The Government’s top think tank, Niti Ayog has favoured imposing a “green cess” from tourists to arrest the environmental degradation caused by the rising footfalls in the Indian Himalayan region.
The Niti Ayog proposal in its recent ‘Report of Working Group II Sustainable Tourism in the Indian Himalayan Region (IHR)’ follows observation that the region annually records about 100 million tourists and the number is expected to increase to 240 million by 2025, putting huge pressure on resources.
The ‘green cess’ will help boost revenue services as well as ensure sustainable development of the region that stretches about 2,400 km across the northern border of India, covering an area of about 500,000 sq km, as per the report. It also suggested payments for environmental services (PES) such as charging entrance fees from tourists and services sector as a long term solution within the tourism industry.
Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Himachal Pradesh , Jammu & Kashmir , Manipur, Meghalaya , Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim, Tripura, Uttarakhand and West Bengal are the part of the IHR.
The report notes that though all mountain states have developed tourism/eco-tourism policies and master plans but not all of them address challenges such as climate change, inadequate solid waste management, air pollution, degradation of watersheds and water sources and loss of natural resources and biodiversity and harness opportunities that change brings.
Also, sustainable aspects of tourism development in the IHR, such as carrying capacity of potential destinations, do not find enough resonance in planning long-term investments.
The think tank also noted that the movement of Indian tourists is increasingly becoming individualistic as standards of living have gone up and people travel to IHR landscapes as and when they want. “As a result, traffic congestion and air and noise pollution, overbooked hotels, non-availability of parking places, and local water and energy security are becoming recurrent problems, even in smaller towns such as Dharamsala.
“Even trials of control mechanisms to restrict the number of visitors to very fragile sites (e.g. Rohtang Pass from KulluManali or Amarnath Yatra), have not yielded desired results as people find alternative routes and means to reach such sites.
“Even Sikkim, which has good experience with ecotourism, is increasingly challenged by mass tourism,” as per Vikram Singh Gaur from NITI Aayog and Dr. Rajan Kotru from International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development( ICIMOD), the lead authors of the report. Among other contributors were Ashok K Jain ( NITI Aayog), Sejal Worah (WWF India) and Mridula Tangirala (Tata Trust).
Not only the panel has favoured ‘tourism tax’ as being imposed by many countries like Bhutan as sources of revenue, it also suggested PES schemes that offer financial incentives for locals to provide a wide range of ecosystem services untouched by normal market transactions.
The panel has also called for carrying out tourism development management of Destination Carrying Capacity as the destinations have their own limited natural and heritage resources and infrastructure.