Youngsters from villages in the buffer areas of Pench and Bor tiger projects and other protected areas, such as Umred Karhandla, Painganga and Tipeshwar in Vidarbha, will be imparted livelihood training to employ them in the hospitality industry. The initiative will also create a sense of belonging in the minds of villagers and involve them in the protection of tigers, forests and migration corridors.
A training facility has been set up in the Pench tiger reserve near Nagpur, making it the first-of-its-kind in Maharashtra and the second in the country, after Kanha, to offer in-house training. The fees will be paid by the Pench Tiger Reserve conservation foundation, which has signed a three-year Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Pratham Arora Centre for Education (PACE) to provide two-month free training in hospitality services to youths. Apart from the training in computer applications and English, the youngsters will also get an opportunity to be employed in three-star and five-star hotels.
“Livelihood for locals is very important for long-term tiger conservation,” said MS Reddy, chief conservator of forests and field director of the Pench tiger project. He further said lack of an alternative livelihood will force these people to depend on forests and damage them. Also, there were limitations on training locals to work as guides and drivers for tourists coming to forests.
“Population is increasing in villages but apart from agriculture, there are not many livelihood opportunities. Agriculture in villages is also seasonal in Central India. Also, being an eco-sensitive zone, there are no or limited industries coming up there,” said Jaydeep Das, livelihood expert in Pench. He further said that some villagers were working as construction labourers, leading to poor standard of living and heavy dependence on forests for livelihood.
“Rather than being dependent on forests, it is necessary for the new generation to earn and settle in a better city and town,” said Das, adding that this reduced the dependence on agriculture.
Thrown open last month, the hospitality training centre in Pench will offer two training capsules – in food and beverages and housekeeping. The MoU will enable training of a maximum of 60 students every two months. The present batch has nearly 47 students. Around 1,000 youngsters living around the protected areas can be covered within three years.
“We have various livelihood schemes under the village eco-development committees. Under such schemes, villagers give an undertaking that they will abide by the rules of the state forest department and help the department in wildlife management to curb poaching, illegal grazing and felling of trees,” said Das.
“In return, the state and central government schemes, such as the Dr Shyamaprasad Mukherjee Jan Van Vikas Yojana, and schemes under the Biodiversity Conservation and Rural Livelihood Improvement Project (BCRLIP), which are World Bank funded, are being implemented in these villages,” he added.
Earlier, the department had a tie-up with PACE, but the nearest training centre was 300km away in Yavatmal’s Ralegaon, Aurangabad and Mumbai. The in-house centre has now been started in the Pench tiger reserve in the Amaltaas nature interpretation centre located in Sillari, which has been developed to house dormitories, classrooms and students.