On September 24, 2008, the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) had set up a three-member Monitoring Committee to oversee the village relocation process and ecotourism strategy in Project Tiger reserves across the country.
The members of this Monitoring Committee are:
According to Rajesh Gopal, the present member secretary, the terms of reference of the Committee are:
I. (i) Appraisal of the ongoing village relocation process in identified core / critical tiger habitats vis-à-vis the recommendations of the Tiger Task Force relating to “exclusive” and “inclusive” agenda, through field visits.
(ii) Suggesting generic as well as specific benchmarks for ongoing monitoring of the village relocation process in tiger reserves, vis-à-vis the provisions of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, as amended in 2006 and the guidelines issued by the NTCA in this regard.
(iii) Providing inputs for an ecotourism strategy to benefit fringe dwelling local people and relocated villagers.
(iv) Suggesting site specific corrective / mitigation measures, if necessary.
II. The Monitoring Committee would be required to submit its report within a period of six months from the date of issue of the OM.
III. The Committee may co-opt local experts, social scientists, if necessary.
Joining the Dots, the Tiger Task Force (TTF) report that the Monitoring Committee will take its cue from was submitted to the prime minister in August 2005. The report had called for a range of actions to stem the rot in India’s wildlife conservation programme. Finalising a plan for relocation and sharing the benefits of tourism with local communities were two of the key recommendations of the Task Force, which was also chaired by Sunita Narain.
Relocation: the TTF recommendations
In its seven main recommendations to the government, the TTF had called for finalisation of the plan for relocation of villages from key tiger habitats within one year, with its financial and logistical implications.
In India, there are people living inside reserves; these people need to be ‘relocated’ so that the space is made ‘inviolate’ and undisturbed for the tiger to roam in. The TTF report had agreed that relocation was important and necessary for protecting the tiger, especially in cases where human activity is impacting on the habitat, but had expressed concern at the situation on the ground.
In 2005, the Task Force had found that in 30 years, only 80 villages and 2,904 families had been
relocated from different tiger reserves in the country. There were an estimated that 1,500 villages — or 65,000 families, or 325,000 people (@ five per family) — inside the core and buffer zones of tiger reserves.
The report had noted that at the then existing rate of compensation the government gave to families it seeks to relocate (Rs 1 lakh), it would have cost Rs 665 crore to relocate all families from tiger reserves. If the rate of compensation was enhanced — say, to Rs 2.5 lakh — it would require Rs 1,663 crore to re-settle all.
There were other contentious issues. Besides that of availability of land to relocate people, the TTF report said that “poorly done relocation contributes to the hostility of the local people towards the sanctuary and can be counter-productive. Therefore, relocation needs careful planning and execution”. In fact, in many cases, people who have been relocated have either come back or are contributing to the pressure on the park from the fringes.
Said the report: “The situation today is untenable for the people who live inside. The unwritten policy is that they will be relocated. As a result, no development reaches them, for then they wouldn’t want to leave. But relocation does not happen. People become, and remain, trespassers in their own land.”
To break the stalemate, the TTF asked for a scientific assessment of the villages that need to be relocated, and a time-bound programme for this to happen. Its specific recommendations were:
Ecotourism: the TTF recommendations
The Tiger Task Force was of the opinion that while “the Indian tiger is a tourism attraction, tourism is both an opportunity and threat for the tiger”.
Tourism, said the TTF report, is an important economic and educational activity. It can link tigers to a wider constituency and build conservation support for it. It can also bring monetary and employment benefits to local people and secure their interest in the tiger’s future. But done badly, it can lead to further stress on the tiger’s habitat. It can destroy the surrounding area by overusing resources such as water and put municipal services like garbage disposal and sewage under stress. It can also lead to the alienation of local people, who see the benefits of this economic activity exported out of their region. The issue, then, noted the Task Force, is how tourism can be shaped so that it brings benefits to the tiger, its habitat and to the people who share this space.
The recommendations of the TTF were:
The pilgrim sites inside the park must be designated as sacred groves with strict controls and regulations. All transit camps and places of stay for such pilgrimages inside the park must be minimised and severely restricted. The benefits of the pilgrimage activity must accrue to local communities.
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