Tourism is one of the fastest growing sectors in the world economy today. It is also one of the most vulnerable to the onslaught of insensitive commercialisation. A recent example of this is the marketing of one of the small islets in Nicobar as a hot destination for millennium revelry. The Ministry of Tourism wants to attract between 20,000-30,000 travellers to the islet, which has never been opened to the general public before. The USP being an act of nature. The island will be the first in the world to see sunlight on January 1, 2000.
It is such illogical actions that bring to the fore the unceasing face-off between business and environmental costs. How far should businesses go in maximising their profits without upsetting fragile eco-systems and environmental norms? Is there a code of conduct? What are the government legislations that ensure that erring corporates mend their ways? All these questions and more will be addressed in a new course on environmental law, designed by the World Wide Fund forNature (WWF), tailored to the needs of the tourism sector.
``The promotion of nature conservation and environmental protection is the basis for sustainable and equitable development,'' says Samar Singh, secretary-general, WWF India. Therefore, a course that will provide an insight into the potential negative impacts of tourism, both environmental and socio-economic, will be very useful.
The course will also look at environmental law, studying laws relating to the environment and laws for the protection of the environment.
The syllabi and design of the course will be decided by WWF's Centre for Environmental Law (CEL), which was established in 1993 to strengthen the professional and educational support base for environmental law and policy in the country. CEL is an experiment in institution building, which combines research and education with legal activism. CEL undertakes extensive research, training and collaborative work in the areas of forest laws, water laws, protected areas and internationalenvironment law.
``Environmental law is a wide field. The course is still in the conceptual stage and its final shape will depend on the feedback that the industry will provide about its requirements and focus area,'' says Singh.
On the heels of World Environment Day on June 5, the need for such a course was felt by the tourism industry, particularly the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA). ``The course will evolve a code of conduct that can be followed by all players of the tourism industry-the tour operators, the NGOs and the hoteliers-in order to uphold the green practices as designated in the Agenda 21 principles of the Earth Summit. In these challenging times, when environmental ethics are more important than ever before, we must resolve to become worthy trustees of this earth,'' says Mandeep Singh Soin, chairman, environment and eco tourism committee, PATA India chapter.
There is ample government legislation that can provide a framework for the code of conduct. This includes the NationalWildlife Action Plan, 1983; the National Water Policy, 1987; the National Forest Policy, 1988; the Policy Statement for Abatement of Pollution, 1992; and the Eco-Tourism Policy and Guidelines issued by the Ministry of Environment this year.
But the most important for the tourism sector is the National Conservation Strategy and Policy Statement, issued in June 1992. It states, ``To ensure sustainable growth of tourism without causing irreversible damage to the natural environment, activities relating to tourism should take care of the following:Promotion of tourism based on careful assessment of the carrying capacity and support facilities such as transport, fuel, water and sanitationDevelopment of tourism in harmony with the environmental conditions and without affecting the lifestyles of local people andRestriction on indiscriminate growth of tourism and strict regulation of the tourist activities in sensitive areas such as hill slopes, islands, coastal stretches, national parks andsanctuaries.''
But Singh feels the role of the government should be that of a facilitator and the road to a safer environment should be approached by the industry itself.
``PATA and the Indian Association of Tour Operators (IATO) have made a positive overture by coming to us and asking for such a course. The most important factor in environmental conservation is the mind-set of the people involved. Once that awareness is displayed, the rest follows,'' says Singh.
CEL is already conducting a five-month diploma in environmental law, which has been gaining popularity among environmentalists and young lawyers since 1993. The first such programme in South Asia, the main objective of the course is to expose the participants to environment policy at regional, national and international levels. The fee for the course is pegged at Rs 6,500.
Copyright © 1999 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.