On September 24, 2008, the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) had set up a three-member Monitoring Committee to oversee the village relocation process and ecotourism strategy in Project Tiger reserves across the country.
The members of this Monitoring Committee are:
Sunita Narain, chairperson
Samar Singh, member
Member secretary, NTCA (member convener)
According to Rajesh Gopal, the present member secretary, the terms of reference of the Committee are:
I. (i) Appraisal of the ongoing village relocation process in identified core / critical tiger habitats vis-à-vis the recommendations of the Tiger Task Force relating to “exclusive” and “inclusive” agenda, through field visits.
(ii) Suggesting generic as well as specific benchmarks for ongoing monitoring of the village relocation process in tiger reserves, vis-à-vis the provisions of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, as amended in 2006 and the guidelines issued by the NTCA in this regard.
(iii) Providing inputs for an ecotourism strategy to benefit fringe dwelling local people and relocated villagers.
(iv) Suggesting site specific corrective / mitigation measures, if necessary.
II. The Monitoring Committee would be required to submit its report within a period of six months from the date of issue of the OM.
III. The Committee may co-opt local experts, social scientists, if necessary.
Joining the Dots, the Tiger Task Force (TTF) report that the Monitoring Committee will take its cue from was submitted to the prime minister in August 2005. The report had called for a range of actions to stem the rot in India’s wildlife conservation programme. Finalising a plan for relocation and sharing the benefits of tourism with local communities were two of the key recommendations of the Task Force, which was also chaired by Sunita Narain.
Relocation: the TTF recommendations
In its seven main recommendations to the government, the TTF had called for finalisation of the plan for relocation of villages from key tiger habitats within one year, with its financial and logistical implications.
In India, there are people living inside reserves; these people need to be ‘relocated’ so that the space is made ‘inviolate’ and undisturbed for the tiger to roam in. The TTF report had agreed that relocation was important and necessary for protecting the tiger, especially in cases where human activity is impacting on the habitat, but had expressed concern at the situation on the ground.
In 2005, the Task Force had found that in 30 years, only 80 villages and 2,904 families had been relocated from different tiger reserves in the country. There were an estimated that 1,500 villages — or 65,000 families, or 325,000 people (@ five per family) — inside the core and buffer zones of tiger reserves.
The report had noted that at the then existing rate of compensation the government gave to families it seeks to relocate (Rs 1 lakh), it would have cost Rs 665 crore to relocate all families from tiger reserves. If the rate of compensation was enhanced — say, to Rs 2.5 lakh — it would require Rs 1,663 crore to re-settle all.
There were other contentious issues. Besides that of availability of land to relocate people, the TTF report said that “poorly done relocation contributes to the hostility of the local people towards the sanctuary and can be counter-productive. Therefore, relocation needs careful planning and execution”. In fact, in many cases, people who have been relocated have either come back or are contributing to the pressure on the park from the fringes.
Said the report: “The situation today is untenable for the people who live inside. The unwritten policy is that they will be relocated. As a result, no development reaches them, for then they wouldn’t want to leave. But relocation does not happen. People become, and remain, trespassers in their own land.”
To break the stalemate, the TTF asked for a scientific assessment of the villages that need to be relocated, and a time-bound programme for this to happen. Its specific recommendations were:
There should be an urgent and realistic review of the number of villages that actually need to be relocated from the reserves. The decision must be based on the fact that the villages that need to be relocated are so made to do so because they are located in the critical habitats — tiger natal areas and key conservation priority areas.
The Tiger Task Force is urging for speed and careful decision-making. It is important that the decision to relocate takes into account all financial and logistical implications. In order to ensure that the process of selection of villages to be relocated is completed speedily, the Tiger Task Force recommends a tight schedule of one year to study settlements and list the ones to be relocated. Based on this list, the Project Tiger directorate must draw up a time-bound action plan to complete the process of relocation.
During the formulation of this action plan, the responsible agency must keep in mind the experience of past relocation efforts to ensure that the process of relocation does not lead to further resource degradation or loss of livelihood of people.
The financial allocation for the relocation scheme must be revised and enhanced so that it can take into account the needs, particularly, of providing irrigated land and other facilities to ensure livelihood security.
Families are usually relocated on forest land from which the standing forest is cut to transform a forest into a relocation site. But even then, the land is categorised as forest land. This means that the rules of the Forest Conservation Act, 1980 continue to apply to this land, in which families now live. This places restrictions on their livelihood and development opportunities. This, clearly, must change. Such land as becomes a relocation site, if it is categorized as ‘forest’, must duly be re-categorised as ‘revenue’ land, otherwise it will continue to create problems for the resettled villages.
To monitor the quality of relocation and to ensure that there is careful coordination and follow-up in the relocation work, a task force for relocation must be set up at the Project Tiger directorate, which will coordinate the work with the state offices.
The Task Force would suggest that a mechanism be set up at the Central level in the Project Tiger directorate to oversee the implementation of the relocation work and most importantly, follow it up over the years.
Ecotourism: the TTF recommendations
The Tiger Task Force was of the opinion that while “the Indian tiger is a tourism attraction, tourism is both an opportunity and threat for the tiger”.
Tourism, said the TTF report, is an important economic and educational activity. It can link tigers to a wider constituency and build conservation support for it. It can also bring monetary and employment benefits to local people and secure their interest in the tiger’s future. But done badly, it can lead to further stress on the tiger’s habitat. It can destroy the surrounding area by overusing resources such as water and put municipal services like garbage disposal and sewage under stress. It can also lead to the alienation of local people, who see the benefits of this economic activity exported out of their region. The issue, then, noted the Task Force, is how tourism can be shaped so that it brings benefits to the tiger, its habitat and to the people who share this space.
The recommendations of the TTF were:
The regulation and management of tourism in tiger reserves must remain in the charge of the forest department. The Ranthambhore experience clearly shows that tourist interests, if allowed to take precedence over conservation, can be extremely detrimental to the park. If the park management does not have the capacities to manage tourism, efforts must be made to involve local communities and staff welfare associations in the running of affairs. Under no circumstances should there be any move to ‘privatise’ the park management for tourism activities.
The zone adjacent to the park — its fringe and high impact zone — must be reserved for homestead-based tourism run at a small scale by local communities. This zone should ideally extend up to three km from the outer periphery of a reserve’s boundary. In case it is not possible to extend this zone up to three km, the reserve management must decide how far the zone should extend, after due consultation with the Project Tiger directorate.
All other resorts and hotels can only be allowed beyond this zone reserved for homestead tourism. This ‘reservation’ will promote alternative tourism and provide for opportunities for local communities to directly benefit from this economic activity.
The Union ministry of environment and forests must finalise an eco-tourism policy for tiger reserves that incorporates this land-use reservation into the Environment Protection Act, 1984.
Reserve managements must increase gate ticket prices by imposing an ecological cess, which must be ploughed back to each reserve. Ideally all gate money should go back to the reserve. But given the requirements of state governments, this may not be possible. In this case, the extra revenue collected as ecological cess should be given to the reserve, explicitly to be shared with local communities who continue to live within its boundaries and for staff benefits.
Hotels within a radius of five km from the boundary of a reserve must contribute 30 per cent of their turnover to the reserve. This has to be a compulsory cess on the hotel industry, for this industry is drawing advantages out of investment made from public funds for the protection of reserves. The hotels can be allowed to claim 100 per cent income tax benefit for the same, as an incentive.
The tourism plan for each reserve must be developed and approved by the Project Tiger directorate. The plan must designate the tourism zones, clearly demarcate the zoning plan and be based on carrying capacity studies.
The reserve must ensure that all possible avenues of engaging local communities are exhausted before it resorts to using other resources as guides and for other employment and work opportunities.
The pilgrim sites inside the park must be designated as sacred groves with strict controls and regulations. All transit camps and places of stay for such pilgrimages inside the park must be minimised and severely restricted. The benefits of the pilgrimage activity must accrue to local communities.
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