-Prof. R K Maikhuri, Prof. RC Sundriyal and Dr. Prashant Kandari
The Himalaya, which forms the world’s 3rdlongest mountain range, extends to over 2500 km in length and 250 to 300 km in width, and popularly called as ‘Third Pole’ or “Water Towers of Asia” by virtue of large concentration of ice and snow outside North and South poles. Himalayan region is geodynamically young mountain system in the world that is still rising. The region is sensitive to climate and anthropogenic disturbances. This region occupies a special place in the mountain systems of the world due to being a source of water, biodiversity, food, energy. The IHR stretches to two union territories (Ladakh and Jammu & Kashmir), nine states fully (viz. Arunachal Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim, Tripura, Uttarakhand) and two states partially (viz. two districts of Assam, i.e. KarbiAnglong, and Dima Hassao; and one district of West Bengal, i.e. Darjeeling). It comprises a geographical area of 5,33,604 km2which is 16.2% of the total area of India. It is characterized by sparse population, undulating terrain, tiny and scattered land holdings, scanty irrigation opportunities, agro-pastoral economy, low agricultural productivity, and access and of modern technologies. It houses a population of about 486 lakh, which is nearly 4% of the population of India. The region supports over 170 ethnic communities mainly in the north-east with distinct socio-cultural milieu and cultural diversity. IHR has over 9,000 glaciers and 549 glacial lakes with a huge hydropower potential (about 25,000 MW over 200 locations). In addition, more than 14% of the geographical area is under protected area network (PAN), and few are globally significant such as Corbett Tiger reserve and Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve (NDBR) having two core zones (Valley of Flowers and Nanda Devi national parks) inscribed under UNESCO natural World Heritage Sites. The region serves as home for number of endemic and threatened floral and faunal (e.g., Musk dear, Snow leopard, Black bear, Brown bear, Bharal, Himalayan thar, Serow, Tiger, Elephant, etc.). CHR has been also associated with Chipko movement (tree – hugging) of local people that forced the government to put ban on green tree felling in the region in 1974 and subsequently in all fragile hilly regions of the country.With improvement in accessibility, traditional systems are being increasingly impacted by external socio-economic political forces (conservative-developmental policies, economic globalization and democratization) coupled with the global environmental changes (climate change and extreme events of natural & human induced disasters, biodiversity depletion, biological invasion, unplanned urbanization, un regulate mass religious tourism. The region constitutes the principal basis for the climate system that prevails over India; therefore it is often epitomized as ‘climate regulator’ or ‘weather maker’ or ‘ecological buffer’ of the Indian sub-continent.
Key global roles of Himalayan Mountains
o Supports considerable landmass, population (upstream and downstream), and cultures
o Hotspot of plant, animal and microbial genetic diversity
o Shares ecology (key border areas) with many Himalayan countries
o Diverse crops and cropping systems, timber species, and mineral resources
o Source of fresh drinking water, for domestic use, irrigation, industry and hydropower
o Source of green and renewal energy
o Huge repository of indigenous knowledge about bio resources, ecosystems and cultures
o Key tourism destinations and home to many sacred spiritual, cultural sites and forts
o Provides opportunities for regional and global collaborations
IHR: Challenges and opportunities
Despite an uninterrupted supply of goods and services to millions of people living within and outside the region, the people are poor, marginalized and disadvantaged. Limited economic activities, overexploitation of resources, frequent landslide, disasters, small & fragmented land holdings, subsistence agriculture, jhum cultivation, and growing unemployment puts huge pressure on the environment. In recent times the situation is further aggravated due to climate change and frequent disasters: natural and manmade both.
Although the region has limited political representation at center however in view of the vulnerability of the region from time to time the Central Government has established Task forces and working groups to look into the problems of the hill areas. These Task forces and working groups have provided many recommendations to improve the status of the region, however, the situation has not changed much. For example, the Working Group for Eighth Plan highlighted that the hill areas of the country face peculiar problems which inhibit the process of development and difficult terrain, variable agro-climatic conditions, distinct socio-cultural features, contribute to their backwardness’. The Task Force of the Planning Commission, Government of India for hill states and hill areas emphasized the need for a common essential platform for regular interaction and a common essential plan for the region. But this goal is yet to be achieved. The increasing pressures on the carrying capacity of the Himalayan communities and resources have resulted in unsustainable practices that endanger the key mountain services. It needs a paradigm shift to restore a balance between environmental concerns and the developmental aspirations of the people.
Key challenges in IHR
o Accelerated soil erosion and landslides
o Poverty, subsistence agriculture, declining soil fertility and crop yield
o Water scarcity for household use
o Deforestation and land degradation
o Scarcity of fodder and fuelwood
o Frequent Forest fires and wildlife attacks
o Increasing wasteland
o Invasion of alien weeds
o Lack of infrastructure and market for processing and sale of farm produce
o Lack of civil amenities, medical facilities
o Climate change and disaster mitigation
As the region is highly fragile to natural processes, disasters, and impacts of climate change, pressure of anthropogenic activities, deforestation and forest degradation, land use change, land degradation, unplanned infrastructure development etc therefore the Government of India to protecting Himalayan environment and development appropriately launched the National Mission for Sustaining the Himalayan Ecosystem (NMSHE), and National Mission on Himalayan Studies (NMHS).
Opportunities in Himalayan region
o Creating job and economic opportunities
o Livelihood promotion and checking migration
o Development of adequate infrastructure
o Promotion of clean and green energy
o Building economic resilience and spatial planning for the sustainable development
o Developing skills through education, training and capacity building
o Promoting public health, education, communication and behavior change
It is argued that the ecosystem stability, sustainable use, and wellbeing of the Himalayan people must be improved on the basis of sound scientific innovative initiatives, appropriate institutions, actions and policies for sensible use of mountain resources for human development in the IHR.
Since the region is generally considered as data deficient that hampers the identification of the available options for its economic growth, therefore, considering this Niti Ayog, Govt. of India in collaboration with the Ministry of Education has sponsored the Indian Himalayan Central University Consortium (IHCUC) of thirteen central universities to generate field-based knowledge, data and authentic information on the various aspects of the Himalaya, be it social, economic, ecological, political, etc. Currently, IHCUC is working on five priority thematic areas. To safeguard the IHR as a socio-cultural, spiritual, water tower and biodiversity hub there is a strong need to set the research and development agenda that provides robust multidisciplinary data sets and need-based information by assimilating it from across the IHR states. The solution drawn from such cumulative data set may help to provide solutions for ecological stability as well as demonstrate and advance sustainable and resilient development for improved and equitable livelihoods in the region.
(Prof. R K Maikhuri, Prof. RC Sundriyal and Dr. Prashant Kandari)
Department of Environmental Science
Department of Forestry and Natural Resource Management
Department of Economics
Hemvati Nandan Bahuguna Garhwal University