Thursday, October 01, 2009
New Delhi: The government could soon place curbs on the number of tourists visiting the Himalayas. The Union ministry for environment and forests has come out with a set of guidelines to restrict tourist flow (pilgrims included) and make hill stations less crammed and dirty.
The impact of tourism on mountain ecosystems and biological resources are of great concern because of the high biodiversity and environmental sensitivity of the Himalayas. The guidelines, will discuss urbanisation, tourism, water security, energy, forest management and infrastructure to address the challenges facing the Himalayan region. It is part of one of the eight missions in National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) which envisages, among other things, a National Mission for Sustaining the Himalayan Ecosystem.
Minister of state for environment and forests, Jairam Ramesh, said that there were "valuable lessons in this document that need to be mainstreamed". Since these aspects come under the states' purview, Ramesh said it is a working document meant to guide governments on what is to be done.
The aim is to promote "sustainable tourism through adoption of 'best practice' norms of eco-friendly and responsible tourism", as stated in National Environment Policy. It seeks to implement measures to regulate tourist flow and ensure that these remain within the carrying capacity of the ecology.
The document notes the adverse effects of expansion in urban settlements -- visitors, trekkers and mountaineers have posed high biotic pressure and increased the accumulation of solid waste on the Indian Himalayan Region (IHR). The report notes the attempts made to address these issues in some parts of IHR and recommends they be replicated in other areas as well. Pilgrim traffic finds special mention.
The Himalayas host a number of religious/sacred sites which get millions of tourists each year. Most of these places lack adequate transport accommodation and waste disposal facilities.
In some cases, initiatives have been taken to promote sustainable tourism. For example, the Uttarakhand government has restricted the number of tourists visiting the origin of the Ganga to 150 per day.
Cultural identities are also under threat "by the economic, social and environmental forces associated with mountain tourism", the report observes.
In spite of Sikkim's effortsto place checks on tourists, tourism has grown rapidly (from nearly 15,000 tourists in 1980 to 3,50,000 in 2007 ) in the state. The report suggests that Sikkim's initiatives could be emulated by those interested in promoting responsible tourism.