By DR. SATISH C. AIKANT
An important feature of the Valley of Words (VoW) which sets it apart from other literature festivals across the country is that it is not only about discussing books and their authors but also engages with regional culture and developmental aspects of Uttarakhand. Much of the material culture of Uttarakhand that characterizes its ethnicity will be on display at the venue. Then there will be serious discussions on the issues of environment and sustainable development under the aegis of R. S. Tolia Forum to be curated by the Sustainable Development Forum Uttaranchal. It will indeed be a fitting tribute to the genius of late Dr. R. S. Tolia, the former Chief Secretary of Uttarakhand, who did pioneering work in forging and implementing developmental policies for the State. Delivering the R.S Tolia Memorial Lecture titled ‘Beyond Binaries: Remembering Dr R S Tolia’ in Dehradun, earlier this year, Dr. Sanjeev Chopra, Director of Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration, Mussoorie, highlighted the contribution of the administrator-scholar in various fields of public life and administration which has resulted in more environmental consciousness and plans of action which are being utilized to harness appropriate technologies. It was Dr. Tolia’s firm belief that, owing to their unique geo-physical conditions, the mountain regions needed more attention and planning to meet the specific local needs. One may blame the developed world for the catastrophes engendered by natural causes such as the flash floods and droughts that visit the hill regions of Uttarakhand time and again, but we cannot acquit ourselves. We must realise that we invite such disasters upon ourselves, and that many of the problems are man made and have local origin; our reckless attitude to environment figures prominently among them. Unplanned building activities, constructions on shallow riverbeds and flood-prone regions, uncontrolled migration, proliferation of illegal polluting industries, lack of environmental controls, no restrictions on transport, unregulated registration of vehicles, and absence of clear green alternatives have all compounded the problems we have been facing. India’s growth path itself needs serious correction. The relentless emphasis on ‘development’ without defining its wholesome and sustainable parameters has taken its toll on the environment. Our megacities are fast turning into disaster zones. While on the one hand there is unbounded enthusiasm and optimism of policy makers and tourism promoters who would only like to see unfettered development in this sector of the economy there are others who see such designs as inimical to local culture and the settled way of life. We have entered a new phase of historical span -the Anthropocene – in which human activity dominates earth processes and the biosphere, impacting global climate and ecosystems. So the onus is on us. Remember what Gandhi famously remarked: ‘Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need, but not every man’s greed.’ The message is apt and timely. What Gandhi says about genuine human needs and of the rapacity of the greedy has direct bearing on the current discourse on environment. Climate change and global warming is a huge concern today. A major problem facing Uttarakhand is that of migration from the hills. Dr. Tolia had cautioned us against the rapid and whole-scale outmigration from the mountain regions resulting in the emerging metro- cities like Dehradun, Haldwani, Rudrapur, Roorkee, Kotdwara heading to become, figuratively speaking, ‘the Black-holes of Uttarakhand’ – so gravitationally heavy that almost everything within its gravitational pull gets attracted towards them. Dr. Tolia was of the view that rather than see migration either as a progressive phenomenon or a regressive phenomenon one has to think of the meta-narrative that transcends both the discourses and that the policy makers should also focus on the problems of those who have not yet migrated from the hills. There are also the trends of reverse migration witnessed in certain parts of the state which should receive adequate attention of the state government. It is imperative to make Uttarakhand, particularly the Himalayan regions, tourist friendly in a manner that the environment did not get short shrift. Tourism should be developed in a manner that preservation and enrichment of environment get priority. Unfortunately such integration is seldom seen in practice. There is sufficient evidence emerging from tourism studies around the world, especially those concerning tourism in developing societies, that the obsession with economic growth based on the development of tourism and an exclusive concern with growth in the number of tourists and consequently, of tourist revenue, tend to compromise the social, cultural and even economic well- being of the host community. The objectives of the Government Tourism Policy should be to look beyond increasing the numbers of tourist arrivals and revenue earnings to the effects of the increased tourism activity on the socio- cultural well being of society at large. At present there is no auditing of the effects of tourism on the social and cultural well being of society. Tourism must be viewed as an appropriate agent of change in a developing society and the current obsession with the economic parameters of tourism must be reconsidered and reconfigured. The hills of Uttarakhand are fragile and vulnerable and tourism is often subject to the vagaries of weather. The news of an imminent thunderstorm or heavy downpour instantly flashed on the TV screens is enough to scare away the hopeful tourists, making a steady tourist traffic to the hills a rather precarious and uncertain proposition. One cannot therefore be solely dependent upon tourism as a viable economic activity. The government must provide infrastructure to generate alternatives sources of income for the local population to hold them back from migrating away. Evidence shows that in the pursuit of luxury tourism, environmental guidelines, fiscal and planning norms are often manipulated or violated. The local economy does not benefit from such investments as they take away productive village land, monopolize local resources, and only provide a few menial jobs for the local people. A better approach is to revive the traditional arts and crafts and give the local artisans facilities with dignity. Horticulture and food processing plants must be promoted in a big way. One can learn much from the neighboring Himachal Pradesh. We may remind ourselves that the Chipko Movement originated in Uttarakhand and influenced the environment movements worldwide. The Movement, reminiscent of the method adopted by the Bishnoi community in Rajasthan more than 300 years ago, emerged in the Garhwal Himalayas during the 1970s in response to economic policies and regulations that introduced stricter controls over access to resource extraction and constrained opportunities for local economic development in the region. It is the convergence of the private and public initiatives that gives Chipko a distinctive quality and strength. The Chipko has created a cultural space within which the persistence of community spirit makes it a viable programme of social action. It offers an alternative to ‘scientific forestry management’ practiced by the state by suggesting a model for ecologically appropriate technology for wholesome living. The Chipko movement symbolizes a new ecological consciousness showing the path towards a ‘green earth and a true civilization.’ It is also seen as a powerful critique of a modernizing Indian state whose economic development policies were considered ecologically unsustainable and callously indifferent to the traditional needs of peasant subsistence. One hopes that VoW – 2019 will renew the clarion call on matters relating to our culture and environment.