Activists are arguing that natural spots ‘developed’ for tourism are compromising ecology for economic growth.

Andhra pushes Vizag district as tourist hub but at what ecological costFile photo: Facebook/TDP
news Environment Saturday, June 02, 2018 - 12:44

The Andhra Pradesh government is going all out to promote Visakhapatnam district as a potential travel and leisure destination.

Besides a yachting festival with activities like sailing, swimming and snorkelling in the coastal city of Visakhapatnam, the district’s headquarters, the state had also hosted the Vizag Music Festival followed by the balloon festival in Araku Valley.

Plans are also afoot to develop a Buddhism circuit that can be marketed in countries like Sri Lanka, Taiwan, China and Japan.

However, ahead of World Environment Day, which falls on June 5, activists are arguing that natural spots ‘developed’ by the Andhra Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation (APTDC) are compromising ecology for economic growth and have not been able to handle the mounting trash.

“There are two things to consider when one mentions tourism. One is that it is a money-making venture which is desirable, as we need revenue. The government needs money and no one has any complaints about that. As long as it doesn’t impact locals and doesn’t decrease the quality of life in residential areas, there is no problem as such with high footfall,” says Sohan Hatangadi, a Vizag-based environmentalist.

“The other part of tourism is when the government seeks to ‘develop’ fragile and eco-sensitive areas. There is a tendency to exploit our ecological heritage. This mentality afflicts a lot of young people. They have no benchmark as they have grown up seeing plastic strewn on a beach. They think that it is dirty now and it will get dirtier in the future,” he adds.

Sohan points out that places in New Zealand, Australia and parts of Europe, they have managed to increase their revenue despite reducing footfall.

“They allow people provided there is enough organisational power to keep the place sustainable in the long run,” Sohan explains.

“There is also a flaw with the working of the APTDC. There are a few experts but most are just government officials from other departments, who then hire external consultants. Because of this, they are not able to consider the ecosystem aspect in their policy,” he adds.

The environmentalist also points out that the state government is under pressure to show growth on paper.

“They don’t have to build an Araku Valley or a shore. It is already available, so they just want to build on that. Once the investment is done, the revenue model and policy could potentially be a failure, resulting in the ecology being destroyed,” Sohan argues.

“For example, an engineer is assigned with the task of levelling the ground near a beach and building a shack, without violating Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) regulations. After that, they rent it out or give it on contract to people or companies who don’t have the equipment required to maintain it. If they do ensure it, it will not be profitable enough for them,” he explains.

Visakhapatnam is ideally situated, as 54% of the district is located in the Eastern Ghats. However, activists argue that this was also a setback.

“APDTC has a mandate to build in the agency area inhabited by adivasis, where private parties can’t. They took advantage of this and completely ruined rocks that were millions of years old by opening them up to tourists. Tourists now constantly climb on top and scribble all over the rocks,” Sohan says.

Taking the example of Chaparai, known for its scenic waterfall and ‘bamboo’ chicken, a local delicacy, Sohan points out that several tourists sit down for picnics at this spot and just strew garbage everywhere.

“This results in an unholy mess. While things like an aircraft museum or a submarine museum are fine to lease to private players, we must not feel compelled and develop an area for development’s sake. We must also be wary of selling common public property under the guise of tourism,” Sohan warns.

However, he still remains hopeful.

“Maybe in 15-20 years, the type of tourists will mature and as a state, we will aim at better spending with more responsible tourists. However, for now, this is the situation,” Sohan concludes.

‘Waste management key’

Potluri Anil Chowdary, the Managing Director of GreenWaves Environmental Solutions, classifies tourism into ‘natural’ tourism and ‘artificial’ tourism and says that the problem mainly lies with the former.

“Consider places like Araku or Lambasigni or Rushikonda Beach. If you take a 10-year graph of development around the area, there is more focus on building man-made structures even though it is a tourist spot due to its natural beauty,” Anil says. 

“It is difficult to channelise sanitation and waste management in sensitive areas. The state government, when they are targeting natural tourism, should have a proper plan to ensure sustainability,” he adds.

Taking Nainital in Uttarakhand as an example, Anil says that the administration there has placed several restrictions on the usage of plastic and vehicles, and urges the state to consider such moves.

“If you see Araku now and 10 years ago, there is a lot of change. The increase in footfall has resulted in more people coming and settling there. How does the government manage that? This is a challenge. They need to write better policy and it should not just be on paper. We must ensure that it is implemented in the area,” he says.

“In places like Araku, all the tourist spots are in under-developed areas where there is not much awareness on how to handle waste. Locals are more interested in the economic benefit and opportunities from tourism. In such cases, awareness campaigns also need to be conducted so that the government can educate the people on waste management,” Anil adds.

Govt confident

The state, however, is confident that its tourism efforts are ecologically sustainable in the long run and has adopted a strict policy to dispose off waste.

Speaking to TNM, Kaushik Mukherji, lead consultant to the Ministry of Tourism, Andhra Pradesh, said, “The specific corporation of every district has to be the main player in terms of execution of the proposed plans. While the plan can be overarching like an umbrella, the reality will be how well it is executed on the ground. That’s why the brief that goes out to the corporations of municipalities in every district is perhaps more important than the larger plan.”

Kaushik is all praise for the work done by the Greater Visakhapatnam Municipal Corporation (GVMC).

“Having said that, I can vouch that if one walks around the streets of Visakhapatnam at 4 am in the morning, they will see something that I haven’t seen anywhere in the country. Hundreds of municipal workers, without any supervision from the top, can be seen cleaning the streets. It is unbelievable. The GVMC and other municipalities are committed to ensure that the cleanliness and sustainability challenges of an area are met on a daily basis,” he adds.

Praising GVMC workers as ‘unsung stars’ who spend a lot of time to ensure that the city’s beaches are clean, Kaushik also agrees that littering is deep-rooted in the public.

“You have an economy that fosters bottling companies and you have people who have a fairly low sense of responsibility towards the environment, who just toss their packets and bottles. Even getting people to segregate garbage in their own homes is tough. The mentality is such that we clean only our own backyard, that too only on a need basis,” Kaushik says.

When asked about what a potential solution could be, Kaushik says that the state government has been taking preventive as well as curative measures.

“Under the first category, we have ensured that enough signages and garbage bins are provided. We have been raising awareness, but the bin is still not used or it is abused and things are strewn around,” Kaushik explains.

“Now coming to the curative part, we do have enough resources to ensure that garbage is meticulously picked up every day. This is the same across all 13 districts of the country. The municipal workers and local authorities have an innate sense of responsibility, which is visible,” he adds.

Breaking down some statistics, Kaushik says that 91% of travellers coming into the district are from the eastern part of the country and a lion’s share is from West Bengal.

“When it comes to sustainability and ecological sustainability, as a state, we must embrace the traveller, instead of forcing awareness campaigns down their throats. Despite that, we are ensuring that nature is being preserved and steps are being taken on a daily basis,” the lead consultant says.

“At the tourism department, our business is to ensure happiness, while also ensuring sustainability. Already, some areas in Visakhapatnam have moved to solar power for their energy needs. Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu is also very clear that we must go green and adopt future practices today itself.”

 

Read:

From yachting to snorkelling: How Vizag is becoming a travel and leisure destination

Andhra's new tourism pitch: Selling the story of Araku coffee

 

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