The environment ministry’s new eco-tourism guidelines for tiger reserves has hit another rough patch with two members of the committee that framed the guidelines complaining to environment ministry Jayanthi Natarajan that rights of people living in and around the reserves have been over-looked to accommodate the tourism industry.
Tushar Das and Swati Seshadri representing forest rights groups in the expert panel set up by National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) to review its July guidelines to regulate tourism in 41 tiger reserves in India claim that the authority had failed to respond to their objections.
“We have learnt that the NTCA has neither responded to the objections not has submitted the note of objections in the (Supreme) Court during submission of guidelines, this is despite our explicit request to do so,” they said in a letter to Natarajan on Monday.
The court is expected to hear the case on Wednesday.
Their grouse is that even though they had emailed the objections regarding overlooking the Forest Rights Act in the guidelines on September 22 to NTCA member secretary Rajesh Gopal, there was no mention about it in the guidelines submitted in the court four days later.
“Submission of the NTCA in the court are therefore incomplete and misleading and we object to it,” the letter read.
Their main objection is to the way guidelines propose to identify and notify core and buffer areas, key for enforcing the new eco-tourism guidelines.
They took a strong objection at the guidelines considering the notified core and buffer zones as final without looking into harassment and eviction of of local communities in violation of the Forest Rights Act.
They also said that giving directors of forest reserve unified control for restoration of buffer zones was violation of the Forest Rights Act as well as the Wildlife Protection Act.
“The tourism industry has unjustifiably been given a special role in allocation of funds collected from tourism facilities,” they said in their complaint to Natarajan.
Urging the minister to take corrective action, Dash and Seshadri said the guidelines would impact the rights of scheduled tribes and other forest dwellers.
“We request you to look into the issue and ensure that the law is upheld especially in context of Scheduled Tribe and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act,” they said.