Posted by: Bittu Sahgal on
Jul 21, 2012
The news came in three days ago about the Supreme Court of India banning tourism in the core areas of national parks and sanctuaries in response to a Public Interest Litigation filed. While everyone waits for the text of the final ruling, clearly this is a case where the law has confused the current impact of tourism (negative) and the future potential of tourism for conservation (positive). Banning tourism because it is bad today is like banning cricket because there is gambling. The answer surely is to regulate tourism and make it difficult or impossible for builders and contractors to turn forests to cement. By banning tourism in the core areas the eyes and ears of non-governmental agencies have been walled out of forests where tree-cutting, illegal mining, road building, poaching and worse are rampant.
In a housing colony a visitor robs something. Would you enhance protection, or ban all visitors from entering the colony and allow only watchmen in? We are all looking for a solution. But 30 years of experience tells me that the forest departments of all states need watching too. What are we going to do when political pressure forces a Park Director to approve an illegal canal alignment through the core area of a park? That's only one possible (but very real) issue. A slew of JCBs was unleased onto a park as vibrant and vital as Nagarahole. In truth, if all humans were removed from all forests, tigers, leopards, elephants, flowers, termites, birds, reptiles and more would be MUCH better off. But then remove them ALL!
My belief is that in phases the buffers of our tiger reserves must be restored to health and tourism will automatically shift there. That would also help fight climate change. This is the position Sanctuary has been advocating, but the "system" does not respond because it raises political funds from buffers where mining scams and worse are legend. While this process unfolds, those living in home stays on community conservation reserves outside park boundaries must be able to travel inside to witness and be in awe of wild nature. Lets unite. We have the same purpose. The tiger and all that lives under its umbrella are the reason these parks have been established, and showing people the results and the positive impacts of wildlife conservation is the only way to win support down generations. But within reason
What we must remember at this point is that what we have been confronted with is an interim order. The Supreme Court has been a true friend of wildlife for over ten years, protecting our forests from all manner of miners and commercial interests. The court has been misled by officials into taking a "no tourism" position. I think when the original Ecodevelopment Committee Report signed by the Chairman is made available to the Hon. Court, it will possibly see that strict regulation and sharing of revenues with communities is what the future of wildlife tourism should be.
Right now the baby, poor thing, is being thrown out with the bath!