The panels will have district collectors, panchayat or village council officials, and conservationists as members and will be headed by divisional commissioners.
The government on Wednesday submitted the new guidelines for tourism in and around tiger reserves to the Supreme Court, which is deciding a case on curbing tiger tourism in India. The next hearing is on Thursday.
The apex court on 29 August gave the government about a month to re-draft guidelines for tourism in tiger reserves.
The norms also propose that only up to 20% of the core areas of tiger habitats be allowed for regulated, low-impact tourism. The 20% usage cannot exceed the present usage of core areas in reserves, according to the guidelines.
In a tiger reserve where the current usage of core area for tourism is more than 20%, the local advisory committee may decide on a time frame for bringing down usage.
Mint reported 25 September that the government’s revised norms on eco-tourism proposed allowing restricted tourism. The guidelines were re-drafted under pressure from lobbyists for the tiger tourism industry, which is worth at least Rs.1,000 crore annually, according to some experts.
This lobby was unhappy with the Supreme Court’s interim decision on 24 July to ban any form of tourism in the core areas of the 41 tiger reserves in the country to aid conservation efforts. The core area is a critical habitat for tigers and is identified on the basis of availability of water, prey and shelter.
Under the new guidelines, the stakeholders including state governments and tourist facilities are mandated with specific tasks. State governments have to charge a conservation fee from the tourism industry for eco-development and local community upliftment works. The suggested fee structure may range from Rs.500 to Rs.3,000 a room per month, the guidelines said.
“The rate of conservation fee and tourist facility strata shall be determined by the state government, and the fund thus collected should be earmarked to address local livelihood development, human-wildlife conflict management, and conservation through eco-development, and not go to the state exchequer,” the norms added.
The guidelines also say such funds should be administered by tiger conservation foundations and that the tourism industry will have a say in “how and where this fund is to be utilized...”
Two members of the committee that framed the new guidelines don’t agree with this clause.
“The tourism industry has unjustifiably been given a special role in allocation of funds collected from tourism facilities,” Swathi Seshadri of Equations NGO, which works on eco-tourism, and Tushar Das of Vasundhra NGO, which works on tribal rights, have written in a note to the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), which was responsible for drawing up the new guidelines.
There were objections to some other points as well, Seshadri said over the phone.
“We had submitted objections to the guidelines and had asked NTCA to send it with the guidelines to the Supreme Court,” she said.
It wasn’t clear if the objections were also sent to the Supreme Court.
All tiger reserves in the country will have separate tourism plans, the guidelines said. “The tourism plan shall, inter alia, include a monitoring mechanism, estimated carrying capacity, tourism zones, and demarcation of the area open to tourism on the basis of objective, scientific criteria,” the guidelines said.
The guidelines also propose a model mechanism to calculate the carrying capacity of a reserve, which is the maximum number of people that can be in a reserve at the same time without disturbing the ecosystem.