Tourism and environment
Kashmir has once again emerged as a favourite destination on the tourism map of the country and following the successful conclusion of G20 working group meeting here, people are hopeful of witnessing a huge increase in tourist footfall and are genuinely thrilled. By conducting a successful G20 event in Srinagar, the UT administration has earned a lot of praise from all the concerned. The success of the event has helped Kashmir to re-emerge on world’s tourism map as the conduct of the event has send a clear and loud message that besides being a paradise on the earth as for as its natural beauty is concerned, Kashmir is peaceful and ready to host as many visitors as intend to visit this place.
A word of caution – while celebrating the tourist inflow, the authorities and other stakeholders should have a vigilant eye over the environment and ecology of the place. However, it is scary to see how little attention is being paid to environment related issues. Take, for instance, Gulmarg, all the trash and garbage is thrown in the forest areas along the out circular road. The entire area, which otherwise is a wonderful drive overlooking the rest of the valley is stinking all the time and the waste and garbage has started rotting the trees there. Even the Gulmarg Bowl, no steps are being taken to ensure cleanliness. Same is the story of other tourist resorts. It goes without saying that tourists are not expected to be aware of the importance of environmental conservation. It is the responsibility of the government and the stakeholders, especially the tour operators to frame required rules and norms for the visitors to ensure they, while visiting the fragile zones, do not end up causing damage to the environment. In the case of Kashmir, we do not have set ‘dos and don’ts’ for the tourists. Sadly, we have been allowing the flow of visitors to the tourist destinations much beyond their carrying capacity for years, and eventually, the continuous process has adversely impacted our forests, water bodies, glaciers, and so on.
Besides hygiene and cleanliness, it is an established fact that mass tourism causes frequent human intervention in the mountains and ecologically rich areas and eventually makes irreparable damage to these natural resources. In Kashmir, we have witnessed that glaciers are melting at a fast pace and more than fifty percent of water receding during the past thirty years. One of the reasons could be unregulated tourism during all these years. And second is the mismanagement by the concerned authorities. Some years back, a Sumo Taxi stand was made operational very near to the Thajwas glacier in Sonamarg and its impact is visible on the glacier. The fast melting of glaciers has resulted into the scarcity of water and this year we hadn’t sufficient water for irrigation in comparison to what we had some two-three decades ago. The water shortage has forced people to convert their paddy land into apple orchards causing huge damage to the agriculture sector. Besides, over the years the government has allowed unabated construction at tourist destinations and on the hill stations, causing damage to forests, water bodies, and so on.
It is true that Kashmir needs tourism and tourists but it is also important to think ‘at what cost.’ Tourism helps Kashmir’s economy in a big way but it is not the backbone of Kashmir’s economy. In fact, it is not considered an economic industry anywhere in the world, except in some Middle East countries. It is a compensatory initiative, and we should treat it as such. It should not be our main economic industry. We must focus to develop our agriculture and horticulture industries further, which already contribute more than 70 percent to our GDP. That doesn’t mean that tourism should not be focused upon, of course it should be but not at the cost of our fragile environment.