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There has been much discussion about the temporary ban on core areas of tiger reserves in India, imposed by the Supreme Court. The opposing lobbies have presented their arguments, and the public is now awaiting the next hearing on August 22. While I will not repeat what has already been said, those interested can browse Facebook to find plenty of information. I would like to make it clear that I support tourism that allows people to observe tigers and other animals in their natural habitat without causing harm to them. I enjoy photographing them without causing any disturbance to the animals. Many people from the MTV and Pizza Hut generations love tigers because of the amazing pictures and documentaries they have seen.
After reviewing the court order, it is evident that the court is dissatisfied with the procrastination of the government of tiger states regarding the notification of core and buffer zones in tiger reserves. The deadline was missed twice, which irritated the judges, resulting in fines and a ban on tourism until the final hearing.
On August 22, the pending states will file their responses, and there will be a discussion on the proposed eco-tourism guidelines by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) for regulating tourism. Hopefully, the ban will be lifted, and the affected parties will present their stance to the court.
I would like to discuss the impact of this ban on Ranthambhore and its people. If the ban remains, it will have a significant impact on the economy of Ranthambhore. The forest area has been declared a Critical Tiger Habitat (CTH), which means there can be no tourism in the Ranthambhore National Park, Sawai Mansingh Sanctuary, and Quaal Ji areas of the park. This is because the Forest Rights Act (FRA) empowered forest dwellers with rights over forest produce. To protect the tiger habitats, the core and buffer areas were merged, and the entire forest was termed CTH, where the provisions of FRA were not applicable.
Conservationists may argue that there is a buffer, so why do we need to see tigers in the core? However, the buffer has only been discovered 20 days ago, and the areas do not have any connectivity with the core. The vegetation is only six inches high, and grass does not grow there even in the monsoon season. One declared buffer area is even hard to locate, although it exists on the map.
It would have been a better idea to develop the buffer first and gradually shift the load there. Engage the local communities to help in developing it and let them benefit from it. The sudden order has put the means of livelihood for a significant population of Ranthambhore at risk. The guides, drivers, naturalists, and people in tourism-related businesses are also a part of the local community. Many had bought vehicles on loans, and it is unclear if they would be able to repay them if the ban continues. It remains to be seen if Mr Dubey and his team of the red brigade will provide alternate means of employment to this group.
Many locals in Ranthambhore, such as Raees Bhai, Nafees, Yadvendra, Bobby, Vivek, Rinky, and Vijay, have been working in the park for many years and have been able to manage a decent living, thanks to tourism. Their children get a better education, and there is an urge to learn English and other foreign languages because there is an earning opportunity available locally in the form of tourism. These people are aware that visitors come to Sawai Madhopur to see tigers. If there are no tigers left, they will lose their only means of livelihood. Therefore, they would never allow any act of harming forests or animals.
While I do not support irresponsible tourism around forests, a complete ban on tourism is not the solution. Tourists are and must be recognized as partners in conservation. Even if there are some negative effects of tourism on conservation, it would be like disowning a child because he/she has some bad habits. We should cure those bad habits but not disown the child.
I hope that wisdom will prevail, and the ban will be lifted. I am looking forward to doing my first safari on October 1st at Ranthambhore.