Practical difficulties in enforcing the SC ban on tourism inside tiger reserves

Even as chief wildlife warden SWH Naqvi banned tourism in Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve (TATR) and Melghat Tiger Reserve (MTR) from Wednesday following the Supreme Court ban on tourism in core areas of reserves, there are several impracticalities in the decision. The ruling comes on a PIL filed by conservationist Ajay Dubey of Prayatna demanding ban on commercial tourism activities from core or critical tiger habitats (CTHs) in the tiger reserves.

However, the approved ecotourism policy of the Centre itself states that regulated community-based ecotourism is permitted in 20% area of national parks, sanctuaries, core and CTHs which are larger than 500 sq km. Besides, in parks smaller than 500 sq km, such tourism can be permitted in 10% of the area. If the present ruling is considered, then core of MTR is 1,500 sq km comprising Melghat, Wan, Ambabarwa and Narnala sanctuaries and Gugamal National Park, while Tadoba core is 625 sq km and Pench 257 sq km. Barring tar road in Tadoba, all parks are closed during monsoon and hence the ban would not make much difference.

Dubey’s contention is that after notification of the core or CTH, the areas should kept inviolate for tiger conservation. ‘Inviolate’ means without any disturbance by human beings. Tourism activity in such areas would mean violation of NTCA guidelines. Wildlife experts say it is difficult to impose the ban. There are 5 villages in Tadoba, 20 in Melghat and 1 in Pench which contravene the guidelines. “The state will have to tell the apex court that these parks cannot become inviolate unless the villages are rehabilitated. The relocation is going at a snail’s pace due to paucity of funds,” experts told TOI.

Maharashtra needs around Rs1,200 crore to shift the 26 villages out. Every year, Rs100 crore is being released for relocation. “At this speed, it will take around 10 years to relocate these villages,” they said. Human rights activists have expressed concern that if villagers are being moved out, then tourists should also be kept out. “But tourists cannot be compared with these villagers who are putting huge pressure on the reserves,” said the experts TOI spoke to.

However, tiger conservationists like Kishor Rithe were happy over the decision on buffer. “Now, state will have to notify Sahyadri buffer zone,” he said. Naqvi says the ban is for ecotourists and not villagers. “We cannot force the villagers to move out,” he said. Naqvi admitted that it is impossible to ban traffic on road (toward MP and South) passing through Melghat reserve.

This is perhaps the biggest loophole and can be challenged in court. “If tourism is banned in CTHs, traffic should also be banned,” said an expert. A state transport bus still passes through Tadoba between Chandrapur and Chimur. People in the guise of tourists can still enter the core areas posing as relatives of villagers. “The court’s final decision on August 22 will give a clear picture,” said Rithe.

Meanwhile, Tadoba has decided to refund all booking amount.

Original Story: Times of India