Nagpur: In a fresh twist to the PIL against excessive tourism in Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve (TATR), 8 little-known stakeholders including Mohurli sarpanch, guides and resort owners have intervened in the petition stating that curbs on tourists in Tadoba will affect their livelihood.
The intervention comes after Nagpur bench of Bombay high court had issued directions on July 4, 2018 to forest department to come up with proper guidelines to take care of peculiar needs, VIP protocol and also avoid discretionary quota or black marketing, especially when the department has accepted irregularities in the prevailing system and necessity for the same.

In August 2017, RTI activist Avinash Prabhune had filed a PIL on a series of TOI reports based on information received under the RTI Act. The PIL alleged that National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) ecotourism guidelines, framed post Supreme Court ruling in 2012, were not followed and carrying capacity was violated frequently by TATR under the garb of VIP culture.

A year after the PIL was filed, now 8 stakeholders, including two sarpanches from Mohurli and Khutwanda, secretary of Tadoba Gypsy Drivers’ Union and guides and two resort owners have moved an application through their lawyer Kartik Shukul.

The applicants have submitted that high court taking cognisance of excessive tourism will affect their livelihood. They have contested the figures received by the petitioner under RTI and claimed that the tourists they take inside are all authorized. The interveners talk about the Tiger Conservation Plan (TCP), which is an exhaustive document that deals with every aspect of management and administration of tiger reserve, but they have failed to mention that TCP of TATR has already been approved by the NTCA in April 2017 and accordingly a carrying capacity of 125 vehicles have been fixed now.

However, the PIL is based on large-scale violations during 2015-2017, when the TCP of TATR was held up by NTCA as Tadoba did not follow the carrying capacity prescribed by it. The PCCF (wildlife) had even issued a letter warning the then field director not to reduce tourist vehicles. These documents are there on record in the court.

After approval of TCP, Tadoba’s carrying capacity was brought down to 125 from 136, besides curb on large number of VIP vehicles. “The resort owners and other stakeholders who had earlier a free run are now seeing it as a setback and claiming their livelihood has received a setback. It seems to be a proxy fight by resort owners’ lobby,” says a section of local advisory committee (LAC) members.

Justice BP Dharmadhikari and Justice ZA Haq has also asked to frame a new set of guidelines by a committee consisting of petitioner and forest officials to check violations. However, interveners say no private person has right to frame rules and draft TCP.

“As per the apex court, framing guidelines related to ecotourism is the job of LAC, the rules framed by the high court committee can be put before it for approval,” they told TOI.

Interestingly, for the past two years no LAC meeting of Tadoba has been held nor minutes of the meeting held in February 2016 were released by former LAC chairman & divisional commissioner Anup Kumar.

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