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Migration from mountains adversely affecting Himalayas

Sep 18, 2017

In the larger interests of environment, rural people should be motivated to take up agro-forestry in mountainous areas like Uttarakhand.

Dehradun: More than three months after World Environment Day was celebrated on June 5, this year’s theme - “Connecting People to Nature” – assumes even greater significance given the growing and worrying incidence of migration from hill regions of Uttarakhand to the plains.

The access to and control over natural resources by the local communities is steadily declining in the state and is one of the main drivers responsible for large-scale migration by people living in the mountain areas.

Despite the fact that Article 51(A) of the Indian Constitution says that it is the responsibility of everyone to protect the flora, fauna, mountains and wildlife, the people in Uttarakhand are not only alienated by the government but are being harassed, claims Avadhash Kaushal, Chairman of the Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra (RLEK), a Dehradun-based NGO that works for the uplift of hill communities.

“Uttarakhand is the only state in the entire country where no benefit is given under the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 even as other states have implemented it in letter and spirit,” he says. The Chipko Movement leader Gaura Devi was fighting for the ownership of the trees and not to save environment or ecology as these were strange terms then, adds Kaushal.

Experts point out that such migration is directly related to the environmental changes occurring in the Himalayas. The act of abandoning the highlands by the men folk or even the whole village migrating to the plains calls for immediate urgent action. Studies have shown that no one wants to leave their traditional lands but are compelled to do so because of lack of adequate resources and facilities. The need of the hour is to develop the rural Himalayan region and actively involve the key stakeholders in the developmental process – namely the mountain communities.

Rural people should be motivated to take up agro-forestry, which would help in environmental balance through carbon fixing and also economically benefit villagers. For this purpose, high-yield species of Sheesham, Eucalyptus and Poplar would have to be provided to the villagers and farmers, states Dr Savita, the Director of the Forest Research Institute (FRI) here, India’s premier forest research body.

Observing that Uttarakhand has great scope for eco-tourism due to its biodiversity, she says that livelihood could be generated for local people as part of sustainable development without harming the forests. Giving examples, she says local resources such as culture, ecotourism, handloom and handicrafts could help in creating livelihood avenues for local people.

The FRI has undertaken many successful experiments in sericulture using lantana instead of mulberry. The institute has also made available to villagers small distillation units to extract perfumed oils for use in cosmetic and medical industries.

Bamboo is another good source of livelihood in the Himalayan states. Floriculture could help locals in earning a living, Dr Savita says adding that women in Uttarakhand are making baskets of Ringal, medicinal plants and mushrooms. Experts like her have emphasized the need to formulate an action plan which would help the people living around forest areas to carve out livelihood options without harming the green cover.

At a recent event here, Padma Shri awardee Dr Anil Joshi observed that the existence of cities depends on the existence of villages and thus priority must be given to the latter. “We must return to nature as much as we take from it,” he stressed.

Emphasising that basic needs like food, water and clean air could only be provided by villages, he said new science and innovations should be harmonized with traditional knowledge of villages. An ecological balance had to be maintained alongwith economic development and cultural heritage had to be made an integral part of progress.

He threw light on various aspects of rural development and suggested adopting traditional agriculture without competing with Punjab and Haryana. The traditional crops could be developed as brands.

According to him, horticulture could be a great strength for the state. For this, effective mechanisms would have to be put in place as fruits and vegetables required storage and processing facilities. Sheep rearing, poultry and bee-keeping were other viable sources of income generation for hill communities, he added.

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