population of tigers buffer zones can also become high conflict pockets. Pointing out that the Pollachi-Valparai road via Aliyar forming part of the core zone poses a potential threat to the livelihood of Valparai people, he is afraid that in the long run the local population may have to be dislocated. “We are for removing Valparai even from the buffer zone,” he demands, adding that Section 35 B of the Wildlife (Protection) Act of 1972 refers to coexistence of wildlife and human beings in buffer zones.