Union water resources minister Uma Bharti’s directive to experts to take into account livelihood and development issues while drafting the Ganga conservation plan was well-meaning, but the instruction has cut no ice with the intelligentsia.
They appreciate the intent behind the directive, which is to strike a balance between development and environmental conservation. But they fear that the minister’s order will remain “buried in files like several such directives issued by other politicians in the past,” if she doesn’t walk the talk.
Scholars were referring to Bharti’s interaction with the Forest Research Institute (FRI) scientists here on Tuesday. During the interaction, she directed forestry experts to prepare a people-friendly project for the conservation of the Ganga in Uttarakhand, the place where it originates.
“This is not the first time we heard a politician asking experts to take into consideration livelihood and development issues while drafting a project,” Professor YP Sundriyal of HNB Garhwal (Central) University told HT.
At the session she said if the Ganga was to be conserved, a beginning would’ve to be made from the Himalayan state from where it takes its course. “That means we will have to first conserve the region’s vanishing forest and herbal wealth that sustains the holy river,” she said. She also directed experts to suggest ways to create self-employment for locals.
“Myriads of such instructions have been issued in the past by politicians in power,” Sundriyal said.
“However, things haven’t moved even an inch, be it the issue of environmental conservation or the livelihood, or development issues facing the locals,” he said. “We will believe the minister concerned if the livelihood issues facing the locals start getting sorted out and development also picks up pace,” Sundriyal said.
His colleague, professor MM Semwal agreed. “The (Himalayan) region where we live may be known as Dev Bhumi (land of gods) but we are no incarnations of gods; we are humans who need food to live and have to educate our children,” the academic said. “How would we be able to fulfil our innumerable requirements if sustainable development, a term our politicians keep parroting, continues to elude us?” he asked.
“Sustainable development would remain a chimera for us paharis (highlanders) if politicians in power keep paying lip service and don’t involve us in protecting forests that sustain our agri-pastoral economy,” Semwal said.
“Besides, they will also have to restore our traditional rights and concessions on forests because we are the real sentinels guarding the region’s forest wealth for centuries,” he said.
Professor Sundriyal said he had been hearing politicians emphasising on the need for striking a balance between development and conservation for the past quarter of a century but to no avail.
In that connection, he referred to the scientific organisations like GB Pant Institute of Himalayan Development, Almora and the Gopeshwar (Chamoli) based Herbal Research and Research Institute.
“These institutes were set up 15-25 years ago with the mandate of conserving forests and creating forest based livelihood,” Sundriyal said and added, there had been hardly any progress on both counts.
“Or else, there would be at least some let up in the forced migration that has increased after the hill state came into being 14 years ago,” he said.
Professor M C Sati of the Garhwal varsity pooh-poohed Bharti’s directive to the FRI scientists to suggest ways to carry out sustainable development in a 100 sq km area between Gangotri and Uttarkashi, which was notified as the eco-sensitive zone in 2012.