In this section we attempt to give an overview of the journey EQUATIONS has made over the years in its attempt to study, critique and influence tourism policy and plans from the perspective of those affected and impacted – usually local communities. While some of these events will be detailed in specific state sections and/or in thematic areas, the attempt here is to speak of the path traversed as we grew and changed as an organisation.
Twenty five years of EQUATIONS’ mission to Democratise Tourism! When we started in 1985, could we have imagined that twenty five years later we would be engaged in most parts of India on issues of women’s rights, child rights, indigenous peoples’ rights, decentralization rights, environmental rights, globalization impacts? As tourism continues to grow in complexity, sophistication and sheer spread, our attempts to understand it and circumscribe its negative impacts need even more creative interventions, active networking, strategic and focussed campaigns.
When EQUATIONS was established in 1985 it was with the objective of promoting Alternative Tourism which would
- Evolve models of travel and tourism based on economic, social and human justice
- Oppose unfair and exploitative practices in commercial tourism and entertainment industries
- Provide viable options to the destructive elements of mass tourism ensuring equitable distribution of economic returns.
It had as its core activities documentation of trends in tourism, and highlighting the consequences of such developments. By 1986 foreign tourist arrivals in India had crossed the magical one million mark! In May 1986 EQUATIONS organised a workshop in Bangalore on “The future of tourism in India” bringing together a large number of people to take stock of tourism trends and its implications. A Tourism Ministers conference in 1988 had among its recommendations that state governments that have not recognised tourism as an industry do so immediately. Clearly the push for numbers and revenues had begun.
By 1988, networking and campaigns were clearly on the plate in terms of EQUATIONS agenda. Goa was the site of our first struggle in solidarity – and Adv Mario Almeida (our current President) was the lawyer intensively involved in the landmark victory of the communities in Agonda panchayat in South Goa in their fight against a resort developer. Today we continue to work with many of the groups that began people’s protests against tourism that was exploitative and Goa is an inspiration for groups and communities in other parts of the country for people’s ability to say a decisive no to certain forms of tourism. People’s policies by taxi drivers associations, small and medium enterprises and shack owners associations on alternative people based tourism and influencing regulation and tourism policy in Goa today.
By 1989, EQUATIONS was drawing attention to the ugly reality of the sexual exploitation of children in tourism. The Alternative Network Letter (AN Letter) – our newsletter was recognised as a definitive voice and commentary on issues of social justice and inequity in tourism development. In 1991, we resolved to root our engagement with issues at the grassroots. We decided to deepen the roots in South India before we took on a national / international agenda. An important workshop on Human Rights, Environment and the Law helped enhance networking, advocacy and campaigns in the South Indian states particularly Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. 1991 saw a slew of research reports and action on the ground including the Status of the West Coast, a Workshop on Tourism and its Impact on Dakshin Kannada, and an alliance of Tamil Nadu groups to take up joint action on local tourism related issues. In the decade that followed we steadfastly stuck to this agenda and mandate of building networks of people engaging with tourism issues.
The period 1992-95 saw EQUATIONS begin its working to influence the national tourism policy and work on a national agenda. The question of new economic policies and the service sector became a critical issue. Internal economic policy shifts of structural adjustment & liberalisation and external shifts such as the multilateral negotiations on the GATS, made a sharper understanding of the political economy of tourism critical. In January 1992 we organised a National Workshop on the draft New Tourism Policy along with Delhi Forum and INTACH.
Our study of the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) and discussions on the new world trade order metamorphosed into our programme on globalisation, trade and tourism. EQUATIONS has been a strong and credible voice within this debate internationally as well. In 2000, an important indeed watershed conference “Human Rights, Social Movements, Globalisation and Law” held in Panchgani, and attended by a large number of groups and movements, helped place a range of tourism linked issues into broader debates. The Asian Social Forum (2003) and the series of World Social Forums particularly the one in Mumbai in 2004, as well as a series of Independent Peoples Tribunals have been important larger civil society spaces that we have engaged in actively to highlight the role of tourism in many human rights violations.
EQUATIONS has had an intensive and consistent engagement on coastal issues – these began with a series of studies on the coast in the early 90’s leading to a realisation that the Indian coast was fast being turned into a continuous stretch of urban like development. The complexity of understanding coastal ecology, issues of livelihoods and rights of coastal communities. The Coastal Zone Regulation Notification of 1991, its implementation, and its limitations, were the subject of research by EQUATIONS as well as other organisations working on coastal issues. The role of tourism in spearheading development and appropriating the coast was quite evident. We were active participants in long term campaigns against the East Coast Road and campaign against the systematic dilutions of the Coastal Zone Regulation Notification. In 2001 a two day seminar on Coastal Zone Regulation – the experience of a decade brought in groups from the east and west coasts as well as representatives from government, academic and research institutions. It signalled for the need for integrated and people based approaches to the issue of protection of the Indian coast.
By the mid 90’s, there was plenty of action on the ground. In Kerala the Elephant March in Thrissur, the protests against tourism projects in Bekal & Kannur and a National Seminar in collaboration with the School of Social Sciences MG University, Cochin generated significant media intervention and public debate. In Karnataka, interventions were in Hampi, Thaneerbhavi, and Maravanthe. In Orissa we collaborated with the Orissa Krushak Mahasabaha to campaign against the Special Tourism Area in the Puri-Konark area. EQUATIONS supported field work in the Lahaul & Spiti area and this gave us an opportunity to intervene and influence local groups in this ecologically fragile area, paving the way for an important policy workshop with the Tourism Department, Government of Himachal Pradesh.
By 1999 and after, the issues of Indigenous People, Wildlife Tourism and Eco-tourism were firmly on EQUATIONS agenda. A seminal workshop on “Problems and Prospects of Ecotourism” in collaboration with Max Mueller Bhavan facilitated a space for dialogue between policy makers, project proponents and affected communities. The workshop had an impressive participation from senior government officials of tourism and forest departments, key players in the industry and activists from the three southern states of Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu and set the parameters for a paradigm shift in way ecotourism was defined and implemented. In this period, EQUATIONS was intensively involved in supporting the movement and struggle of the adivasis based in Nagarhole against the move of the Government of Karnataka and the Gateway Hotels and Gateway Resorts Limited, a division of the Taj Group of Hotels to set up a resort inside the Nagarhole National Park. The legal actions initiated by the adivasi groups and other supporters resulted in the resort being prevented from functioning within the national park. This was an important milestone in the struggles of people against corporate interests in tourism.
As watchdog, EQUATIONS monitored developments and safeguarded dilutions on coastal regulations the East Coast Road, Dakshin Karnataka’s massive infrastructure and power projects and beach and ecotourism projects in Kerala and Karnataka. That we continue to discuss the inherent conflicts that these kind of developments throw up now in many more ecosystems and geographies e.g Lavasa in Maharashtra, the Himalayan Ski Village in Kullu District, the Sahara project in Sunderbans, the Kevadia project on the Sardar Sarovar dam site in Narmada Valley, coastal Andhra Pradesh, large scale plans in the Northeast, with the same intensity and even deeper sense of urgency, is perhaps a clear indication of the marathon nature of these battles.
The Women and Tourism programme widened its focus from the issue of women as sex objects and began to engage also with the issue of women as decision makers in tourism. Tourism Education, from an all important intervention with the Indira Gandhi University on the content and focus tourism text books, graduated to actual interventions with syllabi and tourism teaching in collages in the south. These are areas where we desire to do much more.
The Child and Tourism programme with a strong focus on child sexual abuse and trafficking issues , made significant contributions to policy, a more responsive government and bureaucracy and influencing changes in legislation. The case of Freddy Peats and the busting of his paedophile network in Goa (1991) and a series of such cases subsequently had shown that the menace had shifted to India. Consistent research, advocacy and networking efforts over the years resulted in some glimmers of hope like the Goa Children’s Act (2003), the move by the Kerala Government to declare Kovalam a zero tolerance zone for child abuse in tourism (2009) have been initiatives that have seen our active engagement and contribution.
With networking and campaigns remaining its central feature, EQUATIONS continues to take confrontationist stands and is respected for this. Our news letter, the AN Letter was initiated in 1986 and served as a valuable forum for discussion updates and debate. However, we were not able to manage to keep it going and is yet to be revived. However, documentation updates and trends analysis, fact-finding missions and action research studies are often the starting point of campaigns and critical interventions. An important policy workshop in 2002 in collaboration with the Kerala Tourism Department was the outcome of several years of unrelenting engagement with the bureaucracy and civil society of a state that had by then been sold as God’s Own Country. That engagement continues with the same intensity (on both sides!)
Our first consultancy project Visitor Management and Participatory Ecotourism strategy for the Periyar Tiger Reserve and Surrounds in 2002, helped us to take on the challenge of moving beyond critique and attempting to put into practise our ideals and ideas . Consultancy primarily as a tool for advocacy and policy interventions has been an important part of EQUATIONS strategy. Following on that principle our work in Khonoma in Nagaland (on the Khonoma Green Village project, 2003-04) & on the Chhattisgarh Tourism policy (2005) and more recently the review of the Endogenous Tourism Project of UNDP and the Government of India (2008-09) have aimed at transforming perspectives and paradigms about the way tourism is constructed and implemented.
In 2002 a strategic visioning process helped us reaffirm the direction and core values that underlie our work. The slogan of democratise tourism that emerged from that process and continues to be a beacon light illumining all our interventions. Our work with panchayats became more decisive. Kumarakam gram panchayat in Kerala adopted a critical and path breaking charter for tourism development and several panchayat leaders were part of our delegation on tourism interventions later at the World Social Forum in Mumbai in 2004. Work on charters and visions and peoples policies on tourism in Lata Village in Uttarakhand, by the Jharkhand Peoples Movement, by shack owners, taxi drivers and SME federations in Goa, and by coastal panchayats in Andhra Pradesh, serve as sources of inspiration for other communities that are exploring how tourism could be regulated and influenced to benefit them as well as protect natural and cultural resources.
EQUATIONS continues to activate and nurture its networking efforts with diverse groups and stakeholders concerned with tourism. Fisher folk groups and unions, trade unions, political parties, elected representatives, advocates, students, academicians, youth clubs, tribal and forest dwellers movements, child rights, women rights groups, groups working on globalization and trade issues and other civil society formations against SEZ’s, IFI’s, dams and mining, Right to Information, have played an important role in the tourism debate. We respond to alerts and requests on tourism related issues by people’s campaigns and movements through investigative reports, campaign support and capacity building interventions. These include movements and peoples platforms such as the National Alliance of Peoples Movements, Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA), Janaadesh, National Forum on Forest People and Forest Workers (NFFPFW), Jharkhand Jungle Bachao Andolan (JJBA), Goa Bachao Abhiyan, Kerala Swathantra Matsya Thozhilali Federation (KSMTF), Coastal Action Network (CAN), National Fish workers Forum (NFF), Him Niti Campaign & Jan Jagran Vikas Samiti (both in Himachal Pradesh) Udruti, Andhra Pradesh Vyavasaya Vyruthidarula Union (APVVU) & Fishermen Youth Welfare Association (FYWA) in Andhra Pradesh.
Analysis and critique has been undertaken on emerging policy changes like the EIA Notification, CRZ, CBD Guidelines on Tourism, policies & projects of the ADB and World Bank and their impacts, the Forest Rights Bill, Right to Information, Land Acquisition Act, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, and state-level legislations like Kerala Tourism (Conservation and Preservation of Areas Act) or the Goa Children’s Act, state and central tourism and ecotourism policies have fed into our advocacy and campaigns.
Our engagement with central-level Ministries apart from the Tourism Ministry, such as Ministry for Women and Child Development, Ministry of Tribal Affairs, Ministry for Environment and Forests, Ministry of Commerce and Industry, Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region, Ministry of Rural Development, Ministry of Panchayat Raj and Ministry of Information Technology has increased. We have also engaged with the Planning Commission, Parliamentary Standing Committee on Tourism, sympathetic MPs and MLAs as well as members of state tourism departments and state Planning Commissions on specific campaign issues related to the Eleventh Five Year Plan (2007-12), tourism policies and schemes or the dilution or amendment of tourism linked regulation.
Over the years EQUATIONS key roles have essentially remained unchanged – that of building networks, creating spaces and partnering, being a linking pin between the various levels and actors in the tourism debate. Our methods and strategies have been research, advocacy, solidarity with struggles and campaigns. While our research and communication caters to a wide range of actors, our essential task is to remain “deprofessionalised”. To be committed to processes of democratisation, and talk the language of common people who aspire to be in control of their own futures. To believe in the potential or ordinary people and fight processes that hand this control over to administrators, vested lobbies or technocrats.
Click on the ‘Resources’ tab above to read National Networking related papers, publications and presentations.
Click on the ‘Key Interventions’ tab above to know about National Networking related campaigns, events and interventions.