Uttarakhand HC directs study of carrying capacity of tourist destinations in biodiversity sensitive zones
DEHRADUN: Uttarakhand High Court on Monday directed the state government to determine the carrying capacity of tourist destinations of the state which lies in biodiversity sensitive zones, such as 'Auli'.
The court also ordered to constitute an 'Expert Committee' within four weeks which will undertake the exercise and examine whether there is a need to identify biodiversity heritage sites in Uttarakhand.
The directions came while hearing public interest litigation opposing the grand wedding of the Gupta brothers' family in Auli bugyals in Chamoli district. The judgement which was reserved on March 6, 2020 was pronounced on July 27, 2020.
Bugyals are grasslands at a high altitude of ecological value.
The wedding of the sons of Gupta brothers-Ajay Gupta and Atul Gupta, which was solemnized in June 2019 at an altitude of 12,000 feet, was estimated to have cost over Rs 200 crore.
The division bench of justices Sudhanshu Dhulia and Ramesh Chand Khulbe, observed that it is clear that the government was in grave error in granting its approval to this mega event without having any kind of assessment of waste and garbage which would be generated due to the event.
The court further added that it is necessary that the government limits its activities in Auli only in the field of sports and adventure tourism, and not to venture in any other activities which are not compatible with the principles of 'Sustainable Tourism'.
"India is one of the 12 mega diversity rich countries in the world. Himalayan mountains are one of the main repository of the Biodiversity wealth of the country, and “Auli” lies in a sub-alpine region of Himalayas, in the catchment area of Dhauli Ganga basin. The importance of “Auli” and its surrounding areas has to be seen primarily from this aspect. “Auli” can never be viewed as an exotic tourist destination or a wedding destination," remarked the court.
Recalling the fact that India is a signatory to the United Nations’ convention on biological diversity, the court observed, "There is a no law against holding a wedding ceremony at “Auli”. But there is definitely a law against environmental pollution. There is also a law, presently enforced in Uttarakhand, which mandates the state to conserve and protect its biodiversity and make it more sustainable."
The bench in the judgment also added that any event, activity, plan or scheme which violates these provisions comes in conflict with the law.
Slamming the government, the bench stated that there has been no previous planning, scheme or even a standard procedure with the administration to hold an event of this nature in an eco-sensitive area and added that the event left a long trail of waste and garbage, which is 32.6 tonnes and out of this 15.41 is non-biodegradable waste.
"This is the result of just one single event at “Auli”. In case such events are permitted by the State in future, the level of garbage and waste that will generate is not difficult to imagine. We say this as we are also aware that there are no scientific mechanisms available at “Auli” or in Chamoli district, which has the capacity to recycle this large quantity of waste. There is also no mechanism in place to prevent water and air pollution which results as a consequence of the kind of activity, we are presently dealing with," the court said.