SMDS 4 : Hello Itanagar !

Come October and a remote state capital of an emerging North Eastern State, Arunachal Pradesh, would find a large number of mountain-lovers , drawn from almost all walks of life converging on it. These are not just mountain-lovers visiting this Land of the Rising Sun, where Sun-rays first kiss our Indian soil ( Arunachal Pradesh ), for  a sight-seeing trip ( although that also is one of the intended objectives of this unique get-together ), but indeed a well-designed meet of a wide range of mountain -stakeholders. They are drawn from common Arunachalis themeselves, playing hosts to all comers, the latter drawn from suject matter scientists, technocrats, researchers, development -practioners, policy -makers of all hues – parliamentarians, legislators, public representatives, office -bearers of various development organizations, local, state, regional and even international.

Fullfilling  Our Common Vision

Informed citizens who closely follow how the inhabitants of our Planet Earth periodically reflect on their Common Future and develop a Common Vision to achieve it have realised that Sustainable Development requires concrete and urgent action. And, this can only be achieved through " a broad alliance of people, governments, civil society and the private sector, all working together to secure the future we want, for present and future generations".( para 13, Our Common Vision, Rio+20, 20-22 June, 2012 ).

The Framework for action and follow-up has several thematic areas and cross-sectional issues and the good news is that " Mountains " ( 21 ) is one among 27 short-listed themes. Sustainable Development Goals  ( SDGs ) which have been developed to substitute the present Millenium Development Goals ( MDGs ) after 2015 are going to be a useful tool in focusing achievement of specific development gains as part of a broad development vision and framework for the development activities. Based on Agenda 21 the sustainable development goals have to take into account different national and regional circumstances. In the mountain context in India the "mountain specificities" have to be specifically attended to, hence the justification to get-together periodically to reflect on thiese "mountian specificities".

Mountains and Sustainable Development 

There now exists a clear realisation that " the benfits derived from mountain regions are essential for sustainable development..Mountain ecosystems play a crucial role in providing water resources to a large portion of world population; fragile mountain ecosystems are particularly vulnerable to the adverse impacts of climate change, deforestation and forest degradation, land use change, land degradation and natural disasters; and mountain glaciers around the world are retreating and getting thinner, with increasing impacts on the environment and human well-being."

Equally well known is now the fact that " mountains are home to communities, including indigenous peoples and local communities, who have developed sustainable uses of mountain resources. These communities are often marginalized " and there is an urgent and continued need to address widely prevalent poverty, food security and nutrition. social exclusion and environmental degradation in these mountain areas. There now exists a universal acceptance of  the need  for cooperative action with effective involvement and " sharing of experience of all relevant stakeholders ". This has to be accomplished by further strengtening of existing arrangements, agreements and centres of excellence for sustainable mountain development. as well as exploring new arrangements and agreements.

Rio+20 Framework of action accordingly calls for greater efforts towards conservation of mountain ecosystems and exhorts countries " to adopt a long term vision and holistic approaches, including though incorporating mountain – specific policies into national sustainable development strategies." ( paras 210, 211 and 212 )

Gangtok Declaration, 2012 

In the Indian mountain States the events that were organized as a run-up to the Rio+20 United Conference on Sustainable Development, at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil ( 20-22 June 2012 ), the second edition of a civil soiety initiative, commenced a year ago In Naini Tal ( May, 2011 ), called Sustainable Mountain Development Summit ( SMDS II ), held at Gangtok, holds out as arguably the only civil society -led get-together of mountain stake-holders, that sent out the call for "continuing efforts of Sustainable Mountain Development for the next two Decades", as the efforts launched in this Asian peninsula had barely been commenced. The Gangtok Declaration of 2012 set a tone in the eleven Indian mountain states that has led to establishment of a formal Mountain Forum, now named Integrated Mountain Initiative, or the IMI.

Sustainable Mountain Development Summit ( SMDS II ) at Gangtok has led to considerable consolidation of the civil socity efforts to bring togther all mountain -stakeholders on a single forum, envisaged not only by the international community but also by the Indian genius. Indeed it was way back in 2010 when an officially mandated Task Force constituted to look into the specific problems of mountain states and regions brought home the realisation that all these decades waht was being offered by our so-called experts, both the theorists and practioners, was nothing but "recyled wisdom, old wine in new bottles, or even bad carbon copies of prescriptions meant for non-mountain regions".

Task Force 2010, headed by GB Mukherji, was bold enough to shout that "the King wore no clothes !". It strongly commended the urgnet need for a Mountain Forum where all stake-holders need to be assembled, periodically reflect on the mountain situation, share what worked in mountain spicific situatins, and equally what did not, and Why ? As Task Force 2010 was not a new official effort to analyse what ails our mountain – systems and regions and attempted to provide some prescriptions for the same, it stood out for his candour in accepting that what was being prescribed all these years was not based on ground-experience and mountain-specific experiences were not the basis for all these prescriptions. It strongly commended going back to the drawing board, in the form of a Mountain Forum, wher all stake-holders must share their real-time experiences and drew -up policies and programmes which were not a carbon copy of what usually were prescribed for a vast peninsula like India, which was mostly plains ( about 80 %).

Kohima ( 2013 ) to Itanagar ( 2015 )

Much ware has flown in Teetsa since the Gangtok Declaration and the Mountain Forum proposed by the Task Force 2010 has been shaped and moulded continuously and now have taken a formal shape , as Integrated Mountain Initiative ( IMI ), a registered ( May 2014 ) society, where individual and institutional stake-holders are represented and which every day gatheres further momentum; creating state-chapters, co-opting regional and national institutions, wedded to the Mission, Vision and Values now espoused through this Forum, the IMI.

The IMI activity architecture provides for an annual three-days get-together hosted by a sister-organization with full co-operation of the host-State and back-stopped by the IMI and several collaborators e.g. ICIMOD, GBPIHED, SRTT, SDC, GIZ, WWF, DST and mountain States. Between two SMDSs a dissemination event is always held at the national capital, where the update developments are shared and mountain-agenda sensitization is deepened further, among national policy-makers and mountain dispora available at New Delhi and the NCR.   

SMDS 4 : Hello Itanagar !

Now Itanagar, capital city of Arunachal Pradesh, joins the rank of mountain Cities, following Naini Tal ( Uttarakhand ), Gangtok ( Sikkim ) and Kohima ( Nagaland ) who have had the privilege of being a witness to a unique congregation of a widest range of mountain stake-holders, drawn from almost all walks of life, representing a widest possible range of interests, all germain to sustainable mountain development, coming to-gether yet once more.

As in the past, and following the Rio+20 Framework for Action the Summit ths time focuses on the following themes:

Disaster Risk Reduction ( para 186,187, 188 and 189 )

Forests, including Water ( para 193 to196 and 119 to 124 )

Mountain Agriculture ( para 108 to 118 ) 

The ever imroving IMI and SMDS architecture of the emerging Mountain Forum also shares developments in other important themes like Climate Change ( para 190 to 192 ) via its GLOBE side-event and very innovatively its latest instrument Chief Secretaries Conclave via its Policy Makers' Dialogue. The Chief Secreatries' Conclave consolidates further what was the innovative initiation in Kohima Summit of Policy Makers' Dialogue, on Central Sector Schemes. This time UNDP has come forward to trigger discussion on Resource Mobilization by the Indian Mountain States in the present NITI Aayog era. Hosted by Chief Secreatry Arunachal Pradesh the Chief Secretaries Conclave is slated to be the first ever such get-together of mountain states of India, which is perfectly in line wth the spirit of Co-operative Federalism, or Competitive Federalism, according to some experts !

As the speculations on the financial viablity of the eleven Indian Mountain States gather serious notices from observers and well-wishers of mountain states and mountain regions, what with rumours of the special status of Special Category States having been oblitearted, and perceived serious inroads into what these states have been receiving via liberal dispensations like 30% of the total Central Assistance, Special Plan Assistance for projects, Untied Special Central Assistance, Assistance for Externally Aided Projects, AIBP and Central Incentive for the promotion of Industry ( Gadgil-Mukherji Formula ).

Quite unlike other welcome other initiative like the Himalayan Diwas, distinct Himalayan Policy for the mountain states of India, the Itanagar SMDS Summit promises to discuss not only the latest that is on offer on the main Themes slated for the Summit but it also promises to educate one and all what is required to be done, both at the international and national levels, as well as at sub-national and district levels, by way of triggering an informed discussion on what has happened so far, what is currently on board and also what needs to be done in immediate future to make our Indian Mountain Habitats both Safe and Sustainable !  All eyes are now set on Itanagar. Hello Itanagar !


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.

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