The high tourist influx in the Corbett National Park – which has the highest tiger density in India in terms of per square km. of forest area – has resulted in a sort of face-off between the Union Environment and Forest Minister Mr. Jairam Ramesh and the state government of Uttarakhand (i.e. the state where the National Park is located).
Ramesh has requested the Uttarakhand government to restrain the inflow of tourist vehicles into the Park, as he feels that it is hampering the conservation of the Park’s tiger population. In the last year the Park reportedly witnessed the visit of more than 2 lakhs of tourists, with a daily average of around 400 tourists.
Ramesh has opined that the huge inflow of tourist vehicles has caused a huge air and noise pollution. And that in turn has resulted in a significant stress for the tigers. A key point made by Ramesh is that the noise pollution resulting from vehicular movements has adversely affected the breeding of the tigers of the Park.
However, the Uttarakhand government is in no mood to accept these observations. It has strongly claimed that the tourist influx has been kept within the permissible limits, and so no fresh restriction can be issued. The state government has also highlighted the fact the livelihoods of a huge chuck of the local population is dependent on the tourists, and putting a restraint on the tourist influx will also threaten the livelihood options of those locals.
What I feel, as a layman, is that the issue must be analyzed and evaluated purely from the sustainability angle, instead of letting any political face-off coming in the way.
Tourism is undoubtedly a crucial issue, as it ushers in a huge revenue for the government, thus enriching the latter’s coffer to a great extent. However, at the same time we can not wish away the issue of conservation. In fact, we must remember that negligence towards conservation can ultimately threaten the existence of the National Park itself, thus resulting in a threat for the very tourism business for which the conservation issue was ignored.
The Uttarakhand government has said that livelihoods of a huge chuck of the local population is dependent on tourist inflow, and that is one key reason why that inflow cannot be restrained. A good point indeed. But the state government must remember that if unrestrained tourist influx robs the Park of its tiger population (as it assumedly happened in the case of Sariska), then the tourists will stop coming here. And then it is that very livelihood of the local population that will be at stake, right?
Let me just give you an example in this respect. Suppose there is a milking cow at my home, which gives a substantial quantity of milk, thus addressing all the milk related requirements of my family. Now, shall I maintain some self-restraint while milking her every morning, so that my demand is fulfilled and the cow is also not forced to overdo herself? Or shall I squeeze her for so much milk everyday, that she ultimately falls ill and becomes permanently unable to give any milk at all? You will certainly want me to go for the first option, right? Similarly, our hunger for tourism-generated revenue must not “enthuse” us to squeeze a spot so much that it eventually runs out of the very “tourist attractions” that it is known for.
So I feel that the state and the central government should jointly set up an independent committee, comprising relevant technocrats including Eco-tourism experts. Let them conduct an independent study to decide whether the tourist inflow in any National Park (and not only in the Corbett) is within the permissible limit or more than that. Let them first make a list of all those sanctuaries and national parks which are witnessing significant tourist inflows, and then make the study. They can either evaluate the sanctuaries and parks one by one, or can study all of them simultaneously by dividing themselves into various teams.
There must be a balance in our approach to tourism and conservation, wherein we should appreciate the importance of both of them. And this balance of approach should be reflected in the ground management, wherein tourism should be allowed up to the level it does not threat conservation, and not beyond it. Basically the concept that I am referring to is “Sustainable Tourism” – a buzzword in today’s world.
And it is precisely the job of the Eco-tourism experts, i.e. maintaining the right balance between tourism and conservation. So it is they who are best qualified to oversee such issues, and not the political masters.