In this paper, we will explore the intricate dance between eco-villages and responsible tourism in Himachal Pradesh. We will delve into the challenges, opportunities, and strategies that define this dynamic relationship, shedding light on the imperative for collaboration, adaptability, and a long-term vision. Through a lens that combines global insights with local context, we aim to unravel the potential of eco-villages to not only redefine rural living but also set a precedent for sustainable development that transcends geographical boundaries.
Ecovillage term was seen to be used in the US in 1990s, formed with an intention to form communities to fulfill various agendas, however one common emphasis that has been noticed in ecovillage is the importance of ecology and the balance that is created among other human needs. Eco-villages’ definition encompass a range of objectives, including commerce, leisure, food, social opportunity, manufacturing that is integrated in the environment for healthy human development.
Eco-villages represent a visionary approach to residential planning, encompassing a harmonious blend of ecological consciousness, economic viability, and social welfare. These innovative settlements are deliberately crafted to align with environmental principles while addressing economic and societal challenges. The central objective behind the inception of eco-villages revolves around showcasing a model of sustainable development within the confines of small rural communities. This initiative aims to achieve a delicate balance between human aspirations and environmental integrity, creating a comprehensive habitat that harmonizes both aspects. The study carried out in Iran highlights how ecovillages play a crucial role in rejuvenating traditional agricultural practices. With limited alternative income sources available, these eco-villages emerge as a promising avenue for catalyzing transformative change. The study conducted in Iran underscores the pivotal role of eco-villages in revitalizing traditional agricultural practices. This entails optimizing land utilization, refining production and distribution methods for agricultural goods, and pivotal poverty alleviation. Furthermore, the rejuvenation of social and cultural fabric within rural settlements gains prominence through eco-villages, thus magnifying the significance of rural development. From ecological and social perspectives, a fundamental principle emerges: human well-being is inherently interconnected with the well-being of the environment. This symbiotic relationship underscores the profound interconnectedness between human happiness, encompassing aspects such as employment, sustenance, health, energy, and prosperity, and the state of the environment. As stewards of the Earth, human beings are both beneficiaries and custodians, necessitating an approach that optimally harnesses and rejuvenates the environment within the bounds of its inherent resilience. This worldview emphasizes responsible resource management and ecological harmony to enhance human welfare.
Undeniably, the present state of environmental crisis bears substantial influence on rural existence. Human behavior and habitation patterns have significantly contributed to this crisis, sparking an urgent need for redressal. The establishment of eco-villages emerges as a poignant response, addressing the underlying causes of environmental degradation while propelling positive change. These settlements exemplify the potential for human communities to coexist harmoniously within their ecological niches, promoting responsible practices and fostering sustainable living. In contemporary times, eco-villages epitomize cohesive microcosms characterized by their unwavering commitment to shared ecological, social, and spiritual principles. Rooted in a unified cultural ethos, these settlements represent a bastion of stability, seamlessly integrating the human experience with the natural and economic realms. The hallmark of eco-villages lies in their capacity to engender enduring social bonds, nurture communal participation, and cultivate sustainable practices that safeguard the environment and its invaluable resources. In essence, eco-villages encapsulate a forward-looking vision of harmonious coexistence. They transcend mere housing arrangements to embody a transformative journey toward ecological awareness, economic resilience, and societal well-being. By embracing these principles, eco-villages stand as exemplars of sustainable living, inspiring communities worldwide to tread the path of responsible stewardship and holistic development. They have the potential to create a community of public participation that is more sustainable and addresses the concern of protecting the environment and preserving its resources.
Within the current examination of Himachal Pradesh, agriculture emerges as the cornerstone of its economic fabric. This pivotal occupation holds sway over the state’s economic landscape, casting a substantial influence. Interestingly, the majority of Himachal Pradesh’s populace, roughly 90%, finds their abode in the rural expanse, underscoring the pronounced rural-urban divide. As agriculture remains the lifeblood of the state’s economy, it paints a vivid picture of the integral role played by traditional practices within the agrarian heartland.
In the context of Himachal Pradesh, a state renowned for its pristine landscapes and rich cultural heritage, the delicate balance between environmental conservation and sustainable development has become increasingly critical. Nestled within the Himalayas, Himachal Pradesh boasts an intricate tapestry of ecosystems, from lush forests and majestic mountains to vibrant valleys and winding rivers. However, these very landscapes are now facing unprecedented challenges due to a changing climate, population growth, and evolving economic dynamics.
As the state grapples with the effects of global climate change, it witnesses shifts in temperature patterns, glacial retreat, altered precipitation regimes, and increased occurrences of extreme weather events. These changes, coupled with the pressures of urbanization and changing land use, have led to the degradation of ecosystems, loss of biodiversity, and heightened vulnerability to natural disasters like landslides and flash floods. Furthermore, the state’s economic fabric, primarily centered around agriculture, is encountering sustainability challenges. Traditional farming practices face constraints imposed by changing weather patterns, limited access to modern technology, and a lack of diversified income sources. As a result, rural communities find themselves at the intersection of economic vulnerability and the need for innovative, sustainable solutions.
Against this backdrop, the Himachal Pradesh Model Eco-Village Scheme 2017 emerges as a beacon of hope and transformation. By aiming to build resilient village communities and equipping them with the skills to navigate resource depletion, climate change, and environmental challenges, the scheme addresses the pressing need for sustainable development within Himachal Pradesh’s unique context. The scheme strives to raise awareness among village communities about the pressures on their resources, the repercussions of their decisions on the environment, and the potential choices available to them for a pathway towards sustainability.
The Himachal Pradesh Model Eco-Village Scheme 2017 aims to devise ways to build a resilient village community and develop their skills and competencies to deal with resource depletion, changing climate and related environment challenges. Village communities need to be made aware of the pressures on their available resources, the impact of their decisions on the environment as well as choices available to them for following a sustainable development pathway. There hasn’t been a progress update on the scheme that was introduced in 2018.
The endeavor will be to promote transformative action and achieve sustainable development through environmentally responsible and responsive practices in the area of
a. Natural Water Sources/ Springs
b. Climate Change
c. Loss of Forest Cover and Forest Fragmentation
d. Loss of Biodiversity
e. Unsustainable Agriculture including Crop diversification
f. Solid Waste Management
g. Water and Water Pollution
h. Energy consumption.
While the Eco-Village Scheme strives to foster sustainable development, a closer examination of its eligibility criteria reveals areas that warrant careful consideration. These criteria, while well-intentioned, merit a comprehensive assessment to ensure inclusivity, adaptability, and long-term impact.
CRITERIA TO FALL UNDER THE SCHEME
The scheme has an eligibility criteria based on which a village will fall under the benefits of this scheme.
The eligibility criteria for selecting villages under the scheme to be developed as Model Eco Villages appear to be well-intentioned, aiming to promote sustainable development and environmental conservation at the grassroots level. However, there are several aspects that can be critically analyzed:
- Population Criterion: The minimum population requirement of 250 individuals or 50-75 households might exclude smaller villages that could also benefit from sustainable development initiatives. Conversely, a larger village might meet the population requirement but lack community cohesion, making it difficult to achieve effective participation in the scheme.
- Connectivity: While good connectivity is important for effective implementation, the criterion of “not remote and inaccessible” could inadvertently exclude marginalized or geographically isolated communities that could greatly benefit from development interventions. The focus should be on ensuring that infrastructure development, including roads and communication networks, reaches remote areas rather than excluding them outright.
- Scope for Demonstrating Environmentally Responsive Action: The requirement for demonstrating environmental actions across various components is commendable. However, the criterion may inadvertently discourage villages that are excelling in some aspects but need support in others. A more flexible approach that focuses on promoting improvement and sustainability across any aspect of the environment could be more inclusive and effective.
- Proactive Willingness of People/Panchayat: While community participation is essential, making it a criterion could lead to self-selection bias, where villages that are already proactive might be chosen, while those that need support to become proactive might be excluded. A more balanced approach would involve capacity-building and support for communities to actively participate in the scheme.
- Presence of Functional Community-level Organizations: While the presence of community-level organizations is desirable, this criterion might disqualify villages that lack these structures due to historical, social, or cultural reasons. It’s important to consider alternative mechanisms for community engagement and participation in such cases.
- Inclusivity and Equity: The criteria mentioned do not explicitly address issues of equity, inclusion, or social justice. A critical analysis should assess whether the eligibility criteria take into account the varying needs and capacities of different communities, including marginalized and vulnerable groups.
- Long-term Sustainability: The eligibility criteria focus on initial conditions, such as population and willingness to participate. However, a critical analysis should question whether these criteria adequately consider the long-term sustainability of the initiatives and their impact beyond the immediate scope of the scheme.
- Adaptability and Local Context: The criteria appear to be somewhat prescriptive in terms of the specific environmental aspects that villages should demonstrate action on. A more adaptable approach that considers the unique ecological, cultural, and socioeconomic context of each village might lead to more effective and contextually appropriate interventions.
Turning our attention to the specific criteria, it becomes evident that each criterion carries its own implications for the selection of model eco-villages. However, a broader perspective reveals a need for a more inclusive and adaptable approach.
This approach will not only help those stakeholders who are working to implement sustainable community development programs but also will set benchmarks for others to adopt and bring a radical change in thinking process of the communities at large in the State, especially in inculcating environmentally responsible behavior.
Changing land use, deforestation, quarrying, mining and climate change are perceived to be the main causes for deterioration of springs and groundwater regime.
A number of research, has found that model eco villages act as catalysts for tourism generation. The concept of ecovillages holds a profound connection to tourism, as these purposefully designed settlements acknowledge and embrace the positive interplay between the environment and society. Rooted in the moral ideals of their proponents, ecovillages encompass a diverse range of elements such as permaculture, renewable energy production, and environmentally friendly community infrastructure. The impact of ecovillages is tangible within their host communities, leading to increased employment prospects, income generation, and an elevated quality of life for residents through enhanced living standards. A fundamental aspect of ecovillage development is the participatory process, which draws upon indigenous knowledge and local practices. This approach not only fosters a sense of community ownership but also allows for the integration of innovative technologies, often supported by foreign funding mechanisms, resulting in culturally appropriate ‘clean and green’ environments. The allure of ecovillages extends to a wide array of tourists, catering to those seeking leisure as well as those with a vested interest in conducting research. Tourists are drawn by the opportunity to explore the inception, operational activities, environments, and lifestyles of residents that emerge from this well-defined ecovillage concept. In essence, ecovillages not only contribute to sustainable development but also offer an enriching and immersive experience for those eager to understand and appreciate the harmonious relationship between humanity and its natural surroundings.
One of the model eco-villages – Deothal Tehsil Shillai, District Sirmaur Himachal Pradesh under the scheme has explicitly mentioned tourism as a functional component that people in the village are interested to undertake for developing eco model village and build the plantation around the native forest area that will increase its scenic beauty to attract tourists along with preventing soil erosion. That includes developing various tourism opportunities such as trekking paths and boosting tourism activities involving the local residents for enhancing tourism by beautifying the area and constructing an eco-friendly path. With an aim to increase the village’s appeal to tourists. One concern that lurks is that there is no way to check the progress of the scheme and various components undertaken by them to improve.
Loss of Forest Cover and Forest Fragmentation
Since the state is predominantly mountainous, exploitation beyond carrying capacity, depletion of forest cover and the resultant loss of soil especially in the hill areas are leading to increased siltation of rivers and streams. Loss of forest cover in the catchment area of the springs has resulted in drying of springs and reduction in the quality of water in the springs. An inherent limitation of ecotourism initiatives lies in a significant drawback associated with one of the key strategies employed by the Himachal Pradesh government through their 2016 revised policy on “Development of Eco-Tourism in Himachal Pradesh”(the policy was further revised in 2017). In its pursuit of fostering ecotourism, a pivotal approach has been the integration of public-private collaboration in developing and managing ecotourism sites. This approach is notably underscored by a prerequisite for obtaining prior sanction from the central governmental authorities for the development of any region within forested areas.
Under this comprehensive framework, a multifaceted set of components is outlined, encompassing the deliberate clearance of trees within forested expanses, meticulously orchestrated for the noble purpose of reforestation. Additionally, a crucial facet of this plan involves the deliberate breaking down or clearance of designated portions of forested land, a process closely intertwined with the concept of forest land denotification. This intricate process of land transformation is conducted in accordance with the meticulously crafted guidelines delineated in the Forest Conservation Act of 1980, and it may also fall under the purview of the Ministry of Finance. Notably, this entire process is diligently executed in a transparent manner, aiming to ensure accountable and open practices.
However, it is paramount to acknowledge that this strategy is not without its complexities, particularly when juxtaposed with the global commitments enshrined in the Paris Agreement. As part of India’s nationally determined contributions, a pivotal commitment revolves around the establishment of an augmented carbon sink, targeting a range of 2.5 to 3 billion CO2 equivalent units. This ambitious goal is primarily channeled through the augmentation of forest cover, aiming to exert a positive impact on the global carbon balance.
In this context, the preservation and maintenance of what are termed “deemed forests” emerge as an indispensable consideration. These areas, while not universally recognized as forests, play a pivotal role in upholding the delicate hydrological equilibrium within their respective domains.
In essence, while the government’s ecotourism initiatives are marked by laudable intentions and a structured approach, the underlying strategy’s compatibility with global climate commitments and the intricate ecological interplay demand a nuanced consideration. A delicate balance must be struck between advancing ecotourism and safeguarding the vital environmental factors, such as forest cover and hydrological regimes, which are crucial not only for the local ecosystem but also for broader global sustainability endeavors.
The lack of proper forest management becomes evident as the Himachal Pradesh government approves significant development projects, often overlooking ecological considerations. The Supreme Court’s nod to clearing 614 hectares of forest and advancing 427 projects, including hydropower and road ventures, signifies developmental priorities. Yet, potential repercussions, such as deforestation-induced landslides, underscore the necessity of expert consultation. Himachal’s seismic vulnerability demands cautious development. Balancing progress with ecological preservation, involving geologists, environmentalists, and locals, is vital to ensure sustainable growth and protect the state’s natural resources while honoring community rights and mitigating calamitous outcomes. This approach runs counter to the recommendations of the IPCC’s sixth assessment synthesis report in 2023, which emphasizes the imperative of transitioning to sustainable and climate-resilient development pathways.
Unsustainable Agriculture including Crop diversification
With crop diversification, there has been a considerable increase in the use of fertilizers and chemicals and the demand for water has also increased significantly. A few successful examples of government supporting natural farming are in Himachal Pradesh the government launched the Prakritik Kheti Khushhal Kissan (PK3) Yojana that promotes chemical-free and fertilizer-free production of vegetables, food grains, and fruits, the outcome of the scheme being that 54, 914 farmers were engaged in natural farming by 2019-2020 on 2,451 hectares of land and the scheme further aims to engage more farmers.
Solid Waste Management
With the change in lifestyle of the local villages, the issue of management of solid waste has also become critical. Excessive use of plastics right from the milk packets to anything which we bring from the market is wrapped in plastic and leads to environmental pollution due to the non-biodegradable nature of the plastics. Effective practices for collection, treatment and disposal of such waste is required. Studies have shown plastic being generated in rural areas. Various studies indicate that the majority of waste being generated from rural households consist of organic waste and followed by plastic. But due to lack of proper system and knowledge of managing the increased waste with different composition of the panchayats usually the waste is either dumped in the open, in valley in waterbodies or burnt. These studies have indicated that though the awareness level is there among the people but the practice of proper disposing of waste is missing due to lack of infrastructure and system from the panchayats side. In cases like these it is important for Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRI) to form a cluster where they can regularly be informed and guided about the best and suitable practices of solid waste disposal at the local bodies level. Along with being provided financial support and resource assistance in implementing the plan. Such an effort is crucial to make these local bodies independent in their function in the longer run to be sustainable and realize the true essence of decentralization.
Water and Water Pollution
The water sources are under stress in the current scenario. The water both in terms of quality and quantity requires attention from planners prospective. Infrastructure for safe drinking water has been provided to rural areas, though significant challenges remain in providing sustainable services, an area which also calls for judicious and optimal use by the communities. Mountain ecosystems are delicate and highly vulnerable to human activities. Mountain regions are often crucial sources of freshwater for downstream areas. Unauthorized construction and vehicle emissions can contaminate water sources. The lack of proper waste management systems and infrastructure exacerbates this problem, resulting in long-term damage to the local water resources. Climate change and human activities are identified as the main culprits behind this alarming situation. Springs, which serve as vital water sources for both drinking and irrigation, have been severely impacted. More than 70% of springs are now non-functional, while others have become seasonal, leading to a severe water scarcity crisis in rural areas of Himachal Pradesh.
Natural Water Sources/ Springs
The demise of springs can be attributed to a combination of climate change and human interference, particularly large-scale infrastructure projects and deforestation in hilly areas. It is important to recognize the interconnectedness between springs and rivers. Any disruption in the hydrology of springs directly affects the hydrology of rivers. The depletion of springs not only affects local communities but also has far-reaching consequences downstream. This situation has cast a shadow over the vitality of springs, which traditionally hold a pivotal role as indispensable sources of both potable water and irrigation. Regrettably, a distressing outcome has unfolded – over 70% of these springs have succumbed to dysfunction, while others have relinquished their perennial nature, metamorphosing into seasonal entities. This disheartening transformation has precipitated a dire dearth of water resources, casting a pall of water scarcity over the rural expanse of Himachal Pradesh. Indeed, any perturbation within the hydrological rhythm of springs reverberates directly into the hydrological dynamics of rivers, culminating in a cascading effect.
Thus, the conservation and preservation of springs emerge as imperatives not solely for localized contexts but as essential keystones in the broader endeavor to ensure sustained hydrological equilibrium and foster harmonious coexistence between human activity and the intricate natural systems that underpin our shared environment.
HOW ECO-VILLAGE CONCEPT TURNS INTO ECO-TOURISM
Tourism is an old age practice for people to explore new places. However, if we travel back the concept of tourism has developed over the years to accommodate the changing times. Sustainable tourism as a concept has been defined by various scholars, Although the concept tends to be discussed with respect to the physical environment, definitions of sustainable tourism also include the social and cultural environment of destinations. Thus, the term “sustainability” has become a hot topic in the tourism industry. Further, the concept of sustainable tourism, as developed by the World Tourism Organization (WTO) in the context of the United Nations sustainable development process, refers to tourist activities “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.”
Similarly, McIntyre (1993) opines that most successful tourist destinations depend upon clean physical surroundings, protected environment and often the distinctive cultural patterns of local communities. He further states that the destinations that do not offer these attributes are suffering a decline in quality and tourist use. Preserving the Earth’s intrinsic assets for future generations has evolved into a paramount objective, not solely for the tourism sector but also for all industries that rely on the planet’s natural resources, potentially intersecting with the domain of tourism.
Ecotourism is nature-based tourism that includes an educational component for the tourists and other stakeholders and helps in conservation of nature. Ecotourism is tourism that depends primarily on living things in natural systems’ ecotourism involves both environmental and cultural-heritage aspects. Ecotourism is sustainable tourism, which is based on the ecological principle and sustainable development theory. Ecotourism helps in community development by providing an alternate source of livelihood to the local community which is more sustainable. Its aim is to conserve resources, especially biological diversity, and maintain sustainable use of resources, which can bring ecological experience to travelers, conserve the ecological environment and gain economic benefit. Rural livelihoods are no longer considered as being a synonym for farming activities. Instead, it has been acknowledged that people in rural areas of developing countries pursue multiple strategies to make a living. Ecotourism helps in community development by providing an alternate source of livelihood to the local community which is more sustainable. Its aim is to conserve resources, especially biological diversity, and maintain sustainable use of resources, which can bring ecological experience to travelers, conserve the ecological environment and gain economic benefit. Rural livelihoods are no longer considered as being a synonym for farming activities. Instead, it has been acknowledged that people in rural areas of developing countries pursue multiple strategies to make a living. Some have discovered tourism as a potential source of income complementing other activities.
Himachal Pradesh government has launched a new scheme called ‘Nai Raahein Nai Manzilien’ with a budget allocation of Rs 50 crore for identification of unexplored and untapped tourist places in the countryside for diversification of tourism, especially to rural areas.The Himachal Pradesh Tourism Policy, 2019 that aims to promote the state as the leading sustainable tourist spot with less emphasis on how the environment will be preserved and more participation of players that will develop tourism at fragile spots to promote agro, snow, water, adventure, pilgrimage tourism.
While the allure of eco-tourism presents promising avenues for economic growth, it’s essential to acknowledge the intricate balance that must be struck between promoting tourism and safeguarding the environment. Delving into this complex dynamic, we uncover both the potential benefits and potential pitfalls of integrating tourism with rural ecosystems
HOW TOURISM COMPROMISES ENVIRONMENT
Restoration of ecosystems is fundamental to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), mainly those on climate change, poverty eradication, food security, water and biodiversity conservation. Healthy forest ecosystems act as carbon sinks, absorbing up to one-third of CO2 emissions, harbor a wide variety of animal and plant species currently threatened, and restore these habitats and landscapes to protect and bring back some of the richest biodiversity hotspots on Earth.
The revised 2016 policy on “Development of Eco-Tourism in Himachal Pradesh” aims to facilitate visitors’ proximity to Himachal Pradesh’s untamed wilderness and pristine ecosystems, while simultaneously guaranteeing the protection and conservation of these invaluable natural assets through active community engagement. It focuses on how development and environment are compromised by the government for tourism.
As we assess the repercussions of increased tourism on local ecosystems, it becomes apparent that a delicate equilibrium must be maintained between developmental aspirations and environmental preservation. In light of these challenges, a thoughtful and balanced approach is essential to ensure the long-term viability of eco-tourism initiatives.
In conclusion, the concept of eco-villages offers a promising pathway towards harmonizing sustainable development, environmental conservation, and responsible tourism practices. Through the intricate interplay of ecological consciousness, economic viability, and societal welfare, eco-villages present a model of coexistence that strives for holistic well-being. The case study conducted in Iran underscores the pivotal role of eco-villages in revitalizing traditional agricultural practices, showcasing their potential to foster economic growth and alleviate poverty within rural communities.
However, the journey towards balanced eco-village management and eco-tourism is complex and multifaceted, as seen in the unique landscape of Himachal Pradesh. As a response to the challenges posed by shifting climate patterns and increased footfalls, it is essential to adopt innovative strategies that align with global sustainable development commitments.
Eco-Certification and Standards: Develop eco-certification programs that ensure tourism activities within eco-villages adhere to strict environmental and cultural sustainability standards. Collaborate with international organizations and draw inspiration from successful models like Alaska’s ecotourism certification. Drawing inspiration from successful practices in other countries, such as Alaska, where sustainable tourism is actively promoted through certified private tours and fostering close collaborations with family-owned establishments across for the tours. advocate for responsible behavior by encouraging a “leave no trace” principle. Particularly when exploring remote villages to preserve their virgin ecosystem, Himachal Pradesh can strive to achieve a similar harmony between community development, ecosystem preservation, and responsible tourism. Collaborating with local communities and involving them in decision-making processes can ensure that eco-village initiatives are aligned with their needs, thereby fostering a sense of ownership and promoting sustainable practices. Furthermore, the regular release of progress reports, addressing gaps, challenges, and ways forward, is crucial in ensuring accountability and continuous improvement. Himachal Pradesh’s pursuit of eco-village and eco-tourism models must also emphasize the preservation of cultural integrity, essential ecological processes, and biodiversity conservation, as recognized by international sustainable tourism standards. In essence, by amalgamating local wisdom with global best practices, Himachal Pradesh can forge a holistic approach that celebrates its natural heritage, empowers local communities, and invites responsible travelers to experience the intricate interplay between humanity and nature. Such an integrated approach not only safeguards the state’s environment and resources but also serves as a beacon for other regions to navigate the intricate terrain of sustainable development while preserving the essence of our shared planet for generations to come.
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- Re: T.N. Godavarman Thirumulpad v. Union of India & Ors, (1997) 2 SCC 267
- TRAVEL ALASKA. Sustainable Tourism. https://www.travelalaska.com/Plan-your-Trip/Planning-Tools/Sustainable-Tourism.
Vaishali Singh is Visiting Research program & Editorial Associate at IMPRI.
Acknowledgment: The author would like to thank Priyanka Negi and Aasthaba Jadeja for their kind comments and suggestions to improve the article.
Disclaimer: All views expressed in the article belong solely to the author and not necessarily to the organization.
This article was published by Priyanka Negi, a Research Intern at IMPRI
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