GUWAHATI, Aug 5 � The Supreme Court�s order calling for a tourism ban in core areas of tiger reserves has not gone down well with conservationists and the travel industry which fear that it could end up doing more harm than good in the long run.
While none would dispute the urgent need to put a check on unbridled tourism in prime wildlife habitats, conservationists believe that rather than imposing a blanket ban on tourism in core areas, it would be more prudent to allow regulated tourist activities.
Conservationists, however, agree that the boom in insensitive tourism such as resorts blocking animal corridors near Kaziranga National Park must be checked firmly.
�There is an urgent need to stop all residential tourism within core areas as also to keep the animal corridors intact but banning safaris in core areas would hit both tourism and conservation. In Kaziranga, there is a lot of community support to conservation. These communities� livelihoods are largely linked to day-to-day tourism and a sudden blanket ban on all tourist activities in core areas will rob them of their livelihoods which in turn will make them indifferent and even antagonistic to conservation,� Firoz Ahmed of Aaranyak and a member of National Tiger Conservation Authority, said.
According to Ahmed, losing support of the community at a time when conservation is at its low ebb would be a big jolt to conservation. �Take for instance the case of Kaziranga where there is large-scale involvement of the fringe communities in conservation. Losing their support would harm long-term conservation prospects of Kaziranga,� he said.
Ahmed said that only about 10 per cent of the core area was currently used for tourism, and that such regulated tourism could not cause much disturbance to animals. �Residential tourism within core areas and blocking of corridors, however, must be stopped altogether,� he added.
S Chand, Principal Chief Conservator of Wildlife (Wildlife), Assam, said that since it was only an interim order by the Supreme Court, one needed to wait till the apex court�s final verdict which was due later this month.
�I think there has been an unnecessary hue and cry over the issue. Let�s have the SC�s final verdict first�we are also ready to discuss the matter with the aggrieved parties then,� he said.
SP Agarwala of Assam (Bhoreli) Angling and Conservation Association, while calling for a re-demarcation of the core and buffer zones of Nameri Tiger Reserve, said that this would be critical to reconciling the conservation interests with those of tourism and fringe communities.
�We want a portion of the Jia Bhoroli river to be excluded from the core area of the reserve as it has been a traditional area for rafting and angling (catch-and-release basis). The authorities will still have the power over the river to check commercial and illegal activities, as it will be within the bounds of the national park,� Agarwala said.
Pointing out that unlike in most other protected areas Nameri had minimal human-induced disturbances as it did not have any motorable road inside the forest, Agarwala said that most tourists in Nameri were bird-watchers who were allowed access to a specified area accompanied by armed guards.
�Similarly, rafting on the river along the periphery of the reserve causes no disturbance to wildlife, and rather is a deterrent to poachers and tree-fellers. Angling also helps monitor the golden mahseer population,� he added.
Conservationists believe that instead of a blanket ban, an approach specific to the conditions prevailing in different tiger reserves would be more pragmatic.
�There is absolutely no tourism pressure on the core area of Nameri, and equating its situation to Corbett or Ranthambhore would not be prudent. Merging the interests of conservation and sensitive tourism should be the ideal approach,� Agarwala said.
Agarwala said that eco-tourism activities � apart from boosting the livelihoods of fringe-dwellers � also educated them and made them aware of the need for conservation.
�Many village youths have become professional bird watchers, while the �Eco-camp� has become a hub of conservation, empowerment and awareness activities for the villagers,� he said.
Tour operators feel that the State Government should appeal to the Supreme Court to review its order. The Madhya Pradesh Government has already decided to move the apex court on the issue.