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NGT panel: Excessive horses and ponies damaging Kufri’s green forest

Shimla, May 27

In a recent development, a joint panel of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) has uncovered significant damage caused by horses and ponies engaged in tourist activities at the renowned suburb of Kufri. The panel, consisting of judicial member Sudhir Agarwal and environment member Dr. A. Senthil Vel, concluded that the presence of more than a thousand horses and ponies (1029) in the small area has exceeded its carrying capacity, resulting in the degradation of natural vegetation and impacting the regeneration of new trees.

The report submitted to the NGT highlighted various violations contributing to environmental damage, including improper solid waste management leading to significant pollution in the area. The panel’s field data collection indicated several potential impacts on the natural vegetation caused by tourism activities, such as damage to native plants, soil erosion, compaction, exposure of roots, and the spread of invasive weeds and plant pathogens.

Also read: NGT constitues JC to probe damaging of green forest by horses at Kufri 
While acknowledging the livelihoods of thousands of people in the surrounding Gram Panchayats, such as Kufri Shawah, Nala, Makhrol, and Tayia, who depend on horses and other tourism-related activities, the NGT emphasized the need for regulation. The horse riding activities, which involve 1,029 horses/ponies, are required to adhere to the guidelines set by the Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change (MoEF CC) since the operation area falls within a Reserve Forest. The NGT also highlighted the insufficient role played by the Forest Department in managing these affairs and recommended their active supervision.

The NGT report further recommended that the registration of new horses should be restricted by SADA Kufri until the adjoining forest area of the mule path is revived under the supervision of the Forest Department. The panel found that the mule path, approximately one kilometer in length, is situated within the administrative control of Theog Forest Division and Central Potato Research Institute, with a section falling under the possession of the latter.

Kufri, located at an elevation of 2,720 meters, boasts lush green deodar forests, the Shimla Water Catchment Wildlife Sanctuary, and the Shimla Forest Division (Rural). The trails in question lead to the popular Mahasu peak, one of the main attractions in Kufri. Due to its proximity to the wildlife sanctuary, the management and supervision of horses operating in the area hold significant importance.

The unregulated parking of horses and ponies in random sites and their entry into nearby forest areas, including the forest division and the Shimla Wildlife Catchment, have resulted in damage to the ecology of the designated trails as well as the surrounding green areas. Moreover, the NGT noted the inadequate maintenance of the horse riding paths, lack of adherence to international equestrian trail standards, and the potential dangers posed to visitors, with fatal accidents having occurred on certain occasions.

The NGT bench has scheduled further consideration of the matter for July 12, 2023. All respondents have been ordered to file their responses on the panel’s report within one month. The NGT has emphasized the need for acceptance and implementation of the report to address the ongoing environmental degradation.

It is crucial for the state authorities to take immediate action to preserve the delicate ecological balance and revive the once-abundant snowfall in Kufri, which was renowned as India’s first alpine skiing destination established by the British. Failure to address the issue may lead to irreversible consequences for the local environment and its diverse fauna.

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