Towards the vision of becoming a prime eco-tourism destination of India, Uttar Pradesh has planned the development of nine special eco-tourism circuits. The state has an abundance of flora and fauna to achieve the vision but does it have the will and capacity to do so
The state of Uttar Pradesh is trying harder to plume itself as promising ecotourism destination. The Ganges Basin, Narora Dam, where one can sight river dolphins, the Chambal ravines and Dudhwa National park are just some of current eco attractions of the state.
No doubt, the state boasts a fair share of wildlife and eco-points with 16,620 sq km of forest cover, 24 bird sanctuaries, 11 wildlife sanctuaries and a national park. The state is now planning to consolidate and link these appropriately to develop nine special eco-tourism circuits across the state into UP’s Green Circuits. The state’s Forest Department, with help of experts has set about this mission.
The State Government says that an important aspect of this initiative is to develop and provide local people with meaningful and productive employment opportunities. The government site says: “We would uplift the locals well-being, and boost the tourism sector in the state.”
This poverty alleviation plan includes training people as guides, cooks, tourist cabin housekeeping, etc. The government also wants to protect and enhance the state’s tribal heritage by suitable showcasing. Another area the government wants to support is local art and craft making, forest produce, jewellery making, etc.
State’s definition of Eco-Tourism
The state’s official website says, “Ecotourism is responsible travel to natural areas and seeks to promote and support the understanding, appreciation and conservation of the environment and culture, raising awareness for biodiversity and for local cultures emphasizing on preserving their indigenous features. It also promotes employment as well as economic and social development, acting as an alternative income source for economically and socially marginalized people living in hard economic situations.”
The following features are what the Policy aims to cover:
1) Travel to area/site having natural attraction
2) Activities with minimal impact on the environment
3) Nature tourism helping in sustainable development
4) Tourism in green areas that leaves favorable impact on local communities
5) Type of tourism that helps in understanding of the environment and local culture
6) Tourism that do not adversely affect the local biodiversity
7) Promotes conservation of the environment
8) Tourism that give opportunities to the locals
Conserving the State’s Eco-system
The government is keen to establish Uttar Pradesh as a national leader in ecotourism, and provide a meaningful and unique learning experience to ensure natural and cultural conservation and meaningful involvement of local communities. Given the destructive nature of tourism in many parts of the country, the government is emphasizing its commitment to uphold existing frameworks, like the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 and Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980.
The Ecotourism Policy pledges to ensure:
1) Development of community based sustainable ecotourism in nature rich areas
2) Encourage creation and development of ecofriendly infrastructure at ecotourism destinations
3) Build capacity of local communities in hospitality, showcasing culture and natural heritage interpretation and communication skills for visitor
4) Establish coordination and cooperation among all stake holders to develop and promote ecotourism destinations
5) Encourage entrepreneurship and increase employment opportunities of local people in nearby areas of ecotourism destination
6) Offer high quality learning experience to children and visitors to enjoy and appreciate nature based activities so that in future they behave responsibly for nature conservation efforts.
The Eco Hubs of UP
Sanjeev Saran, Principal Secretary (Forests) said, “The Government intends to prop up the lesser-known sanctuaries, waterfalls, wildlife and forest areas in the ecotourism package. The idea is to draw visitors to natural areas keeping in mind their conservation and at the same time improve the well-being of the locals.”
“One of the nine circuits include Lion Safari nd Riverine Circuit, which offers visitors, an opportunity to visit Bear Rescue Facility and Taj Nature Walk (both in Agra), and National Chambal Sanctuary and Lion Safari (both in Etawah). People already visit Agra for Taj Mahal and this would give them a chance to see the native vegetation and wildlife of the area,” he added.
The Eastern Wildlife Circuit covers trips to Suhelwa Wildlife Sanctuary, Kashi Wildlife Division and Parvati Bird Sanctuary. The Western Circuit covers Amangarh (Bijnor), Shivalik (Saharanpur) and Hastinapur Wildlife Sanctuary, which allows tourists to traverse through hills, undertake wild safari rides, and take nature walks while sighting tiger, elephants, sloth bear and wild boar as well as about 300 species of birds.
The Terai Tiger Circuit would take the tourists through Chuka Tiger Reserve (Pilibhit), Kishanpur Wildlife Sanctuary, Dudhwa National Park and Katarniaghat Wildlife Sanctuary. These are the areas that would give a glimpse of real wildlife of the Uttar Pradesh.
The Bundelkhand Adventure Circuit to promote tourism in the region by providing water sports, adventure tours in Vindhya and Satpura range, visits to Kalinjar fort in Banda as well as Devgarh fort and Rajghat Dam in Lalitpur, along with a pilgrimage tour to Chitrakoot.
The Vindhya Mountain Circuit would cover trip to Fossil Park, Ancient Cave paintings etc in Kaimoor Wildlife Sanctuary. The Western and Central Bird/Westland Circuits would cover various bird sanctuaries and identified wetlands that fall in the western and central part of the state. A large number of migratory birds move to these region each year.
The Ganges Basin Circuit includes visit to Narora Dam, where one can sight dolphins along the Ganga and visit to Kannauj and Bithoor range in Kanpur.
The official website of Uttar Pradesh Ecotourism too emphasizes that “It is our endeavor to showcase these natural treasures for the tourists with active participation of local communities so that the visitors can appreciate the grandeur and generosity of nature, understand the importance of recycling and curbing consumption and imbibe the culture of nature and resource conservation. This form of responsible tourism is now known as eco-tourism. Uttar Pradesh Government with its strong commitment to conservation is promoting eco-tourism to the wilderness areas of the state.”
Eco-Tourism and Poverty Alleviation
Uttar Pradesh has been one of the traditional BiMaRU (ailing) states of India along with Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. It still continue to struggle with high unemployment and poor productivity indices. So the government wants to promote eco tourism as a viable economic model as well.
“Along with promoting nature walks, our focus is on promoting conservation at these destinations. We have generated ‘nature guide’ training to 15 local community members at Katerniaghar, where about 50 Tharu women in Dudwa and Katarniaghat are undergoing training to make handicraft items, especially jewellery, through forest produce and waste,” said AK Acharya, Regional Manager, Ecotourism (UP).
Acharya further said, “Some of these training sessions have already started showing results especially among Tharu women, who haves been able to sell their produce for a good price in the neighbouring tourist spots. The Department is planning more community-based activities and encourage environmental study tours in these regions.”
Divisional Forest Officer in Chambal, Dr Anil Kumar Patel also shared with Policy Pulse a similar experience, “We are providing jobs to people who are working to save the ravines of Chambal. They were doing it for free but we have asked them to join the forest department and monitor these area. If any sign of hunting or sand mining appears they are encouraged to call the local in-charge immediately,” shared Dr Patel.
Talks Vs Realty
Talking to Policy Pulse, Rajiv Pandey, an ecologist based in Lucknow said, “the Government is planning on developing ecotourism sector because they know that in the present times these phrases sell like hot cakes, so I would like to see more action on the ground to believe their real commitment.”
He goes on to say, “And even if they do generate revenue from these nine circuits, I am not sure how much of that will be diverted towards environmental protection, UP is known to be a corrupt state.”
It is no doubt a great idea because the state has a lot more than built heritage – Agra’s mughal wonders and the Varansai ghats – but mechanisms on revenue allocation on environmental protection definitely need to be clearer.
In response to the skepticism, the government says that it does have a holistic plan. The Eco-tourism policy wants to expand its scope to not just offering destinations but an entire experience that sensitizes people to the environment. The plan is to reduce the carbon footprint in a more expansive way.
“We will discourage people from driving, and provide bicycles in the sanctuaries instead, and other eco-friendly means to travel to and within the circuits. Our focus is to remind people that the forests and humans can co-exist harmoniously. Deforestation, illegal hunting, poaching and mining should be effectively banned and money generated through constructive means without hurting our forests,” said a government official.
But skeptics of these words are many. “What about the Lion Safari in Etawah that has taken the lives of nine lions, lionesses and cubs so far! That lion safari is made to attract tourists only without genuinely caring about the animals,” said Dr Brij Kishor who is keeping keen eyes on the Safari since it was opened to the public in 2014.
Of nine lions from Gujarat’s Gir, Rajkot and Junagadh zoos in September 2014, four are now dead. Two others, brought from Hyderabad zoo, died in October and November 2014. Besides, five cubs were either stillborn or died soon after birth.
“These deaths shook the pride of the UP Chief Minister. Recently, the Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav even demanded a probe into why these lions are dying one after another. While for them it is merely arrogance involved, but it is distressing for wildlife lovers and puts a question mark on the government’s real commitment to eco-friendliness,” said Dr Kishor.
“The lions are living in a hot arid stretch of Etawah, bare of any big tree, without water pools, refrigerated food because no animal is there which they can hunt and eat. Most of the lions and lionesses are ailing from canine distemper virus, the same disease that killed Kuber (one of the lions) and many others.
The Ministry of Environment and Forests had initially not cleared the plan. When it got clearance, the place wasn’t at all prepared for raising wildlife that did not belong to that area,” added Dr Kishor.
As part of the suggestion, Dr AK Sinha, former member of UP Wildlife Board said, “Development is a regular process, no one can deny it. But if the development proceeds in a sustainable way then it will create more opportunities to save wildlife, rather affecting it adversely. Not only will the national parks and sanctuaries but the roadsides areas also abuzz with life, the idea of ecotourism develop smartly.”
“First of all, officers need to understand the fine line between eco-tourism and wildlife tourism. Providing many national parks and sanctuaries can boost wildlife tourism. Eco-tourism is much deeper in sense. It not only involves wildlife sighting but also when people use green means to travel, forest friendly clothes while walking in tracks, waste minimum water and other bio resources etc,” Dr Sinha, told Policy Pulse.
He further added, “If we are talking about Wildlife tourism then there are many smaller things that state can do and still make it look wildlife tourism. They can make small patches of native flowers in the sanctuary which would attract different types of butterflies, native insects, and even birds. This is type of wildlife that remains neglected most of the time but by doing it, state may save those native plants too that are not frequent to sight these days.”
“Roadside plantation would reduce the impact of pollution and these plants should be that flora which tourist will find nowhere else. This is a type of floral tourism, another part of ecotourism. Instead of mowed grass, native medicinal plants could be planted, near road edges,” said Dr Sinha.
Agreeing with the Eco-tourism vision of circuits, Dr Sinha said, “Wildlife corridors should be developed across the state to join larger areas of similar wildlife habitat. Corridors would allow the movement or trespassing of the animals without disturbing the vehicles. By doing this people can witness the native wildlife while traveling from one city to another. And it will also provide a greener balance to the state.”
But how much a government steeped in nepotism, sleaze and corruption manage to implement a policy for the genuine health and wealth production of its poor and marginalized remains to be seen.