A report titled 'Environmental assessment of tourism in the Indian Himalayan region' by GBNIHE, submitted to MoEF&CC, 03/06/2022

A report titled 'Environmental assessment of tourism in the Indian Himalayan region' by the  Govind Ballabh Pant National Institute of Himalayan Environment (GBNIHE), Kosi-Katarmal, Almora was submitted to the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) in compliance with the National Green Tribunal (NGT) order.

The study was carried out in relation to a statement made in Hindu newspaper, ‘Tourism has brought economic prosperity to the Himalayan region but the environmental cost has been catastrophic’.

Managing tourism within available civic amenities and infrastructural carrying capacity within threshold limit have been a challenging task. An example being Ladakh - a water deficit area. It is mostly dependent on snow/glacial melt and flow of river Indus. Here, average use of water by a local resident is 75 litre per day, whereas a tourist consumes about 100 L/day, the report made available online on the NGT site, June 16, 2022 said.

Protected areas in Ladakh like Hemis National Park, Changthang Cold Desert Sanctuary and Karakoram Sanctuary require vigilance and regular patrolling to reduce unwanted wildlife-tourist interaction, habitat destruction due to off-road driving, and encroachment, the report recommended.

Likewise, prior monitoring of carrying capacity in terms of tourist inflow of vehicles, air quality and solid waste management largely in the Kashmir region or pilgrims visiting the holy cave of Amarnath and Mata Vaishnav Devi in Jammu need to be done to ensure quality tourism. Establishment of regulated tourism practices with promotion of sustainable agendas is required for the Indian Himalayan region (IHR) and this could be achieved through  maintenance of the proper tourist capacity in every tourist place of the IHR. This could help in minimizing mainly the generation of solid waste, and pollution level in the water, air and destruction of biodiversity, the report noted. 

Demand for tourism has exaggerated the pressure on hill stations and is becoming a major concern for change in land use/land cover.

According to a study conducted in Manali, Himachal Pradesh built-up area has increased from 4.7 per cent to 15.7 per cent during 1989 to 2012. At the same time, exponential increase in the number of tourists from 1.4 to 28 lakhs from 1980 to 2011, respectively confirms excessive pressure of tourism in the region. Even, number of hotels has also been increased over the years indicating a loss of greenery and biodiversity in the region.

There is the "need to pre-empt the disastrous effects of unregulated tourism and learn lessons from the over-exploited tourist destinations of the state and devise mechanisms to help achieve tourism growth in the landscape in a sustainable manner, having minimal impacts on biodiversity, while providing sustainable livelihood options for the local community," according to the report by GBNIHE.

Note: The report June 3, 2022 was made available online on the NGT site, June 16, 2022