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Eco-Tourism policy in limbo

It is not enough to go on repeating that Jammu and Kashmir has immense potential for tourism or eco-tourism. What matters is translating the concepts into practice. Tourism is a concept that needs practical implementation and not just imagination without action.There are essentially some fundamental drawbacks in state policy towards eco-tourism. Whenever the Government circles or the senior functionaries in the Department of Tourism talk of widening and deepening the activities of Tourism Department, it remains confined to the valley of Kashmir and its known tourist destinations. This is a very short vision of State tourism. We need to remember that all the three regions are rich in terms of potential for eco-tourism and therefore whenever a vision paper on eco-tourism is to be considered for finalization all the three regions have to taken into account. Not only that, why should the Tourism Department remain confined to two or three places in the Valley traditionally considered the tourist destinations of much interest.
Conceptually eco-tourism would be highly suitable for our State given our geography, topography and natural environs. What does eco-tourism actually mean and how is it slightly different from normal tourism? This has been defined in the draft policy scripted by the Forest Department and then placed by the Government in the public domain to know the views of the interested persons in civil society. It is a different matter that no tangible response has come from the civil society and that has led to non-seriousness on the part of the Government in pursuing the draft policy to formalization stage. The definition runs as this: For identification of sites and development of facilities, the draft policy lays thrust on encouraging use of eco-friendly materials naturally available in the locality for construction, avoiding use of concrete structures and buildings at eco-tourism sites, providing appropriate facilities to meet the basic needs of stay of the tourists, promotion of renewable energy systems and water harvesting as far as possible and ensuring compliance with the provisions of J&K Forest (Conservation) Act while developing facilities in connection with eco-tourism. Actually eco-tourism concept originated in the western countries where it was belatedly realized that using locally available building material like timber, stones, bricks mud etc, ought to replace concrete boiling material in order to preserve the environment and ecology of the area. Unfortunately wanton destruction of great natural wealth of our state meaning the tall trees and other forest products has caused great damage to our environs and to economy both.
It is sad that the draft of eco-tourism has not been finally approved. Most interesting aspect is that eco-tourism was included as one of the strategies in the J&K State Forest Policy 2011 and under its Section 4.13 steps have been explained to promote and popularize eco-tourism in the State. However, this aspect of the Forest Policy has largely remained un-implemented till date. Had this provision been implemented eco-tourism potential could have been tapped up to large extent during the past six years.
In final analysis, authorities concerned have to show seriousness in promoting eco-tourism in the State with so many benefits. It generates economy and flow of money, it provides employment opportunities and it leads to the creation of a tourist-friendly environment which we need the most. It may also be mentioned here that owing to climatic, topographic and cultural variations among the three regions of the State, it would be advisable to make the draft report comprehensive so as to encompass specificities of eco-tourism vision in all the three regions of the State.

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