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Issues in Hill stations | Kodaikanal Hills

  • Context (TH): Kodaikanal Hills are facing degradation due to rampant tourism.
  • It derives its name from two Tamil words: Kodai, meaning “gift, and kanal, meaning “forest, which translates to “gift of the forest.
  • Location: Palani Hills of the Western Ghats (Dindigul, Tamil Nadu).

  • It is a popular tourist destination, the “Princess of Hill stations” and a “Sky Island
  • It is a plateau at an elevation of 2225 meters, housing man-made Kodaikanal Lake at its heart.

Sky Islands

  • Sky islands are isolated mountains surrounded by radically different lowland environments.
  • Originally used for the Mexican Plateau, it has extended to similarly isolated high-elevation forests.
  • The shola forests in the Western Ghats form one of the ‘sky-island’ systems of the world.

Issues haunting Hill stations in India

  • Overcrowding: Rising temperatures in plains, revenge tourism, and easier connectivity have contributed to exceeding these destinations’ carrying capacity.
  • Degradation of the fragile ecosystem: Hill Stations have high endemism and a very fragile ecosystem that is on the brink of fallout.
  • Vulnerability to disasters: Disastrous landslides, avalanches, and flash floods are increasing.
  • Tourism-centric development: With Multi-floor buildings, mass tourism ventures, and artificial beautification projects, the entire economy of such hill stations lacks real development.
  • Unregulated tourism is amplified by narrow, winding roads up steep inclines, poor infrastructure, limited medical care, and negligible parking space.
  • Water and sanitation issues: High footfall highlights other issues associated with excessive tourism, such as sewage, sanitation, and acute water shortages.

Unsustainable tourism in Kodaikanal

  • Poor Waste Management System: On an average day, 20 metric tonnes of unsegregated waste is dumped at dump sites near reserve forests.
  • Mushrooming of Homestays: Tamil Nadu Tourism’s 2022 guidelines for homestays and B&Bs (bed and breakfasts) have led to a surge in the Nilgiris.
  • Lack of ban on plastic: Kodaikanal, unlike many other hill stations, doesn’t enforce a ban on single-use plastic, leaving behind a heap of it.
  • Loss of sholas: In the last 40 years, Palani Hills, which runs through Tamil Nadu and Kerala, has lost around 80% of its grasslands and shola forests due to invasive species and deforestation caused due to agriculture and tourism.

Manjummel effect

  • The release of the hit Malayalam film Manjummel Boys (2024) has led to a surge of tourists to Kodaikanal and the Guna caves in particular.

Guna caves

  • Initially named the Devil’s Kitchen (by British officer B. S. Ward in 1821).
  • Named “Guna” Caves after it was featured in the 1991 film Gunaa.
  • Mysterious instances of people disappearing have gained popularity.

Way forward

  • Carrying capacity assessments: Quantification of the carrying capacity of fragile ecosystems is a must to estimate the ecosystem’s sustainability.

Carrying capacity in tourism

  • It indicates the maximum number of visitors to a destination at a given time with the least damage to the environment and cultural landscape.

Efforts to assess Carrying capacity

  • The Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change in 2023 requested the Supreme Court to direct Himalayan States to assess the ‘carrying capacities’ in such fragile ecosystems.
  • Earlier, in 2018, the National Green Tribunal had directed the Union Ministry of Urban Development and Union Environment Ministry to undertake similar studies in all States and Union Territories.
  • However, only Aizawl in Mizoram has completed a carrying capacity study.
  • Madras High Court has now recommended similar carrying capacity studies for the hill stations of Udhagamandalam (Ooty) and Kodaikanal in South India.
  • Restricting number of tourists: Inflow must be capped at a sustainable level, using means like e-pass.
  • Responsible tourism: Tourism needs to be “responsible” and in line with the Mission LiFE, such as the Swachhata Green Leaf Rating (SGLR) initiative and Sustainable tourism plan.
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