In a major blow to Himachal Pradeshs drive to nurture the states eco-tourism potential,the Union Ministry of Environment and Forest has imposed a ban on state governments taking-up non-forest activities,including eco-tourism projects on forest lands.
The Himachal Pradesh government has already approved 10 eco-tourism projects in the state to attract tourists typically designed to cater to those keen on being close to flora,fauna,and cultural heritage and to minimise the adverse effects of traditional tourism on the environment. Some of the these projects have proved to be a big draw.
In a letter,Environment and Forest ministry said,Eco-tourism has been regarded as a non-forest activity. And,as such raising permanent structures to promote eco-tourism amounts to violation of the provisions of the Forest (Conservation) Act 1980.
The move,which comes close on the heels of a recent High Court order allowing state governments to go ahead with eco-tourism plans,has put the Himachal Pradesh government in a quandary. The state government had drawn-up an ambitious plan to link tourism with forest conservation while showcasing its forests to the visitors through eco-tourism.
This is really unacceptable as eco-tourism has been recognised the worldover as a key subsistence activity for those who have surrendered their rights in the forests and provide help in conservation of forests. How will we create their interests in forest protection unless they are provided with an alternative means of livelihood and income, said Additional Chief Secretary (Forest) Avey Shukla.
Shukla claims that he had already taken up the issue with Inspector General of Forests and asked him to review the decision. Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal,on his next visit to Delhi is also expected to meet Union Minister Jairam Ramesh to seek withdrawal of the letter sent to all states.
C D Singh,a Senior Assistant Inspector General of Forests in the ministry,in the letter sent last month, has in particular come down heavily on the governments allowing non-forest activities without the prior approval of the Ministry. Singh has asked the Haryana government in particular,to provide details of all such activities undertaken in forest areas and told other state governments including Himachal Pradesh to refrain from allowing similar violations on forest land.
The latter also sought details about the officers who had sanctioned the eco-tourism projects in the forest areas and allowed construction of permanent facilities for it.