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Ecotourism in India

Case study

Estimates place the value of the ecotourism market in developing countries close to US$400 billion annually. India has a substantial share of this market, thanks to its rich biological and cultural diversity and heritage, together with entrepreneurship skills in the tourism industry.

The main drivers of the development of ecotourism in India have been private capital, UN agencies and more recently, international financial institutions such as the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank.

India’s tourism industry sees ecotourism as its unique selling point, and promotes it as an antidote to the development problems of hitherto ‘untouched’ areas. Despite the lack of consensus between the industry, indigenous and local communities, and government and non-governmental organizations, tourist operators are bringing more and more tourists to fragile regions such as forests and coasts, and opening up new biodiversity-rich areas to tourism, regardless of their Protected Area status.

NGO EQUATIONS conducted a case study which looked at four States, all of which have diverse ecosystems and populations which are predominantly composed of Indigenous groups.

The four States are:

•    Andaman & Nicobar Islands
•    Chhattisgarh
•    Madhya Pradesh
•    Uttarakhand
     (formerly Uttaranchal)

They found that there are inherent problems in the manner in which ecotourism is being developed in India; and that these problems have a direct bearing on community governance.

There are several instances from across India where ecotourism ventures and activities have been carried out without the consent of local self governments or panchayats. Tourism is largely driven by Forest Departments and corporations, with communities having little participation in decision-making. As a result, the benefits largely go to state exchequers and private entrepreneurs.

There appears to be no space in the present governance structure for the panchayats and bureaucracy to discuss issues such as tourism; and there have been no attempts made so far to create such a space.

The panchayats are not consulted when tourism projects or plans are prepared by the governments or by any other party. They only get to know about the project at the implementation stage after all clearances have been given by other departments, and when the party or parties seek a token ‘No Objection’ Certificate from the panchayat to go ahead with construction. At this stage, the panchayats feel they cannot refuse because clearances have already been given by other departments. There is an absolute deficit of information and consultation required in democratic decision-making on ecotourism development.

This should not be the case. Both central and state policies and plans are propagating ecotourism without taking account of existing laws and other policies (although there is an urgent need to amend this legislation to take account of the scale and impacts of ecotourism).

In particular, the 73rd and 74th Amendments to India’s Constitution give rights to local self-government institutions (rural panchayats and urban municipalities), bringing into their jurisdiction matters related to land, water, socio-economic development, the development of infrastructure, social welfare, social and urban forestry, waste management and maintenance of community assets.

The development of ecotourism is relevant to all these areas and local self government institutions should be involved in all levels of ecotourism development, from approval of the project, to planning, implementing, development, marketing, evaluating, monitoring and research.

The constitutional amendments have also strengthened women’s participation in decision-making through reservation in all levels of the three-tier governance system. Their role in charting the course of tourism development in accordance with community aspirations must be reinforced.

In addition to this, the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, passed in 2006, grants legal recognition to the rights of traditional forest dwelling communities and takes a first step towards giving communities and the public a voice in forest and wildlife conservation. The implementation of this Act may help in reiterating the role of communities in protecting and managing forests, and ensuring the benefits arising from the use of biodiversity.

Please refer to Life as Commerce: how market-based conservation impact on community governance for the summary case study and further details, or the full case study on Ecotourism in India .