Tourism in India is now a booming industry. It contributes around 7% of India’s GDP. However despite being a prolific 200 billion dollar industry its impact on environment is scarcely studied. Till now there is no study to quantify the impact of tourism on environment.
Recently people started voicing their concern for Leh Ladakh, which is unable to cope up with the increasing number of tourists. There is 100% increase in footfall since the year 1974 when the place was first opened for tourism, putting severe pressure on already fragile ecosystem.
In recent years Ladakhi people have dealt with water shortage, which was once a rare phenomenon.
Environment crisis of Ladakh is now well known but it is only attributed as a result of climate change, ignoring the recent changes in social fabric of the area.
In terms of waste management the region is now in a mess. Traditional Ladakhis household never needed sewer drains before, as they used compost pits for excretory purposes. Now to cater the need of the tourists more resource intensive alternatives are being used. In the absence of proper sewer disposal mechanism all this sewage enters in the water streams and thus contaminating what is a already scarce resource.
The area is overburdened with the garbage generated by thousands of tourists visiting each year.
The Hindu an English daily newspaper published an article “tourists as litterbugs” highlighting this problem. Tourists were blamed for the bad situation of tourist spots.
For the last few “nature based tourism” is booming. It was supposed to make people aware of our natural heritage, but instead it started threatening some pristine and fragile ecosystems. Sure it’s a boon for many mountainous regions as it provides an important source of cash income. But this also created a challenge of maintaining the sanctity and beauty of some fragile ecosystems. The pile of plastic bags, bottles, toilet papers and remnants of used toilets is becoming a common site in many popular trek routes.
Have you ever thought what happens to the garbage that tourists leaves behind? It threatens wildlife. Plastic waste gets washed off downstream and pollutes water bodies and drainage channels. I sometimes wonder what kind of nature based tourism are we promoting? Shouldn’t the purpose of such tourism is to connect people with nature?
On Feb 22, 2016 Ministry of tourism launched an android app “Swachh Paryatan”. The idea was to promote cleanliness in the tourist destinations. This scheme covers 25 tourist spots in different states. Visitors can use Swachh Paryatan app to report any unclean area, in and around these 25 tourist destinations. However despite investing money in different schemes and policies the sanitation situation of tourist attractions in our country is not improving.
Technological fix like “Swachh paryatan” or even much-hyped “Sawachh Bharat Abhiyan” (Clean India Mission) is not going to solve this problem unless different stakeholders share responsibility of maintaining important natural and cultural landscapes.
It is important to sensitize tourists about the environment and make them realize their responsibility in keeping the tourist spots clean. Tour operators should make stringent policies for both visitors and staff against littering and government should regulate number of tourists visiting fragile areas like Leh Ladakh.
Schemes like “Swachh paryatan” will further burden already burdened municipality workers and it cannot be implemented in many areas. Instead, the municipality workers should have the power to impose fine on “litterbugs”.
Here are a few tips to become a good tourist.
How to be a good tourist? Don’t be a “litterbug”
- Avoid taking unnecessary packaging
- If there is no bin, bring back your trash
- Properly dispose biodegradable waste on site
- During camping make sure toilets are away from water bodies and cover it with dust after use.
- Use resources careful, some places are water scarce
- Do not disturb vegetation or wildlife
- Use home stays instead of hotels
- Be respectful to the place and to the people