Triggering Mountain Studies

By R S Tolia • Random Thoughts • 5 Jan 2016

This writer recently received proceedings of the second meeting of the Policy Planning Group ( PPG ) , a kind of think tank, consisting of public representatives, former academics and civil servants, to advise the government on major public issues that confront this emerging state. Even though the frequency of meetings of the PPG and especially the follow-up that ought to support this welcome and innovative initiative of the state in the public policy domain leaves much to be desired, it still serves a most useful purpose, that of listing up priorities that ought to draw attention of our departments. One only hopes that these deliberations do receive the kind of attention that they deserve by our much preoccupied senior bureaucrats.

PPG : Precipitated Ideas 

The second PPG deliberatons, for example, noted an urgent need ( i ) to put in place a High Level Advocacy Group to draw the attention of the Union Government towards the special problemes faced by the Indian mountain states and engage in advocacy of the same, ( ii )  promotion of Innovative Models of development that have worked successfully in the field, ( iii ) constitution of a Commitee to streamline Land Settlement and Land-Use Planning, ( iv ) constitution of another Committee to review the Agricultural situation of the state under the chairmanship of former Vice Chancellor of Pantnagar University of Agriculture, ( v ) promotion of Alternate Energy development, in particular the Solar Energy, ( vi ) constitution of yet another committee to examine the problems of sugar industry sector, ( vi ) analysis of how the state could maximise drwal under the proposed Goods & Services Tax ( GST ) which is likely to be operationalsed soon all over the country, ( viii ) to work seriously on how to leverage better utilization of the state in situ, ( ix ) review and analysis of the existing tax structure and reforms that are needed in its present architecture, and ( x ) Forest department to prepare a Concept Note on Eco-tourism that is to be discussed in -depth in the third PPG meeting. It was also suggeted by members that when the PPG meets next the first item that ought to be discussed is the action taken to implement the decisions taken in all previous meetings. 

As already noted what needs primarily to be attended is the very working f the PPG itself by way of ensuring that the proceedings of the meetings held ought to be released within a shortest possible time isetaed of taking months in doing this itself ! Taking more than three months in just issuing the proceedings of the deliberations itself, reflects the seriousness, at least as of now,that is attached to this think-tanks exertions. Hopefully, this will receive the attention of the responsible officials..

Advocacy and Mainstreaming Mountain Agenda   

While complimenting the PPG for flagging several issues that deserve to attarct attention of the related departments what needs to be pointed out that the advocacy of mountain agendas is very much work-in-progress as the Integrated Mountain Initaitive, that is now a regisered pan Indian platform has been taking up this activity, quite systematically. The IMI has emerged as a major platform that is currently active, in several mountain states, and has held as many as four national Summits, at Naini Tal ( 2011 ), Gangtok ( 2012 ), Kohima ( 2013 ) and recently at Itanagar ( 2015 ). These natonal Summits have been attended by Governors and Chief Ministers besides academics, civil servants, development practioners and a large number of international and national organisations. This advocacy is held during the two national summits, at the national capital, on the International Mountain Day, every year in December. What is required that all mountain states come together to further strengthen this national Forum for Mountains and participate actively both in the Sustainable Mountain Development Summits as well as the intervening Meets of the Mountain States. Indeed, Chief Minister Harish Rawa, Dr Harak Singh Rawat, Mr Surendra Singh Negi, Mr Maikhuri, Deputy Spaekers of the Uttarakhand State Assembly besides score of MLAs have already participated in various events at Kohim and Itanagar, as well as New Delhi.

It is indeed a welcome thought that has been spawned by PPG and the IMI would come forward with suggetions as how to strenthen and build its traction further. A several state planning departments and Chief Ministers Offices would vouchsafe the IMI Secretariat has been coming forward to share various documentations and literature to support the background papers that went into preparation of their Chief Ministers' presenattions in the NITI Aayog SG meetings and the meetings that have ben held by the newly constituted NITI Aayog. Further measures are afoot to improve the effectiveness of the IMI Secretarait, both at the national level and in the  states themeselves. Under the National Mission on Mountain Studies and through other means this strengthening is proposed to be beefed up further. That the financial dispensation of 90:10 and 80:20 has been finally restored and confirmed is one such evidence of the successful lobbying that has taken plave since 2011 onwards, without the Indian mountain states, even seekig such help and assistance from the IMI. IMI , in short, has emerged as a multi-stakeholders dynamic foru that voluntarily comes forward to take up the Mountain Agenda in the country.

Creation of a Mountain Division in the GBPIHED, which did not work on the Mountain Agenda, and as a Nodal Agency to take care of the Mountain Agenda, as defined in the Rio+2O, Final Document, The Future We Want, and various international commitments e.g. the Sustainable Development Goals, the forward action on Safer Mountains via the Sendai Framework on Disaster Risk Reduction and active collaboration with UNI Agencies like the FAO, UNDP etc , as well as national agencies like the NDMA, NIDM and various Ministries is its furture couse of action. Equally to keep the various Regional outfits like the ICIMOD and the SAARC Centre on Disaster Risk Reduction is the immediate agenda for the IMI. It is IMI's agenda now to very closely track the future Vsion of GBPIHED and work architecture with regional outfits like ICIMOD to ensure that the Sustainable Mountain Development Goals set out by the Rio+20 Charter are adhered to in both letter and spirit and the development discourse that ensues in NITI Aayog also does not reverts back to the dying years of the erstwhile Planning Commission. The Cooperative Federalism and ist practical vatar of Competitive Federalism must result in a positive spectrum of Centre States relations, where the mountain states do not get short-changed, like in the past. The realisation that all Indian mountain states are also the Union Governments' proteges also, given the promises tha had been mae at the time of their merger with the Indian Union as well as their utter neglect by their host-parent states, has to receive the same treatment that the developing nations are seeking from the developed nations of the world at large. What the Indian State expects from the outseide world has to be met out to its backward mountain states, that has now becoming the political agenda for the IMI, as one of the advocates of the mountain states. Very precisely, that is the advocay tha has to be activated within the Indian body politic.

Promotion of Innovative Models

Leaving aside other significant suggetions that were made at the second PPG meet, what is now presently being activated, is promotion of innovative models that have proved successful on ground. It is here that the Centre of Public Policy of Doon University has commenced a series of brain-storming sessions, both inside the University circles and outside. Leveraging the great opportunity that has now been opened -up by a Central Sector Scheme, namely the National Mission on Mountain Studies,both the academia available within Doon University and development practioners outside, was attempted to be activated by a round of brain-storming sessions held during this week.

Resource crunch has been a constant refrain whenever the challenges to address the issues confronting the mountain regions get discussed. Even a cursory look at the research projects being undertaken by the reserach institutions would reveal that most of these are either ( i ) donor-driven, dictated by the donor agencies, ( ii ) Academia-driven, conceived by the scientists without bouncing it either on the development department or the community involved, mostly without any co-operation or role of the community, or ( iii ) fund-availability driven, mostly triggered by the sectoral ministry/department's own charter and thus again monolpolized by the development bureaucrats or academecians, depending upon the charter of the Ministry. What about the ground experience, or the problems that get encountered during implementation in field, in particularly over the subjects that are mainly in the domains of the states. The situation obtaining in the mountain states has been, to say the least just pathetic. The sum total of the malaise in resaerch domain finally got reflected in the Fourth Assessment Report on Climate Change, the Synthesis Report ( 2007 ), which brought to high-light the pitiable sitution that existed in understanding of the mountain ecosystems.The discovered 'white spot' in mountain specific scientific studies is now proposed to be addressed by a well conceived architecture through which mountain studies are now prposed to be funded and supported by the Ministry of Enviroenment, Forests and Climate Change ( Mo EF & CC ). 

This National Mission on Mountain Studies provides for as many as three kinds of research projects, both purely academic as well as on action-research mode. While the small size project are expected to be mainly focussed on cracking a problem, discovered through development practice, the medium and large sized projects are mainly expected to address the issues of up-scaling of what 'has worked or seemingly worked' in a mountain specific situation, which has dogged almost all past research projects. This writer has named such trashing of developmental good efforts afflicted by the 'last mile fatigue'. The country and the states are literally littered with any number of development efforts that have received calumny of this syndrome. The National Mission on Climate Change offers a gollden opportunity to sincered development practioners to avail this unique opportunity and ensure that all worth-while development pilots now get suitably up-scaled, over a larger geographical area and experiemneted further for larger public good. Mountain people, who have long suffered at the hand of proejct-centric efforts, deserve fruits of such leveraging and up-scaling at the earliest. Yet another problem also has a potential of being addressed, namly where the political or geographical boundaries pose an impediment. Trans-boundary issues have been explored least and the Mission now allows adequate space and resources these to be addressed.

At the core of the above kinds of developmental impediments is the relative dormancy of our public offices, so called developmental departments and those who are made to head them. Most of te developmental departments have either done away with their extenson agencies or are in the process of doing it, as the cost of extension services and their redundant services, have rendered them dysfunctional. The National Mission allows all development practioners and institutions to put their thinking caps up again, pool their collective experience and wisdom, and address these pending issues. Uttarakhand, being a comparatively new state, has a host of development issues, a range of pilots that can be successfully up-scaled withinn the state and even beyond and all tha is needed is that the state bureaucracy, afte taking the political bureaucracy in confidence, in active collaboration with several centres of educational and reserach excellence makes the fullest use of this highly innovative initiative, that alllows all new development ventures to succeed, where most of them were run aground in the recent past. 

Centre for Public Policy & Good Governance

Recently, yet another initiative was taken up by the new Chief Secretary , when he convened a brain-storming session with some sixteen centres of excellence in the state, including all state universities, and discussed how the existing talent and expertise available in the state could be marcshalled for taking the state forward. The Wheel and Spoke module was suggested to be tried, with the proposed Centre of the institution being virtual, all the centres of excellence could collaborate as its Hubs. With IIM, IIT, AIIMS, Wadia, ICFRE instititons, several state Universities and Academies as well as private institutions running within the boundary of the state the newly announced National Mission on Himalayan Studies could not have arrived on a more opportune day. The issue is will all these centres f excellence , for which Dehradun and Uttarakhand is celebrated, will show the maturity, wisdom and willingness to come togeher, work in tandem and leverage the resoureces and opportunities offered, for the betterment of the people of Uttarakhand ? 

Govermor Dr KK Paul, on several occasions, has exhorted these very institutions to exhibit their societal responsiblities by becoming relevant to the needs of this new mountain state, and the National Mission on Mountain Studies now allows them the resources and opportubnities of measuring up to the challenge. A small beginning has been made by the Doon University in kick-srating the process of identifying the areas of action and study and bringing together all those who have the expertise via these two preliminary brainstorming sessions. All theta is needed is the push that must come from the state and its leaders, both political and bureaucratic, and ensure that the opportunities are leveraged to the maximum. 

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