Tourism in and around PAs – A Paradigm Shift Needed
15 October 2010
EQUATIONS was invited to contribute a perspective piece on tourism and protected areas in PA Update
Protected Areas (PAs) have seen increasing intensive tourism development under the guise of “ecotourism”. While the Wild Life (Protection) Act 1972 does allow tourists into PAs, it clearly disallows commercial establishments. The Indian Board for Wildlife, the apex advisory body, had in its XXI meeting in January 2002 resolved “lands falling within 10 km. of the boundaries of National Parks and Sanctuaries should be notified as eco-fragile zones under section 3(v) of the Environment (Protection) Act and Rule 5 Sub-rule 5(viii) & (x) of the Environment (Protection) Rules”. Despite this, a rash of tourism establishments have been established cheek by jowl in the immediate periphery of many PAs like Corbett, Ranthambore, Bandhavgarh, Kanha, Nagarahole, Bandipur, Mudumalai, and Periyar.
While PAs are promoted as places of irresistible natural beauty, it is often forgotten that these are also home to indigenous and forest dependent communities. Ecotourism claims to be hand-in-hand with conservation, but its contribution to conservation efforts has been questionable and empirically unproven yet. Ecotourism today is largely industry driven, with supporting government policies tailored to meet the needs of private enterprise and developed through non-consultative processes.
Most often, the zones where tourism has spread belong to indigenous communities and are lands that have been designated as Schedule V areas like in the states of Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh. Governments have also shown very little or no political will towards implementing the Panchayat Extension to Schedule Areas Act, 1996 (PESA) and Forest Rights Act, 2006, which are meant to establish and reaffirm the rights of the local communities.
Community-based tourism projects like the Himalayan Homestays in Ladakh and Lahaul & Spiti, the Mountain Shepherds Initiative in Uttarakhand and the Manas Maozigendri Eco-tourism Society in Assam (PA Updates 54, 50, 46 & 45), have benefited the PAs where they function as also the local communities that are involved. These projects have educated the tourists not only about the flora & fauna of the region, but also the unique culture of the local communities.
The need to impart environmental and cultural education, as part of an experience in a protected area is very important. This is particularly so in light of the growing obsession of a significant number of tourists to visit PAs just to see large mammals like tiger. This has led to unscrupulous tourism practices causing increased pressure on wildlife and the environment. A recent study commissioned by the Ministry of Tourism, “Report on impact of tourism on tigers and other wildlife in Corbett Tiger Reserve” states that “It can be safely concluded that in its current form tourism is a serious threat to Corbett” (PA Update Vol. XVI. No.3). The time has come for a paradigm shift in the manner tourism is managed and its role in protected areas in our country.
'EQUATIONS is a research, advocacy and campaigning organisation working on the impacts of tourism on local communities in India. PERSPECTIVE is a new column that features invited opinion, comment and critique.