Saturday saw the Karnataka State Tourism Department declaring the year 2017 as the “Year of the Wild”, in a bid to promote wildlife tourism in the state.
In the campaign launched by Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah and Tourism Minister Priyank Kharge, it was announced that nine eco-trekking routes in the Western Ghats will soon be opened up for tourists and nature enthusiasts.
Trained personnel will educate the trekkers of the importance of conservation along the route.
Speaking to The News Minute, Minister Kharge said that trekking is one among the many activities charted out as part of the campaign. Aero sports festival in Mysuru, surfing in the beaches of Udupi and Mangalore, are the other activities that will be part of the campaign.
Even when the forest department has reportedly denied being part of the campaign that goes contrary to the minister’s claim, environmentalists worry that opening up the ecologically sensitive Western Ghats is nothing but a disastrous move.
Bengaluru-based naturalist and environmentalist Ullas Kumar believes it is essential to open up new places in order to make people aware that they need to conserve the nature, but the government must not, in the process, do more harm to the environment.
"Once tourism comes to a place, we all know what happens to that spot in the long run. Once we open up new places to the public, it is not possible at all to revive the ecological damage that we end up doing to the place," he opines.
Ullas points out that the Western Ghats, being an ecologically sensitive area, makes it all the most necessary to protect it the way it is.
"As a tourist, many would think that they are paying for it and that justifies the damage they do to the place. We cannot tamper with the Ghats anymore. Instead of opening up new spots, they should in fact cut down on the entrance fee at other places including Bandipur forest, to make it affordable to the middle class. There are a number of other places in the state that continue to be unexplored, like the backwaters. Unlike the backwaters in Kerala that is a seasoned tourist spot, backwaters in Karnataka remain to be unexplored," he points out.
However, in an attempt to dispel concerns of the campaign posing a threat to ecologically sensitive areas, Priyank Kharge said that not all the nine locations are situated in the sensitive areas.
"We are opening up four new locations and the remaining routes are already in place. Some of these are even close to the city, like the Nandi Hills and Skandagiri. Moreover, the trails will be short ones, and not long ones that extend into the sensitive areas. After all, the motive of this campaign is conserving the ecology," Kharge said.
Ullas also observes that the argument of the government that the campaign will in fact educate the trekkers of the importance of conservation, is itself flawed. He believes that people who are genuinely interested in conservation will find ways to reach out to unexplored areas and take efforts to protect them.