Participatory Management of
Natural Resources in Mountain Ecosystems
mountain ecosystems of the Indian Himalayan Region (IHR) are spread
across 11 states, covering 3,000 km in length and 200-300 km in width.
The significance of these ecosystems was first recognised
internationally by the Rio Conference in 1992 wherein it was stated that
'the livelihood of about 10% of the world's population relies directly
upon mountain resources such as water, forests and agricultural products
and minerals' (Chapter 13: United Nations, 2001).
Problem Statement: Depleting Mountain
Community Stewardship in Managing Natural Resources
Communities of the mountain ecosystems have
played a crucial role in maintaining a sustainable flow of resources to
the plains below. But in recent years, with the coming of new
technologies, population increase and development pressures; the
magnitude of this resource outflow has increased dramatically.
Beneficiaries of the plain areas have contributed little to reinvestment
in the management of the mountain natural resources. The mountain
communities themselves have been marginalised. This has resulted in the
loss of community stewardship for these mountain resources.
Policy Shift in Natural Resource
Management over the years
The Himalayas have seen two distinct phases
in its timeline since the 20th century. The first was the incessant
clearing of forests for the growth of the timber industry. This was on
account of the quest for more revenue and the insatiable demand for
timber by the railways and military in the economy under the British
rule as shown in the figure.
The second phase was post the Forest Conservation Act of 1980 when as
per the directives of the Supreme Court, the growth of forest-based
industry in the Himalayan states was checked. These mandatory directives
ignored the value of forests as an economic resource leading to a
decline in the state revenue generated from the forests which resulted
in increasing local dissatisfaction.
The State Forest Policy of 2001 did take
into account the above-mentioned factors, but there has been ambiguity
in its implementation as there has been a rise in imported building
materials like cement, which means that there has been a significant
drop in the use of vernacular materials like timber and stone. For
example, a renowned cement company has increased its number of
integrated cement plants in India from 12 to 18 (Global Cement, 2017).
The new assets are in Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand,
Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh. Two of the states mentioned fall
under the ecologically-sensitive Indian Himalayan Region and thus face
Within policies for the Himalayan region,
there is also need for a specific regional analysis instead of assuming
uniformity to the entire area. Problems of the 12 Himalayan States of
the Indian Himalayan Region (IHR) vary from state-to-state. There is
also an urgent need to strengthen co-operation among stakeholders in the
affected states for an integrated approach.
Policy Initiatives in Mountain Ecosystems
A Planning Commission Task Force has
recommended that, “the balance between natural resource exploitation and
conservation should tilt in favour of the latter” (Planning Commission &
GBPIHED, 2010). The ground realities are however quite different.
Natural and climate change induced
disasters negatively affect tourism: The economy of most of the
states in IHR has been largely dominated by the services sector. Tourism
is a major driver of economic growth and livelihood promotion in many of
the mountain states like Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Sikkim etc. In
order to further boost investment in the tourism sector, the Government
of Uttarakhand has given 'industry' status to the tourism sector.
But disasters play a very important role in
controlling influx of tourists in the state. For e.g. the number of
tourists visiting Uttarakhand had increased from around 11 Million in
2000 to 28 Million in 2012. But in the year 2013, after the devastating
floods and landslides in the state, there was a 30% decline in tourist
visits. In 2014, the state regained its momentum and witnessed 10%
growth in total tourist visits. The total tourist visits in Uttarakhand
are expected to reach around 67 Million by 2026 (Uttarakhand Tourism
Draft Policy, 2017). However, the increased probability of extreme
events, climate change triggered disasters, would continue to haunt
tourism's growth, development and sustainability in Uttarakhand.
Compensation to states for their standing
forests: The 12th and 13th Finance Commissions have included the
concept of compensating states for standing forests in their reports.
Unfortunately, the funds provided for these services are meagre and
currently unavailable. The policies urgently need to evolve with regard
to building the local economies and working with the rural populace in
accordance with their resource demands from the forests.
Unplanned development: The main
reason for the floods having caused so much havoc in Uttarakhand was due
to ill-planned or unplanned development, specifically in three areas –
road construction, building construction and mining in the riverbeds.
Insensitive construction: The
foremost shortfall in the field of conservation of the mountain
ecosystems is the incessant government grants for large construction
projects like hydel power which are completely insensitive to the
ecology and the communities. In Uttarakhand on the Ganga basin alone,
the government has identified projects adding up to nearly 10,000 mw of
power and plans for 70-odd projects (Narain, Himalayas: The Agenda for
Development and Environment, 2013).
Illegal mining: The materials to
construct buildings – sand and gravel – are mined from the riverbeds and
forest areas illegally. The state government's data shows that 1,608
hectares on the riverbeds were mined in 2012. The state's forest
department says that between 2000 and 2010, almost 4,000 hectares of
land previously under its jurisdiction was diverted for mining. The
result is that when there is a flood, there is no check on the huge
boulders rolling down the riverbeds and causing havoc along the banks.
Material regulation: Vernacular
building practices are developed with locally available, easily workable
and natural building materials which are mostly renewable in nature
(like timber, thatch, mud and bamboo), have good climatic response and
have no adverse effect on the health of residents and little or
negligible impact on the environment of hill settlements. Now,
contemporary building materials are manufactured from raw materials,
which are transported from different parts of the country after
manufacturing. These materials have high embodied energy and cause a lot
of pollution during manufacturing and transportation and are mostly
inappropriate to the context of hill settlements.
Earthquake resistant construction and
safety regulations: Safety against natural hazards is the most
serious concern for planning and design of buildings in hill regions.
Many vernacular practices like dhajji wall, kath-kuni, koti-banal, taaq
and wooden buildings have good response during previous earthquakes
(Kumar and Pushplata, 2008). However, presently adopted construction
practices in hilly areas do not have good earthquake response and may
result in serious damage and loss of precious human life and resources.
Need for Integrated Mountain Development
Seeing the growing attraction of tourism
industry in these mountain states, there is a need for creation of
ecologically responsible tourism through Integrated Mountain
Development. Ecotourism helps in community development by providing
alternate, sustainable sources of livelihood to local communities. Its
aim is to conserve resources, especially biological diversity and
maintain sustainable use of resources while at the same time gain
A recent project undertaken under the
National Mission of Himalayan Studies by Development Alternatives in
collaboration with Himalayan Environmental Studies and Conservation
Organisation aims to fulfil the requirement of the livelihoods needs of
the local youth and women to boost the local rural economy. This project
is centered around conserving the natural ecology and biodiversity of
the mountain region with the help community initiatives which will
include sustainable local tourism-based livelihoods and tourism led
responsible economic growth of the state.
Globalcement.com. (2017). Uttarakhand - Cement industry news from Global
Cement. [online] Available at: http://www.globalcement.com/ news/itemlist/tag/Uttarakhand.
Narain, S. (2013). Himalayas: The agenda for Development and
Brief about the 5th Mountain Division. (n.d.). G.B. Pant National
Institute of Himalayan Environment & Sustainable Development.
Uttarakhand Tourism Draft Policy. (2017). [online] Uttarakhand Tourism
Board. Available at: http://uttarakhandtourism.gov.in/
Kumar, A. and Pushplata (2013). Vernacular practices: As a Basis for
Formulating Building Regulations for Hilly Areas. International Journal
of Sustainable Built Environment, [online] 2(2), pp.183-192. Available
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