India has been home to one of the world’s oldest living civilizations. The previous article introduced the concept of ecotourism as a means of travel to natural and wildlife areas for the conservation and wellbeing of people. It also identified the 9 basic principles of ecotourism and discussed ecotourism’s contribution to improving the wildlife, environment, heritage values, and the host community. This article focuses on the determination of ecotourism status in India and its relevance in Assam.
Wildlife conservation across India
India is regarded as one of the 17 mega diverse countries having 400 mammal’s species, 1200 birds, and more than 600 species of amphibians and reptiles. Considering 600 protected areas divided into wildlife sanctuaries, national parks, community reserves, and conservation reserves; these places cover about 5% of the country’s total area (Ministry of Environment and Forests India, 2011; Wildlife Institute of India, 2019).
|Protected area type||No.||Total Area (km2)||Coverage % of Country|
|National Parks (NPs)||101||40,564.03||1.23|
|Wildlife Sanctuaries (WLSs)||553||119,756.97||3.64|
|Conservation Reserves (CRs)||86||3,858.25||0.12|
|Protected Areas (PAs)||903||1,65,012.59||5.02|
Recognizing the potential for revenue generation via wildlife-based tourism, India’s central and state governments initiated activities for promoting them. 20% of the critical or core tiger habitats have permitted safari-based tourism. Tiger reserves like Anamalai and Periyar receive about 6 Lakhs visitors every year. Even during 2007-08, tourism-related revenue from 10 tiger reserves accounted to be $7000 – $3000000 only from entry fees. Additional revenues are generated from the transport, food, lodging, and handicraft sale facilities. Despite these remarkable growth opportunities, the current less stringent approach has limited the wildlife conservation benefits from these areas (Puri et al., 2018).
Unmanaged and Non-regulated increases in tourists lead to damage to the environment and impose high wildlife conservation costs. India has only one Ecotourism policy and guidelines 1998 for regulating and managing the ecotourism level in India (Chakraborty & Chakraborty, 2019). National Tiger Conservation Authority in 2012 formulated guidelines for tourism in and around protected areas. But these guidelines are just a guiding framework and no legal binding is present. Thus, in order to promote ecotourism in India sustainably, a regulatory framework is required.
Why ecotourism needs to be promoted in India?
Ecotourism is an important sustainable form of tourism. It not only helps in preserving nature but also helps in economic development. In India, ecotourism could lead to many positive outcomes, which are as follows (Sharma, 2015).
- Wildlife and natural habitat conservation.
- Platform to bring local tribal community into limelight and generate more sources of revenue.
- Development of remote areas.
- Opportunity of improving long term economic prospects of India through ecotourism revenue.
- Awareness among locals and visitors about surrounding environmental wealth.
- Promotion of conservation initiatives.
- Raising awareness about political and social issues related to emerging environment of India.
Wildlife and ecotourism in India
Ecotourism encompasses various activities such as trekking, wildlife viewing, angling, bird watching, rafting, sea beaches navigation, and camping (EcoIndia, 2008). In India, the best ecotourism destinations are Kerala, Karnataka, Assam, Goa, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan, and all of North-East India.
Assam is the second-largest northeastern state of India with a large part of it situated near narrow valleys. The landscape, topography, and climate of Assam has been hospitable and welcoming for tourists since ancient times. However, tourism in Assam flourished only after 1959 with the establishment of the Directorate of Tourism (Devi, 2012). The figure below shows different ecotourism segments in Assam.
Among all the best ecotourism scenarios, Assam is one of the most prominent destinations in India. Some of Assam’s ecotourism promotional activities include (Mahanta, 2014):
- For promotion of the Kaziranga National Park in Assam, the Assam Tourism Development Corporation has collaborated with Bamboo Technology Center in 2007 for setting up the bamboo-based ecotourism cottages in order to provide eco-friendly accommodation.
- Continuous efforts are made for organizing Kaziranga Elephant Festival every year. Herein, ecotourism is promoted through the availability of jeep safari, elephant riding and sale of handicrafts and handloom products (J. Gogoi & Bora, 2016).
- Chandubi Beel is another site in Assam famous for ecotourism. Here, Wave Eco Tourism NGO (Non-Governmental Organisation) initiated activities for stopping the destruction of forestlands and wetlands in Chandubi Beel (Das, 2013).
- Assam government and NGOs encouraged villagers of Assam to render their services and set up eco-friendly practices for providing accommodation facility to tourists.
Role of ecotourism in Assam
Assam ecotourism is helping in providing employment opportunities to local communities along with being the source of wildlife and natural ecology protection (Deori & Das, 2013). With the promotion of ecotourism, there is a facility available to even protect endangered species and promote environmental awareness among local communities (Srivastava et al., 2001). Furthermore, the implementation of an ecotourism management system helps in the establishment of synergic relationships between the environment, local community, and the tourism industry (Buckley, 2009; Ross & Wall, 1999). The promotion of ecotourism activities helps in raising the standard of living of local communities. Even at the national level, it contributes to economic development through rising GDP, foreign exchange availability, raising per capita income, and solving the unemployment problem (Haloi & Barman, 2010).
Through 5 different ecotourism activities, the growth of ecotourism in Assam led to the empowerment of local communities, protecting endangered species, promoting ecological awareness, rise in the standard of living for local communities, and economic development of India.
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