23% of land in India is covered by forests. Thousands of Adivasi and indigenous peoples lives and cultures are built on their relationship with these forests. Songs, stories, dance, and mythologies continue to thrive in an oral tradition that is inextricably linked to the forests they live in. At the same time, forests play an important role in preventing natural disasters such as floods, landslides and storms, addressing climate change, maintaining soil fertility, sustaining rivers, as well as water and food security for millions.
Read more (or less).
In reality, tourism in forest areas displaces thousands of Adivasi and other local communities that have sustainable relationships and livelihoods linked to forests. The development and administration of tourism initiatives in forests is handled by central (and sometimes state) government authorities who do not involve local Panchayats and Municipalities in decision-making processes, planning and implementation. This goes against the grain of local self- government, a constitutional directive.
While the tourism businesses in these areas create low-paying skilled or unskilled employment, they are generally owned and managed by a non-local population. As a result, members of local communities are then pushed to take up low-paying jobs that deprive them of dignity and fail to empower them financially.
While some policies and protocols attempt to measure the impact of infrastructure development and tourism activities in sensitive areas, they are woefully inadequate. The large influx of vehicle and humans that tourism inevitably brings and the resulting air, noise, and light pollution have a cascade effect on wildlife in the area. [eg animal z in x have decreased by y in the last n years]. This changes patterns of consumption significantly. While there is a tremendous increase in consumption little or none of the products are sourced locally and the increased consumption does not contribute to the growth of small and local producers. Managing the resulting waste is never easy, and more often than not, it is not done well (if at all) which is a major problem since tourism both increases the amount of waste generated and the changes the kind of waste produced as well. All of this results in a fundamental shift in the ecologies of forests.
EQUATIONS works with forest rights movements and environmental rights organisations to introduce a critical perspective on tourism. We see that the existing legal frameworks tend to favour the growing tourism industry without empowering forest-dwelling communities to determine such growth in their forests. We want to influence policies to regulate tourism in the forests, and make tourism more democratic by forming a group of like-minded people to advocate for more just practices, preparing in-depth documentation of the impacts of tourism in forest areas. This forms the basis for our advocacy work with the Departments and Ministry of Environment and Forest as well as the state ecotourism boards, that are planning to formulate their ecotourism policies.