Huge funds meant for the welfare of poor people living around Jim Corbett Tiger Reserve were allegedly diverted to the state treasury. Luxury resorts and hotels located around the tiger reserve, supposed to be taxed for eco-development, were allegedly obliged by officials to evade cess, a top wildlife officer has said.
The entire revenue (cess) earned from the hotel industry was to be spent for local inhabitants, compensated for restrictions imposed on them due to harsh wildlife regulations.
In a letter to the Principal Chief Forest Conservator of Uttarakhand on June 15, officiating Director of Jim Corbett Tiger Reserve Sanjeev Chaturvedi has revealed that tourism revenue earned from the reserve was not spent for the welfare of the local population.
Citing the Wildlife Protection Act, Chaturvedi writes: "That tourism revenue (37.09 crore in the last 4 years) earned by Corbett Tiger Reserve was to be spent on the local inhabitants, instead, the funds were diverted to the treasury. The decision of the government violates the guidelines of the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA). The NTCA guidelines mention that tourism revenue and eco-development cess from resorts/hotels would be used for welfare and development of the people."
The letter says that for a few years, 20 per cent of the earning of the tiger reserve was spent on the welfare of the poor people, but this has stopped.
Perceived as a whistleblower bureaucrat, Sanjeev Chaturvedi, a 2002 batch IFS officer informed the government that NTCA guidelines were being violated regarding collection of cess from the local hotel industry. As per the NTCA order, Rs 500 to Rs 3,000 per room per month (depending on the category) was to be charged from each hotel located in the vicinity (notified area) of the Corbett Tiger Reserve.
However, officials made no effort to follow the guidelines on cess collection which would have helped the local community. More than 170 hotels, including over two dozen luxury resorts, are located around the Jim Corbett Tiger Reserve.
Talking to the IANS, a senior official of Jim Corbett Tiger Reserve said that in several countries, including Nepal, the entire revenue earned from wildlife tourism is spent on the development and welfare of local people. The basic principle behind the regulation is to compensate the local population for restrictions imposed on them ranging from right to various work to other living conditions.
In India, several tiger reserves seem to have ignored welfare of the local population. Due to such neglect, local population often turns hostile to tigers and endangered wildlife. However, the Periyar National Park located in Kerala, is one of the prominent tiger reserves which adheres to the NTCA guidelines and spends large funds on the welfare of the local population.