More bad than good in Uttarakhand camping, river rafting?

March 31st, 2008 - 10:36 am ICT by admin  

Bangalore, March 31 (IANS) River rafting and camping along the Ganga in Uttarakhand is leaving behind a trail of negative socio-cultural impacts, cautions a study on the subject. “Tourism needs to be sensitive to local environmental and cultural norms and beliefs for it to be accepted by the local people and promote sustainable development,” argues a study published in Current Science, a journal brought out in Bangalore.

Before 1996, there were just two river camping sites - at Kaudiyala-Shivpuri and Byasi, 35 km upstream from Rishikesh - owned by the Uttar Pradesh government’s Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam. Besides, there were two private river campaign sites, at Brahmpuri and Shivpuri.

“River rafting and camping along the Ganga between Byasi and Shivpuri in Uttarakhand is only about 15 years old, and the mushrooming of new camping sites is a recent phenomenon,” says the study by Nehal A. Farooquee, Tarun K. Budal and R.K. Maikhuri of the Almora-based G.B. Pant Institute of Himalayan Environment and Development.

“Negative socio-cultural impacts include increased out-migration, frustration among the youth and cultural degeneration,” it says.

It concedes that tourism has however meant income generation, employment opportunities from camping and rafting, infrastructure and social development.

“Though a majority of the villagers are in favour of such activities because they draw direct and indirect economic benefit from them, one section felt that there was more damage done to the environment and that their traditional social and cultural fabric was being threatened.”

It points out there are restrictions in place to protect the environment - wood to be procured from authorised sources, non-use of detergents for clothes and utensils and surprise inspections of camps.

But camp operators violate rules by using more area of the beach than allotted and making toilets near the living tents, close to the sand bank.

More people entering the region is heightening the ecological imbalance, suggests the study.

“The widening of the existing Badrinath-Rishikesh highway, the increasing vehicular movement on this road, and construction of houses, shops and hotels have added to the ecological disturbance,” it says.

Popular campsites are found to impact the vegetation, soil compaction and existing water channels.

Wildlife has got displaced due to the “bright colours of tents, toilet tents, rafts and loud music and lights in and around campsites”, adds the study.

One survey found that animals used to be frequently spotted by the riverside earlier but are now not visible “for months”, especially during the camping and rafting season. On the other hand, there are more monkeys and wild boars foraging for leftovers at campsites.

“The quantum of garbage generated by tourists at Shivpuri, Singtalli and Brahmpuri is a major concern and needs immediate quantification,” says the study.

It points out that the traditional exchange of livestock and grains and maintenance of animal diversity by these villagers “has also suffered drastically”.

Says the study: “A few villages also find it difficult to cremate dead bodies, as they are located near the camp sites.”

It adds: “It is interesting to note that the villagers find more negative impacts than positive ones, and have concluded that in due course their status would be reduced to daily-wage labourers from farmers.”

“Tourism on the banks of the river Ganga has become a double-edged activity due to the heavy influx of tourists and lack of proper implementation of rules and regulations,” says the study.

Current Science comes out in collaboration with the Indian Academy of Sciences. It is intended as a medium for “communication and discussion of important issues that concern science and scientific activity” with a primarily Indian focus.

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