The Bombay High Court Thursday expressed dissatisfaction over the filthy condition of hill stations such as Panchgani and Mahabaleshwar, stating that these once beautiful and peaceful tourist destinations have become chaotic and uninviting.
A division bench of justices Naresh H Patil and M S Karnik was hearing a petition filed by about 200 residents of these hill stations. The petition stated that the Maharashtra Toursim Development Corporation (MTDC) had granted licence to locals of the area for implementing a bed and breakfast project — an agro-based tourism initiative.
The scheme is part of the regional plan of Mahabaleshwar Panchgani approved by the Ministry of Environment and Forests of the central government.
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However, the state government has deleted this provision and scheme from the regional plan in 2015, affecting livelihoods of locals. The scheme, an employment generator, is meant for villagers to provide boarding and lodging facilities to tourists in smaller homes and establishments.
The petitioner’s lawyer argued that this deletion and restriction on bed and breakfast scheme by the state is contrary to the approved plan by the Centre.
Justice Patil, while asking the state if the government had the powers to delete or modify a plan approved by the Centre, said, “How is providing bed and breakfast a violation of any kind? There are so many environmental breaches and violations that happen otherwise in these regions. Why has the state targeted villagers who are providing food and lodging? Why should only the five-stars reap the benefits of food and boarding?”
The court went on to state that while the hill stations are becoming filthier and more polluted by the day and witnessing many environmental violations, the government wants to shift focus on the poor man’s bread and butter.
“We find complete trash in these hill stations which were once peaceful and beautiful. If the issue is of constructing malls or amusement parks here, our approach will be different but depriving villagers of bed and breakfast scheme is questionable. Tourists will love hutments that provide authentic food rather than 5-stars,” said Patil, emphasising that bed and breakfast in smaller establishments and homes should be promoted.
The bench has sought an explanation from the senior officials of the Urban Development department of the state as to why this provision was deleted .
The court has also asked officers concerned from the state government to be present for the next hearing on February 7.