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Now, Who’s Crouching?

Open magazine does its turn to stall an eco-tourism scam in Rajasthan
IMPACT
The controversial Kankwari fort seen from the village that was evicted, ostensibly to protect wildlife (Photos: JAY MAZOOMDAAR)
Telltale evidence of the illegal renovation work at the fort

Taking note of the report Crouching Tourists, Hidden Tiger (Open, 6 December 2010), Environment and Forests minister Jairam Ramesh has shot off a letter to Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, requesting his “personal intervention…for preventing the Kankwari fort from being put to use for tourism”.

In the report published in Open, Rajasthan’s Chief Wildlife Warden HM Bhatia admitted that the fort renovation was funded by the state tourism department. “Our policy is to promote eco-tourism. We do not allow people to stay inside forests, but we will work out an arrangement keeping the safety of tourists and the security of wild animals in mind,” he said.

In his letter dated 2 December, Ramesh wrote: “It is learnt that the said fort has been restored with support from the tourism department, perhaps with a view to foster tourist visitation/stay. This is a matter of serious concern as it violates the norms of inviolate space. The government of India has been providing considerable central assistance (100 per cent under Project Tiger) for making the core area inviolate through village relocation. The core areas been to be kept inviolate as per Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 and hence, tourism activities need to be strictly regulated, with a view to foster them in a passed manner in the buffer area. Hence, I request tour personal intervention in this regard for preventing the Kankwari fort from being put to use for tourism.”

Meanwhile, in Madhya Pradesh, RTI activist Ajay Dubey sought protection from the Jabalpur High Court, following the expose in the same Open report that state Chief Wildlife Warden HS Pabla emailed some of the state’s top tourism players, warning them of the PIL filed by Dubey that sought a ban on tourism in core tiger reserve areas as per the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, and urging them to “take whatever steps…to protect” their interests. The case will again come up in January next year.

While the National Tiger Conservation Authority in its reply before the high court admitted that Section 38V (4) (i) of the WPA provided for keeping the core/critical tiger habitats inviolate, a number of conservationists, including National Board for Wildlife member Kishore Rithe, have sought Ramesh’s intervention in the matter.

Stop sambar translocation

In the same letter, Ramesh also pointed out that a large number of sambar was being captured and translocated from the core area of Sariska to Kumbalgarh wildlife sanctuary. Requesting Gehlot to inquire into the matter and stop any further sambar translocation, Ramesh wrote: “Such operations can have considerable ramifications on the predator-prey balance in the habitat. The NTCA, the statutory body in the context of tiger conservation, has not even been consulted in this regard. As you are aware, we are in the process of rebuilding Sariska, and considerable effort and resources have gone into the translocation of tigers. Hence, a drastic intervention involving removal of a major prey species from the core area of a tiger reserve, without any technical advice is a very serious issue.”