The Himalayan Policy: A Need of an Hour

The Himalayas is the young mountain chain in the world and is spread across five countries namely Bhutan, China, India, Pakistan, and Nepal. This Himalayas range is the dwelling of near about 52.7 million people with heterogeneity in culture and religion (Apollo, M. 2017). This range is also vibrant in water resources (water century) and stores about 12,000 km3 (2,900 cu mi) of freshwater (IPPC, 2007). It is the home of well know rivers like the Indus, the Gangas and the Tsangpo- Brahmaputra. In addition to this, the Himalaya comprises approximately 15,000 glaciers, the famous among these Glaciers are Gangatori, Yamunotri, Khumba, Langtang and Zemu ( IPPC, 2007).

The Indian Himalayan Region has a vast stretch of forest cover and incorporates thousands of species of diverse plants. These forests are the livelihood sources in the region. The significant number of the natives of the Himalayas depends on agriculture and is the fundamental livelihood option. In the eastern Himalayas, agriculture is practiced in the form of shifting cultivation (Jhum). This shifting cultivation practice is slowly becoming ecologically non-viable due to extreme anthropogenic pressure. However, in the central and western Himalayas, it is affected by the size of settled agricultural land and significant growth in the human population. Because of this first option of livelihood, agriculture has become less fruitful for them. To cite the example of the central Himalayas, the Kumaun region has been facing a migration at a tremendous pace, one of the leading factors of which is less productive agricultural and marginal landholdings.

The other issue is the emerging protected area that curtails the rights of the natives on the forests. It is reported, from the studies that by declaring more areas as a protected area, the problem of livelihood dependency on forest resources of the local people is worsened particularly in the central Himalayas.

The region is naturally disaster-prone:

The Himalayas mountain range is a seismically volatile zone and is one of the six most seismically active zones of the globe. The rest of the zones are Mexico, Taiwan, California, Japan, and Turkey. Despite this being a seismically active zone, people have been constructing high buildings, and even malls are being built in this highly earthquake active zone. The reaction and the tragedy, which happened in Uttarakhand Kedarnath in 2013, the worst flood eliminated the vast number of lives lost and enormous property was damaged. This enigma has also highlighted by the Parliamentary Committee that the vast rush of tourists towards these Himalayan States is a matter of concern. According to Niti Aayog, 6.8% tourism is growing annually and in 2025 the flow might be quadrupled.

In this direction, hotels and other constructions are taking place in a bulky velocity in the region. The structures are constructed by carving the mountains, which negatively influence the local ecology of the region. This unplanned development has shown negative results as 30% of springs are near to water paucity and 50% have reduced the water discharge. From the observations, it is reported that the plan areas of the state inspire these new constructions.

Hence the Parliamentary Committee, (92017-18) suggests that public awareness campaign for sensitizing people about the vulnerability of Himalayan region and need for the Government may undertake sustainable tourism.

Whatever we are observing today is that the expanding impetus of anthropogenic activities in the region is incrementally devastating to the Himalayan ecosystem in different ways, sometimes in the name of planning, construction of dams, hallow urbanization in the area, rise in the population, the significant use of non-degradable wastes, etc.

Moreover, if we talk about the biodiversity of the region it is vibrant, the eastern Himalayan region is among 12 hot spots of the world. Therefore, it needs unprecedented attention from the policymakers of the country. No doubt there are various autonomous institutes like G.B Pant Kosi Katrmal Almora, for the ecological and sustainable development of the Himalayas, but these institutes are not enough for the development of these various issues that are related to social, environmental, and economic perspectives of the area.

The Government of India has formulated a Climate Action Plan which comprises of eight missions as mentioned below:

  • National Solar Mission
  • National Mission for Enhanced Energy Efficiency
  • National Mission for Sustainable Habitat
  • National Water Mission
  • National Mission for sustaining the Himalayan Ecosystem
  • National Mission for Green India
  • National Mission for sustainable agriculture
  • National Mission on strategic knowledge for climate change

Among these above-mentioned missions, the National Mission for supporting the Himalayan ecosystem is focused on the protection of the ecosystem of the Indian Himalayan region. According to the Parliamentary Committee (2018-19) report, the performance of the National action plan on climate change under this National Mission for Sustaining the Himalayan Ecosystem (NMSHE) from 2012-2017, the total allocation of funds was Rs. 150.24 crores to create the infrastructure for the sustainable development of the Indian Himalayan region. Apart from this, the Centre for Himalayan Glaciology (CHG) at Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology, Dehradun was established with a cost of Rs 24 crores. The state cells have also been created in the 11 states out of 12 states. In addition to these six thematic task, forces have been set up to study the Indian Himalayan region in 11 state centers.

On these missions, the Parliamentary committee in (2018-2019) on estimates presented a thirtieth report titled Performance of the National Action Plan on Climate Change. The committee felt that any mission for gaining detailed knowledge about Himalayan ecosystem should not be confined to just one part of the Himalayan ecosystem. Therefore, the committee came up with the recommendation that the Himalayan is the international ecosystem, hence requires the collaboration of Afghanistan, Pakistan, China, Bhutan, Nepal, Myanmar, Bangladesh, and Vietnam for more reliable safety of the ecosystem of the Himalayan region. All these countries should share information and work on the sustainable development of this delicate region of the planet.

Despite these tremendous flow of funds, the status of the Himalayan has not restored its previous state as the glaciers of the region are melting at a fast rate. The inhabitants of these regions are also migrating towards the plain areas — the example of the hilly areas of the Uttarakhand in which many villages are named as Ghost villages as they are entirely empty. The State Government has failed to fulfil the aspirations of the people.

When we shed light on the policy, there comes a necessity to view all those indicators that influence the sustainable development process. The Indian Himalayan region is the nest of significantly poor people as compared to the people of plain areas of the country. The ratio of the marginalized population is 13.49% except for the Jammu and Kashmir scheduled castes and 18.5% of tribal population (near about 171 tribes) are residing in this Indian Himalayan region (Samal et al. 2000).

No doubt, there are plentiful institutions that are operating for the sustainable development of this Indian Himalayan region. Among these institutions are, the Govind Ballaha Pant Kosi Katramal, which is also the nodal agency of the number of programmes. These institutions are working on different projects; however, after looking at these projects, these are principally ecology-related and very few are focusing on the social dimension of the area. The secondary viewpoint is that if any project develops a model or seed for livelihood purposes, though it fetches enough money, a poor person would not be able to benefit from these models. Apart from this, there is a lack of political will to boost these models at the grass-root level as these models are confined to only research publications. Some of the natives called these institution as a ‘White Elephant’ as their outcome is not diversely felt at the ground level.

The perceptions of local people of Central Himalayas:

The perceptions of the local people are very worrisome about the eco-friendly progress of the area. The people of the Kumaun Himalayas stated that there is a need to address essential problems in the area like education, healthcare, employment, and migration. The natives further told that the only things relevant for a poor person to strive is the basic requirements of life, and only if these things are fulfilled, will then he be able to ponder on the environment. Therefore, the government should come up with a relevant policy which accords itself to the local requirement, social habits, and ecology of the Indian Himalayan region. The locals explained that there is a need for a separate and unique holistic plan that will help the Himalayan region to attain the goals of sustainable development.

The policy should encompass rural infrastructure, rural health, agro-industry focus on local and ingenious models, apple industry, people-friendly land norms, agriculture resurgence in the hill. The policy should be participatory, and the Government should only act as the facilitator. The special department should be carved in the institutes that are working for the development of the Himalayas, which will solely focus and research on the problems that are social and economic oriented.

Some of the natives said that the policy should focus on the entire ecology and boost local agriculture at the same time, in the whole Himalayan region. There should be free education, subsidized transport to the inhabitants of the Himalayan region. There is also a need for village health clinic in the Himalayan region to address the expanding health predicaments in this region.

They further said that there should be free housing facilities under the programme of green construction and minimum use of cement. There should be complete ban on the creation of water reservoirs in the whole Himalayas’ and on the Band construction.

For the preservation of the local Himalayan culture, there is a need to open the centers that will focus and assist in preserving the Himalayan cultural values.

The policy should discuss the capacity building for locals to the recycling of the non-biodegradable wastes generated in the hill.

Although the programmes are working in the state, the urgency of the time to formulate separate documents for the development of the Himalayas and the inhabitants of the Himalayas should be the part of the draft. Moreover, the policy should be formulated after the ground interaction with the local people of the Himalayas through tailoring approach.

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