A report by city-based organisation TERRE Policy Centre on Kaas Plateau — one of the 39 World Natural Heritage Sites in the Western Ghats — notes that while the site received highest revenue from visitors’ fees in 2016, the large number of visitors may adversely affect the plateau.
The UNESCO World Heritage Committee had recognised Kaas plateau as a heritage site in 2012. Since then, thousands of tourists, nature enthusiasts, researchers and wild flower lovers from around the world have visited the plateau. Kaas plateau is home to around 350 flowering plants, including species listed as ‘rare, endemic and threatened’ by the Botanical Survey of India and International Union for Conservation of Nature.
The report was put together by the TERRE Policy Centre, with active but non-financial support from UNESCO. Outlining the problems due to the influx of too many visitors, Rajendra Shende, chairman of TERRE Policy Centre, said, “Due to lack of awareness about the significance of the place, grave concerns over trampling down the flowering plants and threats of increasing constructions near the plateau have been expressed by many researchers. Since 2012, the local community has worked tirelessly for conservation of Kaas Plateau and made all-out efforts to attract tourists.
“However, 2016 was the most trying and challenging year in terms of the more than expected inflow of tourists, lack of awareness among them about responsible tourism, inadequate understanding about the ‘carrying capacity’ of the plateau in terms of number of tourists, particularly during the season, gaps in communications within and outside the JFMC, differential understanding of the roles and responsibilities of the villagers, JFMCs and the Indian Forest Act, and also lack of the relevant indices to measure the progress”.
The Centre has been working with the local communities around Kaas, and with local NGOs from 2011, towards conservation and sustainable living. It has also worked closely with the Joint Forest Management Committee (JFMC) and held annual events for community dialogues with local villagers, and others.
The report points out that while the increase in parking and entry rates by JFMC last year had helped reduce the number of visitors to some extent, given the ‘carrying capacity’ of the plateau, it was necessary to restrict the number of tourists further. “The need to fix the… carrying capacity in advance each year, depending on the infrastructure, is a top priority,” said Shende, adding that the plateau saw the highest number of vehicles in 2016.
“The four-month blooming season is the only opportunity for local communities to earn through small businesses that cater to the tourists. The rest of the year, people keep looking for work and face hard times due to the lack of steady income,” said Vishnu Kirdat, chairman of JFMC, adding that with the increase in entry fees, the Committee should be able to provide basic facilities such as toilets, proper roads and easy transport service.
Ashok Kurale, a member of JFMC, shared that once tourist season was over, additional activities were conducted by the communities to preserve the natural heritage of the plateau. “We collected lots of solid waste, especially plastic, glass bottles and fast food wrappers… we also organised a tree plantation programme in the forest patches, which received a good response from all six villages,” he said.
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