Do’s and don’ts for tourism sector
Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha on Thursday chaired a high-level meeting to review the new initiatives of the Tourism department here at Raj Bhawan and directed the officials to focus on new tourism initiatives. He sought a detailed report on home-stays, setting up of tented accommodation at major tourist attractions, adventure activities, new trekking routes identified, border tourism and capacity building programme and also set the target of enhancing the capacities of home-stays to 25,000 beds by 31st December. The UT government is busy identifying virgin tourist destinations to attract more and more tourists and due to the efforts of the administration, tourist footfall in Kashmir has crossed the whopping one million mark this year highest in the militancy-hit Valley in over a decade despite the recent spurt in targeted killings by militants. Tourism, which contributes five to six percent to Jammu Kashmir’s GDP and provides livelihood to the lakhs of people in the Valley, had come to a complete halt due to the post-August 5, 2019 situation – when Article 370 was abrogated situation – followed by the pandemic outbreak in 2020. However, the recent tourist arrivals have generated hope for the people whose livelihood is directly or indirectly dependent on Kashmir’s tourism sector. Clearly, the heavy footfall of tourists and pilgrims is expected to boost the local economy which has been dented due to the post-August 2019 and Covid lockdowns.
However, environmentalists and experts are watching the situation with caution saying that unplanned and unregulated tourism beyond a certain limit will take a toll on the fragile environment and natural resources. They insist that tourism should not be encouraged beyond the carrying capacity of the tourist destinations in the Valley. They suggest hosting tourists in a phased manner and emphasize on balancing environmental conservation and economic considerations by issuing do’s and don’ts for both the host community and the visitors. They also insist that the UT government should take expert opinions from environmentalists regarding the holding capacity of tourist destinations. In 2014-15, the experts from Kashmir University, who were working on preparing the master plan, assessed the carrying capacity of Gulmarg. They recommended five thousand visitors a day to the tourist destination. Imagine, when fifty thousand people throng this tourist destination a day, how much excessive pressure would be there on this tiny place and its natural resources.
People have witnessed what has happened is happening to glaciers in Sonamarg. A few years back, then state government allowed a Sumo-Taxi stand near Thajwas glacier and due to this ecological blunder, the glacier has been impacted badly. Putting ecological assets under stress is dangerous that can cause ecological catastrophe sooner or later. While one would appreciate the UT government’s efforts to boost tourism and subsequently boost Kashmir’s economy, it must do a fundamental scientific carrying capacity analysis of the tourist destinations across the Valley and Jammu. Need is to have a convergence of policies on climate, environment, and tourism in J&K. We must understand that Kashmir is a highly eco-sensitive region. To protect the fragile ecosystem, we have to be cautious about several things.