Wildlife board meeting raises concerns on ecotourism in forests

Published on May 06, 2021 10:01 AM IST
The National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) deferred its decision to implement guidelines on ecotourism in forest and wildlife areas and to rationalise boundaries of protected areas at its meeting held in March
A view of a forest in Shimla. (HT archive)
A view of a forest in Shimla. (HT archive)
ByJayashree Nandi

The National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) deferred its decision to implement guidelines on ecotourism in forest and wildlife areas and to rationalise boundaries of protected areas at its meeting held in March after its members raised concerns about them and said this should not be done without field studies, according to minutes of the meet published last week.

The guidelines were formulated earlier this year and were expected to be implemented in April. Several independent experts have criticised the idea of opening up and fragmenting forests for eco-tourism projects. They highlighted that existing eco-tourism facilities were adding a lot of anthropogenic pressure on protected areas.

The guidelines seek to promote low-impact nature tourism, traditional ecological knowledge, and heritage values of India’s wilderness. They entail engagement with local communities in nature tourism, partnerships among stakeholders, and enhancing the potential of India as a global eco-tourism destination.

The rationalisation of boundaries of protected forests and wildlife sanctuaries or their de-notification was discussed during the NBWL meeting on March 30.

Former forester and NBWL member HS Singh objected to the policy and recommended that de-notification of boundaries of protected areas should be done for the conservation of wildlife. He added consolidation of boundaries should not be done without field investigation of a committee headed by an NBWL member.

“Legal opinion may be sought from the Legal Department to know who is the competent authority for taking decisions regarding rationalization of boundaries of protected area,” the minutes published on April 30 quoted him as saying.

An official from the Union environment ministry’s wildlife division said they have been receiving a number of proposals from state governments on rationalising boundaries of national parks and other protected areas. “They are not always to reduce the forest area that is protected. Sometimes states also want an increase in an area under protected status. Normally such cases are discussed by the state wildlife boards first and then the proposal is sent to NBWL for its nod. This is an issue which is being considered on how it should be dealt with.”

The official said they have been trying to get the ecotourism guidelines passed for three years now. “We are hopeful that at the next NBWL meeting, they will be cleared as they can be beneficial to people and generate income.”

Soumitra Dasgupta, additional director general (wildlife) who is the NBWL member secretary, briefed the standing committee of the NBWL at the meeting. Dasgupta said the guidelines are aimed at promoting a better understanding of nature and wildlife conservation while generating income and opportunities for the local communities in an “ecologically, culturally, and economically sustainable” manner.

RP Gupta, secretary, the Union environment ministry, clarified at the meeting that the guidelines will be applicable to all forest areas both protected and unprotected.

The forest conservation division of the ministry has felt the need to examine the guidelines with respect to provisions of the Forest (Conservation) Act. Both the Forest Conservation division and the Parliamentary Consultative Committee of the ministry of environment, forest and climate change are examining the guidelines.

NBWL member R Sukumar suggested at the meeting the guidelines should also address the operation of existing infrastructure for eco-tourism in the eco-sensitive zones in a sustainable manner.

Kanchi Kohli, a legal researcher at New Delhi’s Centre for Policy Research, said the NBWL has sounded a note of caution on opening protected areas for ecotourism. “It would be important for the proposed guidelines to acknowledge and reconcile other legislations like the Forest Rights Act and the Biological Diversity Act.”

Kohli said this may require a greater interface with other central ministries and state governments. “Needless to say, the proposed guidelines can definitely gain from wider peer review and experience of people living around protected areas to avoid the enforcement risks and conflicts at the time of implementation.”

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