From Alps to Himalayas – A New Beginning
11 October, 2011, Luzern, Switzerland, EU
Dr. R.S.Tolia sat at the Mountain Partnership Secretariat attending World Mountain Conference. The toughened bureaucrat, who spent an active career witnessing the birth of the Indian state of Uttarakhand on a mountain agenda, was lost in thoughts about the problems and struggles of the people he represented.
11 October, 2011, Village Bundawali Kishenpur, Dehradun, Uttakhand, India
Biresh Nautial, aged 18, completed his one hour walk to the nearest road junction. He would wait here, like any other day, for a trekker or a bus to Dehradun to attend his senior school classes. Biresh was distraught because he had only Rupees 50 with him and had to manage his day journey with that.
For both Dr. Tolia and Biresh, mountains are essential realities, way more important than symposiums, discussions or scholarly debates. The former has started a ‘third inning’ of his distinguished life conceiving a dream that unfolds over eight countries and twelve states of India. The later is living out the challenges that haunt the dream.
For them and many, Sustainable Mountain Development is a panacea that liberates them from hunger, poverty, disease and disaster in immediate life. For all of us, it is a long term investment against loss of biodiversity and water and an insurance for sustainable global development , poverty alleviation and the transition to a green economy.
“Mountain people, who are among the world’s poorest and hungriest, are key to maintaining mountain ecosystems and their role in providing environmental services to downstream communities. Mountain communities need to be empowered and their livelihoods improved, to enable them to take responsibility for the preservation of natural resources and to fulfill their role as mountain stewards.
In spite of the obvious importance of mountain areas, sustainable mountain development does not receive the attention and priority it deserves. Investing in sustainable mountain development is a global priority for addressing the current challenges. It reaches far beyond monetary terms to embrace increased attention to and support in all aspects of mountain ecology and society;” writes FAO whitepaper Why Invest in Sustainable Mountain Development.
Sustainable Mountain Development was recognized in chapter 13 of Agenda 21 in Rio Earth Summit in 1992. We are going to see Rio+20 in June 2012 and it appears somehow mountain has been dropped from the agenda. As a follow up of Rio, in 2002, India reviewed Sustainable Development through a publication ‘Agenda 21 – An Assessment’ and it’s chapter 12 makes interesting reading. But that was 10 years ago. In the last annual report by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, mountains or its environmental aspects have not been given focus.
There is a school of thought that all ecologies of the world are in a continuum, one cannot draw a line defining that one ends at a particular area and another starts. Moreover, several ecologies can intermingle and make demarcation difficult. There can be complex energy and resource flows in a place which are intricately interlinked, for example in traditional north Indian mountains, agriculture, forest and live stock are so interlaced and you cannot take out one in isolation and provide intervention. The world’s biome classification by Campbell (1996) does not contain anything such as mountains.
Still, something as vital as Himalayas cannot be denied a special recognition by India. Indian SMD approaches are two pronged and Policy/ Legislation/ Program/ Institutional activities have two major sides, namely Hill Area Development Program (HADP) and Western Ghats Development Program (WGDP). Until now HADP was being implemented in designated hill areas in Uttar Pradesh, Assam, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal. The main objectives of the program are eco-preservation and eco-restoration with emphasis on preservation of biodiversity and rejuvenation of hill ecology. The areas covered by the WGDP include parts of Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. The program adopts an integrated watershed development approach in the Western Ghats area, prioritizing eco-development, eco-restoration and meeting the basic needs of food, fuel and fodder. Despite greater allocation of funds, HADP remained a sectoral program. While the WGDP was implemented on a watershed basis, this was not the case with the HADP. In case of the latter, Special Central Assistance formed a sub-component of the state plan. As a result, other sectors or areas received priority and environmental concerns did not receive adequate attention (Planning Commission, 2001). Of particular concern was the utilization of Special Central Assistance meant for the ecological preservation of hill areas for meeting non-plan or salary requirements.
In 1992, in response to Rio, India legislated its National Policy for the Integrated Development of the Himalayas. Notification on protection and improvement of quality of environment in the Himalayas issued by the Ministry of Environment and Forests under the Environment (Protection) Act 1986, specifically for environmental protection in the Himalayan states came up in 2001. But by this time, a local discontent of the mountain communities in Central Himalayas of India resulted in creation of a new state, 27th of the Republic, named Uttarakhand which was carved out of the Himalayan and adjoining north-western districts of Uttar Pradeshon 9 November 2000. The basic foundation of this state had been the Agenda 21, also known as Mountain Agenda.
Indian mountain reality
Indian mountain reality
Despite India’s ancient traditions of sensitivity towards Nature and Life the ground reality of the modern republic is that of a developing nation. There appears to be widening divide between the environmental concerns and aspirations of Indian people about economic growth. Such aspirations, in large part, are related to standards of living based on consumerist models of economy that brings on its wings ultra-urbanization, over exploitation of resources, deforestation, pollution and asymmetrical distribution of wealth. For a country of 1.2 billion people, the dimension of this challenge to the planners is huge. Himalayan degradation, in this context, is of particular worry as all the 5 mountain specificities (Dr.N.S.Jodha Mountain Perspective) namely 1) fragility 2), limited accessibility, 3) marginality, 4) diversity, 5) mountain niche, are either challenged or modified in the Himalayas. The Sustainable Mountain Development in Rio Document saw two programs, viz, (a) Promoting integrated watershed development and alternative livelihood opportunities and (b) Generating and strengthening knowledge about the ecology and sustainable development of mountain ecosystems – for India the alternative livelihood opportunities, particularly greener and cleaner, have still remained a mirage. Knowledge about the ecology and sustainable development of mountain ecosystems, in Indian mountain villages will not find a taker as long as they will ask them to change livelihood options or modify those without presenting a viable SMD model that makes clear and economic sense to people.
Indian mountain reality, or for that matter Pan Himalayan reality for all the countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Nepal, China, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Myanmar, when contrasted against Europe and American continents reveal interesting points.
Learning from the Alps
Learning from the Alps
Among Andes in the South America, Alps in Europe and Himalayas in Asia, Andes is the longest (7000 km) extending from north to south through seven South American countries; Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela. On the other extreme Himalayas stretch over 2400 km spanning Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Nepal, China, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Myanmar but by far is highest. To comprehend the enormous scale of this mountain range, consider that Aconcagua, in the Andes, at 6,962 m is the highest peak outside Asia, whereas the Himalayan system includes over 100 mountains exceeding 7,200 m. Somewhere in between the longest and highest lie European Alps stretching from Austria and Slovenia in the east through Italy, Switzerland, Liechtenstein and Germany to France in the west. The economic and developmental issues of the communities living in these three great mountain systems vary widely on account of differences in history, politics, topography and myriad other reasons. There are, however, some commonalities too and Alpine Convention an international treaty and a Framework Convention formed in 1991, set general objectives for the protection and sustainable development of the Alps, and the operating rules for the decision-making bodies, together with various implementation Protocols on:
(i) Mountain Farming,
(ii) Mountain Tourism,
(iii) Spatial Planning & Sustainable Development,
(v) Conservation of Nature and the Countryside,
(vi) Mountain Forests,
(vii) Soil Conservation, and
While these were proposed with Alps in mind, the protocols with local modifications can serve for something like a Himalayan Convention. Dr. R.S Tolia, the visionary bureaucrat I mentioned in the beginning, is spearheading a movement in Uttrakhand, India where an Indian Himalayan Convention for 12 Indian Himalayan States is underway and in time with possibilities of becoming Pan Himalayan in true sense.
“It appears that the Mountain Agenda, which brought Uttarakhand into existence, separating itself from the huge political monolith called Uttar Pradesh, must again be brought centre-stage, and Uttarakhand must take lead in highlighting the specific mountain issues to the notice of the decision-makers of India and through them the decision-makers of the entire Himalayan region. We could initiate a beginning by crafting together first an Indian Himalayan Convention, consisting of the 12 Indian Mountain States, agreeing to having common mountain policies and their implementation Protocols, on the lines similar to the Alpine Convention, as narrated above.” Writes Dr. Tolia in his article Mountains As Door-Openers
A New beginning
A New Beginning
On 28 October 2011 at Yojana Bhavan in New Delhi B.K. Chaturvedi, Member, Planning Commission at Government of India chaired a meeting of the Working Group on “Mountain Eco-systems and Challenges Faced by the People living in the Hilly Areas” for formulation of the 12th Five year Plan. Two sub groups were formed in this meeting to deal with Infrastructure and Ecosystem & Climate Change for 12th Five Year Plan of Government of India. The highlights of the meeting can be seen here. One sub group has officially requested for suggestions from the state governments of all 12 Indian Mountain states, while a message has been floated for the recommendations and suggestions of various interest groups across Himalayan region and beyond.
One can see a buzz of activities in the Indian Mountains, expectations soaring, for a possible great leap towards right directions and other Hindu Kush Himalayan countries are watching the progress with great interest. NGOs from India, for the first time are placing their own agenda and demanding the long awaited leadership in terms of knowledge, idea and action. I have the opportunity of working with one Knowledge Networking Platform, Climate Himalaya that is gathering momentum for a thought reform in the mountains. One can feel the sense of urgency and inspiration from their discussion forum.
For both Biresh and Dr. Tolia, the journey is fated to be marred with struggle. Indian mountains are land scarce. In addition to that Himalayas is a nascent geological system of continuing orogeny, so land slippage and earthquakes are frequent here. These pose challenges to spatial planning, infrastructure and transport. Pilgrimage or Religious Tourism is another specialty of Himalayas, which is missing in Alpine Protocols. A mountain specific development model different from plains and sustainable in nature is still missing in Himalayas – but we can see a beginning of a new paradigm in Himalayas.
The following video showcases the snippets of thoughts of the leaders and thinkers of Indian Mountain States that can usher such change.
Featured Photo Credit: Dr. Piyush Rautela