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Eco-Tourism: After MoEF Prod, Time For Punjab To End Its Slumber
June 12, 2011
Eco-Tourism: After MoEF Prod, Time For Punjab To End Its Slumber


12 June 2011

Jasneet Bindra, Chandigarh:

With the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) issuing fresh draft guidelines for eco-tourism in and around protected areas, Punjab, which has 14 such areas, will have to get its act together sooner than later, as none of the much-hyped projects in the state have taken off.

Union Forest Minister Jairam Ramesh stated in the roadmap that as India’s wildlife landscapes were diverse, these guidelines were necessarily broad, with state specific eco-tourism strategies to be developed by the respective governments. All states will have to notify a strategy by December 31, 2011.

For the past about four years, Punjab has been trying hard to get started on eco-tourism front, but failed.

In September last year Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal had allowed transfer of 38 acre of Punjab Urban Planning and Development Authority (PUDA) in Mullanpur to the forest department for promoting eco-tourism, but work has not started.

A project that was planned in scenic Mirzapur, which houses a century-old forest rest house and has a collection of valuable fossils, could not take off due to paucity of funds. Sources said another project planned near one of the wetlands faced opposition from locals. However, as per the new directives, the state government would have to develop a state-level eco-tourism strategy, making sure that the project does not get relegated to high-end, exclusive tourism, leaving out the locals. In the case of human animal conflicts, compensation should be paid within a period of 15 days, besides ex gratia.

A senior Punjab officer said the major reason for eco-tourism endeavour fizzling out was lack of synergy between the tourism, forest and wildlife departments. But now the MoEF has stated that collaboration among the Central government, state governments, hospitality sector, state forest departments, protected area managements and local communities and civil society institutions would be vital.

The guidelines also define roles of all the departments. The state forest department would be the arbiter in case of any dispute, and the chief wildlife warden will have to ensure that each protected area prepares an eco-tourism plan. The chief wildlife warden will also develop a monitoring mechanism, and be member convener of a steering committee that will be constituted under the chairmanship of the Chief Minister by December 31, 2011.

The strategy to be developed by the state will have to see that no new tourist facilities are set up on forestland, and a system is evolved by which gate receipts are collected by the protected area management and the revenue does not go to the state exchequer. This will ensure that resources are earmarked for protection, conservation and local livelihood development.

The directives are applicable to protected areas, whether rural or urban, including community reserves, conservation reserves, sacred groves or pilgrimage spots within protected areas and forests.

They press for a model that is compatible with fragile landscapes and takes care of the local community. The guidelines said that all tourist facilities would generate at least half of their total energy and fuel requirements from alternate energy sources: wind, solar and biogas. Any pilgrim sites inside protected areas must be designated as sacred groves, with strict building and expansion controls.