The Supreme Court of India last week banned tourism in core areas of tiger reserves in response to a PIL, stating that tourism activities were putting pressure on critical habitats of tigers, and that ‘tiger safaris’ should be shifted to the buffer zones of the national parks.
While there is merit in the fact that the flow of tourists is unregulated, a total ban in core areas of tiger reserves may not be the solution, feel experts. The answer is to regulate tourism.
Banning tourism in core areas would only increase tree-felling, illegal mining and poaching, which are the bigger enemies of tigers. Also, it would affect the livelihood of thousands of locals who depend upon tourism. Ranthambore National Park in Rajasthan alone has more than 7000 families of the area, whose livelihood depends on tourism. The same would be the case in other national parks, such as Corbett, Bandhavgarh, Pench, Kanha and Panna National Parks.
Amit Sankhala, a trustee of the Tiger Trust, and who also runs the Kanha Jungle Lodge, has already started receiving cancellations and these are expected to impact foreign tourist arrivals. A similar situation has developed in Rajasthan at the Ranthambore Park which has some 45 hotels and resorts.
Taj Safaris, which has hotels and resorts in several National Parks is also affected. The management at Taj Safaris has said that it will study the SC order and will take a legal route to address the issue.
Julian Mathews, Chairman Travel Operator For Tigers (TOFT) has also said that they would file a review of the petition in the interest of the forests of India, tiger conservation and the livelihoods of people bordering the forests.
Wildlife Conservationists too are of the opinion that the court directions should be location specific and not general.
Meanwhile the tiger population has been steadily rising in India over the last 10 years, thanks to the concerted efforts of the Government, along with wild life enthusiasts, which has curbed to a great extent the larger menace of poaching. But some tweaking of norms is definitely called for.
Travel tourism generates long term inclusive growth and permanent job opportunities for the tribals, who otherwise become easy prey to illegal poachers and tree felling.
Dedicated Freight Corridors a must
The Japanese government has shown a keen interest to finance and build dedicated Rail Corridors for freight in India. Today 70% of freight moves by trucking or through road transport. This burdens not only the existing road infrastructures, but new expressways also come under pressure, because of heavy loads and slow-moving traffic, when the e-ways are built for high-speed passenger transportation.
The Konkan Railway Corporation has ‘RORO’ trains, or ‘Roll On & Roll Off’ trains, where the trucks can be rolled onto the wagons, and can be rolled off at the destination. But these are very few in number, and such trains need to be the norm rather than the exception.
Rail transport of freight is also energy-efficient and therefore cost-efficient, and there would be no traffic snarls on railway lines.
Majority of trucks abroad are rolled-on and rolled-off from dedicated railway trains. This is in addition to container-traffic on dedicated rail corridors. Freight terminals along these rail corridors have loading and unloading machinery like cranes. This again requires trucks loaded with containers to run only between freight terminals and nearby destinations, rather than cross-country, as is happening today in India.