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Weekly Pullouts » Himachal Tribune

Posted at: Jul 7, 2018, 12:12 AM; last updated: Jul 7, 2018, 12:12 AM (IST)

Tourist rush overruns summer getaways

Shimla’s worst water crisis in 200 years highlighted conflict between tourist arrivals & resident populations
Tourist rush overruns summer getaways
Tourists throng Solang Nala in Manali. file photo

Ravinder Makhaik

Tensions rising at summer getaways in the hills over limited water, roads, parking and garbage management have brought the conflict between exploding tourist arrivals and resident populations out in the open.

In the face of ‘Himachal for all reasons, in all seasons’ -- the government campaign targeted to attract more tourists -- it was an appeal on social media by residents asking them not to visit Shimla for the summer, as they lived through the worst water crisis in over 200 years that drew attention and averted an impending human disaster.

As summer temperatures soared in May-June, those who could not afford to escape the sweltering heat and suffocating pollution of the cities in the plains for an overseas holiday, headed for the hills with Shimla being a favoured destination.

With reduced water at the sources, the supply in peak season simply choked and was only restored after a week for many localities. Angry residents took to roadblocks and in an extreme case, one person even threatened self-immolation if water was not supplied within 12 hours. Unable to operate flushes, open defecation added to the mounting civic pollution woes.

Allegations of water being sold to hotels flew around thick and fast, which even had the Chief Justice of the High Court move out on a surprise mid-night inspection to check the distribution. Many hotels cancelled bookings and informed their guests that they were unable to service the comforts paid for.

Manali and Shimla are under seize from the sheer rising numbers of people and vehicles visiting the place each year. Dharamsala-McLeodganj and Dalhousie, the other popular summer resorts are no better off.

“It’s with great expense that suitable infrastructure is being created for mountain destinations like Shimla,” says Akshay Sood, secretary, finance, HP government. “And topography puts a constraint to it as well as the number of people that can be hosted.”

The Tourism Department figures show that total arrivals that were 97, 49,433 in 2008 had more than doubled to 1, 96, 01,533 by 2017. Summer tourists for April, May and June numbering 38,50,856 in 2008 had increased to 60,81,013 in the period.

In comparison, the states census population increased from 60.78 lakh in 2001 to 68.65 lakh in 2011. Of the total, only 10 per cent (6.87 lakh) are living in urban areas, which include Shimla and Manali. The floating population of tourists compounds the problem in these limited urban spaces.

“In a free country, where restrictions on movement of people cannot be imposed, providing for the comforts of such a large number of visitors and tourists is causing many problems,” says Rajeev Verma, an architect who specialises in town planning.

Struggling to keep the business going, Vinayak Jisthu, a hotel owner, says, “As the summer picks up, the roads get clogged and no parking is available. And when you have a houseful booking, the municipality can’t provide water.”

Manali, on court orders, imposed a green tax in June 2004 to contain vehicular pollution. Not proving effective enough, the National Green Tribunal stepped in to further restrict Manali-Rohtang Pass vehicular movement to 1,000 vehicles per day. But the contagion persists and is spreading to rural areas.

In the footsteps of Manali, Shimla, Pong Dam – a waterbird sanctuary, and Bir-Billing, a paragliding site, have imposed green tax on tourist vehicles. To disperse tourism and take the pressure off popular places, Chief Minister Jairam Thakur has drawn up plans to develop new circuits.

Uncontrolled tourism has conservationists Billy Malhans see a dark future for most hill resorts. “We have far exceeded the carrying capacity of these places,” he warns.

“Governments lack political will and unless you strictly enforce regulated number of tourists in, like the ecologically sensitive Himalayan nation of Bhutan does, you cannot contain the population pressures fast encroaching upon and eroding the natural beauty of Shimla, Manali and other hill stations,” says Malhans.

Amenities along UT-Manali road

With a view to provide a better travelling experience to commuters, the Mandi administration will soon develop wayside amenities along the Chandigarh-Manali four-lane road.

Mandi Deputy Commissioner Rugved Thakur said, “We have identified two places at Behna and Pandoh where state-of-the-art wayside amenities will be provided by the Tourism Department.” He said commuters often face shortage of toilets during the travel. He said small rest rooms would also be made. “Petrol pumps and other facilities such as banking, ATM, telecom and Internet will be available.” — TNS

Summer tourists vs total tourists - 2008-2017
 

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