NTCA Guidelines On Tiger Tourism Could Violate Forest Rights Act, Wildlife Protection Act October, 2012

03 October 2012

Mumbai: The guidelines for tourism in Core Areas of tiger reserves, recently submitted by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) to the Supreme Court (SC), may be in violation of the Forest Rights Act and the Wildlife Protection Act. Ahead of the SC hearing today on the status of the interim ban on tourism in Core Areas of tiger reserves, two members - Swathi Seshadri of EQUATIONS (Equitable Tourism Options) and Tushar Dash from NGO Vasundhra - of the NTCA committee that framed the guidelines wrote to Jayanthi Natarajan, Minister of Environment & Forests, Government of India, expressing their concerns about the draft, according to a report by Urmi Goswami in The Economic Times. They alleged that Rajesh Gopal, Chief of the NTCA committee, had completely ignored their objections.

The two members’ contention was that the current set of guidelines makes assumptions that are in violation of the Wildlife Potection Act, Forest Rights Act and the Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas Act, as well as beyond the scope of the committee. They also said that the guidelines had been drawn up in manner that allows the tourism industry to control the manner in which funds are utilised, even though such a move is in violation of the Wildlife Protection Act.

The members said that though they had written to Gopal, who is also Director of Tiger Conservation Authority, listing their objections and concerns, their note of dissent was not included in the documents submitted to the court on September 26 this year. "The dissent note was not included in the final guidelines despite writing to Gopal in advance," the letter stated. Neither did the NTCA chief respond to the objections. "We therefore feel it urgent to send the note of objections to you to inform you about the key issues and objections raised about the current version of the guidelines, which have been submitted to the Supreme Court by the NTCA," the members wrote.

The two members have urged Natarajan to step in so that the objections become part of the record and can be taken into consideration by the court. "Since the guidelines are going to have an impact on the rights of scheduled tribes and other forest dwellers, and the implementation of the Forest Rights Act, we would like to have your intervention and ask NTCA to include our dissent note in the next hearing on October 3, 2012," the members wrote.