Ecotourism guidelines allow for temporary structures in forests
Conservationists and environmentalists are disconcerted by the Standing Committee of the National Board for Wildlife’s nod to the guidelines on Ecotourism in Forest and Wildlife Areas 2021, which, among other things, allow for “temporary structures” to come up in forest areas.
The committee, in its meeting this month, decided to recommend the guidelines which also have an indicative list of protected areas where ecotourism could be developed. Among these in Karnataka are the Bannerghatta National Park, Kudremukh National Park, Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary, Daroji Bear and Pushpagiri Wildlife Sanctuaries.
The guidelines, mentioned in the tentative agenda of the 63rd meeting of the committee, makes a case for ecotourism saying that nature conservation entails interactions with people as a central concept. “Ecotourism has the potential to create significant opportunities for building public awareness and mass movement towards conservation of nature and natural resources while expanding overall returns to the economy, improving skill base, creating new knowledge and green jobs, and improving the livelihoods of the local communities,” it said.
Ecotourism will be promoted on the basis of “science based planning,” it says, adding that the plan will “appropriately demarcate the ecotourism zone upon assessment of management requirements of the target wildlife, the habitat or the geographical entity, and their behavioural and ecological characteristics.”
What is ruffling feathers is the site development aspect. While the guidelines promise to develop such zones in an “eco-friendly manner” by ensuring that the natural profile and ecological integrity of the site is maintained, they also mention that any ecotourism facility or structure on forest lands will be subject to the provisions of the Forest (Conservation) Act 1980. “No permanent structure shall be made/constructed to create ecotourism facility/structure, but temporary structures/facility made of predominantly natural material of local origin shall be allowed in protected area or on forest land,” the guidelines stated.
Wildlife conservationist Giridhar Kulkarni said it was the second point that was not palatable. “Allowing temporary tourism structures on forest land without approval under Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 is definitely not in the interest of Forest and Wildlife as the move may open floodgates for tourism. I request the Central government to bring even temporary tourism structures on forest land under the ambit of the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980,” he said.
G. Veeresh, honorary wildlife warden, Chikkamagaluru, pointed out that the State’s Jungle Lodges and Resorts, for instance, was already operating in many places. “There are existing camps and properties in Kemmanagundi and Kudremukh, for example. I hope they are looking at utilising existing structures rather than adding more. The policy also needs to be clear on tourist numbers and prevent overcrowding. Otherwise, it will definitely pressurise the forest,” he said. Calling for informed restrictions, he said of existing homestays, more than double the legal numbers are illegal and the tourism department has no powers. The ecotourism guidelines bat for “homestays managed by local communities on non-forest land.”
“What we need is a separate tourism policy for the Western Ghats, which is already under the onslaught of several issues,” he added.