By Vijay Pinjarkar, TNN | Nov 19, 2012, 12.51 AM IST
NAGPUR: At a time when parks in the world are integrating conservation with economic development of locals and nurturing environment, premium tiger reserves in Madhya Pradesh seem to be heading the other way.
The main focus of ecotourism policy framed by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) is to benefit locals but curtailed tourism in reserves like Kanha and Pench in MP after the Supreme Court judgment has badly hit stakeholders.
Both Kanha and Pench have cut down the number of vehicles allowed in by half, directly affecting locals who work as guides, operate Gypsys and run small businesses near reserves. The move is set to render many locals who work in private resorts unemployed.
In Kanha, until last season, the carrying capacity was 280 vehicles per day from two gates Khatia and Mukki. Now it has been reduced to 140 — 83 in the morning and 57 in the evening.
Similarly, in Pench, 130 vehicles were allowed earlier but now number been cut to 51 — 30 in the morning and 21 in the evening from three gates Karmazari, Turia and Jamtara.
The carrying capacity has been calculated by first measuring the length of the route that the vehicles will take, a visibility factor of 50 yards on each side of the road, and a distance of 500 yards between each vehicle to arrive at a number. NGOs working for tiger conservation with the help of locals around the parks ask whether conservation can succeed if communities living near parks are alienated and harmed monetarily.
“Conservation of tigers is factoring our progress by way of livelihood. We feel alienated as our livelihood has been hit. Such insane policies will lead to socioeconomic destruction,” said Alim Sheikh Rashid (name changed), a Gypsy-owner and resident of Khatia.
Pench field director Alok Kumar was not available for comments. Deputy director of Kanha S M Mohanty justified the move. “We are following the NTCA guidelines. Earlier, 47% core area of the park was opened. As per the revised guidelines we have brought it down to 20%,” Mohanty said. Similar is the situation in other parks in MP, he added.
“The arguments went on for three months and stakeholders were asked for their viewpoint. If they still have any problems, they should take it up with the government,” Mohanty stressed.
According to rough estimates by Nishikant Mukherjee, a retired professor who works with Baiga tribals in Kanha, income and revenue loss due to curtailed tourism comes to around Rs 30 crore, and close to loss of 4 lakh man hours of employment of locals around Kanha.
Mukherjee called for a debate on the track record of NTCA. “What has been the track record of NTCA? 40 years ago at the start of ‘Project Tiger’ there were 2,500 tigers in India. Now there are 1,706 tigers left. What is their great achievement,” asks Mukherjee.
Pench Jungle Lodges Federation secretary Sandeep Singh agrees. He says with curtailed tourism, local Gypsy owners are sitting idle and guides who used to earn Rs 200-400 daily are now deprived of sustained income.
Singh informed around 250 youths from villages around Pench work in resorts. These youths are on the verge of losing their jobs as, with occupancy down, most resort owners are planning to withdraw them. Singh said Pench has already been booked during December but occupancy of resorts is dull. Tourism has also hit local shop-owners from whom purchases are made by resort owners. Hundreds of visitors, unaware of the new rule, had to return without a safari after parks reopened in October. “Under such circumstances, why would resort owners pay the mandatory conservation fee to the parks,” Singh adds.