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Early Stumble

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It makes sense that India’s super-rich be motivated to spend their precious dollars within the country, instead of holding family weddings at destinations abroad. Uttarakhand’s Chief Minister claims to have taken the initiative in this regard by offering the state’s picturesque locations for this purpose, thereby making value addition to the tourism sector. Unfortunately, there seems to have been a massive slip between the cup and the lip, with the Gupta family that took him up on the offer being penalised to the tune of Rs 3 crores by the High Court for violations not yet established or proven. It would have been better if the government had been fined for offering an incomplete product that it was not fully prepared to deliver. It behoves the government to do the necessary homework before it launches on any project, be it in the tourism or any other sector. It is not just enough to have good ideas (borrowed or otherwise), they have to be implemented properly, particularly by setting up the necessary regulatory framework, which would protect people from whimsical interventions by self-appointed defenders of the environment and such-like. While there might be genuine concern in some cases, many times the objections have political reasons or are inspired by little more than mean-spiritedness. Just the mention of the fact that the destination wedding of the Guptas would take place in Auli sent alarm bells ringing – more loudly the more distant they were from the actual site. Environment rules extend protection to the highland meadows, not just any place in Auli or Joshimath. The wedding site belongs to the Tourism Department and, according to locals, before that was land on which vegetable farming was done by nearby villagers. The other aspects that the High Court has focused upon, such as not using plastic and leaving the area in the condition it was in earlier, are basically applicable wherever human activities take place. It should not take the High Court’s instructions for the district, municipal or pollution control authorities to keep a strict eye on the proceedings. The bad publicity that the state has earned owing to this controversy will dissuade others from coming here for what was otherwise an excellent idea. Experts have been insisting for long that the focus be shifted from mass tourism to high-end activities that attract premium tourists. This would actually decrease pressure on the environment and keep tourism revenues up. A particular event may be easy to focus on and find place in the headlines for some people, but the larger objective has been defeated. Having stumbled at the start, Uttarakhand will have to be content for some time to come with just the ‘chhola- bhatura’ crowd that generates far more plastic than any well-managed high profile event would. Clearly, the state can only rise to level of its incompetence.