Are protected areas the new baddie working against tourism?
Additional chief secretary Rakesh Sharma spotlighted the conflict between tourism and growing protected areas in Uttarakhand during the recent meeting of the State Board for Wildlife in Dehradun.
According to him, newly notified Naina Devi Bird Conservation Reserve might restrict camping in Pangot, Sigri, Ghughu Khan, Vinayak and Kunjakhadak, which attract tourists — the source of livelihood for locals.
Naina Devi became fourth conservation reserve of state after Asan, Jhilmil and Pawalgarh. Spread across 120 sq km and two forest ranges of Nainital-Naina and Kosi, the reserve is a haunt for bird watchers. The reserve is also a prospective site for Himalayan quail, a critically endangered species that was last reported in 1870s. Chief Minister Harish Rawat will inaugurate the reserve on April 29 in Nainital.
However, the shrill cry for conservation is riling tourism stakeholders in Uttarakhand.
Senior bureaucrats feel that while the state government is sweating it out to revive tourism sector post June 2013 deluge, the state forest department need to be cautious before declaring fresh protected areas that puts more and more areas out of bounds for tourists.
“I am concerned about tourism. On the one hand we are doing so much to revive tourism in state and if on the other hand fresh protected areas will hamper ongoing tourism, then it will be a problem for the state government,” Sharma said during the board meeting.
As an answer to the officer’s concern, the chief minister directed officers to allow camping inside conservation reserve. According to forest officials, over 25-30 private resorts are located at Pangot, Sigri and Ghughu Khan outside the reserve. These resorts offer camping inside the reserve, adjoining forest rest houses.
Though the forest department has made over 30 platforms for camping, the Wildlife Protection Act may hurdle further construction in the protected area. Principal Secretary S Raju, too, endorsed the importance of camping during the board meeting.
However, forest officers are playing safe.
Chief wildlife warden Digvijay Singh Khati told Hindustan Times: “Camping isn’t a problem inside conservation reserve. If the CM wants to allow it inside the boundary, then we would include it in its final draft”.
The additional chief secretary cited the example of Asan Conservation Reserve in Dehradun to bolster his case.He said the forest department declared the wetland a conservation reserve in 2005, banning motor boat in the lake.
He said people, especially children and elderly, used to enjoy motor boat ride and now only pedal boats are left. Every year, over 5000 tourists visit the reserve for boating and watching migratory birds.He emphasised on providing better facilities to tourists to promote tourism in the region.