Uttarakhand (Mussoorie) hosted first of its kind ‘Himalayan Conclave 2019’ on Sunday with a sole purpose to deliberate on issues connected to ecology and cultural heritage of the Indian Himalayan Region (IHR), which comprises of 12 states. IHR remains crucial from the perspective of national security, environmental landscape and social integrity. The day-long conclave ended with all the participating states unanimously agreeing for two major reforms to be introduced at a policy level: green bonus and formation of a separate ministry to deal with the problems arising in IHR.
The Himalayan Conclave 2019 was inaugurated by the Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and attended by the Chief Ministers/Representatives of the Himalayan states; Jammu & Kashmir, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Tripura, Mizoram, and Manipur. The conclave was held on 28 July at Hotel Savoy in Mussoorie, Uttarakhand. Senior officials from the Ministry of Drinking Water and Niti Aayog were also present in the meeting. Niti Aayog has constituted special working groups on sustainable tourism and water scarcity in IHR.
According to media reports, it was for the first time that the Himalayan states have come on a single platform to take a unanimous stand on the various socio, economic and ecological challenges concerning the region. Uttarakhand CM announced that the Himalayan conclave will be an annual feature from now onwards.
Significant from a historical and policy-making point of view, a ‘Mussoorie Resolution’ was signed by the participating states which saw them pledging for:
- Making endeavors to protect and conserve the rich Himalayan heritage and ethos for the prosperity and well-being of the nation;
- Cherishing and nurturing the wealth of biodiversity- the glaciers, rivers, lakes, forests, and wildlife;
- Preserving the vibrant folk arts and crafts, the culture and folklore to pass them on to coming generations;
- Conserving for posterity the spiritual legacy of the mountain culture;
- Working out strategies for sustainable development of mountain areas with a sense of equality and justice;
- Cherishing and conserving the history of mountain societies, their historical legends and the glory associated with the lofty Himalayas and
- Handing over this grant heritage (Himalayas) in the pristine form to the nation and to the world.
The Himalayan conclave ended with all the participating states unanimously agreeing for two major reforms to be introduced at a policy level: green bonus and formation of a separate ministry to deal with the problems arising in IHR.
Green Bonus is a term in the environmental parlance denoting the funds which are to be allocated for the effort made by a country, state or community for the preservation of green cover. It is compensation to be given to the people for the sacrifices they have made in preserving the green cover.
It was the Supreme Court of India which for the first time in an interim order in course of pursuing interlocutory applications ordered that the forest deficit states should pay the forest surplus states. It was said due to the fact that forest surplus states live with a lot of developmental handicaps due to the overbearing existence of forests, its benefit of ecosystem services and environmental amelioration should be shared by forest deficit states. But due to rigid stance of the large forest deficit states, the burden was shifted to the center.
Also to be noted, it is not the first down that the Himalayan states are mooting for allocation of a Green Bonus. For the first time, it was in 2009 under the UPA government 2.0. The then Environment and Forest Minister, Jairam Ramesh, announced a Green Bonus package for the Himalayan states and thereafter 13th and 14th finance commission mooted the same idea and made some budgetary allocations.
Talking about the current state of forest cover in India, as per a reply in Lok Sabha, more than one crore trees have been permitted by the Central Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change till date to be cut down. The year-wise data is given below:
2014-15: 23, 34,319
2015-16: 16, 96,917
2016-17: 17, 01,416
2017-18: 25, 52,164
2018-19: 26, 91,028
Grand Total: 1,09,75,844
Though the demand for Green Bonus may seem to be genuine and important it cannot be ignored that states lack a proper mechanism for utilizing the funds. States have remained inefficient in utilizing the funds being received under various flagship schemes of the central government like Smart Cities, Swachh Bharat Mission, Clean Ganga Mission, PMAY etc.
For instance, as per a recent report of CAG Uttarakhand, more than 50% of the fund was lying unutilized in the state under the central scheme of Namami Gange. The report also declared that Uttarakhand is not an ODF free state as claimed by the Trivendra Singh Rawat led state government. Similarly, states like Jammu & Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh have failed miserably in utilizing the funds approved under the National Health Mission. Nagaland suffers from poor maternal-child healthcare indicators due to poor utilization of funds. Last year in November, the Ministry for Development of North East Region (MDoNER) through its MoS (IC) Jitendra Singh, chaired a meeting with North East council (NEC) and requested states to ramp up their processes to utilize the central funds allocated to the region.
Therefore, the demand for Green Bonus should be based on strong rational and elaborate plan for the efficient utilization of the same. Without the same, plan for Green Bonus will fall flat as other schemes. It might soon face the challenges of same old, traditional bureaucratic processes and administrative delays, thereby debarring the state and its citizens to avail the benefits of such policy reform.