Can’t afford destruction: United Tourism Forum
By: Ahmad Shabir
Srinagar: As the restrictions imposed in wake of Covid-19 in Jammu and Kashmir have been eased, the trekkers have started trekking in unprecedented numbers; however, most of the trekking companies and groups are allegedly plundering the nature in the forest and wild life areas of Pahalgam, a famous tourist destination.
The destruction of the environs by these trekking groups, both locals and outsiders, has left local environmental activists as well as the tour and travel agents fuming, who here have demanded that the number of trekkers be regulated and only locals be allowed to organise trekking and hiking on lines of Ladakh.
The voices seeking action against these non-local adventure companies have gone louder after a video in which two laborers from tribal community are seen digging huge trenches in the ecologically fragile Sakiwas wild life area.
In the video, which was widely shared on social media, a man asks the laborers digging trenches as to why they were doing this and who gave them permission for digging these huge trenches in this sensitive area.
The boys in reply are telling the man that these are for ‘Indian hikes’ people and Aziz Kohli and some other person whom they did not know asked them to dig the trenches.
The boys in the video are also telling the man that these trenches are meant for latrines and they have been asked to dig the same trenches at Lidderwath, Tarsar and Sundarsar, three other ecologically fragile locations for camping.
“We don’t know about the permission. We are laborers and are making some earning,” the boys can be heard telling the man when he asks them if these trekkers have been granted permission by the wild life authorities.
Sharing the video and pictures of the trenches being dug in the woods of Pahalgam, many nature lovers sought stringent action against these adventure companies.
“Disaster under the garb of hiking and trekking…..lavatory construction,” wrote Raja Muzaffar Bhat.
“Been to Lidderwath yesterday. I was appalled when I saw the place, everywhere you can see the garbage, streams are almost full with plastics and polythene. Moreover, these so called trekking companies are excavating the ground which they use for latrines not only in Lidderwath but Sekwas and Tarsar. They have made these places disastrous,” wrote another facebook user, Sajju Gulzar.
Though authorities had assured action against the adventure company involved in damaging the environment but sources said, no action has been taken so far.
United Tourism Forum (UTF), the amalgam of at least eleven tour and travel associations has asked the authorities to allow only the locals to organize trekking and hiking in the ecologically sensitive high altitude areas.
“These adventure companies while organizing trekking in sensitive areas of Pahalgam, Sonamarg or Gurez have no regard for the environment. They virtually plunder the nature during their stay in these areas,” UTF spokesman told Precious Kashmir.
He said that in the name of trekking, Kashmir cannot afford destruction of its environs by these adventure companies. “In Ladakh all the outside adventure companies were banned from organizing trekking. Authorities in UT of J&K should also ensure that only locals are allowed to organize trekking in the ecologically fragile wild life and forest areas.”
General Secretary of travel agents society of Kashmir (TASK), one of the constituents of UTF, Tufail Ahmad said that of damage to environment during treks is their primary concern.
“Recently a local NGO collected at least 15 quintals of garbage from different camping sites in Sonamarg area. This speaks of the environmental degradation this adventure companies cause during trekking and hiking. We appeal the authorities to come up with some mechanism with regard to trekking so that environs are not ravaged during trips organised by these companies,” Tufail said.
Though no top official from wild life or tourism department responded to calls from Precious Kashmir, sources, however, said that Pahalgam Development Authority (PDA) has issued an order making the permission for trekking mandatory for adventure companies or individuals.