Mountains as Door – Openers

(Published in Garhwal Post on November 1, 2011)


Most of my ‘Third Innings’  days ( now these add up to a whole calendar year ) have been happily spent on reflecting over and about mountains and mountain people. This has taken me to various mountainous parts of our country, neighbouring Nepal and recently even to the beautiful city and canton of Switzerland, Luzern, in the northern Alps.  Besides learning more about the amazing diversity of the world mountains it has also taught me how it is the mountain people, and their unique problems and difficulties, which makes them overlook  situations they can not help resolve and always look at the brighter side of human life i.e. explore the outer and extreme realm of possibilities. The disturbed and unhappy human communities are best advised ( as Leo Tolstoy said every unhappy family is unhappy because of its unique set of circumstances, all happy families are same ! ) to look towards their mountain counterparts, whenever in search of happiness and tranquillity ! No wonder its a small mountain Shangri La ,  our tiny neighbour Bhutan, which first suggested a World Happiness Index over all other Indices to measure the real human progress ! A ready smile is a common commodity one finds all over the world, once inside a mountainous  terrain.

World Mountain Conference, Luzern

As the world prepares for the twenty year review of its Agenda 21, resolved at the Earth Summit at Rio, way back in 1992, various stake-holders are coming together, collectively reflecting on the progress made, lessons learned in key sectors and sub-sectors and most importantly the way ahead. It so happened that at the mid-way point, in 2002, celebrated the world over as the International Year of the Mountains ( IYM), I happened to be the FRDC of Uttarakhand and thus privileged to participate at the World Mountain Summit, held at Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan, the host Asian country. The journey of Chapter 13, as the Mountain Agenda came to be more popularly described, from 1992 to 2002 and later from 2002 to 2012 is still being scripted and finalized.  Destiny so ordained that I became one of the witnesses of the journey up to 2002 and, thanks to Uttarakhand creation, one of the scribes’ group , for the second half. It was this latter duty that I went in discharge of, first to Kathmandu and later to Luzern, as mentioned. Story of progress made by Uttarakhand during its first decade and that by the other 11 Indian Mountain States is very much an integral, and not insignificant, part of this larger story. Have we had time to sit back and reflect on what we have achieved, where we stand and what is the right way ahead ? Every year we have been celebrating the Foundation Day, at times even Week, and we have had eminent Speakers invited to speak on the occasion. Did any single one of them remind us that we are part of a bigger and different larger entity, part of the global mountain set up, with unique specificities, which deserve to be first understood, then reflected upon and finally acted upon. Are we still a “poor carbon copy” of the larger political entity called Uttar Pradesh, and have we grown and come out of the intellectual logjam in which that state continues to find  itself, or are we today seen as a self-assured, confident and  progressive state ? These, I am sure, will again be discussed soon, as we are into te month of  November, our birth-day month.

Preparations in Uttarakhand and later at Kathmandu brought a few individuals and institutions together, who are still hopeful of this new state making a mark of its own and grow out of the shadow of that banyan tree of a State, Uttar Pradesh. Out of a total two dozen case studies , collected from the Asia and the Pacific mountain regions, where one could discern some positive movement in terms of sustainable mountain development ( economic, environmental and equity/social considerations ) Uttarakhand could muster as many as three. The progress made in community forestry ( Van Panchayats ), Medicinal and Aromatic Plant ( notwithstanding the current murky and confused official thinking about its long term potential and updated gains ) and organic agriculture, as verified from peer reviewers, proved that the past one decade has not been wasted entirely. I also presented some of my personal reflections on the state of governance, financial, administrative and developmental of a new emerging mountain state in the Himalayan context. Notwithstanding a horde of Cassandras it would be difficult to deny Uttarakhand the positive gains it has made when compared to old established states like Himachal Pradesh ( no other comparison, amongst the Special Category States ).

Even an open and virulent critic, like the first term Khanduri government ( remember the statements against SIDCUL, Pantnagar Industrial Complex by the top political echelons of the then government ), today has no hesitation in presenting to the visiting Nepalese Premier and his Team the industrial progress made at Bahadarabad, just a few days back ! Some time back the Sela Quin Aromatic Plants Centre, similarly was shown as another ‘feather in the cap’ of Uttarakhand, though it is different story that the Horticulture department loses no time in “charge sheeting” those who really built it, almost single-handedly. The double-speak of the state bureaucratic machinery is beyond any rationale. One day every one will have to account for the road-blocks and hurdles that they have created in the progress of this new state. News papers and media these days tend to document every finer detail so minutely, and people are no ones fools that they appear to be and taken out to be . “ Development” , every one must learn, comes in bits and pieces ;  is  only  ”incremental” , and can not be divided into “this regime” or “that regime” of government ” . To come back to Luzern, and the World Mountain Conference –  it presented a world spectrum of what has happened the world over, in respective mountain ranges of the world. One learned at close quarters about the Mountain Partnership, a UN initiative, The Alpine Convention, the CONDESAN and The Carpathian Convention. It also made us reflect what has happened to the countries which constitute the Hindu Kush Himalayas, at close quarters. Could Mountains play the role of Door-Openers and not be the physical obstacles they are usually  perceived as, that was the question, I wish to address here ?

The Alpine Convention ( 7, November, 1991 )

The Alps, which gave to the scientific world and lexicographers, the expression ‘alpine’ as an adjective “of high mountains”, or a noun , “a plant suited to mountain regions or grown in rock-gardens ”. We have to give it to the mountain people surrounding the Alps that they have been able to give a framework, politically endorsed by the eight nations, and of course the European Union ( E U ), which suitably takes care of all major mountain concerns, which could bedevil any country with a major area under mountain ecosystem. Mountain people, all over the world, must compliment the people of Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Liechtenstein ( a Principality ), Monaco ( another Principality ), Slovenia and Switzerland, as well as the comity of European Union, that they came together on 7 November 1991 and a produced an entity called The Alpine Convention, at Salzburg. This Alpine Convention is easily the biggest Door Opener the world has known which has countries as disparate as France and Germany and Italy, within four decades of the catastrophe known as the World War II, and forge a magnificent mechanism to save their common legacy, The Alps.

What attracts one’s immediate attention is the fact that The Alps and the Alps Convention through its various Protocols have been successfully used for facilitation of cooperation among the states of the Alpine Space and this has been used for the support of common policies ensuring a “  balance of economic growth and social welfare “.To me it appeared as an embodiment of a “commitment to the protection of special areas and the environment in general ”. Thus the Alpine Convention, with a care for future generations, contributes significantly to the appreciation and cultivation of the special qualities and specific characteristics of our mountain regions, quite like the Alpine regions of Europe.

Common Mountain Policies, Common Compliance

As one who has since long been looking for practical mechanisms, appropriate policies arrived at by mutual consensus and by collaborative application of current science and philosophies, Alpine Convention appeared immediately as one objective, as one  mission to work for, for our strife-ridden Himalayas.  After we have distilled the wisdom acquired from our Classics and frontier science knowledge, we come to not more than half a dozen themes on which to come to a collective understanding between nations . I am really surprised as to how eminent tour scribes, lauding natural beauties of European Alps could ever over-look something as basic and imitable as this Alpine arrangement ?  The over all architecture of the Alpine Convention between the ight Alpine nations and the EU could be summarized as follows:

  1. Alpine Convention, an international  treaty, a Framework Convention, setting general objectives for the protection and sustainable  development of the Alps, and the operating rules for the decision-making bodies, together with various  implementation Protocols on :

  1. ( i ) Mountain Farming,

     ( ii ) Mountain Tourism,

     (iii)  Spatial Planning & Sustainable Development,

     ( iv ) Transport,

     ( v )  Conservation of Nature and the Countryside,

     ( vi ) Mountain Forests,

     ( vii ) Soil Conservation, and

     ( viii ) Energy.

I am sure if we take all possible stake-holders it would be difficult to think of any other major theme which needs to be added to the above list when it comes to coming to a consensus on important mountain themes, on which a political cum economic cum scientific would be required. Even if there be one, in future, the Convention mechanism provides for its accommodation, inclusion.

  1. Contracting Parties : Eight European Alpine countries plus European Union,

  2. Ratification: Validity to be ratified under individual country’s law,

  3. Conference of the Contracting Parties : Consists of Ministers, acting as decision-making body for the Convention and generally meets once every two years; Chairmanship is on rotation basis, for two-year term,

  4. Permanent Committee : Delegations of Senior officials of the member countries, acts as the Executive Committee, normally meets twice a year,

  5. Permanent Secretariat:  Established in 2002, supports the bodies of the Convention, coordinates Alpine research and performs public relations activities ( at Innsbruck, Austria ).                         

Add to the above the Convention has mechanisms such as ( a ) Observers, ( b ) Multi-year Work Schedule of the Conference, (c) Working Groups of the Convention, (d) Compliance Committee for monitoring compliance, (e) System for Observation and Information on the Alps ( SOIA, in short ), and ( f ) a Report on the State of the Alps – consisting a scientific report prepared by the Permanent Secretariat on issues of particular interest to the Convention.             

Towards a Himalayan Convention

For the World Mountain Conference at Luzern from Asia and the Pacific mountain regions we found it difficult to even put together barely a dozen Case Studies considered fit to be shared with the rest of the world mountain countries at Luzern. Out of these as many as three came from our State but over all it was a huge disappointment, in so far as the progress of the Mountain Agenda in Asia and the Pacific was concerned. As we near first, the Foundation Day for Uttarakhand, its Twelfth Anniversary on 9th November, 2011, do we have any substantive workable idea for the entire Indian Himalayan Region or are the imminent General Elections due in 2012 too overpowering a phenomenon to emasculate any such fresh thinking ?

The unending, fruitless and ethically empty debate on an effective Jan Lokpal Act, without filling up the yawning vacancies existing  in the Vigilance Department, tokenism towards making the RTI Act more effective, non-compliance of all the Annual Reports so far submitted even by the tooth-less, non-statutory  office of Lokayukta going to fill the public space which should actually have been occupied on serious reflections on the progress made so far, the emerging issues and way ahead for all of us as Uttarakhndis ?  Will the next General Elections for the Third Assembly of Uttarakhand in 2012 overshadow a serious reflection on the Mountain Agenda, which the mountain regions of the World going to reflect in 2012 and the prominent role of Uttarakhand therein ?

It appears that the Mountain Agenda, which brought Uttarakhand into  existence, separating itself from the huge political monolith called Uttar Pradesh, must again be brought centre-stage, and Uttarakhand must take lead in highlighting the specific  mountain issues to the notice of the decision-makers of India and through them the decision-makers of the entire Himalayan region. We could initiate a beginning by crafting together first an Indian Himalayan Convention, consisting of the 11 Indian Mountain States, agreeing to having common mountain policies and their implementation Protocols, on the lines similar to the Alpine Convention, as narrated above.  The Inter State Council ( ISC ) provides a political and constitutional space for such a collaborative ventures by a set of Indian States. In fact it would be the first such major development initiative by a set of States, and Uttarakhand should seize the opportunity  of presenting it to the Union Government. It would be the best testimony and proof of creation of a mountain state which highlights mountain issues, mountain concerns and wishes to collaborate with other mountain states of India for the benefit of their marginalized people. Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand are two examples of Himalayan States which are not only doing well on the development front but these are the only Himalayan States which have no major conflicts, national or international, which have their constitutional mechanisms in place and which have had regular runs for their elected bodies. It is their moral duty to provide such solutions for a strife ridden Himalaya, both in the extreme west and the north –east.

A  Gift to the Himalayas and the Nation

Taking initiative for constitution of an Indian Himalayan Convention, on the lines of The Alpine Convention, could easily be the best gift Uttarakhand can give to its own people, verily the entire Himalayan Highland.

Will this suggestion reach the eyes and ears of the present  Head of the Government and the Leader of the Opposition, it is rather  difficult for me to say ? Will our Governor Mrs Margret Alva would consider it as a sensible and pragmatic suggestion, I rather  sanguine about it .  Now, will the readers of this article and all right thinking people and organizations of Uttarakhand make both of them to take steps on these lines, is something which certainly is highly do-able. Let us all do it till it is rejected out right or hoping against all hopes, accepted by powers that be !!!

A well-functioning  Indian Himalayan Convention could, in due course, be a Door-Opener, for the regional Himalayan countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan, China, India, Nepal, Bhutan and Myanmar. Present long-standing conflicts, as we see daily, are gradually giving way to various CBMs, MFNs status, strengthening of ICIMOD and SAARC etc. And,  when the former arch enemies who fought the World War II, only four decades earlier, like Germany, Italy and France, or decided to remain neutral so far , like the Confederation of Helvetians ( the official  name for Swiss Confederation  ), could forge something like an Alpine Convention, why rule out better relations amongst the Himalayan neighbours only ?

If  this  be  the  Century of Asia, let the Himalayan Convention serenade its arrival in 2012, either at New Delhi or in Beijing or would it be Thimpu ( Gairsain of the Himalayas ) ?


R S Tolia

Late Dr. R.S. Tolia, Ph.D., was former Chief Secretary ( 2003-05 ) and Chief Information Commissioner ( 2005-10) of Uttarakhand. He also served in various voluntary positions after retirement and devoted his time for Mountain Development Agenda.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Security Code *

  1. We welcome any feedback, questions or comments