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Involve local communities in eco-tourism promotion: Panel

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A comprehensive policy, with an emphasis on community-based eco-tourism, should be formulated for better coordination.

Bangalore , March 21

CAPACITY-building for giving a fillip to eco-tourism which is fast picking up in Karnataka, would require the involvement of both the managers and the local community familiar with the destinations.

The managers would include officials of the forest department and other culturally reputed departments or organisations of the State Government, who should be provided with orientation in their new role as facilitators strengthening the local community organisations for the ultimate aim of conserving the natural resources.

However, a comprehensive policy, with an emphasis on community-based eco-tourism , should be formulated for better coordination. It must aim at setting up society for every site with Jungle Lodges and Resorts Ltd (JLR), as the nodal agency to coordinate, formulate strategy, publicity and integration issues, apart from overseeing the formation and working of ecotourism societies in each site, says the Revenue Reforms Commission.

The Commission, in its report released recently, has highlighted the need to look at various areas for tapping increasing non-tax revenues to reduce the budgetary deficit.

It said, at the pilot stage about four to five most promising sites, that are well connected and easily accessible to tourists, could be developed.

It may be recalled that JLR had recently initiated a pilot in the Bandipur Reserve Forest, near Mysore, where trekking trails have been developed for eco-tourism. The Commission, said for a successful promotion of eco-tourism, managers should be equipped to evolve innovate ideas to promote-eco-tourist training programmes.

The task of promoting eco-tourism would lie heavily on the ability of the local communities in managing the services. The role of communities in capacity-building efforts was to manage the eco-tourism initially at the local and ultimately at the State level.

The Commission in its report has suggested that committees should be formed and training imparted to the members in eco-tourism, resource sharing, rights and responsibilities and record-keeping. Though the interest in eco-tourism would mostly be generated by word of mouth, initial publicity of the scheme was essential for the successful implementation o the eco-tourism policy, the Commission said adding that the concept of community based eco-tourism would go a long way in providing better income generation options to the rural poor and act as an incentive in conservation of local traditions, culture, heritage and environment, as these would be seen as aiding in local economy.

Karnataka has 38,284 sq. km of forest land, which is 20 per cent of the total area of the State. The entire area is under the Forest Department.

There are also five national parks and 20 wildlife sanctuaries, which span 6,700 km or 17.5 per cent of the forested area. It should be possible to create many parks and nature-camps with some imagination to promote as attractive eco-tourism spots.

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