Taking a leaf out of the African model of private game parks, the Madhya Pradesh government is planning to invite private investments to promote wildlife tourism in degraded forests of the state.
Madhya Pradesh has nine national parks and 25 sanctuaries.
Of the total 95,411 sq km forest land in the state, degraded forest cover is 36,074 square km. The state has 12.53% of the total forest area in India.
The government has sent a concept note to the Union ministry of environment and forests for approval. Once it is approved, the government will hand over parcels of 2,000-5,000 hectares to the private players for the purpose.
"By inviting private investment, we aim to achieve twin goals of maintenance of habitat and wildlife conservation through ecotourism," said Vinay Varman, the chief executive officer of MP Ecotourism Board.
He said the government had already invited opinions of potential investors on proper development of the habitat.
According to the plan, private investors will be identified through a competitive bidding process. The investors will fence the area, create water bodies, grasslands and wetlands and plant trees to maintain optimal forest cover.
Besides, they will also construct roads for safari, build cafeteria and interpretation centres and guided and self-guided nature trails.
Once the habitats are developed, the government will translocate wildlife, including herbivores and tigers that would be attractions for visitors.
The land will continue to be owned by the government, and communities living close to the forests will have rights under the Forests Rights Act.
In return, the private players will exclusively run ecotourism activities in form of safaris, walks and treks. They will also enjoy the rights to fix fees that could be equal to tiger reserves entry fee or more for wildlife tourism.
The investors will be allowed to set up a lodge or resort on revenue land close by.
The concept is based on the African model of private game reserves. However, since the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 does not allow sport hunting in India, the state has proposed that it will share the cost of development of the habitat.
Ecotourism, the sole source of revenue for the investors, may not be adequate for the private players to recover the investment.