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Uttarakhand: The Need for a Comprehensive Eco-strategy

  • Paper compiled by: Suresh Nautiyal
  • For the Seminar on Uttarakhand Issues
  • Organised by: Centre for the Study of Developing Societies
  • On August 24, 2001 at the Gandhi Peace Foundation, New Delhi


Even as the G-8 nations (Russia, France, the US, Japan, Germany, Britain, Italy, and Canada) prepare themselves to meet in Kananaskis, a remote Canadian mountain resort near Calgary, Alberta, for the next year’s Summit after having failed to resolve sharp differences over global warming during this year’s Genoa Summit; a study conducted by an Austrian agency has already warned that 80 years from now, the planet will be divided into clear winners and losers. And India, the world’s second most populous country, will be the biggest loser from global warming. Losing millions of tonnes of its potential cereal harvest each year because of climate change. And if the climate change takes place in India, it will be a bad news for the Uttarakhand region.

India is considered one of the vanguards of environmental protection. A country that is committed for the elimination of environmentally harmful processes and over-exploitation of non-renewable resources. She even created a separate department of environment in 1980 and subsequently upgraded it to a full-fledged ministry of environment and forests in 1985 with the aim to plan, promote and co-ordinate the environmental and forestry programmes.

But, the results have not been as enthusiastic as expected simply because no serious efforts were made to transfer the required technology to the developing societies living in the various regions of the country. The Uttarakhand people are one such developing society that has not been allowed to reap the fruits of the advancement in technology, especially in the scientific management of its ecosystem.

I do not know whether the last year’s proposals of the Planning Commission on the integrated management approach to conserve natural resources like water, soil, biodiversity and forests, alongside a well-organised monitoring and evaluation process have been initiated, but the situation till date remains as bad it was in the past.

The Rio Declaration on environment and development adopted at UNCED in 1992 remains to be fulfilled. The declaration had stated: “Eradicating poverty and reducing disparities in living standards in different parts of the world are essential to achieve sustainable development and meet the needs of majority of people.”

It is regrettable that in Uttarakhand or the new state of Uttaranchal, the scope of environmental policies is restricted and its potential in social and economic development continues to be underestimated and undermined despite the fact that there is a government in place with several people in it who, I believe, have fair knowledge of the environmental priorities of the new state of the Indian Union.

Also, the economic priorities continue to dominate the environmental priorities, which are conceived and considered subordinate to the economic planning. But again regrettably, the economic policies remain limited to just financial planning without much in mind.

Friends, people remain disappointed, rather disillusioned. I will quote here an e-mail message, which I received from one Alok Dobriyal from Mumbai just a few days back. He says:

“Dear sir, I hope you will not mind my views on Uttaranchal. Being a journalist from Uttarakhand, you must have seen the various phases of the movement…But I think the real struggle is far from over…I have no faith in our present leaders as I feel hurt with the way they have been behaving…If someone from the UKD or the Congress wants to really help Uttaranchal people he or she must behave in a sensible and responsible manner… and must come forward with new and innovative ideas for the development and people’s participation in the development work. Right now, the people of Uttaranchal have lost zeal to participate in the community affairs. I have never seen such bad conditions of villages and especially the whole community…I hope you can try to make public opinion to put pressure on our leadership to act and to take timely actions in this regard. Looking forward for articles on public movements and community life of the hills from time to time. This will be of great value to those doing community work in remote areas of Uttaranchal.”

Friends, this is enough. The small, soul-stirring letter from Alok Dobriyal living in Mumbai has exposed the kind of development we have been “enjoying” in the Uttarakhand region. The condition of environment is even worse.


General Introduction

Until 40 years ago, Uttarakhand was relatively inaccessible to outsiders, but following the Indo-Chinese border conflict of 1962, a network of motor roads was constructed throughout the mountains. Although the motive was strategic, the consequence was the opening up of the area to contractors, corporations and other entrepreneurs intent on exploiting the area’s timber and forest products (resin and medicinal herbs, etc), mineral resources (limestone, magnetite, potassium, etc), and land suitable for fruit orchards and cool climate commercial crops and building hydroelectric sites on the area’s abundant river networks.

Road construction necessitated the blasting and quarrying of mountainsides and the clearing of trees, which in turn led to massive erosion and landslides and the subsequent loss of soil, forest and water sources as well as fauna. In 1972, for example, a Rs. 56 million World Bank project started to construct 1,330 kilometres of new roads and 16 new bridges and renovate 620 kilometers of existing roads in Uttarakhand. Labour crews and military units also made voracious use of firewood and other forest products, decimating the forests. This, together with massive exploitation by extractive industries, led to serious economic and social dislocation of the Himalayan people.

Recent official figures estimate forest cover to be 37.5 per cent in Uttarakhand, but about half of this forest area is degraded with poor tree density. Recent satellite data show that of the 34,042 square kilometres of land declared as forests in Uttarakhand, good tree over exists on only 6.6 percent of forestland, while another 22.5 percent and 13.8 per cent are classified as medium and poor forests, respectively. Resin tapping operations have also dramatically increased. The local population has been neglected in the extraction and processing of forest produce, which has mainly been undertaken by private and state contractors.

The region also possesses excellent hydroelectric facilities. Hydroelectric sites along the Ganga and Yamuna rivers and their tributaries were promptly exploited when roads made them accessible, and now there are more than 20 hydroelectric projects in Uttarakhand, one of which, the Tehri Dam, will become Asia’s largest earth-filled dam. Its lake will submerge historic Tehri town and about 100 villages (25 of them completely) and 100,000 acres of agricultural land, rendering 40,000 people homeless, while separating others by water from their economic resources and social networks.

Also when the roads came, industrial giants and lesser capitalists to grow apples, apricots, potatoes, ginger and opium bought up land previously cultivated by local farmers for their subsistence crops or devoted to pasture for livestock.

Another problem encountered by the hill districts has been increased tourism to pilgrimage sites such as Kedarnath, Gangotari and Badarinath. More than 250,000 people motor to Badarinath each year. Also trekking, hunting, fishing, mountain climbing and touring, plus the associated hotels, shops and restaurants, have greatly impacted the area, seriously affecting the fragile mountain ecology.

The beneficiaries of this kind of development are almost exclusively outside entrepreneurs and their political patrons. Most of the former are absentee owner from the plains, a few are expatriate mountain people and a very few are elite, educated, wealthy, plains-oriented residents of the mountains. Usually local people have not even been employed in the enterprises that development has brought. The impact of these development activities has been to deplete the forests, erode the soil, dry up water resources, pre-empt the firewood, the fodder and the building materials and co-opt or destroy much of the viable agricultural land and pasture, thus leaving the indigenous people unable to make a living.

The farming system is subsistence-oriented, dependent upon the land and the forests. According to Ramchandra Guha, cumulative social and environmental changes have undermined the hill economy’s capacity to feed itself. The major causes of this situation have been population increase and declining agricultural production, exemplified by decreasing yields, which have been caused by forest degradation.

Traditionally, men, power and authority being built around a hierarchy of males dominate the political and ritual life of the community. Women are economically dependent upon men. Ideologically, women face subordination to men.


Is the Solution Easy?

The solution to the problems of ecological degradation in Uttarakhand seems very-very simple. Yes, if we grow plants, shrubs, or trees; we can think of a long-lasting solution. And if we take care of the tree saplings and do not let them die for want of water, sunlight, or protection; we have yet another long lasting answer. And if we do not allow tree felling, there is nothing like it. Around festival times such as Holi, which involve the burning of trees, a lot of wood is wasted. If possible, actively oppose the destruction of trees for festival purposes.

In several parts of Uttarakhand, the practice of felling the pine trees for the marriage celebrations is still continuing. I am against the pine tree, but there is no point in felling a growing pine just for the sake of buntings and decorations. Wasting paper is also bad. It ultimately comes from wood. Write on both sides. Use recycled paper. Re-use envelops.

I learnt it from Sunderlal Bahugunaji. One day, he landed in my old office. He was on a maunvrata. He picked a paper, which was already used on one side, and wrote answers to my queries on it. I took no time to know why he was not using a fresh sheet of paper. This was an eye opener for me. From that day onwards, I have made it a point to use any piece of paper on both sides and that too judiciously. The point is that it is our duty to make the best use of the finite resources that the Mother Earth has in its treasure.

Also, it is our responsibility to help others conserve Earth’s resources and to live a lifestyle that promotes social justice and avoids wasteful, excessive, and expensive habits. You know, the cotton or the Khadi clothes are always better as they do not have chemically produced artificial fibres. It is also important to avoid being manipulated by advertisements into buying stuff that you do not actually need or want.

And, do not spend too much money on holiday trips. Decide in advance your holiday budget and plan accordingly. Encourage the renovational repair, re-use or recycle materials and products as may be appropriate. Also, save water and electricity. Develop less expensive hobbies. Let the sun and winds dry your clothes. These are simple things to do but the results are bound to be great. But this is not enough in the mountainous and difficult Uttarakhand.

In fact, the natural resources must be brought under one umbrella and an integrated management approach adopted. It is unfortunate that each of the natural resources — water, soil, forests and biodiversity – continues to be dealt with in a fragmented manner by different government departments and there is little interaction between them.

The state government should bring them under one authority to ensure both equity and economic viability. For sustainable management of natural resources it is essential to devise a set of criteria and indicators (c&i), which would be applied by all those responsible for integrated management of soil, water and forests.

At present there is no clarity in the criteria applied to monitor and evaluate the natural resources. A sound system must be worked out to ensure forests are not over-exploited and biodiversity remains conserved and yet sustained production takes place to meet the economic needs of the local people and the country.


Movement Antecedents

The process of resource exploitation and resistance by the local population to it are not new to Uttarakhand. In fact, resistance is traced back to the Trial Forest Settlement in Kumaon instituted by the British in 1821. This Act is the first restriction in history of use of Himalayan forests by their inhabitants. When, in 1911, the reserved forest area was expanded to 3,311 square miles and villagers were prohibited from entering the forest, open resistance began in frequent clashes between villagers and forest department functionaries.

Resistance took the form of non-cooperation and marches, which together formed the protest known locally as the dhandak. The dhandak was noted by its absence of physical violence, predating Gandhi’s use of Satyagraha. The resistance culminated in a forest movement in 1921, whereby villagers breached forest laws (governing access and use), refused to pay fines, and conducted incendiarism. Resistance continued until May 30, 1930, when the ruler of Tehri Riyasat sent his troops to break up a protest meeting of local villagers at Tilari in the Rawain region of Tehri Garhwal. The repression resulted in scores of peasants killed and many injured. Despite this setback, during 1930-31 local peasants conducted a forest Satyagraha, whereby villagers ceremoniously removed forest products from government-reserved forests to assert their right to satisfy their basic needs


Trans-Boundary Issue

The Himalayan region extends beyond India and includes China, Pakistan, Nepal, and Bhutan. The geographic separation of these regions coincides with transnational properties of the system. The problem of the Himalayan region is a people’s problem. It is a social economic and political problem set against a dramatic physical backdrop –the greatest mountain range in the world.


The Activist Tradition

Centuries of colonial rule and the experience of marginalisation have helped shaped a history of social protest within the Uttarakhand communities. In the Garhwal Himalaya, the best known of these is the Chipko Movement, which, in the mid 1970s, played a pivotal role in ending commercial logging for a period of 15 years. This activist tradition has continued. The village women have played a leading part in campaigns against illegal distillation of liquor, communities have protested against the limestone quarries in steep watersheds that have contributed to forest degradation, loss of water supplies, and increasing landslides; communities have protested the construction of the Tehri Dam. This collective history represents a valuable source of energy for mobilising communities for ecological and social regeneration.

Locale: Social Relations and Movement Structure

An important and interesting aspect of Chipko is that women have been involved in a way and to an extent unusual in India. A combination of factors that pertain to the social relations of the locale is responsible for this. First, women in this Himalayan area have unusually high status as contrasted with women in other parts of India, including freedom of action and movement, and this status accompanies their heavy contribution to the agricultural subsistence economy, a contribution that is greater than that of the men. Second, men are frequently away from their families and villages, seeking employment in the plains. Women, therefore, remain as the able-bodied adults responsible for their families and villages, accustomed to responsibility and to meeting the requirements of community survival. Third, even when men are present, the women do most of the work that entails direct, daily use of the forests and, therefore, most acutely feel the impact of the forests’ devastation.

Women are dependent upon the forest for fodder, compost and wood (for new houses,

thatches, containers, rope, and so on) and can earn extra income from the sale of forest produce such as wild herbs, mushrooms, walnuts and almonds. As the forests have disappeared, women have had to walk up to eight to ten kilometres to meet their daily needs from the forests.



Over use of agricultural land, over-grazing of pastureland, and the depletion of forests for fuel wood are all manifestations of a survival economy. To speak of such consumption as being unsustainable, and hence requiring change, without addressing the human condition that leads to such consumption, is not only unethical but also impractical.

Land, which is the most precious heritage and physical base of biomass production of life supporting systems, is finite, and thus a non-renewable endowment. Uttarakhand’s share of land is fixed. Due to increasing demand of its natural wealth for the betterment and economic development and for the growing need of its own habitants, the biotic pressure on land and other resources has increased.

The effort, therefore, should be to bring about qualitative change in management of agriculture through information management with the help of the latest information technology. A programme to support early warning systems for monitoring food supply and other associated factors in both urban and rural areas is also required.

The dependency of the vast majority of the Uttarakhand population upon agriculture and the forests and, in particular, the important role of women within this traditional economy provided critical motivational force for the emergence of the grassroots movements.

The state and means of survival depend on the Himalaya for this commercially profitable

resources as well as its scientific richness. A research by an ecologist, ironically enough, commissioned by the forest department, clearly demonstrated the yawning gulf between the ideology of sustained yield and the actual operations of timber harvesting, wherein the output of logged material often exceeds the increment to forest stock.


Panchayati Raj Institutions

The Panchayati Raj institutions should also be involved in the eco-conservation activities besides strengthening them as effective institutions of local self-governance so as to ensure economic development and social justice within their periphery. In order to promote people’s participation and create awareness, the practicing farmers, village youth and school dropouts can work as focal points for dissemination of information on the issues. The major thrust of the agricultural development programmes has no options except but to improving the efficiency in the use of scarce natural resources like land, water and energy.

Eradication of poverty and provision of basic minimum services are integral elements of any strategy to improve the quality of life. No developmental process can be sustainable

In the absence of the basic minimum services of safe drinking water, primary health care facilities, universal primary education, shelter, etc.



Empowerment of women and socially disadvantaged groups such as SCs, STs and Others as agents of socio-economic change and development is a must. Simultaneously, promotion of people’s participatory institutions like Panchayati Raj Institutions, cooperatives and self-help groups is also important. Through social mobilisation and participation of people at all levels, environmental sustainability can be achieved.


Participative Democracy: Environmental Rights as Human Rights

All over the world people are becoming more aware of the environment than ever before. But as ecologists, environmental protection activists, and a number of scientists point out, it is not enough to be merely aware of our environment and of the harm we are doing to it. We need to make a conscious effort to preserve. Conscious choices have to be made as to their allocation and use. Are they to be put to the reckless use of the rich and powerful in the name of technological and scientific advancement, or are they to be made available to the disadvantaged, many of who depend on nature for survival?

It is with this perspective that we see environmental and ecological rights as human rights. Every developmental project, be it the construction of a dam, laying of a railway tract or starting a large scale chemical or engineering factory, must have human face. It must consider the human beings, must not deny them their very right to existence and livelihood nor be uprooted and displaced without taking responsibility to adequately compensate and rehabilitate them.

Our efforts should be to strive for a democracy in which all citizens have the right to express their views, and are able to directly participate in the environmental, social, economic, and political decisions, which affect their lives. So that power and responsibility are concentrated in the local communities of the region. Of course, this requires building grassroots institutions that enable decisions to be made at the appropriate levels by those affected, based on systems, which encourage civic vitality, voluntary action and community responsibility.

Taking the degraded eco-system of Uttarakhand into account, we urgently require building a strong support system that gives voice to the concerns of the youth, women and others. In return, they are expected to discharge their responsibilities through educating, encouraging, and assisting others in every aspect of life.

The Uttarakhand organisation must also come forward to vigorously oppose environmentally destructive agricultural and industrial development and give primary effort to protecting native plants and animals in their natural habitat. The urgent need is to work towards creating an environment where financial and economic institutions and organisations nurture and protect environmentally sustainable projects that will sustain communities at all levels.


지속 가능성

There is a limited scope for the material expansion within the biosphere. Therefore, the need is to maintain the natural resources and through sustainable use renew them. More important is to responsible use the non-renewable resources. To achieve sustainability and in order to provide for the needs of present and future generations within the finite resources of the Earth, continuing growth in consumption, population and material inequality has to be halted and reversed. And, sustainability will not be possible as long as poverty prevails in the state.

Therefore, an economy has to be evolved that suffices the needs of all, not the greed of a few. The economy that paves the way for basic education and health, encourages local self-reliance, and promotes the ethics of sustainability within the cultures of the state.



India’s national water policy aims at planning, developing and conserving the scarce and precious water resources on an integrated and environmentally sound basis keeping in view the needs of the state governments. The policy envisages strategies; inter alia, ground water development, water allocation priorities, drinking water, irrigation, water quality, water zoning, conservation of water, flood control and management. The state governments make their water policies within the overall framework of the national water policy. We have to see what the Uttaranchal does in this connection and what guidelines it formulates for the sustainable water resources’ development and management.

There is also need to draw attention towards the provisions made in the Uttar Pradesh Reorganisation Act, 2000, the provisions of which are inclined towards the parent state of Uttar Pradesh. This imbalance has to be corrected and Uttarakhand’s rights over its natural resources including water need to be established. The essentials of life such as water must remain publicly owned and controlled in Uttarakhand. Also, access to clean water for basic needs is a fundamental right and this has to be ensured. Opposition to privatisation of water resources and infrastructure is also essential. The Uttar Pradesh government in the past had compromised on this count by allowing several private companies to manipulate water resources in the region for their benefit only.

Also, steps are required to draw long-term policies for the perenniality of its rivers and other sources of water. Several reports have indicated that the rivers of glacial sources have a bleak future in the age of global warming. If people think that the 2,525 kms long Gangetic lifeline, whetting the life and appetites of nearly 100 big and small towns along it, will run it’s revered course, all the while nourishing 40 per cent of the Indian population for ever, are wrong.

To check this process, the degradation of the Uttarakhand Himalayan ecosystem has to be halted not only for the sake of the local inhabitants but also for the sake of the adjoining plains of northern India where the Himalayan rivers have become flood prone. Hydrological data for the Himalayan rivers, streams and springs have to be collected systematically. This should include large-scale mapping and discharge and recharge measurements of perennial springs, variability, and quality, flow rates and regeneration potential of the rivers and streams.


Swajal Project

The WB assisted five-year Swajal Project or the water and sanitation programme was started in 1996 in the water scarce regions of Uttarakhand and Bundelkhand. The project envisaged covering 650 villages in the Uttarakhand region. More than 300 villages have reportedly been covered under the project. However, it seems unlikely that the project will be able to really cover 650 villages by the end of this year if the pace with which it is progressing is any indication.

It is unfortunate that the Swajal as a community-based programme is an absolute failure as the village water and sanitation committees formed to look after the planning, execution/ implementation, monitoring and maintenance of the project concerned, have become redundant due to undue interference of the state officials. Regional papers like Nainital Samachar have published several reports of violation of the guidelines prescribed for the project.

The role of government functionaries in the project was supposed to be that of the facilitators, but there has been undue interference of the government functionaries in the whole implementation process. Several NGOs with no experience of working among local communities were involved in the project. Even several Jal Nigam contractors converted themselves into NGOs as they found the new job more lucrative. The WB guidelines clearly explain that only the NGOs with experience of working among people should be involved. PMUs are also just eyewash. They have been created only to fool the WB. If the villagers are doing everything themselves, why at all there is a need for such bodies? Or, are they for the creation of greater expenditures? And, DPMUs are crowded by the favourites.

What about those who, except rainy season, suffer from inadequate water facilities as the springs have dried up due to dwindling vegetation cover? The World Bank funded Swajal project is, therefore, inadequate in conservation of water, as the afforestation has not been taken up seriously.

Water harvesting devices like attached tanks with dwelling units redesigning of terraces, digging of ponds in natural depressions, planting of grasses or suitable bushes in the path of the streams to slow down the run off, protection and regeneration of the natural springs and selection of the tree species for water recharge and conservation have not been taken in the right spirit. And above all, the traditional knowledge has been marginalised. Should we tell the sponsors of the Swajal project to take a lesson from Rajendra Singh who has done wonders in Rajasthan?


Management of Lakes

Everybody participating in this seminar knows about the badly managed Naini lake situated at Nainital town. These apart, natural or man-made lakes happen to be the major sources of water supply in Uttarakhand. However, excessive siltation, variation in run-off and changing land use in the watersheds has contributed to depletion of these water bodies. The water quality in lakes is also affected by run-off loaded with fertilizers, insecticides, pesticides coupled with discharges from industries as well as human settlements and the irresponsible tourists. Only stringent steps can reverse the trend.



The term biodiversity encompasses the variety of all life on Earth. It is identified as the variability among living organisms and the ecological complexes of which they are part, including diversity within and between species and ecosystems. Biological diversity affects us all. Biological diversity has direct consumptive value in food, agriculture, medicine, and industry. It also has aesthetic and recreational value. Biodiversity maintains ecological balance and continues evolutionary process.

But, biodiversity is not evenly distributed among the world’s more than 170 countries. A very small number of countries contain a high percentage of the world’s species. These countries are known as mega biodiversity countries. Together, these countries contain as much as 60 to 70 per cent of the world’s species. India is among them and is divided into 10 biogeographic regions including Himalaya. The prestigious biodiversity in our region has to be preserved for the sake of health of the eco-system, essential to human life.


Flora and Fauna

Several thousand plant-species are found in Uttarakhand. And, a lot of them are endemic to this region. The biological diversity (especially herbal and medicinal) in the region so rich that it can play a crucial role in future for the survival of entire mankind if it is conserved and used with the utmost care. Therefore, serious efforts should be made for the protection of forests, sanctuaries, and the biosphere regions even as the rights of the locals are not marginalised.

Indigenous Knowledge

Another cost of new technologies is the emerging tension between indigenous-folk systems of knowledge and exogenous-scientific knowledge bases. Traditional subsistence methods are based on bodies of knowledge that have evolved through trial and error over the centuries and are highly adaptive to the constraints of specific highland miao-niches, are sustainable without long-term damage to the land (Shiva, 1988). In addition, these methods are not dependent on alternative market-based resources. The erosion of local knowledge affect households’ ability to adjust to emergencies and, in many instances, also leads to the devaluation of women who are the main repositories of this knowledge.


Erosion of Traditional Genetic Diversity

The erosion of traditional genetic diversity is becoming commonplace in Uttarakhand. In many of the villages, this is a by-product of the introduction of high yielding and improved seeds into local cropping regimes over the decades. The use of so-called improved wheat varieties has contributed to the loss of the traditional varieties of seeds which were uniquely adapted to a specific elevation and the water, soil fertility and slope aspects associated with it. This rich gene pool is all but lost and, along with it, a body of local knowledge: nowadays only the very elderly still remember the different names of seeds.

In many areas, changing dietary habits favouring wheat and rice along with the greater use of hybrid wheat varieties has led to the devaluation of millets. The relationship between cash cropping, subsistence agriculture, nutritional status and food security requires considerably more attention. Specifically, this needs to emphasise the nature of the crops, the control of production and income, allocation of household labour, and the maintenance of subsistence production.

From this perspective it is very interesting to study the work of Beej Bachao Andolan (Save the Seeds Movement) in Henvalghati region of Tehri District. The group, leading the movement, provides a very admirable example of largely unpaid voluntary work that has continued largely uninterrupted for almost three decades. The movement got the best response from women farmer as they do most of other farming work. Seeds are their concern more than that of men. Thus the experiences of this movement require propagation at the state level, if not beyond.


The Symbiotic Relationship

The symbiotic relationship goes much deeper. It is a sort of favour exchanging system between dissimilar species for mutual benefit and survival. And, it has worldwide ramifications. Not only does the survival of the two (or more) directly involved species depend on it, but even the well being of life on Earth may do so. Man’s relationship with nature is not different. This has to be understood in the right perspective.

Take, for example, the vital symbiotic relationship existing between the bacteria living in the gut of all herbivores – and the herbivores themselves: i.e. cows, sheep, goats, and similar animals from antelope to zebra. These bacteria and other micro flora are the only creatures that can break down cellulose, the touch stuff of which most plants are made, and convert it into nourishment. In exchange, the bacteria get to live in a warm, if odorous, methane-rich habitat in the stomachs and intestines of these animals where there is no deadly oxygen present.

Then there is the equally important symbiotic relationship between plant and pollinator. Bees, butterflies, moths, hoverflies, wasps, other insects, birds and bats pollinate thousands of species of plants, ensuring their survival. The flowers offer sweet nectar, rich in energy, giving sugar in return, after luring the pollinators by colour or perfume.


Biosphere Reserves and Sanctuaries

The biosphere reserves and sanctuaries are multi-purpose protected areas to preserve the genetic diversity in representative ecosystems. The major objectives of biosphere reserves are to conserve diversity and integrity of plants, animals and micro-organisms, to promote research on ecological conservation and other environmental aspects, and to provide facilities for education, awareness and training. One of such reserves is in Uttarakhand, the Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve. It is time that the comprehensive guidelines for it emphasises formulation of eco-development and demonstration projects, development of database, conservation plans of key species in the right perspective. The voluntary organisations should also come forward to create public attentiveness.


Chipko Movement

The success of Chipko is beyond saving some 100,000 trees from excavation. In fact, the message is implied is that the Chipko women are truly concerned about the preservation of forests, the preservation of their communities and its values.

Similar cases exist in other countries. The James Bay power project in Quebec, Canada resembles the Chipko Movement, the Kayapo Indians in Brazil, the Nahuatl in Mexico, the Peigan Indians in Alberta, Canada, and the forest project in North Karela, Finland. All of these cases involve the displacement of indigenous people by the state or similar governmental bureaucracies. The Chipko people believed that the trees were living and breathing carbon dioxide, the same as they were.

In essence, the trees should be respected. The extensive forests were central to the successful practice of agriculture and animal husbandry. The hill people believed that the jungles of fruit, vegetables or roots were used as aids in the times of scarcity. The dependence of the hill peasant on forest resources was institutionalised through a variety of social and cultural mechanisms. Through religion, folklore and oral tradition, rings of love protected the forests. Around temples, deodar plantations were preserved. Hindus consider this magnificent tree superior to most trees. In such sacred groves, the traditional form of forest preservation, and one found all over India, no villager would injure the vegetation in any way. In several parts of the state, leaves are offered to the local deities. These are examples of the people’s fascination of vegetation association with gods. The tradition of Chipko must go on and on. At a wider scale, of course.


The Tehri Hydro Project

The Tehri hydro project, an issue hotly debated over for almost two decades, is one of the most controversial dam projects, worldwide. This project involves the construction of a 260.5 metre high earth and rock fill dam across the River Bhagirathi at Tehri town. The objective being to create a storage reservoir to generate hydro-electric power and provide irrigation facilities. The initial controversy regarding this project arose as a result of the massive displacement of project-affected people from Tehri town and several adjoining villages. These farming communities are to lose their extremely fertile lands that they have farmed for generations. According to various estimates, from between 70,000 to 100,000 people are likely to be displaced by this project.

Displacement that is considered avoidable, particularly so if expert opinions are given the credence they deserve. It has been stated categorically that the benefits from this project will be short- lived. One of the reasons being that the siltation rate of the reservoir is likely to be very high. SP Nautiyal, an eminent geologist, has been of the opinion that the life of the Tehri reservoir may turn out to be only 30 to 40 years instead of the 100 years projected by the authorities. The environment appraisal committee of the ministry of environment that has articulated the fact that silt load carried into the reservoir would be much higher than assumed further confirmed these doubts. Furthermore, under the prevailing conditions the life of the reservoir would be considerably reduced with commensurate reduction in benefits.

The Tehri dam controversy with very many implications for other such projects to follow in this region in the near future is now at a truly critical and crucial stage. According to a research undertaken by the Washington-based Human Rights Watch-Asia, as many as 2,30,000 people died in flash floods unleashed by the collapse of Banquia and Shimantan dams in Hunan province of China in 1975. If we stand for avoidance of such tragedies due to any damage to the Tehri dam in future, a genuine, careful reappraisal of the TDP is badly needed.

In view of this, what is the point in going ahead with a disastrous project like this?



Most of the landslides are complex features. These features may be rock fall, true slides, earth floods, slumps, or collapse features associated with the road-cut or road protection work. According to Sanjay Tewari, a geologist working in Czech Republic, the most important factors responsible for landslide occurrences in Uttarakhand are alarming deforestation on hill slopes, overgrazing on slopes, obstructed or blocked drainage by construction and forestry activities. It is found that on most of slide faces the vegetal cover is absent. Only on those slides, which are fossil slide, or in process of stabilising sparse herbs and shrubs are found. It confirms that trees control erosion on slope, to stabilise landslide scars, and to absorb debris flow impacts. A comprehensive policy needs to be framed for checking the landslides that not only cause damage to the eco-system but also interrupt human activities. The Geological Survey of India, premier organisation of earth science studies in the sub-continent, should be involved to tackle the problem.


Van Sena

The Uttaranchal government has already decided to constitute a ‘Van Sena’ (forest army) at the state, district, and block and village level to provide protection to the forests. This army is expected to collect information related to preservation of the forests, and communicate it to the forest department. There is an urgent need to activate it in view of our dependence on the forests for water, air, fuel wood and timber. The government’s decision to create ‘green belts’ for forest protection is also a welcome step as under this scheme plans are afoot to regenerate forests with the varieties of flora. It is hoped that the plans to constitute the wildlife police stations on the outskirts of the national park would also help stop a spate of attacks on elephants and tigers inside the sanctuaries and parks like the Jim Corbett National Park.


G.B. Pant Institute of Himalayan Environment and Development

Established in 1988 as an autonomous institute of ministry of environment and forests, GB Pant Institute of Himalayan Environment and Development has emerged as a focal agency to advance scientific knowledge, to evolve integrated management strategies, demonstrate their efficacy for conservation of natural resources and to ensure environmentally sound development in the entire Indian Himalayan region. There is need to strengthen its activities at government and non-government levels. Also, the efforts should be expedited to strengthen the local knowledge of the environment and contribute towards strengthening researches of regional relevance in the scientific institutions through interactive networking.

The U P Forest Corporation (Uttaranchal Amendment) Act and the Indian Forest Act (Uttaranchal Amendment) Act

It was rightly felt to amend these Acts as it was felt necessary to make stricter certain provisions of the Indian Forest Act, 1927, so that the rise in forest related crimes and the theft of forest wealth could be checked, however the Uttar Pradesh Forest Corporation (Uttaranchal Amendment) Bill, 2001, and the Indian Forest Act (Uttaranchal Amendment) Bill, 2001, passed by the state assembly need fresh consideration.



Despite its obvious linkages to environmental degradation and poverty, health remains a much-neglected issue within the broader field of mountain development concerns. The decline of forest, agricultural and water resources, intensification of work burdens, and the cold stress associated with living in the high mountains, and limited access to decent health care, are only some of the pressures that highland communities have to face. Cultural ideologies of entitlement that dictate that females have less access to household resources also suggest that in certain social contexts women and girls will be more affected by generally-deteriorating conditions.

In a number of areas reduced access to fuel wood is forcing people to make adjustments in their diets, shifting from nutritious whole grains and legumes to less nutritious foods that require less cooking time.

The mountain communities lack access to adequate water supplies and proper sanitation facilities. Women, as the primary water carriers, managers and end users are in constant contact with polluted water and are, as a consequence, the group most vulnerable to water-related diseases. Despite their vital roles as water and sanitation educators, women are typically excluded from the planning and implementation of water and sanitation projects. This often results in the design of rural water systems without the benefit of information regarding women’s cultural preferences

Also, the health of the people cannot be compromised in the name of development as seen in the Bhopal gas tragedy. The most effective way to combat environmental pollution and degradation is to spread awareness amongst the people, so that they in turn can keep vigilance and oppose any lopsided projects of development like the Tehri dam.


Voluntary Organisations

In recent years funds for various kinds of voluntary development work have increased significantly, but side by side there has been a growing concern about the quality of work. There is increasing concern at the routinisation of development work. The urge for social change, the yearning for improving society and helping society in innovative ways is lost in this process.

An effective and sustainable development planning has to be based on an understanding of the linkages between sustainable use of resources, gender roles within the community, the key constraints as well as local comparative advantages of specific mountain environments. The tradition of unpaid voluntary work has been diminishing and so it is all the more important to try to learn from what remains of it and then try to create the conditions in which unpaid or largely unpaid voluntary work has a greater chance of sustaining itself.


Inclusion of Women

Despite the rhetoric of integrating greater gender sensitivity into the planning and implementation of programmes over decades, women’s empowerment remains inadequately conceptualised. This is not just a problem within so-called target communities; women’s poor representation in mainstream research priorities and development policies is also witnessed by the limited availability of trained and professional women. Women have a crucial role to play in the process of social transformation.

It is also crucial to sharpen analyses regarding how processes of socio-economic and ecological change affect women’s multiple roles in local economies. There is still inadequate appreciation of women’s broad-based knowledge of their local environments and how this contributes to issues of food security and domestic welfare. In Uttarakhand, their contribution in Chipko, Nasha Nahin Rozghar Do, and the anti-liquor movement is immense. Recognition of this will only lead to more contribution.

There are also encouraging examples from initiatives that, by refocusing their work to include women, have often experienced considerable success. An illustration of this comes from an agricultural extension project in eastern Nepal, which initially worked exclusively with male farmers. It made little headway until the emphasis was shifted to working with women who were the actual vegetable growers when, in a single year, the number of gardens increased from 75 to 210. Multi-sectoral approaches have also proved to be effective mechanisms for addressing community issues.

Failure to identify locally specific gendered patterns of labour mobilization and decision making, along with constraints shaping women’s access to resources and benefits can result in the failure of even the best-designed projects.


Economic Environment

There is a need for the access to the environmentally sound technologies to achieving sustained economic growth and sustainable development. It is unfortunate that the developed nations have not taken interest in this. The implementation of commitments on transfer of environmentally sound technologies and technical know-how, has, in fact, been disappointing. The point is that the issues of natural resource conservation and agricultural growth cannot be effectively tackled in the absence of an appropriate technological base.

A favourable international economic environment, combined with financial and technical assistance, favourable terms of trade, debt relief, access to markets and transfer of environmentally sound technologies, will help pave the way for poverty eradication and sustainable development. Poverty has so many causes that no single solution will solve the problem in all countries. Poverty eradication remains the overriding priority for India. The challenge is to find a development path that is not only sustainable but is also socially just and culturally acceptable.

The environmental stress resulting from unsustainable consumption and production can only be arrested if consumption patterns are changed keeping the requirements of the future in mind.

Mountains are important sources of water, energy, minerals, forests and agricultural products and areas of recreation. They are storehouses of biological diversity, home to endangered species and an essential part of the global ecosystem. Therefore, the development of the mountains has to be viewed in a holistic manner, encompassing economic development, technological improvement, environmental protection and human resource development.

As a major ecosystem representing the complex and inter-related ecology of our planet, mountain environments are essential to the survival of the global eco-system. Mountains are, however, vulnerable to human and natural ecological imbalance. The Himalaya represent one of the most fragile mountain eco-systems and, furthermore, sustain a large human population. This sets them apart from the Alpine or other ranges, where the human habitation is not so high.

They and their people deserve consideration and attention, so that their local knowledge can be utilised, so that sustained and accelerated development becomes a reality for them while ensuring promotion and protection of the eco-system as a whole. The role of International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development located in Kathmandu, in generating and strengthening the knowledge about ecology and sustainable development of mountain eco-systems has been recognised in Agenda 21, which calls on the national governments and international organisations to support it.


Commercial Viability

Commercial timber operations were given a boost when laboratory trials at the Forest Research Institute showed that the utilization of chir waste (the material after the conversion of logs to railway sleepers) for papermaking was a viable proposition. During World Wars, the extraction of chir sleepers was high. In 1958, a committee was formed to investigate the grievances of the people of Uttarakhand concerning forest management.


Empowerment at the Local Levels

For empowerment at the local levels, it is necessary to take the steps like creation of mechanisms for maximising community participation in the design, implementation and monitoring of the environmental programmes. Also, it is important to spread awareness about people’s rights and promotion of community access to basic education, potable water, sanitation, primary health care, etc. Besides, identification of the positive and negative aspects of increased market participation on local consumption patterns, access to and dependence on resources, employment opportunities, supplementing traditional livelihoods, traditional subsistence systems and survival strategies.


Integration of Environmental Considerations

Dear friends, let us examine what we actually need to do in the new state of Uttaranchal. The National Conservation Strategy and Policy Statement on Environment and Development, adopted by the Government of India in June 1992, lays down strategies and actions for integration of environmental considerations in the development activities of various sectors of the country. Thus paving the way for achieving sustainable development. The action points pertaining to individual departments ensure that they take action for reorienting their policies and programmes in conformity with the strategy.


Understanding the Local Context

Mountain populations require greater opportunities for more mobility, better access to markets to sell their produce and purchase inputs at the lowest possible prices, access to better medical facilities than those locally available, and appropriate education.

An important aspect of embracing the local context is addressing the tension between indigenous-folk and exogenous-scientific knowledge bases by in-depth case-by-case studies of the specific conditions and constraints within which local environmental knowledge systems are generated.

Incorporating local values and beliefs, as well as insights from religious leaders and elders can also contribute to bridging the gap between different and seemingly exclusive ways of knowing. The special needs and constraints characteristic of highland social and ecological systems and opportunities for diversifying productivity bases should be enhanced.


Decentralisation of the Planning Process

Sustainable development initiatives must respect communities’ dignity and culture, reflect local priorities and perceptions, make full use of positive local knowledge, skills, resourcefulness and insights, and take into account the needs of the most vulnerable sections of the community.

Given the larger structural forces that are increasingly impinging on highland communities, one of the central challenges of economic and social development is how to diversify opportunities, and, address the needs of a wide spectrum of groups within communities, whilst at the same time minimising the marginalising aspects of change.

A number of initiatives seeking to address issues relating to environmental and community regeneration have been implemented with varying degrees of success in highland regions across the world. While many projects do not significantly differ from those that have been implemented in the plains over a longer period of time, they underscore the need to take local contexts, social-physical relationships, priorities and constraints into consideration. More importantly, they nevertheless indicate the tremendous potential a decentralized approach to development planning can play in the lives of mountain communities. A critical variable determining project success or failure is the degree to which it permits local participation. Not surprisingly the highest success rates have been noted in community-initiated projects.

The essence of the environmental planning should be therefore the determination of ecological and environmental priorities. Unless these priorities are established, social welfare is not likely to be created by the unplanned operation of the various institutions.

An understanding of local ecosystem processes, the organizational mechanisms through which communities interact with their physical environments, social dynamics at both the household and community levels, and local priorities are crucial components in ensuring the success of development and conservation efforts. Participatory rural appraisal methodologies and the integration of women are two key ways to gain access to both male and female perspectives, as well as differentiating between the various gender and generationally-differentiated responsibilities, aspects of control (over consumption, distribution, etc.) and labour that exist within households and the wider community.



We have assembled here to discuss the various issues concerning the new state. However, environment and ecology are issues that require total solutions. When we talk about environmental degradation in Himalaya, the whole Earth is in our mind. Piecemeal efforts cannot lead to the solutions. The impact of the ecological issues goes beyond political boundaries. But one thing is true that the solutions lie in the local efforts.

Friends, we, the humans as well as the non-humans, depend absolutely on Earth’s vitality, diversity, and beauty. And these elements are finite. It depends upon us how judiciously and economically we utilise these resources. Isn’t it our duty to pass the resources to the next generation without diminishing them if we cannot improve them?

It is true that the degradation of the environment has led to the degradation of human dignity. This is manifestly evident in Uttarakhand. My view remains that degradation of human dignity will continue and no real democracy can take place as long as there is threat to the ecology and the rights of the indigenous peoples and their contributions to the common heritage are undermined.

The eco-system of Himalaya in general and that of Uttarakhand is vital not only for Himalaya but for the whole of global eco-system. Therefore, the responsibility of protecting and restoring the integrity of its eco-system with special concern for its bio-diversity and the natural processes that sustain life solely lies on the people of Uttarakhand.

Also, we need to learn about balancing individual interests with the common good while acknowledging the interrelatedness of all ecological, social, and economic processes. Therefore, the short-term benefits will have to be forsaken in favour of the long-term objectives so that the next generation has the same rights as we have, if not better.

Let me also support the suggestion that the key to social justice is the equitable distribution of social and natural resources, both locally and globally. The Charter of the Global Greens Canberra 2001 is self-explanatory that there is no social justice without environmental justice and no environmental justice without social justice. The widely acclaimed Chipko Movement and the movement against the construction of Tehri Dam in the hills of Uttarakhand have more than proved that the environmental justice is an integral part of the social justice.



The effect of several decades of formal development planning in the mountains is that local communities have had little opportunity to contribute their voices. This exclusion of local perspectives and priorities lies at the heart of ill-conceived policies and a growing cynicism amongst mountain peoples about governments’ commitment to meeting their needs.

As we are on the threshold of the new century, there is an urgent need for international agencies, national governments, as wed as national, regional and local-level NGOs to be signatories to a people-oriented mountain agenda that recognises the need to advance beyond definitions of prosperity based on economic returns to include ecological and social equity.

The imperatives to tackle the legacy of political, economic and social marginalisation that makes mountain communities vulnerable to contemporary rapid socio-economic growth and the effects of poverty are growing. The multiplicity of ethnic and cultural diversity presents a serious challenge to efforts to articulate and operationalise strategies that are viable across a wide region.

However, development initiatives must pay serious attention to this issue: not only because indigenous approaches have a valuable contribution to make in designing and implementing sustainable development, but also because failure to address diversity can jeopardize such efforts. The potential for political, economic and social marginality to feed into wider geo-political tensions and to undercut development efforts is already manifested in a number of Himalayan regions.

There is a vital need to analyse in greater depth the complex relationship between prosperity, poverty and environmental degradation. Mountain cultures represent unique social forms of adaptation to fragile environments; nevertheless their impoverishment due to lack of income and productive resources, unemployment as well as underemployment, and various expressions of exclusion from larger social, economic and political institutions also play an important part in accelerating the degradation of the environments on which subsistence livelihoods depend, and reinforcing the historically lopsided relationship between the highlands and lowlands.

Poverty and inequality are inseparably linked to lack of control of land, skills, capital and information, which perpetuate people’s limited access to institutions, personnel and services of the wider political economy. Efforts to eradicate poverty and marginality must identify how processes of modernisation are contributing to a weakening of traditional linkages between cultural and physical systems, the erosion of social support systems, and the impact on those groups who fall outside the safety nets provided by traditional and modern social institutions.

Initiatives must be committed to the empowering of mountain peoples: recognising and promoting their talents and experience; assisting them to retain their cultural identity whilst participating in and making a positive contribution in all aspects of political, economic and social life, and forging links between local, regional, national and international efforts to ensure communities’ access to resources, opportunities and public services.

Concern for sustainable development and conservation action is strong amongst mountain communities. There is, in addition, a vibrant activist tradition on which such initiatives can build. However, this can only be authentically developed by i) a commitment to decentralising the planning process.

Given the enormous diversity of mountain ecosystems, cultures, adaptive strategies, and modes of linkages to the wider political economy, this will require a substantial commitment in time, money and personnel. It is, however, vital in order to develop a comprehensive understanding of ecological systems, sources of and responses to stress, existing ecological management practices, forms of community organization, formal and informal modes of organization, potential and actual leaders.


Protocol for Action

An important step is to create a set of policy guidelines to be integrated into economic and social policy and planning at the local levels, and which will be designed to identify needs, priorities and constraints of the Uttarakhand communities. Therefore, there an urgent need for a comprehensive ecological strategy for one of the most fragile ecosystems i.e. Uttarakhand.

Yes, dear Friends, we can even make our Uttarakhand more beautiful if we work unitedly and with a purpose. Thank you very much.



AFP: India Faces Catastrophic Crop Loss Through Global Warming (2001)

Paul Routledge: Terrains of Resistance (1993)

Ted Case Studies: Chipko Movement

Bharat Dogra: Tehri Dam Struggle at Crucial Stage (1995)

Suresh Nautiyal: Dhad Uttarakhand (1994)

Marita Ishwaran: Environment and Human Rights

Kazimuddin Ahmed: Forests on Fire (1999)

Sanjay Tewari: Slope Stability Effect of Forests in Garhwal Himalaya (2001)

Ajay Upreti: To Fetch a Pail of Water (1998)

R Ramachandran: The Receding Gangotri (2001)

The Nainital Samachar: (2000 & 2001)

Bharat Dogra: Linking Environment Protection to People’s Livelihood (2000)

John Kutzbach & Terry Devitt: Effect of Rise of Himalayas on World Climate Probed

Manjari Mehta: Cultural Diversity in the Mountains (2001)

India Profile21 (1997)

India Resources21 (1997)

The World Bank Reports (2000)

Darryl D’Monte: Big Dams Are No Good (2001)

Tisha Srivastav: The True Eco-Friend (2001)

US Environmental Protection Agency: Global Warming and its Impact (2001)

World Development Report (1992).



Status Paper was presented by the author at the Seminar on Uttarakhand Issues Organised by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), New Delhi, On August 24, 2001 at the Gandhi Peace Foundation, New Delhi.


Author: Suresh Nautiyal

Suresh Nautiyal is a socio-political activist and a journalist.

08/24/2001 – 00:00


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