Draft policy envisages autonomous Sikkim Ecotourism Council

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Gangtok, Feb 29 (UNI) A draft copy of the proposed Ecotourism policy for Sikkim, that includes creation of an autonomous regulatory Sikkim Ecotourism Council, has been prepared by Ecotourism Conservation Society of Sikkim (ECOSS).

The proposed autonomous council headed by a chairperson has two tiers below it. Sikkim Eco-tourism Directorate with a Chief Operating Officer will coordinate the allied agencies in regulating and boosting ecotourism activities in the state.

The proposed Council will have representations from different stakeholders and state forest officials. The directorate will have four different departments to fulfill the objectives of the policy.

The state government has positioned Sikkim as the ultimate ecotourism destination and identified it as a thrust industry, said Mr Renzino Lepcha, the Executive Secretary, ECOSS while outlining the rationale behind the proposed policy.

''Ecotourism represents a core element of Sikkim tourism initiatives and projects. Thus, the need for an ecotourism guideline for the state is essential in order to coordinate and bring synergy and integration between the various stakeholders in ecotourism'', said Mr Lepcha to UNI.

'Its time that Sikkim should prepare guidelines that reflect its natural and cultural characteristics, besides preserving it for the future. Some states have already done their policy', he said.

'The four interpretations of the proposed draft were Samraman, Sahyog (cooperation and interdependence among the stakeholders), Sahabhagita (participation in all activities) and Samrakshan (conservation). Conservation is supreme in ecotourism,' said Mr Lepcha.

Eleven different strategies have been formulated to fulfill the objectives of the ecotourism policy by ECOSS in the draft copy, after brainstorming with the stakeholders. The strategies include product development, publicity, forging private public partnerships, monitoring and benefit sharing mechanism.

Tour agents, joint forest management committee and other stakeholders have been asked to submit their suggestions to make the policy a model policy.

The ECOSS Executive Secretary said the policy could be adopted in the second week of March after it is submitted to the state government by the Ecotourism Circle of the forest department.

T D Rai, Director of the ecotourism cell of the State Forest Department, told UNI that ecotourism falls mainly in forest areas, which are under the jurisdiction of the Forest Department and attracts the Central and State Forest Acts.

The development of ecotourism activities in these areas can be done after making it as a component of the management plan of forest and wild areas, he said.

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