Minister defies apex court, orders opening of trekking route in core tiger habitat

Minister defies apex court, orders opening of trekking route in core tiger habitat

Submitted by alvin on Thu, 2016-11-24 11:03 Bengaluru: In a classic example of how bureaucrats unquestioningly obey minister’s directions, even if such such instructions blatantly violate Supreme Court diktat, forest department officials are all set to open trekking routes in Kali Tiger Reserve on an oral order from the minister! In a notification issued on January 9, 2016, Tourism minister R V Deshpande directed the department to implement the works related to the State government’s ambitious project, ‘Great Canara Trails’ (GTC). The project, which will open trekking routes in Kali Tiger Reserve (KTR) has left the wildlife activists fuming. For, the project is in clear violation of the guidelines laid down by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA). These guidelines were based on the Apex Court order.  Activists warn that if implemented, the move will escalate the human-wildlife conflict in both tiger reserve as well as other reserve forests of Uttara Kannada district. Following the direction of the minister, the State Tourism Department gave approval for providing the required infrastructure to implement Great Canara Trails (GCT) in KTR and Castle Rock Range of Dandeli Wildlife Sanctuary (DWS). Through the GCT, the trekkers will have an opportunity to explore the deep forests of Western Ghats through 17 routes covering a distance of 288 km. The trekking route begins from Malemane near Siddapura in Uttara Kannada district and ends at Castle rock in Joida Taluk. Of the 288 km, an exclusive seven trek routes covering a distance of 97 km are within the limits of Kali Tiger Reserve. The department has sanctioned over Rs one crore to provide facilities – tented accommodation with bathrooms and toilets, eco shops among others – en route to trekking. What is more, the trekkers will also have an opportunity to stay in anti-poaching camps in the Tiger Reserve. This is being regarded as a major boost to the state’s eco-tourism, thanks to department’s enthusiasm to please the minister. As per the information obtained by a Right to Information Act (RTI) query – a copy of which is with the Bfirst.in – the tourism activities will take place within the core zone as well as the buffer zones of KTR. “The entire project is based on the oral directions dated January, 9, 2016 by the Minister for Tourism who also holds the portfolio of large and medium industries as well as Uttara Kannada district in-charge Minister,” the RTI information says. The name of the minister is not mentioned. The move to open the deep forests to tourists has not gone down well with the activists, who point out the clear violation of NTCA guidelines and an apex court order. The Forest Department has not submitted any proposal to NTCA about this project. The KTR Conservation Plan has been already approved by NTCA, and it has ratified the carrying capacity of tourism in its present usage. Any other attempt to give further scope to increase tourism in core and buffer areas would be definitely over and above the physical carrying capacity of this landscape and in violation of existing NTCAguidelines. All tourism activities are to take place only in delineated ‘tourism zones’ indicated in the tourism plan. Any deviations from this have to be approved by NTCA as well as Local Advisory Committee. Further, no new tourism infrastructure can be created in the core areas. Any core area in a tiger reserve from which relocation has been carried out, cannot not be used for tourism infrastructure. Surprisingly, Sawant Matakarni, a village where the trekking route and tourist facilities are planned is in the core area of the tiger reserve and also the village relocation is in progress here.The Supreme Court of India in center for environmental law v/s Union of India in IA no 8 and 13,15-25 in WP (C) no 337 of 1995 decided on 16/09/2002 ruled that there should not be any change in land pattern for next 50 years inside protected areas.Negative Impacts:Increased tourism can affect the animal behavior and survival of the species. Greater tourism can affect the local vegetation as well. The distribution of parthenium in PAs is resultant of vehicle movements (Seeds dispersal is through the tyres). It is needless to say the effect of litter and human waste on PAs if tourism is increased. Hence, there are lots of detrimental effects that pose serious effects on wildlife conservation efforts by increasing the tourism in PAs above the present level of inflow. Apart from the tiger reserve, the trail also covers part of Dandeli Elephant Reserve most of the areas in Yellapur Division, which is witnessing an increasing human-wildlife conflict incidents. Places like Malemane and other areas are home to the rarest Myristica Swamp forest, which will be affected due to this project. NTCA seeks explanationQuestioned about the move, the NTCA authorities said they have sought an explanation from the State Forest officials. “They cannot construct any infrastructure or allow people to stay in anti-poaching camps. What they do outside the tiger reserve is not our (NTCA) problem. If they had any plans within the tiger reserve, it should be mentioned in tiger conservation plan. In case it is not mentioned in the plan, there is any deviation in the plan, it should be brought to the notice of NTCA and permission obtained as per the guidelines. But allowing to stay people in anti-poaching camps or providing any sort of infrastructure is a violation. They cannot do it. But so far we are not updated about it. We have asked the PCCF wildlife to brief us about it. We areawaiting their reply,” an NTCA official told Bfirst.in.