Opinions have been expressed that the pace of development of the Indian Himalayan Region (IHR) has been slow when compared to the rest of the country. At the same time, its fragile nature and difficulty of taking up conventional development initiatives has not been appreciated. In this report, arguments have been presented recommending reshaping of policies to bring in the “mountain perspective” for the IHR, in the national planning. Emphasis has also been laid on developing norms for good governance and for harnessing social capital at the grassroots.
The distilled recommendations of the Task Force, as mentioned in the executive summary are:
1. Developmental zones
The Task Force recommends that the balance between natural resource exploitation and conservation should tilt in favour of the latter. Zones must be identified for appropriate activities such as:
- Zones of snow, alpine, sub-alpine areas and sacred landscapes to be protected at any cost, for maintaining the flow of vital ecosystem services and for respecting and preserving religio-cultural values,
- All natural water zones (glaciers, rivers, lakes, and springs) must be strictly protected. Activities in any of the zones that, in any way, adversely impact on water resources should be barred. Areas that harboured natural Springs must be converted to “Spring Sanctuaries” and this concept should be incorporated in all planning,
- Forest zones should be conserved and augmented for environmental services and biodiversity values. Such zones should also be available for sustainable bio and NTFP, including bamboo, prospecting, and for eco-tourism,
- Zones of fertile river valleys at lower altitudes should be utilized for maximizing agricultural production but conversion of agricultural land to other uses in such zones should not be allowed. Areas where shifting or terraced agriculture is practiced should be earmarked for unique crops, organic agriculture, horticulture, agro-forestry, and for introducing better management practices,
- River zones for decentralized electricity production should be earmarked to meet the household and small industrial power requirements,
- Zones for habitation, especially of urban spaces: no construction should be undertaken in areas having slope above 30o or areas which fall in hazardous zones or areas falling on spring and aquifer lines and first order streams. Effi cient sewage & municipal waste management systems should be mandatory in such places,
- Zones for industry should only be in non fragile areas and include only those activities favourable to mountain conditions, processing non-toxic, preferably locally available raw materials, and generate local employment, while demonstrating effi cient CSR and CER practices.
2. Road, rail and air connectivity
The Task Force recommends two loop railway lines – one for the Western Himalayan region connecting Jammu & Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, and Uttarakhand, and the other for the North-Eastern Region. These two loops should be linked to each other through the existing national network of the northern and eastern railway. The road network of the IHR must link up with the rail network at appropriate places for performing the aforementioned functions. The road network should also be linked up with air services so as to provide opportunities for perishable goods and persons nneeding emergency health care to reach the rest of the country or outside. The Task Force recommends that every IHR state should have at least one small air-strip for accepting large helicopters and short take-off and landing planes. The airport should be located near the major production centre rather than the capital city of the state.
1. Mountain Perspective and Sensitization
Mountains are and should be treated as national treasures: of resource and opportunity; for today and tomorrow. Indeed, survival of the north and eastern plains of India, with their large population, will be difficult if IHR plans are faulty and short sighted. This would also mean that national policies have to have a mountain perspective so that decisions taken for the rest of the country do not adversely affect the mountain environment, its resource and its people. Planners and policy makers particularly, have to be sensitized regarding the vulnerabilities as well as the importance of the IHR.
2. Education and Skill Development
Designing of mountain specific courses and skills for planners, administrators, engineers, social scientists, especially on all aspects of mountain ecology, geology, and marginal socio – economic conditions of the local population is of essence.
3. Natural Resource Analysis and Advisory Centre (NRAAC)
The Task Force recommends the upgradation of an existing institute or the establishment of a new institute on Natural Resource Analysis and Advisory Centre (NRAAC). This institute should have full digital data on the resource base of the IHR; should be able to analyse data to detect changes or see trends; and should be able to guide policy makers and planners on any activity that is likely to affect any resource or the environment of the region. Consultation with this body should be mandatory before any major activity in the IHR is undertaken. For effectively carrying out all the recommendations, and to support their planning as well as for much needed monitoring, all IHR states need to join in and establish a user friendly digital databank (spatial and non-spatial).
4. Strategic Environmental Assessment
A new perspective to replace the practice of project based environmental impact assessment (EIA), with Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) needs to be introduced.
5. Financial Incentives, Rewards, and Relaxations
Norms for centrally sponsored schemes should be formulated on geographical parameters (climate & season67, distance, topography, accessibility) rather than conventional parameters like human population68. In this regard certain welcome steps have been introduced in recent times by way of relaxation in norms under Centrally Sponsored and other Central Schemes for Hill Areas (e.g., Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojna, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, and National Rural Drinking Water Programme; details in Annexure IV). Different price policy for inputs and transportation of organic/niche specifi c crops of the mountains is required, coupled with an enabling framework to encourage the development IHR brand (e.g., eco-mark, energy star label). Relaxation in banking norms need to be considered for extending credit in areas where the traditional land tenure system restricts personal ownership or where land rights have not been surveyed and settled. In such situations (especially north-eastern region) social capital should be condered as a surrogate to land ownership.
6. Resource Sharing between IHR States
There is need for establishing resource sharing mechanisms and/or inter-exchange between the IHR states. Such policies will generate a great degree of goodwill.
7. Waterways and Ropeways
Of the three inland national waterways declared so far in the country, the Sadiya-Dhubri stretch of river Brahmaputra (891 km) is in the IHR. The road network should match with this waterway to optimize the cost of transportation. Ropeways, steel-rope bridges and the like must be encouraged to continue providing time saving and environment friendly transport alternatives in the mountains. The legal frame work of Himachal Pradesh70 can form the basis for the development and extension of such methods in the IHR.
8. Waste Management
Waste management is a challenging issue for the IHR. If not addressed right away, it may become the major cause of pollution of all the critical riverine systems and valleys. The easy alternative of burning, if adopted, would pollute the air and contribute towards warming of the localized climate. The Task Force, therefore, recommends immediate attention of the IHR states to this problem and suggests the formulation of schemes that address it from the production stage to the disposal. Financial incentives with legal control are recommended. Full advantage should be taken of national programmes for strengthening the capacity of local bodies for segregation, recycling and reuse of municipal solid and liquid waste, and for creating community awareness and community imposed self discipline. A small state like Mizoram has organized its youth to provide garbage bins at every roadside market, and remove the collection at the end of each day. Unfortunately, not knowing what to do with the waste, they are burning it aalong the hill slopes.
9. Disaster Preparedness and Mitigation
It is imperative, the Task Force feels, to zone stable areas for human settlements paying due attention to soil and slope conditions and proximity to natural drainage network and fault zones. Unstable zones must be identified and made strictly out of bounds for any human activity.
Regulations governing the type of construction permissible within approved zones, heavy penalties for violation, compulsory rain water harvesting structures for all residences and commercial buildings above a prescribed plinth area, and for all offices; sewage disposal, solid waste management and drinking water supply should form the basic part of such master plan and regulation. Strict regulations during festivities and pilgrimages, estimating the carrying capacity of habitations, earthquake and fire resistant buildings, proper vacant spaces for refuge in times of emergency, forecasting and early warning systems, and rapid response mechanisms are measures that should be put in place at each sensitive location. IHR states should have no hesitation for spending money on competent consulting organizations that provide disaster management services.
Investments in this sector have to be regulated in order to protect the fragility of the region. Only in limited areas is it advisable to set up industries so that the adverse effect on the terrain and the water regime can be accepted if not countered. There is, however, some potential for development of small and cottage industries if imaginatively linked to tourist circuits. This will add value to locally available raw material, mainly of plant and animal origin, as well as some items that use up the mineral wealth. This will also provide dispersed employment.
11. Climate Change
Without going into the specifics, the Task Force members recommended that the IHR states must anticipate impending warming of the earth’s climate, and therefore, encourage predictive research in order to plan for mitigating the adverse consequence.
12. National Mission for Sustaining the Himalayan Ecosystem (NMSHE)
The launch of NMSHE, the only location specifi c mission, along with seven other thematic missions under the National Action Plan for Climate Change, is a clear indication of the importance being given to the Himalayan region at the highest level.
The major recommendation of the Task Force is also to echo similar sentiments, and to suggest that this region should be accorded its rightful place in the planning process, giving due emphasis to mountain specificities. Since many factors well beyond the national boundaries, greatly infl uence this region, suitable policy framework will need to e put in place to take care of the need to exchange information with the South Asian countries and regional neighbours those who share the Himalayan ecology, as also recognized in the Mission document on NMSHE71 .