Tourism Development Manifesto
Kumirmari Gram Panchayat
20th December 2016, Karmakar Para, Kumirmari
Sunderbans, is known for its Royal Bengal Tigers and the Mangroves, as well as the uncertainty and danger-prone life that its inhabitants are faced with. The inhabitants of the Sunderbans depend on honey collection from the forests, fishing and catching crabs for their livelihood, which is often death-defying. Even after the passing of The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, the local people of the Sunderbans still face severe hardships to earn their livelihoods. Unsustainable and short-sighted development plans by the state and central governments is making it even more difficult for the people of Sunderbans to have a decent livelihood. The myopic policies and plans of the Government deprives the people of the Sunderbans of their community rights.
In last few years, the government of West Bengal is promoting tourism in this region, as an alternative means of improving livelihoods and the earning capacity of the local people. To achieve this goal, many policies, laws and projects/ schemes have been proposed by the state government. Tourism development in the Sunderbans is also part of these processes. A new state tourism policy 2016, tourism incentive plan, home-stay plan and investment plan for hotels, resorts and tourism center development have been proposed and formed towards this end.
The government is spending millions to bring Sunderbans into the mainstream tourism circuits by allocating and creating space for investors to start tourism business in this region, but the participation of local community is minimal. The natural grandeur of the Sunderbans, poverty of its people and the tiger attack survivors are showcased as tourism products to foreigners by the Government. This approach has promoted unsustainable, unplanned tourism development in the Sunderbans, treating the hardship of local people, our every-day struggle as marketable commodities. The participation of local people in tourism planning is limited.
During the past few years, the government and some big corporates have built hotels, restaurants and many other forms of accommodation in various islands of the Sunderbans, which demonstrates this unplanned tourism development. We are witness to the negative impacts of such tourism development on our culture, environment, social fabric and people.
The way mainstream tourism is growing in Sunderbans, it is evident that Kumirmari will not remain an as exception in witnessing such unplanned tourism development. If the current practices are pursued, we, the people of Kumirmari will have to pay a heavy price of losing our rights over the lands, forests and rivers and letting the uniqueness of the social and cultural resources of the region to fade away. In the not so distant future, we may also be displaced from our homeland.
We, the local people of Kumirmari have come together to form Kumirmari Jana Paryatan Samiti (KJPS) to protect our homeland, preserve our livelihood and culture and to safeguard the future of the next generation from the big corporates.
We have formulated a declaration to protect the rights of people of Kumirmari, its environment and natural resources from the negative and harmful impacts of tourism development. Today, on the 20th of December 2016, at Karmakar para, Kumirmari we are placing this declaration at the Gram Sabha of Kumirmari for its approval. After approval, it will be applicable on all forms of tourism activity and development in Kumirmari Island.
We will fulfill our commitments and responsibility keeping with the following principles:
We will develop and establish a community owned tourism regulation mechanism to regulate tourism activity in Kumirmari and Sunderbans.
We will prevent any form of exploitation of children, women and workers in tourism.
We will develop and implement a child protection policy to prevent and respond to any form of exploitation in our tourism initiatives.
We will promote community-based tourism programs vis-à-vis privately owned tourism programs so that the benefits and profits are distributed among a large section of the community rather than a few individuals
We will promote tourism in a manner that will enhance the quality of life of the local people and preserve the flora and fauna of Kumirmari.
We will give first preference and equal opportunity to unemployed youth, women, families who have suffered due to animal attacks, under-served people and differently-abled people in our tourism programs. Adivasi, economically discriminated, marginalized people will get priority in this process.
We will ensure women’s participation at all levels of selection and decision making on conservation and tourism related initiatives.
We will facilitate formation of cooperatives and community efforts that will help preserve the ecological diversity and richness of the region and prevent any unlawful and anti-social activities related to tourism on the island.
We will exchange ideas and experiences with other communities and make them aware of the impacts of tourism. We will collaborate with other institutions and people with similar goals.
We will ensure that land usage by big corporates will not be done without significant community participation. But if the community together decides to undertake any tourism related activities/ programs or a development activity then KJPS will support that initiative.
We will generate/ form public opinion to negotiate with the government to control the launches and movement of tourist boats in the area where our people go for fishing and catching crabs.
We will ensure that women are not presented in a derogatory manner in tourism promotional materials.
We will work towards creating employment opportunities for the local communities and ensure the local people participate and earn significantly from the tourism programs.
Keeping the ecological uniqueness of the region in focus, we will plan tourism development in such a manner that is respectful and environment-friendly.
We will comply with legislation, guidelines and regulatory frameworks such as the ones maintained by the Panchayat, Pollution Control Board, Coastal Regulation Zone, etc.
We will work in unison with the Panchayat, tourism industry and local agencies to raise awareness on waste management and ensure minimal pollution and adverse impacts on the environment.
We will actively participate in all programs including tourism initiatives, keeping in mind sustainable development and the benefits to the people..
We will give priority to local people’s interest and decisions in all the development programs that impact the lives of the community.
We will take positive steps towards preserving historical, cultural and natural resources of the Island.
We, the members of KJPS, will be humble and respectful of people from all strata of the community. We will take inputs, report it in the organizational space and incorporate the feedback of the community in our decision making process.
To implement the above mentioned principles, following are the guideline detailed below:
1. Sustainable and Responsible Development
Kumirmari Jana Prayatan Samiti is committed to work for the development of the communities while preserving the natural wealth and the cultural and environmental heritage of the region. KJPS will abide by the rules of all relevant agencies at local, state, national and international levels:
- At Kumirmari, KJPS will assist in building a vibrant community-owned tourism system, with the help of democratically elected memAtbers from the Gram Sabha and the Panchayat.
- On the lands provided by Kumirmari Gram Panchayat, KJPS wants to start this work, with contributions from KJPS members as per their capacity and by leveraging the expertise of the local people who may not be able to contribute financially but can work as guides. . It will work with volunteer organizations and with the Sundarbans Jan Shramjeevi Manch (SJSM) and EQUATIONS who have supported us in this process, as well as through contributions from SHG accounts of local women if they wish to,towards building a fund thereof, albeit small.
- The contracts governing the use of the funds will ensure that every contributor will get a proportional share of the net profits as per their contributions. This will ensure that there is no individual ownership but will encourage a community based partnership business.
- From the profits accrued from tourism, KJPS will contribute to the Panchayat to take up socially beneficial projects like health center, road improvement, bore-wells sponsorship of education for poor students, elder care etc.
- To set up the tourism center, no contractors will be involved. KJPS members and workers will supervise and work with local people for all operational activities.
2. Social Responsibility
KJPS will abide by all social and cultural traditions of the region:
- We will ensure that people are not dependent only on tourism; tourism should always remain as a supplementary source of income. Increase in tourism may adversely affect traditional sources of livelihood. We will create awareness and encourage them to continue their traditional livelihoods, in which case, we will also work with other agencies to enrich these traditional livelihoods by providing training on poultry, agriculture, pig and goat farms, fish and crab culture, and various handicrafts. We will try to promote fresh and indigenous products from the local families. KJPS will set an example in encouraging more and more participation from all local families in these activities.
- We will try to create a wide multiplier effect of tourism, which will reflect in the local economy. For example, we will provide training on processing, bottling, packaging, distribution and sales of honey. That way, the honey collectors can earn more due to direct participation, and even KJPS also can build funds based on the increased profits, that will become a common fund of the institution.
- We will generate employment for people from all strata and sections of society, irrespective of caste, class, creed or gender, purely based on skills and eligibility. Families who have suffered from attacks of wild animals and lost livelihoods due to these will get preference.
- As per government policies and act, wages will be fixed, based on working hours, tenure and skill levels. Under no circumstances will it be lesser than government-fixed minimum wages.
- All social security benefits as per rules of state government will be applicable for all involved in this initiative.
- A committee will be formed to address any form of exploitation of women and children with special focus on human trafficking, harassment of women, child labour and sexual exploitation of women and children.
- We will remain socially responsible for all tourism related activities promoted by us, while protecting the rights of local people.
- We will strongly condemn and prevent any unlawful activities by agents.
- Consumption of narcotics or liquor in public places and/or any indecent behavior will not be acceptable. Suitable punishment will be rendered to the involved parties without any compromise. Administrative and executive assistance will be sought from law enforcement agencies, in such cases.
- KJPS will also work towards improving the health-care and education infrastructure of the region.
3. Economic Perspective
- KJPS is committed to preserve and protect the rights of complementary and alternative economic activities:
- KJPS’s main aim is to build a community based tourism model rather than the traditional commercial mainstream tourism, in the region. In the new model, the benefits and profits will be shared by the local communities rather than being amassed by any individual or business house. This new tourism based business model will be developed with support and participation from local unemployed and low-income families. Everyone will get their due, based on their contributions to funds and/or their participation and skills. A tourism center built and run by the community will benefit large sections of people including farmers in this one-crop island, fishermen, shop-keepers, photographers, craftsmen and so on. In short, the benefits will reach many rather than a select few.
- KJPS, after sharing the profits as due from the contracts with workers, will spend a portion of the remaining profits for the betterment of the quality of life of the local people. The rest of the profits will be spent based on the needs and requirements of the tourism initiative.
- KJPS will give priority to local people while selecting workers so that local people don’t have to migrate for job opportunities.
4. Cultural Perspective
Culture and tourism complement each other. Tourism cannot succeed without the cultural richness. In today’s world where local culture is taking a backseat or is being sold as commodity, KJPS will endeavor to preserve and enhance it for future generations.
Lot of local festivals in Sunderbans, such as Durgapuja, Kalipuja, Kamalkamini Puja, Raas festival, Dol, Mondapuja, Ganga Devi Puja, Shitala Puja etc., cannot be presented as tourism products but tourists can participate in it during the time of the festival season.
The traditions of rural Bengal, such as our sweet cakes, and Navanna festival, can be presented to them.
Local produces and artifacts such as, tomato jelly, berry pickle, tamarind chutney, country mats, brooms, Kantha-designed warmers, designer sitters, leaf-mats, ghee, honey etc. can be promoted.
Ancient local stories such as Behula-Lakhinder, Shitala Mangal, Srimanata , Bonbibi yatra etc. can be published as small booklets to promote awareness and interest amongst tourists that are willing to learn and enrich themselves with our local heritage.
KJPS will also monitor and ensure the smooth passage and good experience of tourists and will be enriched from their interactions and control any bad influences.
5. Environmental Perspective
One main role of KJPS is to play a responsible role in environmental preservation and to increase awareness about it among the locals and tourists. We will work together with all agencies and local people to ensure the following:
KJPS will not allow random construction activities destructing the local foliage. It will prevent unnecessary wastage of water.
Dustbins will be placed everywhere to prevent littering of garbage at any place. Every motor boat will be tested before every journey to prevent leakage of diesel and petrol into the river. Tourist boats will be monitored to prevent any dumping of garbage into the river. KJPS is committed to prevent all kinds of pollution.The flora and fauna of Sunderbans is our richest environmental heritage that KJPS is committed to preserve it at all costs, taking support from all local agencies and the Panchayat.
KJPS will not allow any of its tourism activities have a detrimental effect on the ecological well-being of the region.
To prevent land-loss on river banks, KJPS will plant trees and will increase awareness among the local people to prevent harmful practices such as catching fish during breeding seasons.It will increase awareness among people to prevent unnecessary killing of harmless animals and will actively engage with local people and agencies to stop poaching.
6. Geographical Perspective
Sunderbans is also a land of geographical uniqueness and diversity. During natural calamities like cyclones and flood, flash floods, breakages etc., we will follow all emergency management processes to prevent loss of life and preserve public resources and assets.
Kumirmari is a small island surrounded by the huge Raymangal and Jhila rivers on the east, Chhotomollakaali village next to Sarsa river on the west, Puijaali river on the north, and Korankhaloi river, Morichjhaapi and the dangerous mangrove forests- habitation of the tigers, in the south.
It is a one-crop farmland where there are tigers on the land, crocodiles in the water, and continuously breaking river banks. The farmers are entirely at the mercy of the rain-gods. The fishermen and local people whose livelihood depends on the forest are bound by various governmental laws and rules. Natural calamities like cyclones have many a time made the residents of this island homeless. More and more people have migrated in search of better lives and occupations.
Due to constant erosion of lands, rivers have lost their depth. River-mouths have closed due to silt. We will spend a portion of the profits to clean these up and do a thorough afforestation and prevention of soil erosion.
We will be able to act in the event of any issues arising out of tourism, as we are a sub-committee under the local Panchayat.
7. Institutional and Administrative Perspective
KJPS will work to benefit all sections of the local community.
All administrative and institutional work will be done by KJPS members, no outsider will be involved in any kind of operational and decision making process linked to KJPS.
KJPS will take consensus of its activities from the Kumirmari Panchayat.
KJPS will recruit, observe and monitor all workers in the tourism centers and will take care of all issues.
8. KJPS stand on Tourism Artifacts
KJPS will not allow the use of any tourism product in an unsustainable manner. Artificial products will not be encouraged by KJPS and we will try to prevent its distribution. KJPS will attempt to leverage the natural, social, cultural, environmental and historical heritage of its region in such a manner that it is sustainable and it positively impacts all members of the community and the environment.
KJPS will allow the use of the below mentioned resources for tourists in a sustainable manner, so that it will not be affected:
Tourists can come Kumirmari to experience its unique environment and lifestyle. Boat rides in the wide rivers sparkling in the golden morning sun, rowing on the backwaters, enjoying the lush greenery of mangroves, watching funny fights among the monkeys, looking at crocodiles basking in the sun, sighting tigers and deer from watch towers, all of which can be enriching experiences for tourists. They can also enjoy the tastes of local fruits and cuisines, fresh fish and crabs and even enjoy fishing by themselves.
Tourists can feast on fish and crab and buy local products like honey, date molasses, coconut sweets, pure cow ghee, palm molasses, berry pickles, Keora pickle, palm-tree fans, Kantha work apparels, designer sitters and mats etc.
9. Regulation and Monitoring Process
KJPS, being a committee under the Panchayat would be responsible for the regulation and monitoring of existing tourism initiatives and the newer ones that may come up in the following manner:
KJPS members will follow their own rules to regulate and monitor tourism initiatives in Kumarmari.
KJPS will create and deploy rules to prevent negative impacts of tourism on local culture, flora-fauna, environment, wildlife and women and children.
KJPS will work with the local Panchayat and other local agencies to raise awareness on the negative impacts of tourism among the local population.
KJPS will comply with the State, National and International laws in its operation and would enhance the knowledge of such laws among the Panchayat, local agencies as well as local people.
10. Selection of Land
KJPS will follow certain procedures to select land for developing their tourism initiative.
First preference will be to access government lands under the Panchayat. A second preference will be to evaluate possible proposals from local people willing to offer their lands and give them a proportional share of business profits. In such cases, decisions will be taken after consultation with all key stakeholders and relevant agencies.
In both cases it will be seen that the areas selected are accessible, closer to the rivers and forest areas.
To empower its members, KJPS will sponsor mandatory specific skill development programs for all its employees, selected for various posts and positions, appropriately. These will include management, accounting, guides , food and beverage production and service and house keeping.
12. Dos and Don’ts for Tourists
Tourists will not be allowed to indulge in any activity that may harm the natural resources, mangrove, forest and wild animals of the regions.
While taking tours into the forests, tourists must not engage in any activities/ noise creation that disturbs the wild animals. Tourists should take care not to disturb others while staying at the tourist accommodation..
Tourists will not be allowed to throw plastic and garbage anywhere else, other than designated places, while on river cruises and/or forest tours as well as while availing tourist accommodation.
Drinking Alcohol in public and consuming narcotics is not allowed.
Dress code must be in cognizance and with respect to local traditions and must not be indecent , given the island context.
Wastage of water will be not allowed.
Meals should be taken by the tourists at the designated time.