Cess on wildlife tourism on cards
Friday 3rd June 2011

If the environment ministry have its way, tourist facilities around 600 protected areas including tiger reserves will have to pay an unspecified cess on their turnover to sustain conservation and local livelihood development from January 2012. The new draft eco-tourism guidelines are based on recommendations of a seven member government committee, whose member Bittu Sahgal, editor of Sanctuary magazine has questioned its implementability in a letter to environment minister Jairam Ramesh. 
“Basically what was finally put into the draft was at variance from my perception of the discussions and understanding we had. Also the guidelines are un-implementable in their current form,” Sahgal told HT in an email response. 

The guidelines said that the state governments should levy “local conservation cess” as a percentage of the turnover on all privately run tourist facilities within five kms of the protected areas and the money should be deposited in a special protected area management fund.

The fund can be used only for conservation and local livelihood development with an aim of ensuring local community participation in protecting wildlife and sharing of monetary benefits.

Once the guidelines are notified, all major hotel chains having tourist facilities around popular tiger reserves such as Corbett National Park, Ranthambore Tiger Reserve and Kanha Tiger Reserve will have to pay a cess.

“Adequate provisions must be made to ensure that ecotourism does not get relegated to purely high-end exclusive tourism leaving out local communities,” the guidelines state, adding that the first beneficiaries should be local people.

The guidelines also say that half of the energy requirement should come from renewable source and the vehicles used by tour operators should run on eco friendly fuel. It also imposes a ban on construction of tourism facilities on forestland and says financial incentive should be provided to convert revenue land outside the protected areas as forestland.

Such a move may impact number of private resorts that have come up in the green buffer zone of the Corbett, which as per government record is revenue land. Revenue land is under administrative control district collector whereas forestland is managed by district forest officer. It also gives powers to the state governments to impose restrictions on infrastructure in close proximity of tiger reserves or national parks.

For regulating tourism, the ministry has recommended a two tier structure --- a state level steering committee under Chief Minister and a district level advisory body with district collector as chairperson.

The ministry has given time till December 31, 2011 to the state governments to constitute various committees and create the fund so that the guidelines become applicable from January 2012.