The National Green Tribunal on Thursday prohibited all camping activity on beaches along the Ganga which fall within 100 meters from the middle of the river during lean season flow from Shivpuri to Rishikesh, a hub for eco-tourism and river rafting.
“It cannot be disputed that river rafting is one of the significant components of eco-tourism. It needs to be encouraged but with a clear mandate that it should not cause any environmental and biodiversity degradation particularly in relation to the flood plains and the forest areas adjacent to the sites identified for river rafting,” said the Bench headed by NGT chairperson Justice Swatanter Kumar, while directing that all beaches which fall within the 100-metre restriction shall be closed to camping or any such activity.
The Bench relied on various studies by Uttarakhand and the Wildlife Institute of India which said that of the total 56 beaches, 33 were recommended for camping while 23 were out of bounds.
Out of the 33 sites recommended for beach camping, 3 fall entirely outside the restriction of 100 meters imposed by the Tribunal in various cases, 8 sites are wholly within 100 meters while the remaining 22 sites are partially within 100 meters and partially outside 100 meters.
The judgment came on a petition filed by environment activist Vikrant Tongad who highlighted how unregulated camping was leading to pollution in the river and adjoining areas. He also showed how tourists left behind litter and polluted the river and the soil.
The Bench clarified that “the portion of the identified beaches which majorly fall outside the restriction of 100 meters should alone be used for effective camping activity i.e. putting up of tents, providing of toilets and such other requirements of necessity. While the remaining part of the beach, should not be permitted to be used for any effective activity except a casual use for the purpose of walking and such activity which is not dependent upon requirement of any other permanent or temporary infrastructure. In other words, on the remnant part of the beach that falls within 100 meters any activity involving tenting, toilets and other incidental requirements should remain prohibited in that area”.
“While on the other hand, if 70% area falls within 100 meters and only 30% area falls within outside 100 meters then the effective camping activity with its related infrastructure requirements could be carried on only in 30% of the beach area while leaving the entire 70% area free from such interference,” it said.
After the judgment, Mr. Tongad said “the real concern now was the implementation which is a State issue.”
The Bench directed that the management plan prepared by the State government with regard to beach camping be implemented while noting how authorities allowed large number of defaulters included people carrying weapons, drinking on the beaches and even raising permanent/concrete structure at the camping sites.
“The illegal and improper activities at the camping sites led to the pollution of Ganga, forest areas and there was violation of the norms and guidelines with impunity,” it said.