• Number of pilgrims and tourists in stressed areas must be capped. Globally, this is the accepted norm.
  • The large cracks appearing on the Badrinath highway near subsidence-hit Joshimath pose big questions for the Char Dham Yatra.
  • There are reports that even old cracks along the highway are re-emerging.
  • If true, then lakhs of vehicles plying on the highway at the peak of the yatra will pose a serious risk to both the local environment and pilgrims.
  • Surely, it’s clear by now that the fragile ecology of the Garhwal Himalayas is under tremendous stress.
  • Hydroelectric projects, increased traffic and a construction spree ensured the carrying capacity of the Uttarakhand hills was breached years ago.
  • In recent years, the state’s pilgrimage triumphalism – 17. 6 lakh made it to Badrinath in 2022 – had added to this. But it needn’t be pilgrimage vs environment.

Bhutan – as an example

  • The solution is caps on pilgrim and tourist numbers. There are many examples globally.
  • Bhutan has long charted a path of ecotourism by charging foreign tourists a sustainable development fee of around $200 per person per night.
  • It has even started charging Indian visitors Rs 1,200 per day as part of its ‘high value, low volume’ tourism strategy.
  • This policy has worked very well for Bhutan’s ecology and its tourism industry.
  • There are similar policies in Central and South America. Costa Rica accounts for 4% of the world’s biodiversity and relies on tourism for 10. 3% of its GDP.
  • Yet it has been an ecotourism champion with initiatives like the Blue Flag Ecology Programme under which a strict set of environmental criteria is laid down.
  • All local stakeholders in the tourism industry – local community, hotels, travel agencies etc – work together to attain the coveted Blue Flag tag.
  • In Chile, the tourism industry is allowed to operate only in sustainable ways within protected areas.
  • Tourism stakeholders are then held accountable for any breaches in these agreements.
  • Uttarakhand’s Chamoli district administration has indicated there may be a cap on pilgrims. Implement this without hesitation.


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