Moving Mountains

By R S Tolia • Third Innings • 4 Oct 2013

Even as the Report of the Expert Committee on considering Backwardness of the States ( or Raghuram Rajan Committee ) was being unveiled the Third Sustainable Mountain Development Summit was going through its various Sessions in distant Kohima, capital of Nagaland ( 25-27 September, 2013 ). Various stake-holders representing the eleven Indian Mountain States of India had assembled in the remotest mountain State of India and were being exposed to the utter remoteness, inaccessibility and all too apparent absence of any private or public investment for infrastructural development of Nagaland. As one negotiated the 137 plus kilometres of Asian Highway I ( AH I ), comprehensively pot-holed through constant heavy traffic and incessant rains, connecting Imphal with Kohima, one could not help marvelling whether the Indian Policy Makers and Planners had any idea of what it felt  like being a resident of remote Mon or Tuensang district of Nagaland, in the seventh decade of Independent India ! The delegation of yet another North Eastern State, Arunachal Pradesh, which so ardently wished to host the next Summit, had just one reason to hold back its offer to do so – no adequate infrastructure to host any event which required housing even 200 out-side visitors, even in its capital Itanagar ! If one were to follow the criterion suggested by Raghuram Rajan Committee for “least developed” states, while Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya will qualify, Nagaland will not. It needs to be pointed out that on existing criterion followed for ‘backwardness’ all three mountain States come under the ‘Special Category’ States. So much for the diversity of mountain States. How much Nagas would wish Dr Rajan was there to have a sense of their stark ‘isolation’ from the so-called main-stream !                                                                                                          

Indian Mountain Initiative ( IMI )

It has taken our planners nearly three decades to realize that even as all States in India have State-specific requirements to meet their developmental aspirations and targets in which poverty alleviation and creation of infrastructure command high priority certain States, certain States such as those in the Himalayan region and the North East ( many do not appreciate that as many as four mountain States of the North East do not constitute a part of the Himalayan range – Meghalaya, Mizoram, Manipur and Nagaland ) are at disadvantageous situation. These stem from particularly difficult terrain, severe weather conditions ( Kedarnath still fresh in everybody’s memory ), large forest land, dispersed habitations, small and under-developed markets, long international borders, inadequate general infrastructure and poor connectivity. The cost of delivery of public services in these States is higher compared to other States due to their typical topography –all these jointly act as constraints in terms of development compared to other States. With the procedure for environmental clearances being identical for all States it is obvious that the States having large forest covers find it difficult to get environment clearances, even for infrastructural projects which severely hamper their developmental initiatives. Finally, there being no free or open land to take up compensatory afforestation, whatever is available also gets converted into ‘additional’ forest, a vicious cycle further reducing availability of ‘open land’. These States are also unable to use their forest resources for raising revenues. All the eleven Indian Mountain States have finally received this recognition and now also recognised as ‘Special Category States’, needing special Plan and Non-Plan dispensations. Scores of Expert Groups and Committees suggested creation of a Discussion Forum amongst mountain States for discussing these and other freshly emerging critical issues, such as impact of Globalization and Climate Change. The Indian Mountain Initiative, or the IMI, is one such Initiative, which recently completed its third round of get-together, in just three years. The last get-together, as mentioned, was in Kohima, Nagaland. It was preceded by Naini Tal, Uttarakhand ( May, 2011 ) and Gangtok, Sikkim ( May, 2012 ), in between there had been mid-Summit interventions in New Delhi, venue being always, the India International Centre ( IIC ).  

Third Summit, Kohima ( 25-27 September, 2013 )

Kohima Summit, in many ways, represents to many like this writer, maturing of an idea, and Idea whose day has arrived. Kohima Sustainable Mountain Development Summit, the second being held in a North Eastern State, primarily opened the eyes of many and very emphatically registered a realization, that development of India to become ‘More Inclusive’ had to take, at macro level, a far more serious notice of several small and medium, and mountainous, States. For instance the Indian ‘Mountain Agenda’ is not just confined to the Himalayan Range alone, which does not include as many as four mountain States of the North East, most of them host disparate ethnic groups, dominantly ‘indigenous people’ or tribes, dominantly Christian or professing a kind of animism, again of various denominations with very strong ‘community’ sentiments. As mentioned, the Kohima Summit, stressing a ‘More Inclusive’ growth agenda to a Faster and Sustainable one, covered the following events :       

( i ) Youth : First Indian Himalayan States Youth Summit comprising of youths and young professionals preceded the Third Sustainable Mountain Development Summit on 22nd and 23rd September. Youth from all eleven mountain States assembled and held very informed deliberations for two days, ultimately coming out with a Kohima Declaration, covering several resolutions on Sustainable Agriculture, Management of Water Resources Wisely, Protection of Forests and resolving to work towards an ‘Ecological Citizenship’. They also resolved to undertake ‘ownership to pursue these goals with collaborative action..’ and expressed a need to set up a youth wing under the IMI..and organize a Youth Summit every year in Kohima’. Copy of Kohima Declaration of Youth was presented by their two representatives to the Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio, UN Resident Coordinator Ms Lise Grande, Swiss Councillor Ms Janine Kuriger, DG ICIMOD Dr David Molden, GIZ Representative Ms Helga Fink on the 25th September and all Legislators and Members of Parliament attending the Second GLOBE Summit ( Global Legislators Organization for Balanced Environment, a cross party group of Legislators ) on the 26th September, yet another stream if IMI. Nagaland Government very graciously offered to stage this event annually, building a mountain Youth Movement to take the Mountain Agenda forward.

( ii ) Legislators : Second State Chapter of GLOBE India, was resolved by all the Legislators of Nagaland, under the Chairmanship of Speaker of Nagaland Legislative Assembly Mr Chotisuh Sazo, initiating the process of integration with GLOBE India. All elected members present from many Indian Mountain States that they would come together under the banner of IMI Pan Himalayan Legislators’ Forum, and for this Speakers of Nagaland and Sikkim, the first State to form a State Chapter, in May 2012 at the time of Gangtok Summit, Speaker Chotisu Sazo and Speaker K.T. Gyaltsen, will jointly write to all Speakers of all mountain States of India for action within their own Legislative Assemblies. This effort is to be facilitated by IMI in collaboration with GLOBE India. GLOBE India is a cross-party group of legislators working to play critical role in guiding public policy on environment and sustainability issues at national level and balanced position in international policy framework.

( iii ) Policy Makers’ Dialogue : Kohima Summit took the Mountain Agenda forward by commencing the first ever Dialogue on important policy matters, ‘Re-structuring of Centrally Sponsored Schemes and other Programmes’ from the point of view of the mountain States of India. A Background Paper was prepared by the Centre for Public Policy of Doon University which analysed the recent re-structuring of 147 Centrally Sponsored Schemes and discussed the possibilities of the mountain States leveraging this opportunity, carving out jointly new Centrally Sponsored Schemes which are relevant for them. Participants included almost all senior bureaucrats of Nagaland Government, Heads of Department and other stake-holders e.g. various funding agencies, development practitioners, legislators, Ministers and civil society representatives. This writer

Shared the existing status and the changes that are likely to be mainstreamed from the second year of the twelfth Plan. This major intervention acquires great significance considering the fact that it was primarily due to persistent demands that had been made by the Chief Ministers of the small and medium mountain States in various National Development Council Meetings, the highest policy making body of this country. Policy Makers’ Dialogue takes the IMI Summits deep into the nitty – gritty of national development planning and its forward movement would have major impact on the flow of funds to the mountain States in future. Decisions that may be brought forward might be taken forward by a range of policy makers, political and bureaucratic leaders and the civil society representatives, influencing the public discourse in favour of long starved mountain States. Besides updating the understanding of all participants on all issues germane to the on-going dialogue on Climate Change the occasion created opportunities for looking at possibilities of funding for adaptation measures which are the operating part of these State Plans.

( iv )  State Action Plans on Climate Change : Five years down the line after the announcement of the National Action Plan on Climate Change ( 2008 ) with its domestic eight National Missions, 4×4 Vulnerability Assessment and a Indian National Network of Institutions in place, the state of preparedness of the eleven mountain States has been brought on board of the IMI priority. Out of the four vulnerable regions/zone as many as two constitute the Himalayan regions. However, the actual state of affairs on ground, remain far from satisfactory. Courtesy as Study conducted under the Swiss-aided Indian Himalayan Climate Adaptation Programme ( IHAP ) the present status of the Draft State Action Plans on Climate Change prepared by some of the State was shared with the participants. Various issues raised by the State representatives, civil society workers and other interested persons were clarified by a representative of the Ministry of Environment & Forests ( MoEF ). IHAP also shared the interim results of yet another study which has examined linkages between the National Missions and the Himalayan SAPCCs. Possibilities of jointly proposing a new Central Sector Scheme in conjunction with the flows possible from various National Missions, continuing with ‘co-benefit’ and ‘no-regrets schemes’ etc also engaged adequate attention of State representatives.

( v ) Disaster Management and Mitigation :  Uttarakhand and Sikkim having recently witnessed natural calamities which have attracted widest possible attention created space for sharing what these States had undergone and the state of implementation of Disaster Management Act, 2005, through video-films and presentations made by official representatives and subject matter experts. Youth and children were specially invited to watch these films and listen to the experts.

Evolving Mountain Discussion Forum :

Kohima Sustainable Mountain Development Summit under the aegis of the Indian Mountain Initiative has witnessed coming together of all eleven Indian Mountain States through official delegations, bringing together youth and young professionals, Members of Parliament and members of State Legislative Assemblies, policy makers including serving and retired senior bureaucrats, Scientists, Vice Chancellors, Technologists, various International and National funding agencies, functionaries of civil society organizations, reputed NGOs and researchers. Regional and National entities long engaged in mountain issues like the International centre for Integrated Mountain Development ( ICIMOD ) and GB Pant Institute for Himalayan Environment & Development ( GBPHIED ) only established the fact that the Forum which commenced its journey from Naini Tal in May 2011 has now emerged as a meeting point of various stake-holders of our mountain States. Participation of Ministry of Environment & Forests and various mountain States’ delegation besides various bilateral funding agencies engaged with mountain issues holds promise that the Indian mountains and their issues and concerns will no more remain marginalised any more. Forum’s future is being further secured through a quick Review of what has so far been achieved and providing and institutional architecture to the Indian Mountain Initiative, which hitherto had remained just a movement supported by a few mountain –centric civil societies and individuals who had long worked to ensure that mountain related concerns are brought centre –stage and taken with the seriousness they always deserved.

Past three Finance Commissions and the latest two Five Year Plans, the Eleventh and the Twelfth, including even the Raghuram Rajan Committee, are testimony enough that the eleven mountain States of India have now started receiving the kind of attention they always deserved. Re-structuring of the Centrally Sponsored Schemes ( CSSs ), 4 x 4 Vulnerability Assessment of Climate Change, National Action Plan on Climate Change and the eight National Missions are acts and events which must be perceived essentially as unmistakable foot-prints on the current development discourse of India. Kedarnath tragedy has also served the purpose of a very timely reminder to those who in the past have not taken the mountain concerns seriously. If our planners are not moved by the mountain-concerns adequately and in time and leave it to the mountains to move on their own, the results could be more disastrous than one could imagine. Kohima Summit is coming together of all stake-holders on a periodical basis, sharing knowledge, sharing concerns and agreeing to take joint-action. Varunavrat ( 2003 ) and Kedarnath ( 2013 ) are stark reminders to all of us that we should all be pro-active and concentrate on mountain –concerns and that such a task at present, is no less than ‘moving mountains’ –  the task being  as  complex, as big and as challenging as the mountains themselves.

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