(TVLW) – Department of Tourism, Punjab is planning a major eco tourism initiative and will implement the proposed project by creating a special Directorate or Society under the Forest and Wild Life Department or Punjab State Forest Development Corporation (PSFDC). This development comes in the wake of the Eco Tourism Policy for Punjab drafted recently by the state Forest Department.
The proposed mega project with an outlay of an investment Rs 128 core and time frame of about eight years from next financial year includes eco site development, creating environment parks, setting up interpretation centres, creating infrastructure, accommodation, facilitation centres, chalking out trekking routes, expansion of lake at Chhatbir Zoo and introduction of toy train, procuring equipment like boats, vehicles etc., setting up information booths at strategic locations like airports and bus stations and brand building and promotion campaigns. Some of the sites identified by Department of Forest and Wildlife Preservation, Punjab for ecotourism development under this mega project are: Keshopur Wetland Shalla Pattan Wetland, Kathaur Kaushalaya Forests in district Gurdaspur, Nangal Wetland and adjoining forests, Ropar Wetlands and land along the banks of Sutlej River, Kukanet-Dehrian Mengarwal-Kort-Patial, Mirzapur Dam in Ropar district, Perchh, Seonk/Jayantimajri in Mohali district, Harike Wetland in Amritsar-Ferozpur, Abohar Wildlife Sanctuary, Ferozpur, Chhatbir Zoo
Explaining the eco tourism project, Surinder Bajaj, Deputy Director, Department of Tourism, Punjab stated that unexploited areas of the state will be exploited to boost eco tourism. “Eco tourism as concept could be utilised to integrate environmental and socially applied principles into practice and could result into win-win situation for both, cause of conservation and for meeting the aspiration of the local people,” stated Bajaj. To provide advice and policy direction to the eco tourism programme in the state, a Advisory Committee will also be constituted headed by State Minister of Forest as its Chairman, and will also include Financial Commissioner, Forests as Vice-Chairman, Principal Secretary, Irrigation; Principal Secretary, Finance; Chief Wildlife Warden; Director Tourism, Principal Chief Conservator of Forests as its members and a designated Director, Eco Tourism as member secretary.
Bajaj further added that recently the state government had engaged Robert Cleverdon, an international expert and also consultant from World Tourism Organization (WTO), to ascertain the potential of promoting tourism in the state. Cleverdon visited various places of tourist interest in order to prepare the Blue Print for tourism promotion in the state and will depute his team of specialists including an environmental expert to visit different areas of that state that offer forests and wildlife resources for the promotion of ecotourism. “Once the Blue Print is in place with Cleverdon’s recommendations, the state will adopt the drafted Eco Tourism Policy,’ informed Bajaj.
According to Bajaj, the goals of eco tourism will be to bring people closer to nature by promoting nature based, non-consumptive tourism and to conserve ecological heritage. The Shivalik Hills in northern parts of the state with good forest cover, according to Bajaj, present vast opportunity for wilderness tourism. The rich bio-diversity of the river system of the state and species rich network of wetlands connected to these rivers also have a great potential for development of nature based tourism or ecotourism. In his opinion, the state has several areas, which have the potential to become world-class eco tourism centres. “Some of these places include the protected areas like Harike and Ropar Wetlands already have some facilities in place and are attracting visitors. However, there are also many such areas, which currently lack adequate infrastructure and need to be highlighted. The “doaba” of the river Beas and the Sutlej with Harike and its satellite wetlands at Ropar, Kanjli and annual floodplains of Rababsar and Goindwal, provide natural habitat for a variety of waterfowl, including 220 species of migratory and resident birds out of which several species are rare/endangered and fall within the migratory route towards the Gangetic plains,” informed Bajaj.
Based on its rich biodiversity and fulfilment of other criteria, Harike Wetland was designated as a wetland of international importance under the Ramsar Convention in 1990 (popularly known as Ramsar site). This wetland is also included in the list of 21-priority wetland selected for intensive conservation and management. Subsequently, the Ropar and Kanjli Wetlands were also recognised as Ramsar sites in 2002 by the Ramsar Convention. There are 11 protected areas spread over 31,770- hectares of land, which constitutes about 10% of the total recorded forest area. According to Bajaj there are proposals to enlarge the protected area network in the state by declaring more wildlife sanctuaries and community reserves.