By Maitphang Syiem
Let us be reminded by one of the quotes of Benjamin Franklin, a renowned polymath and founding fathers of America which says, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail”. These words carry a realistic perspective if one would read between the lines, and which perhaps can evoke our subconscious mind of an impending disaster. Now the crux of the matter is on our Hill States, their towns and cities. It’s an overwhelming feeling if one would just even speak of a “Hill Station” isn’t it? We get that picturesque feeling and it’s undeniable that many of the Hill stations carry that charm of enthralling the visitors.
Our country is blessed with such beautiful hill stations spanning across the Himalayan ranges, the Western Ghats and the Eastern Ghats and all these places are tourist destinations. The kind of geographical setup of these places are such that the word Hill Station directly associates itself with tourism which adds up to tourism promotion activities. We have 13 Hill states in the Himalayan ranges and each state has a unique ecosystem which includes the entire geographical area rich in natural and biological diversity. But there is another important aspect one must keep in mind, that these ecosystems are also fragile and with the kind of unplanned, unsustainable anthropogenic activities their carrying capacity may perhaps be compromised which can break down at any point of time.
Meghalaya is one of the 13 Hill states located in the Himalayan range; it is a tourist destination for many travellers across the globe. It is a Hill Station state bestowed with unique natural tourist sites which every citizen of Meghalaya should take pride in but another view one should also understand is that these tourist sites are a unique ecosystem with a carrying capacity and natural mechanism of running itself. Therefore as concerned citizens we should not only take pride in telling the world that we have the best natural places, but we should also take pride in learning the ways to retain and conserve such unique places according to nature’s way. There is another issue which would require comprehensive planning from every angle – the issue of concentration. For instance in the urban context we have a persistent issue of “Urban Primacy”, likewise in the Tourism domain we have a problem of “Mass Tourism” where every individual would throng to a single place during peak season, saturating the location and ultimately affecting the carrying capacity of the place.
Hence at this juncture, a question to ponder and deliberate upon is what mechanism can be put in place to regulate and normalise such issues? On the other hand, with tourism opportunities opening up and the kind of demand that a place receives sometimes we resort to filling that gap by opening up avenues for ourselves and keeping aside the entire natural uniqueness of such locations, subconsciously. It may appear to be correct but is it ecologically feasible? And even if we try to do so, does this kind of activity have ecological protective elements? Cases and disastrous events have been witnessed from time to time when our plans do not coincide with nature and at the onset of such natural events nature unleashes its terror with irreplaceable consequences.
Meghalaya is a Hill state – and Shillong a town blessed with uniqueness in terms of natural diversity and culture. It is important to cultivate such awareness on matters such as hill town planning, carrying capacity etc. Perhaps this should also go to the bottom level. Furthermore the current subject of discussion is on Carrying Capacity of Hill States and towns and this is something which even the Supreme Court has taken due cognisance after a petition was filed. This is not a new topic. As such guidelines were circulated by the Centre to the 13 Himalayan states back in 2020 with a direction for the states to conduct assessment on carrying capacity of their locations, important sites and ecological sensitive zones and most recently the matter was again evoked wherein the Supreme Court suggested a technical committee to deliberate on this matter. The central government has proposed a 13 Member Technical Committee which will conduct studies on carrying capacity. In this connection and for the benefit of our state it is imperative that we need a comprehensive study on realistic carrying capacity of our unique geographical setup in terms of physical, ecological and social aspects. So, the question is whether this has been done? If yes, then has it been implemented in letter and spirit?
Reiterating on the same it is inevitable that we need a thorough planning for sustaining the entire ecosystems because such hill towns, cities, tourist sites are themselves ecological units and we must treat them as a living functional unit. Unless we take it this way we will not learn to nurture, to retain and to reinforce. Furthermore there is also the need to unconventionally work out things which will support the carrying capacity of such natural functional units in a sustainable way so that they can self-recover in times of breakdown. This will have to undeniably come through planning but how do we achieve this? Well we leave it to the wisdom of the authorities either to take the top-down or bottom-up approaches. On this matter it is always important to use the participatory planning method and whosoever is conducting the planning process must be deeply immersed in the process to understand the topographical setup, soil morphology, ethnography , potamology (study of river systems),limnology etc. The study must include the natural diversity, the life supporting systems, the culture, lifestyle of the hill state and its people etc., because carrying capacity studies cannot be confined to one aspect only. It has to be comprehensive and must include the Physical, Ecological and Social elements of the entire geographical setup. This also calls for a collective responsibility of every concerned citizen because if we do not participate and pool in ideas or take simple actions in small ways then we are bound to attract failure enroute to disasters.
If one would talk of disasters, there has been a shift towards risk reduction rather than post disaster activities and this fits in very well for the Himalayan states because we are more prone to various anthropogenic and natural disasters and the risks are also quite visible here. Therefore reducing the impending risks and reinforcement, retrofitting of natural systems to self-recover will be an important step.
Though the subject of “carrying capacity” is of a dynamic nature and will differ from place to place based on the parameters associated with it, realising the fact that it does have a close relation to the thriving tourism economy (rural or urban) is important. How is that so? For instance if the core internal elements of a natural functional system gets affected by the disruption of the supporting internal factors itself or perhaps induced by external factors it directly affects the carrying capacity of a system which provides livelihoods for many. This is quite evident from the recent disasters in Shimla, Uttarakhand etc, where we noticed how the entire system collapsed and affected everyone.
Considering the gravity of the situation it is pragmatic to initiate a learning process, research and development and based on such learning we can start to plan, evaluate, implement and monitor.
(The writer is a Geospatial Technology Expert).