Accessing Community Rights and Livelihood Through Tourism: A Community-Based Tourism Initiative in Kumirmari, Sundarban

Accessing Community Rights and Livelihood Through Tourism: A Community-Based Tourism Initiative in Kumirmari, Sundarban

Aditi Chanchani (Equitable Tourism Options (EQUATIONS), India) and Rajesh Ranjan (Equitable Tourism Options (EQUATIONS), India)
Copyright: © 2019 |Pages: 23
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-5843-9.ch010
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The Sundarbans is the mangrove forests of the Gangetic delta spread across parts of Bangladesh and India, with the majority lying in the former country. Over the past two decades, the people of the islands have been faced with growing restrictions on their access to the forests. They now look towards tourism as an alternative source of livelihood. Tourism is rapidly developing in the region since the beginning of the 21st century, and the area is popular among national and international tourists. However, the ill-effects of mainstream tourism on the local population are also visible here. This chapter traces the different phases of a community-based tourism initiative by the people of Kumirmari, an island in the Sunderbans. This alternative model of tourism aims to combine aspects of community involvement, ownership, governance, benefits, and empowerment, and support the local people in accessing their community and livelihood rights.
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The Sundarbans derives its name from the word Sundari, a species of the mangrove tree, thereby giving it its name ‘Forest of the Sundari Trees.’ The Sundarbans, created by the delta of the rivers – Hoogly, Meghna, and Brahmaputra and its innumerable tributaries, is the world’s largest mangrove ecosystem, spread across Bangladesh and India. Out of a total of 25,500 sq km, about 9630 sq km is located in India (Bera & Sahay, 2010).

The forest is home to unique flora and fauna and possibly the only mangroves in the world that is also home to the Bengal tiger. The Sundarbans has an estimated 425 species of wildlife, which includes crocodiles, sharks, dolphins, snakes, spotted deer, and over 240 bird species, including a large number of migratory birds.

The Indian Sundarbans (henceforth referred to as Sundarbans) comprises of 102 islands, 54 of which are habited, spread over the districts of North and South 24 Parganas, West Bengal (see Figure 1), with a total population of around 4.37 million (CSE, 2012).

Figure 1.

Map of the Sundarbans


The primary occupation of the people is agriculture (60%), followed by fishing (18%), with the other organised and unorganised sectors making up the remaining 22% of the workforce (CSE, 2012). Basic amenities and infrastructure such as electricity, water supply, education, and health services are, severely lacking on many of the islands. While the islands closest to the sea are vulnerable to storms and cyclones, those closer to the forests are vulnerable to attacks from tigers and crocodiles. An added challenge for the people of the islands since the 1970s has been the various legal measures that have severely curtailed the area of the forest available for the people of the Sundarbans.1

The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, known as the Forest Rights Act (FRA), could have granted rights to the forest dwelling communities. However, in reality the people of the Sundarbans have to fight for their forest rights, as the West Bengal government does not even recognise the very applicability of this Act by claiming that there is no habitation of people in the Sundarbans Tiger Reserve and in some parts of the Biosphere Reserve. The fact, however, is that more than a million people from the islands continue to remain directly and indirectly dependent on these forests for their livelihood through fishing, honey collection, and collection of other minor forest produce, rights of which are recognised under the FRA.

With the tourism industry contributing significantly to today’s economy, coastal and ocean tourism is turning out to be the single largest contributor. The scale of marine and coastal tourism is wide and includes activities such as fishing, snorkelling, scuba diving, windsurfing, and yachting, as well as the enormous infrastructure for coastal recreation, including restaurants, hotels, shops, marinas, theme parks, tour companies among others (Minocher, 2014). The development of coastal and marine tourism in India follow similar patterns.

Tourism in the Sundarbans, though restricted to a few islands until now, has started gaining popularity in the past decade and half. Islands around the Gosaba block (administrative division in the Canning subdivision of South 24 Parganas district) have seen a spurt in the construction of hotels. Mainly outside people who have also started purchasing land bordering the forest areas, own these hotels. Local people find it difficult to establish hotels here, as banks are hesitant about giving loans to people from the local communities, since they are sceptical about their ability to repay.

The main wildlife safaris start from the Gosaba islands. While fishing is banned in the eight blocks, which make the core zone, tourist boats are allowed to go into three of the eight blocks. 55 boats are allowed per day; however, these boats often cut through fishing nets, causing huge financial losses to fisher folk. Loud noise, effluents and littering with beer cans and plastic bottles from the boats is also causing a decline in fish population in the region where the boats ply.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Livelihood: Livelihood is a broader sociological term rooted in the concept of social justice, where culture and identity form its basis and it is dependent upon the landscape and ecology. It is connected with community and property rights indicating dignity, control, empowerment, and sustainability apart from income generation.

Envisioning Tourism: A statement of vision for where one wants tourism to go, and what it will be like and the core values that are the guiding principles. The principles describe how one intends to operate as they pursue their vision; the lines, which they will and will not cross.

Panchayat: An institution of self-government for rural areas.

Regulation: Tourism is regulated so that it respects and complies with laws, is not exploitative in any way, and functions along the principles of sustainability and equity. Regulation ensures that common resources are not privatized by the tourism industry, which is accountable and works within the framework laid out by the Kumirmari Tourism Manifesto.

Community-Owned Tourism: A form of tourism in which the community owns the enterprise, which becomes the capital of the community, where the pace, nature, forms, stakeholders are decided by the communities and all others involved are supporters of the enterprise.

Planning: This implies designing processes taking into account the views, aspirations, experiences, realities, and concerns of the people of Kumirmari about. Information on tourism development and plans are available in the public domain. Planning for tourism is not a one-off process but cyclical and iterative, based on a loop of experiences, impact, and learning.

Gram Sansad/Gram Sabha: A body consisting of persons registered in the electoral roles relating to a village comprised within the area of the panchayat at the village level. In many states, it is known as gram sabha while in some states like West Bengal it is known as gram sansad.

Process: A series of actions or steps taken in order to achieve a particular result ensuring the values of equitableness, justice, accountability, and democracy.

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