Hill station conservation policy needed for India


(eTN) – Getting away from crowds doesn’t always happen when visiting Indian hill stations, especially during vacations. The immense pressure of crowds on services and facilities has a telling effect on infrastructure. During the course of the year, I visited three famous hill stations in different parts of India, and one word comes to mind – claustrophobia.

Housing and hotels are all cluttered together. The ratio of tourists increases dramatically with probably a ratio of ten tourists for every local being present. Traffic jams are all too common, and noise levels are what one witnesses outside local railway stations in big cities of India. The cost of accommodation reaches the sky with per-night charges hovering between US$150-200 per night on a half-board basis.

It’s improbable that things will change in the near future at either Nainital, Shimla, or Ooty, where each of the so named has a common set of issues that are visible at other hill stations, while some issues remain unique. Tea gardens have all but disappeared from Ooty town, barely an inch of space is available at the higher and lower reaches of Nainital, and Shimla sees a huge inflow of weekenders from surrounding cities and town.

Distances between resorts and dwellings leave a lot to be desired. Approach roads being narrow are a cause for concern simple because traffic becomes unmanageable during long weekends, seasonal holidays, and vacations. Day visitors fill up coffers of restaurants and shopping outlets, but does precious little to reduce inconveniences. A more practical approach is to visit locations during the off-season months.

Do we need a hill station preservation policy for India? The answer is an emphatic yes. Over the next few years, renowned hill stations will make way for new hill stations, and alternatively, famous hill stations will see revenue models decrease due to the influx of charter/group tourists availing themsevles of facilities at lower prices. Average room rates will fall, employement will be available at discounted prices, and inventory of lodging facilities will increase with more and more land owners disposing their properties for construction. Farming, agriculture, and cultivation will be deemed unprofitable.

On the other hand, untouched locations in the vicinity of about 50 kilometers enjoying spectacular views will come under the scanner, once again bringing in unplanned development and destruction.

Mashobra will be under pressure at Shimla, while Bhowali and the Sattal region in Nainital and Glendale, lying quite close to Ooty, will see a similar fate if there is no clear-cut policy of development of new hill stations. What needs to done?

First, solving an existential problem by bringing about unplanned development serves no worthwhile interest. In fact, a planned scientific approach bringing minds together will pave the way for sustained growth over the next fifty years instead of a myopic vision lasting no more than half a decade.

Second, a minimum percentage of land area should be out of bounds for development. Technically this means for every acre of land, only 50% should be allowed for development with the remaining 50% reserved for greens and treated as a “no development zone.” The net effect is tourists, visitors, and local inhabitants will enjoy privacy and non-intrusion.

Alternative means of power and energy generation must be encouraged. Solar and wind, as well as hydro, are the best means, with solar providing an instant solution for water heating, which is much needed in the hill stations. Often misconceived to be costly, solar heaters will ultimately get rid of substituting firewood cut from surrounding forests for heating water.

Clear cut rules need to be followed regarding home-stay properties and resorts with an equal division maintained between locals and luxury resorts. Equal opportunity ensures caretakers are not outsiders, and insiders have greater access to better earning opportunities.

Treatment of waste and better approach paths need to be planned in advance – this doesn’t always happen with the “chicken arriving before the egg” syndrome being commonplace. We are certainly not the pioneers in devising methods for recycling waste and could do well to enter into collaborations with other countries following sustainable and user-friendly systems.

Many hill stations suffer from serious water issues during the summer months and/or when tourist traffic reaches its peak. Bringing back the garbage accumulated on hill stations during one’s visit is probably a good idea and is followed in many countries the world over.

A properly drafted and executed tourism policy would go a long way in ensuring that the answer to the future does not lie in going for man-made artificial hill stations; instead it’s protecting and preserving the gifts of nature in its natural form and allowing its exposition to humans on a scientific and sustainable basis.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: The intent of this article is to ensure hill stations in India when planned to follow a systemic approach of development. Renowned hill stations need to thoroughly re-examine conservation policies and ensure their “shelf life” doesn’t diminish over the years. In the desire to provide every room with a view, the line could be overstepped, thereby stretching other parameters beyond reasonable limits. This needs to be avoided.