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Escalating threat to biodiversity, wildlife: Steep rise in footfall in eco-sensitive zones

By Shankar Sharma* 

Two recent news items (click here and here) have brought focus once again on our inability/ indifference to satisfactorily address the ever escalating threats due to climate change.
Whereas it is true that a lot more needs to be done by India towards meeting its own declarations and implied obligations to its own people, as well as to the global community, in the context of climate change, it is equally critical that the political leaders and the bureaucrats in the govt. should do a lot more in developing and implementing suitable policies in sectors like energy, industry, transport and tourism, water management, forests etc. so as to minimise the environmental impacts.
The concerns with regard to the steep rise in footfall in eco-sensitive areas are not just restricted to Andhra Pradesh, but is reported to be true across the country.  Whereas, the Union Government has focused on promoting the tourism sector and, hence, has given the status of an industry to tourism sector, the serious ramifications of such promotion to tourism on the general ecology of those areas seem to have not been considered objectively.
The societal level consequences of such steep increase in footfall not only in eco-sensitive areas, but in other tourist spots also cannot be ignored in the overall interest of our people.  Major consequences are: demand for increase in the number of highways, express ways, trains, buses, private vehicles and taxis, airports etc.; increased demand for hotels, water, energy, petroleum products; wastes and pollutants in those areas/ places;  increased pollution/ contamination of air, water and soil; increase in noise levels; traffic snarls and law and order problems etc.
It should be taken into account that none of these consequences can be in the true interest of the overall health of our natural resources, and certainly cannot be a part of any action plan on climate change.  It will not be out of place to note here what the draft National Resource Efficiency Policy (NREP), 2019 by MoEF&CC had said:
"In the endeavor for economic growth, natural resources have been largely indiscriminately exploited, adversely impacting the environment and biodiversity.  Further, cross linkages between resource use, climate change, land degradation and biodiversity loss has been scientifically well established.  Meeting the demand for products and services, of rising population with increased aspirations has led to mostly indiscriminate exploitation of natural resources, and would further lead to increased pressure on resources resulting in environmental degradation, thereby raising sustainability concerns.”
Increased promotion of travel related activities and tourism should be considered in a larger context
Increased promotion of travel related activities in general, and of tourism in general, should be diligently considered in such a larger context, and not from the perspective of an increased GDP growth rate alone.
If we objectively consider most policies and practices in any sector of our economy, it is hard to identify any particular economic activity at the national level as leading to reduction in the GHG emissions, or in reducing pollution/ contamination of air, water or soi, or in protecting / enhancing the forest cover; or protecting the fresh water bodies.
The annual air pollution scare in Delhi and in many north Indian cities, and frequent reports of water scarcity/ droughts, as in being reported from Karnataka at present, can only highlight some of the associated concerns for our people.  With such  irrational/ unsubstantiated policies continuing, it is hard to imagine how our country can have much reduced pollution/ contamination of air, water and soil, even if we are to reach $10 - 20 Trillion economy.  And hence, can it be a much healthier place than what it is now? 
In this context, what perplexes most is the question whether our bureaucrats, political leaders, and other community leaders are continuing to ignore the consequences to the overall health of their own family members in the next few years, if not immediately?
So much for the commitment of the governments at the states and the centre to the global community as well as our own people in the context of calamitous threats of climate change.
Now, what is the role of civil society in such a scenario?  How to persuade the media houses, elite science institutes, and political leaders to provide adequate focus on these associated concerns?  What can we, as individuals, do about it ?
Power & Climate Policy Analyst



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