With eco-tourism turning out to be a better alternative to provide a livelihood for the people in remote areas, the Odisha government has approved an action plan worth Rs 30 crore for development, up-gradation and creation of new tourist destinations, an official said.

Odisha ecotourism has recorded 96 per cent growth in footfalls and 49 per cent growth in revenue generation during the last two years while providing a decent alternative livelihood to the poor. It has also enhanced economic activities in the community, the official said.

Conservation of forest and nature is turning out as a sustainable treasure for the community. This was discussed at a high level meeting held under the chairmanship of Chief Secretary SC Mohapatra on Friday.

Reviewing the progress made so far, Mahapatra directed the Forest department to expeditiously open up the newly developed eco-retreat spots like Nrusinghnath in Bargarh district, Pine forest in Koraput, Patora Dam in Nuapada, Tensa in Sundargarh and Kanjiapani in Kenonjhar district.

The chief secretary also directed to develop the new spots either as day tourist spots or as night stay camps depending on the natural uniqueness and tourist attraction potential of the spots. "Develop night stay camps in places like KalingaGhat pine forest, Bonai, Deomali hilltop, Dambarugarh Mahanadi riverside and Jakham eco-site in Kalahandi district," he said.

The meeting also decided to develop Sikiri in Phulbani forest division, Bhimdunguri eco-site in Bolangir forest division, Baliput eco-site in Satkoshia wildlife division, Phurlijharan waterfall spot in Kalahandi forest division, Rabandhara waterfall spot in Kalahandi forest division, ChakuriaGhat eco-center in Dhenkanal forest division and Dambarugarh eco-site in Boudh forest division.

The meeting deliberated on development of new eco-destinations, renovation and up-scaling of existing destinations, completion of the under construction destinations, capacity building and exposure visit of the community members. An action plan of Rs 30 crore was approved for these purposes. Mohapatra directed to complete the projects expeditiously within the current year.

The chief secretary also directed to ensure strict adherence to sanitation measures and COVID-19 appropriate behaviour in all eco-destinations. An estimated budget of Rs 150 lakh was sanctioned for 25 forest divisions for implementation of Covid prevention SOP.

Official sources said that the state has reported constant increase in the number of visitors to the eco-destinations. It increased from 11,500 tourists in the year 2017-18 to 29,024 in the year 2018-19 and further to 57,000 in the year 2020-21.

Similarly, the revenue generated from ecotourism increased from Rs 3.40 crore in 2017-18 to Rs 5.61 crore in 2018-19 and further to Rs 8.32 crore in 2020-21.