Emphasising the Government’s commitment to implement people-centric initiatives, Union Minister for Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Dr. Harsh Vardhan, has said that the Ministry has prepared an Eco-tourism policy that will provide livelihood opportunities for the local communities, as well as educate visitors and enhance their understanding of nature. In a statement on the policy for Eco-tourism in forest and wildlife areas here today, Dr. Vardhan said that in an effort to enhance the capacity of local communities, specialised training on eco-tourism activities will be imparted. The Minister pointed out that the members of local communities can be employed as nature and tourist guides for providing hospitality, as nature science interpreters and patrol partners to protect nature. He added that the policy seeks to encourage homestead-based hospitality enterprises for enhancing local livelihood, which includes small-scale entrepreneurs and operators like souvenir shops and equipment for hiring for photography.Eco-tourism can be defined as ‘responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people. Forests and wildlife are elements of nature and are an inseparable part of the environment. The interface between nature and human beings is intricate, thus nature conservation must entail participation of people as a non-negotiable component. The policy envisages active participation of forest dwellers living away from the forests, as well as of fringe dwellers in the forest. The eco-tourism policy has been formulated in consultation with various important stakeholders.
Highlighting the objectives of the Eco-Tourism policy, Dr. Harsh Vardhan stated that engaging local communities and develop mechanism with a view to enrich local economy, as well as sustainable use of indigenous material is a primary one. “Establishing partnerships with all stakeholders to develop and promote nature tourism and promoting biodiversity richness and heritage values of India’s wilderness and adopting low impact nature tourism to ensure ecological integrity are some of the other objectives of the policy”, he said.Dr. Harsh Vardhan also indicated that the policy will further help in enhancing the education and awareness about wildlife and habitat in the country. He added that the Eco-Tourism policy will also help in improving the livelihood of people living in and around Protected Areas (PAs).Stating that areas with good wildlife habitat will be developed for eco-tourism to reduce pressure on sensitive “core” areas and to enhance local benefits, the Minister stressed the importance of community participation in such initiatives with a view to reinforce their interface and sense of ownership. Dr. Vardhan expressed the view that infrastructure development for eco-tourism will be designed in such a manner that it merges with the ambient environment.
He pointed out that the activities undertaken will be eco-friendly in nature and no permanent structure will be allowed without clearance under Forest (Conservation) Act. The Minister averred that the infrastructure developed will be limited to the carrying capacity of the area. Pointing out that the demarcation of eco-tourism zone will be based on target-species, their behavioural and habitat characteristics, Dr. Vardhan said that the eco-tourism plan will identify locations and routes for visitors, as well as the activities permitted and permissible time and means of travel for the visit. The Minister observed that eco-tourism will be developed in wildlife conservation areas designated as Protected Areas (PAs) and will include wildlife sanctuaries, national parks, conservation reserves and community reserves, as well as in areas outside designated Protected Areas, including forests, mangroves, sacred groves, mud flats, wetlands and rivers. He also asserted that each State/Union Territory will have to establish an Eco-Tourism Development Board to advise the State/UT on the modalities of eco-tourism and to oversee the implementation of the policy. “In cases of dispute, the decision of the management of Protected Areas will prevail”, Dr. Vardhan said.