Shimla: Sounding a warning about increasing human activity in higher hills, leader of the opposition Vidya Stokes, asked the government to take a relook at the whole development policy, especially towards tourism and eco-tourism for a Leh type disaster could afflict parts of cold desert areas in the state.
Raising issue about environmental concerns for discussion under rule 130 in the Vidhan Sabha today she said that lessons needed to be learnt from Leh to prevent an environmental disaster in cold desert regions of Lahaul â€“ Spiti and Kinnaur.
Asking the government to re-consider allowing setting up 60 eco-tourism units that have been granted permission Stokes said that human activity in forest areas should be restricted and pressure on forests be reduced.
Line needs to be drawn between permitting commercial activity and environment, she said, while mentioning that skiing used to be regular activity around Shimla, Kufri and Narkanda but is not so, anymore.
Instead of setting up eco-tourism infrastructure in forest areas, home stay tourism should be encouraged as it ensures local participation in the activity, she added.
Responding to the debate that spilled into the post lunch hour, chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal said the government was cautious and was preparing a master environment plan.
Setting aside the opposition apprehensions about eco-tourism projects, he said that these were popular the world over because they not only help to sensitize people towards environment but also restricted the movement of visitors into forest areas.
Pointing out the dichotomy over central government policies by refusing eco-tourism projects and at the same time approving the Forest Dwellers Act, Dhumal said strict norms about no construction of any permanent structures in forests, proper waste disposal system and not allowing more than the carrying capacity of a particular site had been laid down.
He said that an Rs 1000 crore project for sustainable environmental growth had been approved by the central government and sent to World Bank for appraisal and funding purposes.
Mining activity for stone crushers was being regulated, the government had totally banned usage of plastics bags, for laying of transmission lines a single corridor would be created in Beas and Satluj valley and for executing catchment area treatment plan, a river basin approach was being adopted, said the chief minister.
For maintaining environmental flows, the government had made it mandatory for power project to allow minimum 15 % flow in a river or stream during lean season and already 7 projects were implementing it, said Dhumal.
Earlier, Kuldeep Singh Pathania of congress pointed out that mass tourism should not be promoted at the cost of environmental deregulation. Road construction activity, especially about 4000 feet altitude need to be monitored.
Mukesh Agnihotri (congress) mentioned that the binding section 118 of HP Land Laws was being flouted by fertile land passing onto industry in the name of development. Forests being thrown open to eco-tourism should be carefully considered and the government needed to take a re-look at the development policy in totality.
GS Bali of congress said that while the government was strict with individuals for not allowing felling of any tree, but hydropower projects were permitted to fell thousand of trees. He pointed out that the Manali-Chandigarh highway was crowded with trucks ferrying cement and tourism was the biggest casualty.
â€œBe it congress of BJP, we have to stand up and refuse setting up of any polluting industry because the environmental price being paid would wipe out human inhabitations itself,” he said.
Suresh Bhardwaj of BJP said that blatant misuse of building laws had resulted super structures, which included the 11 storied High Court building, a 12 storey cable car structure among other at Shimla to come up.
He said that the promoter of the cable car project had also changed the landscape around a cottage property in Shimla by erecting huge walls that had half buried deodar trees even. One such wall gave way recently and the trees stand uprooted, he said.