The picturesque state of Himachal Pradesh in India is renowned for its breathtaking landscapes, snow-capped mountains, and diverse flora and fauna. However, the rapid growth of tourism in recent years has placed an increasing burden on its fragile ecosystem. The Himachal Pradesh Green Star Rating Initiative for Hotels (Him-GRIH) was established to address this challenge. This paper aims to explore the objectives, aims, and significance of the Him-GRIH scheme in light of the mounting pressure on Himachal Pradesh’s mountains and the threat to its delicate ecosystem.
The Him-GRIH scheme was designed with several objectives and aims to promote sustainable tourism practices and conserve the environment. This initiative by HPSPCB represents a unique collaboration with the tourism sector aimed at embracing environmentally conscious practices. By taking this groundbreaking step, Himachal Pradesh is actively working towards a sustainable future for its tourism industry.
Him-GRIH recognizes and awards resorts, hotels, B&Bs, homestays, and other accommodations that demonstrate a strong commitment to conserving and protecting the environment. It encourages these establishments to implement green initiatives such as energy efficiency, waste management, water conservation, and the use of renewable resources.
It enhances environmental awareness with an aim to raise awareness among tourists, locals, and the hospitality industry about the importance of sustainable practices. By awarding Green Stars, the scheme provides a recognizable symbol of environmental responsibility, encouraging tourists to choose eco-friendly accommodations and promoting responsible tourism.
The scheme recognizes the need to protect the unique and delicate ecosystem of Himachal Pradesh. By promoting sustainable practices, Him-GRIH contributes to the preservation of the state’s natural resources, biodiversity, and cultural heritage. Him-GRIH emphasizes the involvement of local communities in sustainable tourism practices. It encourages accommodations to engage with local communities, promote local culture and traditions, and contribute to the region’s socio-economic development.
Aims of Him-GRIH
The HPSPCB is undertaking the Him-GRIH program as a participatory method to encourage tourism units such as hotels and homestays to adopt sustainable methods as well as to conduct self-audit. The program shall be able to achieve the following:
- Leadership commitment: This program will guarantee that the proprietors and administrators of tourism establishments are well-informed about the measures they can implement. Engaging in this program will demonstrate dedication and promise to foster a more environmentally friendly state.
- Training and Capacity Building: This program is of utmost importance as it encompasses the crucial training of hotel staff, enlightening them about diverse techniques and practices that can significantly reduce wastage and promote efficient operations. Moreover, it involves engaging the staff in a self-audit process, fostering a comprehensive perspective on these pressing matters.
- Cost Reduction: The adoption of green methods may necessitate an initial financial commitment, but it carries significant importance as it can ultimately lead to a substantial reduction in operating expenses for the units. By embracing environmentally friendly practices, the units become capable of seizing opportunities to minimize waste, emissions, discharge, and energy consumption. This, in turn, results in cost reductions that contribute to their overall financial sustainability.
- Increase occupancy: As travelers become increasingly mindful and informed about the environmental impact of their actions, their inclination towards eco-conscious accommodations becomes crucial. It is of utmost importance to ensure that comprehensive information regarding hotel ratings is easily accessible to the public through the internet. This initiative will play a significant role in promoting environmentally committed hotels, catering to the evolving preferences of environmentally-conscious tourists.
Significance of Him-GRIH in Light of Burdening Mountains and Threats to the Ecosystem
Himachal Pradesh, particularly tourist hotspots like Shimla, Manali, and Kangra face mounting challenges due to the rapid increase in tourism. The strain on the mountains and fragile ecosystem necessitates concerted efforts towards sustainable development, and Him-GRIH plays a crucial role in this regard. The scheme has laid down emphasis on:
Conservation of Natural Resources: Him-GRIH encourages accommodations to implement energy-efficient measures, reducing the consumption of electricity and minimizing the strain on the power infrastructure. Additionally, water conservation practices help mitigate the pressure on water resources, which are vital for both local communities and the ecosystem.
- Waste Management and Pollution Control: The influx of tourists often leads to an increase in waste generation and pollution. Him-GRIH promotes waste management practices, including waste segregation, recycling, and responsible disposal. By adopting such measures, accommodations help alleviate the environmental impact caused by tourism activities.
- Protection of Biodiversity: Himachal Pradesh boasts a rich biodiversity, with numerous endemic and endangered species. The Him-GRIH scheme encourages accommodations to minimize their impact on local flora and fauna, promoting biodiversity conservation through measures such as landscaping with native plants and preserving natural habitats.
- Sustainable Infrastructure Development: As tourism expands, the development of infrastructure becomes essential. Him-GRIH emphasizes sustainable infrastructure development that minimizes the ecological footprint. This includes using eco-friendly building materials, adopting renewable energy sources, and integrating sustainable architectural practices.
- Socio-economic Benefits: The Him-GRIH scheme not only focuses on environmental conservation but also recognizes the importance of local communities. By engaging with local communities, accommodations contribute to their economic well-being and cultural preservation, fostering.
At present under the scheme, a total of 167 Large hotel having more than 20 rooms have been given star rating, the number of mid-size hotels with 5-20 rooms given the green star ratings are 236 and small hotels having less than 5 rooms have given green star rating are 7 across all of Himachal Pradesh.
The numbers contrast with the rising illegal accommodations that are at all time high and need immediate intervention from the state government, keeping in light the increased improper solid waste management that the state faces.
Himachal Pradesh’s need for conservation schemes
The significance of conservation in Himachal Pradesh cannot be overstated. With over two-thirds of traditional water sources in the state no longer functioning, the urgency to protect and preserve these resources becomes evident.
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.
The demise of springs can be attributed to a combination of climate change and human interference, particularly large-scale infrastructure projects and deforestation. 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.
Rivers originating from Himachal Pradesh, such as the Sutlej, Beas, Ravi, Yamuna, and Chenab, play a critical role in meeting the water needs of North India, including the capital city of Delhi and even extending to Pakistan.
If the current situation persists, it will lead to a significant water shortage not only in Himachal Pradesh but also in the entire North India region. The consequences would be severe, affecting not only the livelihoods and well-being of local communities but also the water supply for millions of people in densely populated areas.
Therefore, the importance of conservation efforts in Himachal Pradesh cannot be overstated. It is crucial to address the causes of spring depletion, including climate change and human activities, through sustainable practices and policies. This involves preserving natural habitats, controlling deforestation, promoting responsible infrastructure development, and implementing measures to mitigate the impacts of climate change.
By prioritizing conservation and taking necessary actions to protect the water sources of Himachal Pradesh, we can ensure a sustainable water supply for both current and future generations, not just in the state itself, but also in the larger North Indian region that depends on its rivers.
In the context of development conflicting with sustainability, Mr Tikender Singh Panwar has rightly mentioned in his article about the lacking in Shimla’s Draft 2041. He mentioned that the draft plan for Shimla has raised concerns about its sustainability due to the lack of consideration given to the mobility aspect. This omission indicates a lack of a comprehensive approach to sustainable urban development.
The failure to address the importance of promoting non-motorized modes of transport and improving public transportation options is particularly problematic. Such neglect can impede efforts to alleviate issues like traffic congestion, air pollution, and carbon emissions within the city. To ensure a holistic and sustainable approach to urban mobility in Shimla, it is crucial to thoroughly analyze and rectify this oversight.
The continuous flow of tourists has exacerbated the problem of traffic and congestion in Shimla. The city’s infrastructure, particularly its roads, is strained under the pressure of increased vehicles and transportation demands. This not only hinders the mobility of the local residents but also affects their ability to carry out essential tasks.
The draft plan seems to have overlooked the balance of environment and development from a sustainable point of view. 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.
The increased number of vehicles in mountain areas contributes to greenhouse gas emissions, exacerbating climate change. This is particularly problematic as mountain ecosystems are highly sensitive to temperature changes, resulting in altered precipitation patterns, glacial melt, and increased natural hazards like landslides and avalanches. Neglecting sustainable transportation options further worsens the carbon footprint of the region. Mountain areas often possess unique natural landscapes and cultural heritage. Uncontrolled construction of homestays can lead to the degradation of these scenic vistas.
Challenges in Him GRIH
The issue at hand is that the unregistered accommodations are selling rooms online, creating unhealthy competition in the industry. Furthermore, many units are operating through online portals without being registered with government departments or falling under the HomeStay and Bed and Breakfast (B&B) categories. Additionally, individuals from outside the state have leased properties and are running tourism units without proper registration.
This analysis raises concerns about the effectiveness of the green star rating scheme and the enforcement of regulations in the hospitality sector. The existence of unauthorized rooms in popular tourist destinations like Manali and Shimla, estimated to be around 9,000-10,000, highlights the magnitude of the problem. The presence of these illegal accommodations not only poses a challenge for registered hotels but also creates an unfair competitive environment.
One aspect that complicates addressing this issue is the difficulty faced by officials in searching and identifying illegal accommodations without solid evidence. Intruding into private premises without clear evidence could lead to allegations of trespassing, allowing the owners of these unregistered accommodations to evade consequences.
To effectively address this problem, a multi-faceted approach is required. First and foremost, there is a need for enhanced cooperation and coordination between tourism/hotel associations and the government authorities responsible for implementing and monitoring regulations. Sharing information and collaborating on enforcement efforts can help identify and take action against illegal operators.
Secondly, the green star rating scheme needs to be reinforced with stricter penalties for non-compliance. This can act as a deterrent for unregistered accommodations and encourage them to regularize their operations or face consequences. Additionally, the registration process should be streamlined and made more accessible, encouraging property owners to comply with regulations rather than resorting to illegal practices.
Furthermore, leveraging technology and data-driven approaches can aid in identifying and monitoring unregistered accommodations. Government agencies can collaborate with online booking platforms to ensure that only registered units are listed and promoted on these platforms. Regular audits and inspections can also be conducted based on data analysis and risk assessment to target specific areas or properties that are more likely to be non-compliant.
In conclusion, the critical analysis of the green star rating scheme and the prevalence of unregistered accommodations highlights the need for stronger enforcement and collaboration between stakeholders. Stricter penalties, streamlined registration processes, and leveraging technology can help tackle the issue of illegal operators and create a fair and sustainable environment for the hospitality industry.
By addressing these challenges, Himachal Pradesh can ensure the integrity of its tourism sector and promote responsible and sustainable tourism practices.
The need to bring up schemes to preserve the natural ecosystem of Himachal as mountain ecosystems play a crucial role as they encompass a diverse array of valuable natural resources and exhibit a heightened vulnerability to alterations in their environment. The impact of climate change is felt in the agriculture sector, with unseasonal rainfall that is damaging apple orchards, and drying up traditional water sources.
The scheme to ensure hotels comply with environmental parameters has come up at a crucial time when tourism in Himachal Pradesh is at its peak and cases of unregistered BnBs and homestays flooding the fragile ecosystem have got the right spotlight for the government to take action.
Further, the government’s step in ensuring hotels comply with environmental parameters is in contradiction to The Himachal Pradesh Tourism Policy, 2019 which 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.
The policy touches upon the registration of the various homestays, but again no solution is provided for the unregistered homestays and Bnb. In light of this, various policy-orientated approaches are provided by various experts keeping environment conservation at the forefront of development.
The major problem that the government needs to address considering the unregistered homestays is to first identify these kinds of homestays and develop a system of reporting in order to stop the practice of illegal homestays or develop a system where they can follow the parameters suggested in the Him-GRIH scheme to get the green star rating. Considering the rising tourism industry in Himachal Pradesh the government might have to create a dept that separately handles the unregistered homestays and BnB.
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Tikender Singh Panwar and Deepika Saxena. Shimla Development Plan, 2041: A Damp Squib That Doesn’t Serve Its Purpose. The Wire. https://thewire.in/government/shimla-development-plan-2041-a-damp-squib-that-doesnt-serve-its-purpose
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National Mission for Sustaining the Himalayan Eco-system. Government of India. 2010. Ministry of Science and Technology. https://dst.gov.in/sites/default/files/NMSHE_Mission_document.pdf
Vaishali is a Research Intern at IMPRI.
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