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Sustainable tourism – A case study of Nainital,Uttarakhand

Tourists definitely play an important role in a region’s economy as they bring a net inflow of money. There are examples of regions which are dependent solely on tourists for driving their economy. To minimize the negative impacts and pollution that results due to rigorous tourism activities, concepts of eco tourism and environmental tourism came into place.

Sustainable tourism goes one step further and makes tourism ecologically sustainable over a long run. It focuses on but not limited to conservation of natural resources and to conserve and cherish the value of local traditions, customs and cultural heritage.

According to the World Tourism Organization, Sustainable Tourism is:

“envisaged as leading to management of all resources in such a way that economic, social, and aesthetic needs can be fulfilled while maintaining cultural integrity, essential ecological processes, biological diversity, and life support systems”.

While both eco-tourism and sustainable tourism may seem concurrent terms, Eco Tourism aims at tourism targeted at nature with the objective to bring about improvement in lives of people and not causing any harm to the environment whereas sustainable tourism is much broader in scope and encompasses many aspects of tourism in itself. The functions of both are largely the same.

The tourist is as good as a local person when he visits a place. If a local flouts the rule of the law, the immediate reaction of the tourist is to follow him because he thinks that if the local can do it, so can I. In other words, the actions of the local people are imitated by tourists, if a place is such that nobody follows traffic rules, will a tourist follow them? He realises that the rules are not stringent in that particular place and starts flouting the rules himself.

Nainital lakeTake the case of Nainital, a popular tourist destination of Uttarakhand that was being affected by pollution as a result of the negative impacts of the Tourism industry. Nainital is entirely dependent on the tourism industry with little production happening in the town. It is the main livelihood of the people. The people of Nainital realized the ill effects of pollution which would one day threaten the very existence of the town itself. A petition was filed. Following are the excerpts of the Court order:

“Nainital, a beautiful butterfly, is said to be turning into an ugly caterpillar….The growing traffic, with the growth of the town and big turnout of tourists, has contributed much to the environmental pollution. The increased traffic has in its wake brought noise pollution.

The Court setup an enquiry committee, whose findings were as given below:

• Heavy vehicles like buses on the Mall Road and the bridle paths. They also enter Malli Tal and Talli Tal Bazars. I myself have seen it happening in Nainital, when I used to board a bus for Delhi, it used to be invariably from the Mall Road although the road was not meant to face such heavy traffic as it was already crowded by the tourists taking a stroll in the evening.

• The lake water was found full of human waste and horse dung and other wastes, as already noted. The horse stand having been allowed to be erected near the lake and trotting around the lake being permissible, the report states that horse dung in abundance enters and reaches the lake. The tourists who enjoy boating in the lake throw felt over edibles and polythene-bags in the lake.

• Hill cutting and destruction of forests was confirmed. Construction of buildings is going on unauthorised and in a big way. The Commissioner has mentioned about illegal construction of office even by Kuman Mandal Vikas Nigam of the State Government and Lake Development Authority, which constructed several triple-storeyed flats which have been declared as dangerous.

Following the petition, an order was passed by the Bench stating that heavy vehicular movement be banned on the Mall Road, care to be taken that horse dung should not reach the lake, the Horse Stand was subsequently shifted far away from the main town to its present location at Land’s End. I was a student in Nainital when this shifting took place. Horse riding was very popular amongst the tourists in Nainital and much hue and cry was raised; the horse owners pelted stones at the police.

It is sad that the Horse owners lost their income but sometimes decisions need to be taken keeping in mind the larger interests of public. I myself have witnessed less dirtiness on the roads, earlier the roads were covered with horse dung which not only spreads pollution but is a primary source of disease too.

A movement called the “MISSION BUTTERFLY” was launched calling for action from the local community of Nainital.  It is an integrated solid waste management program (ISWM) promoting the whole-of-life (cradle to grave) management of solid material wastes with strategies for recycling and minimisation and is owned and managed by the community notionally divided into clusters (Swacchtha Samiti) of about one thousand persons (say 250 families).

The key features of the scheme are the well connected Women’s Health Workers (ASHAs) who already operate in the community; the use of dedicated Jumbo Bins (green for bio-degradable, ie. composting and blue coloured for recycling and disposal); garbage collectors; the provision of services for support and training; and various systems for waste management.

It requires the collection, segregation and management of waste; the use of composting and recycling facilities including privately maintained dry-storage facilities. Income is generated from the collection fees, fees for consultants and service providers, the sale of resultant compost and the recyclables such as plastic, metals and glass.

To encourage wider participation and the evolution of community spirit membership signs (Green Home logo) are provided to signal household and institutional support. The Mission Butterfly integrated solid waste management (ISWM) program is managed by the Lok Chetna Manch as the executing agency for a two year transition period before assumption by the Nainital Nagar Palika Parishad (Municipal Board).

Income generation occurs from fees collected from households, hotels and restaurants, institutions and other waste generators; sales of compost, shredded paper and recyclable waste (eg plastics, glass and metals).

The tourists were checked to see if they were carrying any plastic or polythene with them and requested to part with it before entering the town. It is hoped that slowly they would become responsible tourists and while visiting the town again, they would not bring any plastic with them. Outside vehicles were refused entry and a new taxi stand was constructed outside the town to reduce the traffic pressure inside the town.

A Tourist is as good as the town that he goes to. If you give him clean facilities, a clean town, he will keep it clean. A dirty town polluted by the inhabitants themselves will only invite more pollution from the visiting tourists. Responsible tourism did start in Nainital but the first step was taken by the society of Nainital. We have examples such as the Delhi Metro which is kept spic and span in spite of being used by thousands of locals and tourists. They never throw any litter and follow queues and these are the same tourists who throw waste in other areas of Delhi. Tourism is a wonderful way of earning income and for a town like Nainital which is dependent on the Tourism industry, it is pertinent to make the tourist- a model tourist so that he also enjoys visiting the town and the town also derives benefits from his visit.

I want to quote the court’s order again here:

“We part with the hope that the butterfly would regain its beauty and would attract tourists not only in praesenti but in future as well, which would happen if the beauty would remain unsoiled. Given the will, it is not a difficult task to be achieved; the way would lay itself out. Let all concerned try and try hard. Today is the time to act; tomorrow may be late.”

Locate Nainital here;



Image Credit: Wikipedia

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