Don’t Ban Wildlife Tourism, Customise It
MORE THAN 50 lakh tourists visit India’s forests every year. They and lakhs of others who make a living out of those visits started worrying when a 2006 amendment of the Wildlife Tours (Protection) Act 1972 necessitated that India’s core critical tiger habitats be left ‘inviolate’. ALSO READ
The government strengthened its scheme for voluntary relocation of villages and issued directives to phase out tourism from core forests. While the relocation drive is achieving mixed results, nothing really has changed on the tourism front. Therefore, conservation activists moved court.
The debate outside the courtroom is raging. Protribal groups blasted the hypocrisy of shunting poor villagers out and entertaining rich tourists in the same place. The tourism lobby hit back at the absurdity of comparing the impact of safari tourists, who do not even set foot in the forest, to that of villagers who survive on forest water, land, firewood and even bush meat, and are potential allies of poachers.
Moreover, a whole set of restrictions in and around reserves allows few livelihood options and tourism is the mainstay of such pocket economies. But while mushrooming resorts block wildlife corridors, pump out groundwater and dump garbage indiscriminately, few locals benefit from such enterprises owned by outsiders.
Like any industry, tourism survives on growth. Every tourism enterprise shows off its client base and many destinations are touted for the number of tourists they attract. The equation that determines the carrying capacity of a reserve is a joke among many who know basic ecology and a little maths. But surely, no patch of wilderness can host an unlimited number of tourists without damaging itself.
Anyway, if an operator promotes a pristine forest for what it is and offers the concessions that mass India tours demands, the destination will quickly lose its USP. So the growth imperative of mass tourism demands that thousands of safari tourists be packed, with the popular promise of a tiger, in hundreds of walled resorts choking our forests.