Insensitivity at its best

Published: Saturday 15 February 1997

Insensitivity at its best

The Taj group of hotels has been under fire for the past year due to its decision to construct a three-star hotel resort at Murkal, in the heart of the Nagarhole national park near Mysore in Karnataka. The conflict between the local adivasis and the hotel chain came to a head when 21 of them courted arrest on December 24, 1996. The adivasis, under the banner of the Budekkattu Krishikara Sanghatana have been demanding the full implementation of the Bhuria Committee's recommendations, that restores their customary rights over access to the forest and its produce. And this is precisely what the prospect of five-star tourism in the park threatens -- the end of the forest, their culture and the lives of several endangered species housed therein. Nagarhole is part of an area declared as one of the 11 biodiversity hotspots of the world.

The Taj group's activities are blatantly in violation of the law. The hearing of a petition filed by the adivasis on January 3, 1997, in the High Court, found that the group had not sought or obtained clearance from the ministry of environment and forests as is required by the Wildlife Protection Act (WPA) (1972). The point that the Taj's presence at Murkal was in violation of the WPA, the Forest Conservation Act and the recent Supreme Court order that bars all non-forest activities within forest areas, was well made in court. The hotel group's claim that Murkal is not classified as a forest area in revenue records has been withdrawn.

The court has reserved its judgement, which would be announced at a later date. It has advised the group to desist from continuing construction as that will most likely be a "bad investment".

Unless the court gives the petitioners a favourable ruling, the activities of the Taj group are likely to set a dangerous precedent, which would make it difficult to keep other such projects at bay.

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