An open letter to Shrine Board

The agitation going on in Katra town by the local community for the demand of closing down the new motor able path from Katra to Bhawan has urged me to write this open letter to Shrine Board. There is a strong felt need that there must be a strong argument for supporting those who are not at power centre and more so who are at the “bottom of the pyramid” i.e. the stakeholders who are dependants in the economic context. This letter is an effort to give a critical analysis of the situation to give voice to those who otherwise get suppressed by the hegemony and power politics of the shrine board.
If we aim to find solution of any problem we need to critically think i.e. thread bare every aspect which may have contributed to the problem. In case of the shrine board of the pilgrimage of shri Mata Vaishno Devi in Katra, we need to understand the role of the shrine board. The role here means the expected behaviour of the board that is due to the power and position it holds in relation to the management of the affairs of the shrine. The obvious role of the shrine board is performance for the overall good of the stakeholders.
Now the question is what do we mean by the overall good? Is the overall good only in the sense of increasing facilities for pilgrims so that more and more pilgrims come and increase revenue generation? This number centric and revenue centric approach of the shrine board is apparent from the press release or news eulogizing the achievements of shrine board in terms of numbers and that too in crores along with growth figure from the previous years. These number centric achievements facilitated by new provisions of facility have been at the centre of the developmental model of the shrine board.
This is unfortunate that the Shrine Board officials who are the policy makers are just ignorant of the fact that they are following a wrong and obsolete model of development which is devoid of any concern for environment and local community. Shrine board members are required to replace their obsolete knowledge of sense of achievement with the new knowledge which is based on the successful model of Sustainable Destination Development.
Katra’s economy is based on pilgrimage tourism, one of the typology of tourism. There is no dearth of tourism literature on Sustainable Destination Development where we get to know about the right principles of managing the affairs of a destination. The shrine board needs to know that revenue generation on the basis of development initiatives needs to be holistic that is balancing the interest of all the stakeholders along with protecting the natural environment. Shrine board needs to be abreast with the concepts of Carrying Capacity, Environment Impact Assessment, and Community Based Sustainable Development (CBSD).
Carrying capacity is the upper limit of accommodating individuals beyond which the experiences or outcomes are adverse. We need to respect the limits of the Katra town and the trikuta hills with in which there is no adversity and beyond which there are negative impacts on environment and satisfaction level of the pilgrims. Increasing facilities have no doubt been able to increase number but this increased number has put burden on the environment. Banganga is filthy and almost shrunk. Forests fires are new phenomenon on trikuta hills, garbage sites are frequent, unplanned growth of hotels gives unaesthetic look.
New tunnels have increased the flow management of pilgrims but what about pilgrims’ satisfaction. Once the pilgrims enter the cave after 13 kms trek they are not even allowed to give a look at pindies for even a second. We need to respect not only the physical carrying capacity for the environment but also respect the psychological carrying capacity. The psychological carrying capacity is about the maximum limit of the number of people at destination which give satisfied experience and beyond this level the experience is not satisfactory. The number centric achievement does not take into account the experiences of the pilgrims that is whether they feel satisfied or not satisfied with the so called facility provisions.
The carrying capacities if not respected then in no way management can yield successful results. The unholistic approach adopted by the shrine board management has undoubtedly created conflicts. This is what is being reflected from the agitation in Katra.
Shrine Board needs to know that before starting any developmental project like opening new tunnel and new road, etc. they need to do the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) to know whether the project is feasible and putting no or minimum negative impact on environment. Another very important principle of Sustainable Destination Development is well being of the locals or community. This well being is created through employment opportunities and participative management. If the policy decisions are devoid of giving recognition and acceptance to the well being of the community then it is sure that there emerges hostility between not only the management and the locals but also between the locals and the pilgrims. This hostility will eventually create disharmony and other social problems like irritability and perceiving all problems in life due to the pilgrims and eventually antagonising the sight of pilgrims which may even lead to crime against visitors.
Harmony at destination is the utmost need if shrine board really intends for flourishing the culture of this pilgrimage forever. However, in Katra, harmony is being challenged by taking away the opportunity of well being of the community by threatening them with the possible loss of their livelihood. Shrine board need to know the role of participative management where the success model of the Destination Development is based on the participation of the community members in the decision making process to ensure consideration of the local needs. By taking decisions like motorable path, shrine board is not only endangering the environmental sustainability of trikuta hills, but also working against the social and economic sustainability.
The fundamentals of sustainability are being followed by advance countries as well as advance management groups who are learned, updated and working by adopting real time approaches like triple bottom line approach i.e. considering not only financial reporting but also the socio and economic at the stage of project proposal and later.
I strongly assert that Shrine Board needs to check and realize that there is something fundamentally wrong with their meaning or interpretation of achievements. The board members need to know that achievement lies in the development that is sustainable.
Finally, I wonder that shrine board not aware of Sustainable Destination Development could be understandable but how board members could take environment ( nature or prakriti) casually when Maa Durga is Shakti and Shakti is Prakriti.

(The author is Assistant Professor Department of Tourism & Travel Management Central University of Jammu)