Eco-tourism, the current focus of Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik in the tourism sector, is not only generating livelihood opportunities for local communities, but it has also supplemented efforts for conservation of forests and wildlife. Encouraged by the success of eco-tourism projects in the state, Chief Secretary Suresh Chandra Mahapatra recently directed collectors, divisional forest officers (DFOs) and officials of the water resources department to identify more spots for the promotion of this kind of tourism.
With eco-recreation centres emerging as a major attraction around the country, the top bureaucrat asked officers of the departments concerned to identify around 100 suitable sites in water bodies across the state for the setting up of jetties and boating facilities. Forest officials will also be identifying around 15 forest tracks to give visiting tourists the experience of a jungle safari. There is a plan to convert tents at eco-spots into cottages with proper fire safety measures. The idea has struck officials in the wake of recent fire at Satkosia eco-retreat, in which several tents were gutted. The emphasis will also be on making the ‘community management model’ more professional, with appropriate training and orientation of local communities and self-help groups (SHGs).
Thanks to the efforts of the Chief Minister, Odisha has become a model for the rest of the country as far as community ecotourism is concerned. There has also been appreciable growth in revenue generation through this brand of tourism that came into focus a few years ago with Patnaik deciding to turn the state’s natural wealth to account. Now his efforts are bearing fruit, with tourist footfall even in faraway eco-tourism destinations such as Mandasaru in tribal-dominated Kandhmal increasing. Places such as Daringbadi, Similipal and Mangalajodi, the last one located on the banks of Chilika Lake, are much more famous and have been acting as tourist magnets for a long time.
Initiatives such as ‘Eco-trails Odisha’, a trekking and hiking programme that creates awareness about new eco-tourism sites while educating tourists about the flora and fauna of these destinations, have given eco-tourism the much-needed push. The government has already identified around eight to 10 trekking and hiking routes in and around eco-tourism destinations for the benefit of the tourists.
With people realizing that eco-tourism has tremendous potential for employment generation, now there is demand from several districts for identification of such tourist destinations. A few months ago, former MP Bhabanisankar Hota had urged the government to sanction funds for the development of Gandhamardan hill range, which has two famous temples located around it. He felt that with a little assistance from the government, the place could draw hordes of tourists and also help generate livelihood opportunities. More such suggestions are likely to come up with eco-tourism making giant strides in a state that is keener than ever to make the most of its natural beauty.