Unique solutions need to be devised for the unique problems of the ecologically fragile hill states
Byline: GT Bureau
Sikkim presented a model in front of the world by becoming the first-ever organic state in the world. However, the switch towards green policies can no longer be seen as a choice. It is a necessity in the ecologically fragile Himalayan states.
Hill states face a set of challenges that are wholly different from those of other Indian states. The solutions which work for other states are seldom effective here. For instance, Himalayan waste is completely one-way. Garbage collection by sending out a vehicle, like in the cities, is not possible in the Himalayas. This itself has serious implications as the hill economy is largely dependent on the multitudes of tourists who leave trash on the mountains. The scale of the mountains amplifies the extent of potential damages. Side-lining environmental concerns in pursuit of a standardised model of ‘development’ wrecks tremendous havoc, as was evident from Uttarakhand flash floods of 2013.
Silent Invasion of Plastics
Two NGOs, Integrated Mountain Initiative (IMI) and Zero Waste Himalayas undertook a Himalayan campaign against plastic on World Environment Day this year. The project had twin objectives: collecting as much waste as possible in a single day in the Himalayan foothills and analysing the trash. Over 15,000 people were mobilised to collect waste from nearly 300 points in the 12 states. The results were hardly stunning.
IMI and Zero Waste found that 97% of waste was plastic. In a report to the Environment Ministry, the NGOs said that 62.67% of the waste was ‘multi-layered plastic’ or polymer-based, non-recyclable food packaging. A further 17% was “plastic-layered paper, such as paper cups, and plastic-polystyrene utensils”.
The Himalayan Clean-up report included a brand audit of the waste to enforce the ‘polluter pays’ principle. It sought to identify the top brands polluting the mountains and demanded that they take responsibility for the waste through Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) mechanisms. The Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016 were supposed to put the responsibility, or EPR, back on the producers – the big companies. But unfortunately, the clause has been diluted.
Green Policies for Greener Pastures
In 1998, Sikkim became the first Indian state to ban disposable plastic bags and is also among the first to target single-use plastic bottles. In 2016, Sikkim took two major decisions. It banned the use of packaged drinking water in government offices and government events. Second, it banned the use of Styrofoam and thermocol disposable plates and cutlery in the entire state.
A ban on grazing within the Reserve Forest, plantation areas and water sources was effected with a view to encourage regeneration of forest resources, rural water supplies and degraded lands. This has seen positive results as forest cover in Sikkim registered a substantial increase from 37.34% in 1994 to 47.59% in 2010.
To encourage greater local participation, Joint Forest Management model was adopted. With their awareness of intrinsic details pertaining to climate, topography, vegetation, wildlife, local people have personal stakes in contribution, for they are the ones who witness the actual impact. It guarantees them an alternate source of livelihood and a chance to explore opportunities other than agriculture.
Development of ecotourism policy in Sikkim – a step towards sustainable tourism – has the twin objectives of providing income generation opportunities to local communities living in the forest fringe area and environmental conservation. Sikkim Himalayan Home-stay Program is supported by the UNESCO and implemented locally by Eco-tourism and Conservation Society of Sikkim (ECOSS). It seeks to combine the strengths of rural communities with the experiences of national and international groups who are leaders in the field of ecotourism.
Sustainable Mountain Development Summit, Himachal Pradesh
IMI successfully organised the 7th edition of the Sustainable Mountain Development Summit between 3rd and 5th October, 2018. With the theme ‘Well-Being of Next Generation of Farmers in the Indian Himalayan Region’, the Summit focussed on the ecological, social and economic drivers of change. Speakers highlighted the challenges faced by the farmers and horticulturalists in the hill states, caused by natural calamities.
Apart from efforts to improve the farm economy in the hilly states through income incentivisation, introduction of new technologies and maintaining soil health, the Chief Ministers’ Conclave focussed on opportunities for non-farm activities like ecotourism to improve mountain livelihoods. The need to have a coherent policy for the payment of ecosystem services (ESS), green bonus/green cess to the Himalayan states to compensate for the development disabilities, was identified. There was emphasis on the urgent need to set up a separate ministry for the Himalayan states to address the common issues and needs of the mountain states. The Conclave deliberated on three main themes: Agriculture, Hydropower and Tourism.
With an aim to generate funds to offset the environmental damage by an average of 100 million tourists every year, NITI Aayog recommended an “introduction of a green cess, in the form of payments from service consumers”, in its recent report because it “can increase tax revenue and help maintain and enhance critical services”.
While the need for funds and the polluter to pay the price is understandable, only a green cess or tax on tourism is unlikely to have any impact in the absence of strict regulation and the implementation of existing laws. It is important to devise strategies for the consolidation of urban settlements and provision of all facilities before further growth is permitted. It is also important that buildings in these towns are based on the local ecosystem, taking into account seismic fragility and the need for aesthetics, says Centre for Science and Environment director general Sunita Narain. Lastly, there needs to be a zero-tolerance policy on these matters. A holistic and integrative approach is the need of the hour to ensure that development policies are compatible with one another and address the needs of the mountain communities without compromising