Eco-tourism projects: Experts flag concern over easing of guidelines

Published on Mar 11, 2021 11:41 PM IST

NEW DELHI The environment ministry’s forest advisory committee last month eased norms for ecotourism projects by allowing them to build “non-permanent” structures in protected areas without permission from the central government -- a move that experts fear could cause developers of such projects to construct a rash of the same in the absence of a definition for “non-permanent”, something the committee is yet to decide on

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ByJayashree Nandi

NEW DELHI

The environment ministry’s forest advisory committee last month eased norms for ecotourism projects by allowing them to build “non-permanent” structures in protected areas without permission from the central government -- a move that experts fear could cause developers of such projects to construct a rash of the same in the absence of a definition for “non-permanent”, something the committee is yet to decide on.

The decision that only construction of permanent structures will be considered to be “non-forestry” activity and require prior approval of the central government, and that no central government approval is required for other eco-tourism activities involving non-permanent constructions was taken in a meeting of the forest advisory committee on February 17, according to the minutes of the meeting uploaded on the Parivesh website on Thursday.

According to the minutes, the issue was first considered by FAC in its meeting held on April 23, 2019 and again on January 23, 2020. FAC in its meeting held on April 23, 2020 recommended that only construction of permanent structures for the purpose of ecotourism on forest land be considered as non-forestry activity, requiring prior approval of the central government. But the minutes added that two other clauses were still causing ambiguity. On February 17, FAC decided to delete two clauses: 12.13 and 1.18 in guidelines on forest conservation published in ministry’s Handbook on Forest (Conservation) Act 1980 and Forest (Conservation) Rules 2003. Section 12.13 of the handbook states that “ecotourism is a non-forestry activity and will be allowed in Protected Areas if the said activities are part of the management plan/ tiger conservation plan and are duly approved by the Central Government,” and Section 1.18 states that “ecotourism is a non-forestry activity requiring prior approval under FC Act.”

Independent experts said this could mean building of temporary structures and trails in eco-sensitive zones which will impact both wildlife and rights of forest dwellers.

“It has been decided to consider eco-tourism to be a forestry activity. It will be considered a non-forestry activity only when it involves construction of permanent structures. We are yet to conclude what exactly is a permanent structure. It’s a subjective matter. For example, if local materials are used or bamboo structures are created those are also eco-friendly in nature,” said a senior official from the forest conservation division of the environment ministry.

“With a view to remove ambiguity and to bring in more clarity about nature of structures to be considered permanent for the purpose of ecotourism in forest areas, the matter was deliberated at various levels in the ministry. Based on the consultation with concerned divisions and officers of the environment ministry, attempt was made to define the permanent structure, but appropriate definition has not been finalized. Further it is observed that the ministry is in the process of formulating ecotourism guidelines to regulate ecotourism activities in the forest area,” the minutes state.

“This clarification from FAC is significant. Ecotourism activities can include creation of temporary or permanent infrastructure which can cause fragmentation of forest areas as well as can disturb both livelihood use and areas important for wildlife. Such infrastructure can include internal roads, camping areas, forest trails and other support facilities including that related sanitation or recreation. Therefore, a precautionary approach that draws from wildlife, forest conservation and forest rights related legislations will be important to inform such an interpretation,” said Kanchi Kohli, legal researcher, Centre for Policy Research responding to the minutes.

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