Calls for REGULATED TOURISM in Himalayan region

Calls for REGULATED TOURISM in Himalayan region

-A Ramachandran

To cope with the fallout from a rush of tourists to the hills, the Union and state governments have come out with guidelines to regulate the massive influx. With the country coming out of Covid-19 induced travel restrictions, intrepid travellers are on the move. And the Himalayan hill states are witnessing a huge footfall from visitors from across the country trying to beat the heat. While the return of tourists has brought cheer to the tourism industry, the entire Himalayan region is faced with increasing pressure on its fragile ecology as well as pressure on its civic amenities.

Earlier the Ladakh Tourism Department issued a travel advisory, requesting all visitors to the state to make prior arrangements, including bookings for accommodation, particularly if staying at the Pangong Lake area. Unplanned tourist activities often lead to a last-minute rush and overcrowding in the sensitive wildlife sanctuary areas. Moreover, the huge number of vehicles plying the area means trouble for the landscape as well as the flora and fauna.

The tourism boom, brought on by improved and affordable connectivity, particularly air travel, has also led to an increased waste generation and its disposal into rivers and on land. This has led to severe environmental challenges, including degradation of soil, water and air. Unsustainable waste disposal and tourist activities have also been blamed for increased carbon emissions in the fragile region.

In compliance with a National Green Tribunal (NGT) order, the Govind Ballabh Pant National Institute of Himalayan Environment (NIHE), Almora, submitted to the Union
Environment Ministry earlier this month a report “Environmental Assessment of Tourism in the Indian Himalayan Region”, suggested some common actions for the entire Indian Himalayan region (IHR), covering Ladakh, Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim, West Bengal Hills and Darjeeling, Assam Hills, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura and Meghalaya. The report was prepared by assessing the entire IHR for tourist numbers, municipal facilities for waste treatment, air and water quality and biodiversity listing.

Just an example barely 10 sq km Leh town saw a total of 20,918 quintals of waste — both biodegradable and non-biodegradable — generated in just 11 months, from June 2021 to April 2022. However, only 1,387 quintal waste, including plastic bottles, multi-layer plastics, cardboards and tin, were sold for reuse, while 19,531 quintal waste was deposited at the municipal processing site. In Kashmir, famous Dal, Nigeen and Wular lakes are being impacted by the tourist influx. Other IHR states face similar problems with waste generation, handling, and disposal posing a big challenge in the areas.

“Establishment of regulated tourism practices with the promotion of sustainable agendas are required for the IHR. This could be achieved through maintenance of the proper tourist capacity in every tourist place of the IHR which will, in turn, minimize mainly the generation of solid waste, and pollution level in the water, air, and destruction of biodiversity,” the report recommended. It suggested levying green tax on tourist vehicles, renewable energy-based vehicles, solid waste management, and installation of latest equipment for air quality monitoring, and strengthening community- based tourism. The report’s recommendations included:

Estimation of tourist carrying capacity, Promotion of green tourism, Green-premium tax on tourists, Accelerating the de-carbonisation of tourism operations, Carbon taxes,
bio-fuel subsidies, Vehicle purchase subsidies, Planning and zoning restrictions, Restriction on the use of vehicles in eco-sensitive areas, Feed-in tariffs for renewable energy, Establishment of proper waste segregation & management systems in spots and Establishment of eco- friendly bio-digester toilets in high-altitude trek routes.

Suggestions for solid waste management included water ATMs as an alternative to packaged water; promoting clean water springs for drinking water purposes on the routes; waste recycling units for the segregated wastes instead of transporting it kilometres away to other states; and applying appropriate technologies for direct use, such as the use of shredded plastic chips in road constructions.

The report also highlighted the risk of disasters as one of the greatest threats to tourism. Referring to Darjeeling, it said, “Earthquakes and landslides are an annual phenomenon here, especially during the rainy season, which has intensified in the past decades. (But) the lack of technology and irregular monitoring of climate risks results in devastating effects on the tourist destination; therefore, it is necessary to equip the State with such technology, which shall also assure optimal use of resources by preventing damages to infrastructures.”

In the case of Manipur, the main hurdle to achieving sustainable tourism is the lack of research and knowledge, it said, and suggested, therefore, there is a need not only to study the intricacies of sustainable tourism but also its linkage with climate change. In several states, the threat to biodiversity has been reported but data on the impact of tourism on the biodiversity is lacking.

Pointing to positive steps taken in Arunachal Pradesh, the report noted that in 2021, the state adopted the “Pakke Tiger Reserve 2047 Declaration on Climate Change Resilient and Responsive Arunachal Pradesh” that aims to promote development that is climate-resilient. The report termed it as a positive move in the direction of sustainable development of all sectors, including tourism.

“In some of the overcrowded and mass tourism circuits within Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand, some pockets might have gained economic prosperity due to tourism, but this could not be true in every state of the IHR, particularly the northeastern states. It is, therefore, recommended to conduct more focused studies in terms of economic growth, environmental cost, and tourist carrying capacity to fill up these gaps in the northeastern states in particular and other remaining states/UTs in general,” the report concluded.

Source: Himalayan News Chronicle