Unregulated tourism is ravaging the Western Ghats
Published: Friday, Apr 27, 2012, 11:00 IST
Unbridled tourism in the Western Ghats will be a thing of the past if the Union government accepts the recommendations of an expert panel that was formed to look into the environmental aspects of the ecologically-fragile region.
The Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP), which submitted a comprehensive report to the government in August 2011, has noted that some of the environmental footprints relate to the uncontrolled growth of tourist establishments in the Western Ghats leading to habitat fragmentation and increasing human-animal conflict.
Unlike in the case of mining where it urged for a blanket ban in the more ecologically sensitive areas, the panel has called for the ecotourism policy of the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) to be refined by the proposed Western Ghats Ecological Authority (WGEA) to promote minimal impact tourism. It has also stressed on the need for strict regulation for waste management, traffic, and water use.
There are a number of causes for worry. The 14-member panel headed by eminent ecologist Prof Madhav Gadgil found that there has been a tremendous increase in garbage accumulation in the area which attracts various pest species and also causes an increase in pathogens and disease. Untreated water is discharged into the open and this impacts vegetation and groundwater. There is also an increased risk of fires.
On the socio-cultural front, the group noticed changes in traditional livelihoods. Agriculture has been adversely affected because of land use changes and labour shortages, besides loss of access by indigenous and local communities to their land and resources as well as sacred sites. The report remarked, “Despite ecotourism, arising as a concept to promote nature conservation, it is found that the way ecotourism is practiced in India, it is being perceived as becoming just another form of mass tourism.”
Tourism in the Western Ghats has been increasing steeply. The forms of tourism observed in the region include ecology and wildlife, religious, social, and business. Religious tourism has the highest share of tourism in the Western Ghats followed by nature-based, social and business; the largest share of tourists is from the domestic sector. Tourist flows have risen sharply to the protected areas (PAs) in the Western Ghats – Periyar, Mudumalai, Bandipur, Nagarhole, Dandeli-Anshi since 2000.
Most of the tourism is unplanned and unregulated. The panel observed that even planned world class tourism projects, e.g Amby Valley and Lavasa, have considerable local impacts. Tourism is being promoted both by the Centre and states without proper environmental impact assessments (EIAs) or cumulative impact assessments.
Among other things that can be done to mitigate adverse effects of tourism, the panel said that smallscale tourism should be encouraged by adopting benefit-sharing measures with local communities. Tourism infrastructure, particularly accommodation, should be eco-friendly, with careful use of locally available materials.
The panel has recommended that erection of concrete structures around springs, lakes and other perennial water bodies should be discouraged. There should be site-specific control of tourism infrastructure in the buffer regions of protected areas. Rainwater harvesting should be made mandatory for all new large and medium tourist infrastructure in the Western Ghats.
The WGEEP also laid a roadmap on how to implement its recommendations. A special cell within the WGEA would need to be constituted to deal with tourism-related issues. Control of tourism developments and activities, including licensing and overall targets for and limits to the scale and type of tourism should be overseen by the WGEA, the panel recommended.