No more Commercialisation of Ecotourism: Need of strict rules to save sensitive forests.
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According to the 2017 Indian State of Forest Report, India's forest cover is 21.54%. It is almost 25 years after National Forest Policy,1988 was envisaged with the aim of increasing the forest cover to 33% of the total geographical area of the country for the ecological balance and Environmental wellbeing of the country. Still that dream stands unfilled. Still a long way to go. Because many are least bothered.
Out of 21.54% forest cover only 4.9% forest area comes under the network of Protected Areas (National Park, Sanctuary etc). Unfortunately Ecotourism activities are promoted aggressively by state governments and forest departments with a motive of commercialisation.
During the time where the citizens are supposed to be utterly worried about the precious and already scarce resources like forest patches, Drinking water, Water for agriculture, clean air, chem tyymical free food, health care, sustainable life style and so on, we are worried about the never ending miseries of misleading propagandas of the political parties and state governments of the country (of course, exceptions are there).
We people should ask and expect for the conservation, rejuvenation and protection of basic amenities in the political party manifesto required for sustained living of mankind. Instead, most of the people don't know it's importance and those people who know are least bothered as much as the political parties.
Already experiencing irregular and less rainfall, increasing drought areas, drinking water problems, unusually higher temperatures, shrinking ground Water levels, etc. As a forest graduate decreasing virgin forest cover, increasing human disturbances in the name of development and particularly Ecotourism has made me sulk in despair.
Ecotourism is defined as "responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education" (TIES,2015)
But in reality inspite of Ecotourism policy and guidelines, no or very minimal importance is given to the empowerment of local people and education. Ecotourism has become a purely fun and luxury business in many protected areas of the country. Forest is a very fragile ecosystem. Wildlife is very sensitive to the minute changes and influences created by human. We have already destroyed and destroying the cities and rural areas in the name of limitless concept of 'Eurocentric development'
In the name of 'Creating Awareness' to public, which in reality is a very unrealistic belief, where many people are taking home only selfies and photos instead of values and responsibilities, Ecotourism will only disturb the web of life in forests.
By bringing up the luxury quotient into the Ecotourism, forest departments are increasingly and negligently constructing luxury cottages, trek routes, safari routes, etc to attract the tourists in large numbers.
I am not against the need of Ecotourism. I do understand the need of buildings inside the Protected Areas for the staff and tourists in large forest areas capable of buffering the human activities. But I am against the construction of buildings and Ecotourism activities in small forest areas with high biodiversity. I believe there should be some virgin and undisturbed forests for the future of voiceless wildlife.
My concern is, According to ISFR, 2017, out of 21.54%(708273 sq km) forest cover, there are only 9 patches whose area is more than 10000 sq.km most of them lying in Western ghats covering 40% of 21.54%. But significantly there are as many as 727380 forest patches of size >0.1 to 1 sq km constituting only 7.64% of 708273 sq.km!!!!!. These small patches, many being the part of Protected Areas are situated amongst highly populated areas.
I request honourable supreme court to prohibit ecotourism in this small and fragile homes of wildlife by considering the article 21 of fundamental right to life which includes right to health, right to food, right to pollution free environment (Clean air, Clean water and clean soil); (Shanti Star Builders vs. Narayan Totame, Subhash Kumar vs. State. of Bihar- (1991) 1 SCC 598, Vellore Citizens Welfare Forum vs. Union of India, AIR 1996 SC 2715, M. C. Mehta vs. Kamal Nath (1997) 1 SCC 388),
fundamental duty 51a (To protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers, wildlife and to have compassion for living creatures), Seventh Schedule (Article 246) List III - Concurrent List Item no. 17 Prevention of cruelty to animals, Item no. 17A Forests, Item no. 17B Protection of wild animals and birds
and 48A of Directive Principles of State Policy (Protection and improvement of environment and safeguarding of forests and wild life) by limiting the size and sensitivity of the forest area suitable for such activities.
Because the exploitation of forests in the name of Ecotourism in such sensitive and small forest areas ignoring the positive ecological importance of forest and prioritizing commercialisation is directly against the article 21.
Forest department should promote forests as a life saving service for mankind instead of ultra commercialisation of the helpless creatures.
The new Eco sensitive zone (ESZ) guidelines, declared by the ministry for areas around the protected area boundaries on February 9, 2011 are as follows
1)It prohibits tourism activities like flying over protected areas in an aircraft or hot air balloon, and discharge of effluents and solid waste in natural water bodies or terrestrial areas.
2)Felling of trees, drastic change in agriculture systems and commercial use of natural water resources, including groundwater harvesting and setting up of hotels and resorts, are the activities regulated in the areas.
When the areas around the protected areas are regulated for certain activities by ESZ, then what is the idea in having this activities inside the forest areas in first place?
Please fix a 'minimum area size' (in sq km) below which no Ecotourism activities should be allowed based on sensitivity of the forest site, sensitivity of the species, biodiversity richness and remoteness of the area. Only those large forest areas capable of buffering the human activities should be considered for Ecotourism.
Ecotourism is the gateway for many destructive things. Vehicle movement-dust-smoke-noise, plastic spilling, solid waste and sewage disposal from the cottages into the nearby rivers etc.
Most importantly the common sense is What will we do if a unknown person enters our house and walk around carelessly?.
I have immense respect towards the efforts of forest department and conservationists. My only concern is that the alarmingly increasing revenues from pseudo Ecotourism in many protected areas would make way for destruction of last patches of forests for wildlife. Great Indian Bustard is the example. Support me. Please.
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