War of words over on what harms the tigers more --- humans or tourism – has got bigger with Madhya Pradesh blaming people living in tigers reserves for death of big cats and Wildlife Trust of India (WTI), an NGO, putting the onus on increased tourism.
This was in response to a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed in the Supreme Court by RTI activist Ajay Dubey demanding ban on tourism in core areas of tiger reserves with environment ministry’s National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) backing the PIL.
The NTCA has already issued guidelines asking the states to shift the tourism activity to buffer zone and ban tourism in core areas. An area of 800-1,000 sq kms have be declared as core tiger habitat, where no tourism can be allowed.
“In the present circumstances tourism will not sustain in the buffer areas of alone because the buffer areas do not get the level of protection as granted to the core area and hence the density of the wildlife in buffer area is very less,” the state government said in an affidavit filed in the Supreme Court.
Instead of restricting tourism to buffer zones, the state government argued that relocation of people (around 6,000 families in 41 tiger reserves) living in tiger reserves and imposing restrictions on collection of minor forest produce was a better way to protect tigers.
The logic presented was that tourism does not exploit resources on which the wildlife depends like humans and thereby, it has minimum impact on wildlife.
Countering the claims of MP government, the WTI told the court that adverse impact of tourism could be seen on tigers in Kanha, Pench and Badhavgarh in Madhya Pradesh in MP, Ranthambore in Rajasthan and Corbett in Uttarakhand.
Quoting the tiger task force report of 2005, WTI said there are 21 resorts within one km of the core area of Kanha tiger reserve and another 25 within five kms. It also said that so called restrictions imposed on tourism – distance between two vehicles minimum 500 meters --- is flouted in almost all tiger reserves.
The WTI also pointed out sustainable growth of lodges and resorts in the buffer zones around tiger reserves without any planning had turned them into “biggest” threat to viable forest corridors for movement of animals. In addition, these resorts put additional burden on local ecology. Around 93 per cent of the resorts run on locally procured wood and around 50 % using underground water.
“There is a critical need to restrict and regulate tourism activities within and outside tiger reserves,” the WTI said, in its application filed before the court.
After hearing all the parties on Tuesday, the court decided to appoint Ram Punjwani as amicus (friend of the court) in the case and gave him a month to submit a report to the court.