Does government know one ecotourism from another?

Is the Andaman Works Department an expert body on eco-tourism? It will, in the near future, monitor the construction of hotels and resorts on hectares of as-yet unspoilt beaches in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. The union territory plans to open its ecologically and culturally fragile areas to 'high-end' tourism

 
Last Updated: Sunday 07 June 2015

-- is the Andaman Works Department (awd) an expert body on eco-tourism? It will, in the near future, monitor the construction of hotels and resorts on hectares of as-yet unspoilt beaches in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. The union territory plans to open its ecologically and culturally fragile areas to 'high-end' tourism. awd's task is to 'officially' ensure that all construction adheres to eco-norms. What standards exist to decide what is ecologically right or wrong about a resort built over what once was forestland? Wrong question. Luxurious 'high value low volume' tourism is the ideal way to go about things, isn't it, especially when the lieutenant governor is always ready to wax eloquent about it to the media. Don't ask no questions, you will be told no lies.

Then there is the Uttaranchal model. It has partially opened up the controversial Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve to trekking after more than two decades. It is putting in place a format for community-based tourism. It promises to monitor the effects of this decision. More importantly, it will share the revenue generated with the local community, besides training them to be more than mere porters (which is what the touts would prefer them to be). The country also has the example of Kerala, which has recently come up with norms to rate the hotel industry as eco-friendly.

Regulations and promises don't count if there is no regulator in place. The Union ministry of tourism's vision of ecotourism is extremely myopic (clean hotels, reduce waste, blend in to the discomfiture of local populations). In this context, to expect the annual Rs 1.23 crore revenue-generating tourism industry of the Andamans and Nicobar Islands to turn green on its own is asking a tad too much. The Andaman and Nicobar Islands administration might want to replace the 6,000-odd foreign backpacking tourists to seek instant nirvana elsewhere, but what guarantee exists to ensure that the few hundred select rich who will now grace its beaches will not debilitate the archipelago's fragile ecology? Isn't the bureaucracy aware that luxury tourism has a perverse ecological logic?

Tourism and conservation have traditionally been antagonists. But eco tourism, the Indian state must learn, evolves from constant dialogue. Ecotourism is always site-specific. Therefore, efficient models can emerge only if all the local actors collaborate in the decision-making process. Also, the revenue generated must flow from people, not trickle down to them. Else, the government might as well throw away all pretence and go ahead with building monoliths of arrogance: the luxury hotels for the chosen few.

(see also: "2 sites to the story")

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