Ecological blunder

There is much wisdom in Sunderlal Bahuguna’s call for a policy that ensures sustainable development of the Himalayan region. The Himalayas are South Asia’s lifeline. They are the source of the region’s mighty rivers. Changes in the Himalayan ecosystem can drastically impact on the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people here. Yet South Asian governments have failed to realise the need to protect the Himalayas. They have been allowing the systematic degradation of the Himalayan environment all in the name of development. Big dams have come up, displacing millions. Trees have been felled, depriving the region and its wildlife of valuable forest cover. Wildlife experts have pointed out that at the current rate of deforestation in the Himalayas, a quarter of animal and plant species native to this biodiversity hotspot could disappear by the end of this century. Bahugana has pointed out that India’s flawed development policies in the Himalayas are not only resulting in depletion of natural resources but also stirring conflicts. The veteran environmentalist, who led the Chipko movement in the Garhwal Himalayas in the 1970s, has now launched a ‘Save Himalayas, save water, save life’ campaign. He has pointed out that big dams are “suicidal” as they induce seismic activity and flood agricultural land, denying millions their means of livelihood. Our rapacious exploitation of the Himalayan environment is causing our glaciers to recede, rivers to dry up and wildlife to disappear.

The Centre appears to be waking up, albeit slowly, to the impact of its Himalayan blunders in its approach to development. Recently it announced incentives and rewards in the form of “green dividends and bonuses” for Himalayan states that adopt measures to protect the ecology. Five of India’s 12 Himalayan states have agreed to set up a Himalayan Sustainable Development Forum and to encourage environment friendly tourism. This is a step in the right direction.

India has many environment specialists whose expertise the forum must draw on. Development planners often tend to view environmentalists with suspicion, as ‘enemies of development,’ who are opposed to India’s economic development. This is not true. People like Bahuguna are in favour of development but one that keeps people, not profits, alone at the centre of policies. This approach to development should guide the forum’s vision.

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