Dr. Latha Bhaskar, the project coordinator, Community Environment Resources Center (CERC), Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and Environment (ATREE), has been seriously engaged in research studies on sustainable tourism. In this article she shares few of her findings.The greatest challenge in dealing with the multidimensional problems in the backwater sector stems from our inability to generate the necessary synergy and convergences among the numerous stakeholders. It is high time to think about how to balance growth with wise use of resources and engage with these issues in a progressive manner. This is especially true and significant in the case of tourism industry, due to its dependence on the delicate ecology of the backwaters. The long-term sustenance of tourismin the region depends on the strategies adopted today. The conservation and development policies need to bee reviewed and restructured in this context, to address the pressing environmental challenges of the region.
The State Government initiative of sustainable tourism in Vembanad is centered on Kumarakom panchayath alone. The rest of the panchayths and municipalities which scattered around the lake were totally ignored. And the environmental concerns in these sustainable tourism approaches also ignored.
There is failure to create convergence platforms for action including various stakeholders. Private industries created the infrastructure and are keen in maintaining the same within their four walls and they ignore the surroundings. They also exploit the resources and often pollute the same without much concern about the future sustainability. Making them socially responsible in the real sense of the term is very much significant to conserve the lake and the wetlands.
The houseboat industry has to be brought under strict monitoring mechanism to evaluate the real performance and infuse check measures. Some issues cited by other stakeholders using the lake are listed below.
Illegal houseboats without License operate in the lake exceeding the carrying capacity of the lake. Many of these houseboats do not have biotoilet or have only inactive biotoilet and the untreated toilet waste is directly deposited to the lake. Shikaharas and small boats with outboard engines cause oil spillage to the Lake (Kerosene) and harm the biodiversity.
Plastic bottles, plastic plates/package materials and even used condoms are thrown to the lake from houseboats which float around for some time and ultimately settles down on the bottom of the lake and heaps of such materials cover the bottom of the lake doing harm to the biodiversity.
Proliferating hotels and resorts in the banks do not have appropriate waste disposal facilities and they push out the untreated effluents and wastes to the lake.
Illegal reclamation of the lake for building resorts and hotels.
Such irresponsible behavior by majority of the players paints a picture of exploitation and destruction of the nature. There are definitely exceptions and few best practices, but they are too few to bring any definite impacts. Unless self imposed check measures are taken to stop such destructive practices, the future of tourism or any other livelihood option here will not sustain for long.
Local self governments can play effective control measures. The situation demands immediate intervention on a priority basis. The industry which invested lavishly on the sector should take the initiative to exercise self control to safeguard the environmental concerns of the area.
They can also initiate to create convergent platforms for combined action involving all other stakeholders and players in the area. The significance of local communities should not be ignored in this context. So the question of ‘Who will bell the cat’ should begin from the tourism industry itself as the leading player and that will make tourism really sustainable.