Celebrating International Mountain Day

By R S Tolia • Third Innings • 5 Dec 2012

Come 11th December 2012 and we will have an International Day which has great salience for this new emerging mountain state – the International Mountain Day ( IMD ). Uttarakhand, the 27th State of the Indian Union, is also the 11th ( according to Planning Commission of India the 12th ) mountain state. It is also arguably the last mountain state of the Indian Union. As this new state moves ahead and occupies its destined place in the comity of States its predominantly mountainous character deserves to be considered as its main defining trait. Indeed much before it was carved out of a monolith of a State, Uttar Pradesh, its mountain districts were administered as if they were a State within a State and the department that was responsible for its over all planning bore the very same name – Uttarakhand Development department. The question arises as to why should one celebrate its mountain characteristics as to most of us it is its very same character which is a synonym for difficulties, problems or obstacles.

International Mountain Day

Before we address this very issue let us first share briefly the genesis of the International Mountain Day or IMD, for short. The IMD has its roots in 1992, when the adoption of Chapter 13 of Agenda 21 “ Managing Fragile Ecosystems, Sustainable Mountain Development ” at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development ( UNCED ) put a milestone in the history of mountain development.  The increasing attention to the importance of mountains led the General Assembly to declare 2002 the UN International Year of Mountains. It was on this occasion that the UN General Assembly designated 11th December, from 2003 onwards, as “ International Mountain Day ”. Food and Agriculture Organisation ( FAO ) is the coordinating agency for the preparation and animation of the celebration ( IMD ) and is mandated to lead observance of it at the global level. The Watershed Management and Mountains programme of the Forestry Department is responsible for coordinating this international process. 

On the occasion of the 10th  anniversary of the International Year of Mountains, FAO has undertaken to review of the IMD concept in order to revisit its mission and improve its impact in this context. FAO is committed to highlighting the process underlying IMD, making it more engaging, improving its effectiveness and implementing a stronger awareness raising exercise. The IMD process aims at sensitising more and more people on SMD by targeting different ranges of audience, in particular those who are not aware of the importance of mountains for the ecological health of the world and the well-being of the billions of people.                                                                                                                                                                                         

IMD 2012 strives to achieve a stronger engagement of SMD actors/institutions and the civil society, it foresees to become a mechanism that offers a fertile ground for the development of SMD activities and a concrete opportunity to mobilize resources to improve the livelihoods of mountain communities. Special attention will be given to the involvement of youth in global sustainable development, as they will be the future actors. Additionally, the process will focus on the linkages between rural and urban development with an eye on the implementation of a green economy in line with the Rio+20 Earth Summit.

UN International Days

 In an earlier piece in Garhwal Post this writer had drawn attention towards yet another International Year, the International Year of Forests, and questioned whether we in this state are even aware of some of these Days, their significance and much more importantly what to make of them ? In fact, since the early days of the United Nations system, of which India is an integral part, the UN has established a set of Days ( as well as weeks, years and decades ) to help focus the world on the issues in which the UN has an interest and commitment. The UN calls on member states and other organizations to mark these days in ways which reflect their priorities.

Thus International Mountain Day is an opportunity to create an awareness about the importance of mountains to life, to highlight the opportunities and constraints in mountain development and to build partnerships that will bring positive change in the worlds mountains and highlands.

International Mountain Day   2012

Mountain regions, the world over in general, and in the developing nations in particular, have come to symbolize “economic backwardness”. In India right from the very first Commission to investigate Backward regions of this country, the Santhanam Commission in 1983, devoted a full Chapter on the Mountain Regions of this country. Since then right up to 2010 there has been a galore of Expert Groups, Commissions and Task Forces which have been constituted to look into the very same question, the persisting backwardness of the mountain regions of the country. Even as we prepare to celebrate the IMD 2012 a Study Committee under the Chairmanship of Sri B.K. Chaturvedi, Member Planning Commission, is looking into the problems of the Hilly States, in particular the 12 Indian Mountain States of India, of which this writer is also a Non-Official Member.

The Approach Paper of the Twelfth Five Year Plan ( 2012-17 ) also devotes a full Chapter of Regional and Social Disparity, pointing out the relative backwardness of the mountain regions of India vis a vis the plains region of the mainland India. It prescribes a “ Plan within a Plan ” to address this persistent plan-problem, and the rubric of the Twelfth Plan also exhorts of  “ Sustainable and More Inclusive and Growth” during the next five years. So, while all good and noble intensions seem to be in place what is the real ground situation and what is being done by the various Mountain States of India individually and the various responsible Ministries of the Union Government collectively ?

Growing Poverty and Wholesale  Out – Migrations

The bottom-line is best described by two official statistics brought out by the Government of India itself. Let us first take the stark fact brought out by the Tendulkar Committee and the N.C. Saxena Committee, two expert panels to review the trend of poverty alleviation efforts and the actual headcount of the Below Poverty Line household, respectively. The Saxena Committee BPL assessment does not present a very flattering picture of this new State – Uttarakhand. Among the Indian mountain states Uttarakhand has the worst situation of households below the poverty line. The State Development Report ( SDR 2009 ), sponsored by the Planning Commission of India, raises very serious doubts about the poverty profile of this state, which shows a far poorer situation of BPL both vis a vis UP as well as its mountainous neighbour, Himachal Pradesh. Its poverty profile contrast with Himachal Pradesh presents a picture which makes every one highly uncomfortable. When once this writer enquired about these statistical confusions, raised in an official document such as its SDR, the official in the Statistical Division, mentioned that as no one seems to be bothered at the higher levels, why burn mid-night oil over such trivial issues ? State Planning Commission simply does not exist and these issues get brushed aside as being pure academics, even though these very statistics matter for plan resource purposes.

As if this was not serious enough the latest Census ( 2011 ) stats on decennial growth rates of mountain districts do not seem to bother those responsible for states development planning. Needless to point out that the net negative growth of two mountain districts, namely Almora and Pauri Garhwal ( 2001-2011 ), should have set alarm bells and woken up the state government. However, barring a few stray mention in some reports there seems to be no worry in any quarters. Far deeper poverty indicators, especially in the mountain parts of this state and the net negative growth over the past decade, as borne out by the latest Census ( 2011 ) are two indicators of growth, which tend to paint the plight of the mountain regions, in this part of the country. 

Independent assessments of poverty in the mountain regions of the Hindukush Himalayan Region ( HKH ) also validate these pan Indian assessments of poverty. ICIMOD, an Intergovernmental Regional outfit, of which India is an official member, has also brought out these alarming assessments, which deserve to be taken note of.

The on-going Socio Economic Caste Census ( SECC 2011 ) which would ultimately put an official cap on the households below the official BPL threshold also does not appear to be being taken with the kind of seriousness that it deserved from the mountain States of India. The final 9 parameters that will decide automatic inclusion in the BPL list has parameters which would go against rightly including those really poor household who ought to have been there. Even though a modest protest letter has been despatched it is doubtful if that would really carry any weight, in final analysis. One is left with the impression that all is not well when it comes to taking matters related to real poor in this state, as they should have been. These few instances illustrate the persistent state of official apathy on such a serious matter. 

Indian Mountain Initiative ( IMI )

Based on the learning at the sub-national level it was felt necessary that unless all stake-holders who get affected by such apathetic treatment at the national level, especially policy and programme level, do not come together at the national level, matters would not change, as they have not during the past seven decades. Especially after the recommendations of a Task Force set up by the apex Planning Commission level failed to activate any national consciousness towards the marginal treatment given to the issues pertaining to the mountain regions that an initiative to bring together all stake-holders of the 12 Indian Mountain States was thought of and got activated. It commenced with the Final Recommendation of the Task Force set up in 2010 at the behest of the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh himself, that efforts were made to bring into existence a Discussion Forum where all mountain experiences would get shared, best practices highlighted and brought to the notice of those who are responsible for appropriate policy making.

The Inaugural Summit, the Sustainable Mountain Development Summit, was convened at Naini Tal on 21-22 May 2011 and was inaugurated by the Governor of Uttarakhand. The Second SMD Summit was convened at Gangtok, the capital city of Sikkim, last May 2012, inaugurated by the Speaker of Sikkim Assemby. In both these Summits various stake-holders from the 12 Indian Mountain States, state government officials, international and regional funding agencies, academics, scientists, development practitioners, NGOs and private sector representatives, students, research scholars, mountain development organizations participated very actively. The Third Summit is scheduled for September, 2013, and the venue this time is Kohima, capital of Nagaland. Resultant efforts have led to mountain Parliamentarian coming together, voicing mountain issues and getting a Working Group constituted for the 12th Plan, which earlier was never conceived; a Legislatures Conclave constituted for Legislating on Climate Change Issues, and sharing of mountain insights on themes such as Hydro-power generation, Climate Change, Mountain Agriculture, Urbanisation Issues in mountain regions, and so on. Most importantly these two Summits have brought the 12 Indian Mountain States together, as never before, through various groups of stake-holders and networks. These events have also helped various regional outfits like the ICIMOD and international development agencies look at the mountain issues in a new light, in a much more informed manner. Gradually various formal and informal networks are developing which will forge alliances and teams to work on various crucial issues e.g. SMD goals, MDG etc. Alliances are also being developed with Andean and Causasian/Central Asian mountain ranges, Mountain Forums/Partnerships etc, to their mutual benefit.

On the 11th December 2012 the Indian Mountain Initiatives ( IMI ) takes yet another firm step towards raising awareness on issues that continue to bedevil development of the Indian Mountain States like severe infrastructural gaps, resource constraints, pace of development hampered by environmental restrictions, absence of private sector enterprises and thus employment opportunities in the mountain regions and an over all tardy pace of growth, universally observed in mountain tracts. On 11th December the representatives of the 12 IMI mountain States will also attempt to finalise the administrative architecture of this initiative for further consolidation when they meet in New Delhi, on this historic day.

Organizations  advocating and voicing mountain concerns ought to consider joining this international movement in favour of sustainable mountain development as recently recommended in the Outcome Document of Rio+20 and Bhutan +10. Chief Minister Bahuguna may well activate the Forest department reminding them that “Mountain Development” is as much their concern, perhaps much more than Forestry & Environment, as “ Mountain Development ” happens to be anchored in the Ministry of Environment & Forests, at GoI level.

Perhaps, International Mountain Day, in near future would be, most appropriately observed at the proposed Vidhan Sabha Bhawan, at Gairsain, recently used to remind all political parties of their original agenda to foster sustainable mountain development, in the Hilly regions of erstwhile Uttar Pradesh. It is time that all political parties and development thinkers reminded each other how far they have drifted from the objective for which this 11th mountain state was carved out in year 2000.

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