29th – 31st October 2001, Joshimath, District Chamoli, Uttarakhand, INDIA
Organized by: Gram Sabha LATA, Dist. Chamoli, INDIA
Background: A three day workshop was held between 29th-31st October, 2001 at Joshimath, District Chamoli, INDIA to explore ways for Community Based Conservation & Ecotourism in the Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve in India. The Bhutia tribal community residing in the area has been struggling for over more than two decades to assert their traditional rights, which were taken away when the area was notified as a National Park in 1982. The Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve has been enlisted in the UNESCO’s List of World Heritage Site for Natural Diversity.
In November 2000 a separate mountain state of Uttarakhand was formed constituting the hill districts of the erstwhile Uttar Pardesh. Later the Uttarakhand governments decision to send a team in May 2001 comprising of experts from the Indian Mountaineering Foundation to Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve to explore the possibility of initiating limited tourism came as a bolt from the blue for the local communities still battling with the ban. The apprehensions of the people were justified when it was learnt that the IMF came with a singular objective of exploring possibilities for multinational backed travel agencies to step in order to monopolize tourism thus denying the locals their justified role. This move was severely criticized by Vanaadhikar activists of the region, who are trying to provide a platform to the struggling communities of the protected areas of Uttarakhand.
It may be mentioned that the villagers on their own accord had come up with the Nanda Devi Declaration on October 14, 2001, which addresses the issues of developing ecotourism by the people without disturbing the delicate balance of the area. The Gram Sabha of Village Lata (Elected Village Council), which is in the forefront of the struggle against the anti people conservation policies, decided to assert their right for equitable tourism in their region and a pro-active role in the conservation of their area. Alliance for Development, a network of grass root NGOs provided the logistic support to the Gram Sabha of Lata in organizing this event. There were total six sessions planned for the three day workshop along with a days trip inside the buffer zone to give the outstation participants a feel of the target area and the tourism potential inside the park. The inaugural session of the workshop was chaired by the eldest person of the village of Lata, 96 years old Mr. Dewan Singh.
A book on the post Chipko movement entitled ‘SANGARSHNAMA‘ was also released by the surviving women squad who hugged the trees in 1974 to save them from felling and a precursor to the Chipko movement.
In the first session the speakers from Niti Valley spoke on the impact of the notification of Nanda Devi National Park on the local community. Their main complaint was that they were never consulted by the government, and the national and international bodies that supported the notification of NDNP and later the creation of NDBR, despite the fact that they were the people who were to be affected by it. They spoke passionately about the disastrous affect it had on their livelihood, economy, and lifestyle. Their dependence on forest was never taken notice of, and whatever little promises were made by the local forest officials were forgotten as soon as they were made. The local leaders elaborated in detail the circumstances leading to the defying of the ban inside the core zone of the park and the mass entry of the community inside the core zone in 1998.
One of the major complaints was that whenever any study team was constituted by the government to look into the impact of its policy of conservation in NDBR, the voice of the local community was never represented. For instance, the latest team of IMF that went inside the core zone didn’t include any member of the local community or a voice that was sympathetic to their plight. In fact the team leader of the IMF team refused to listen or accept the memorandum from the local community. The speakers asked for support in continuing their struggle and scope of initiating legal action against the concerned government agencies. They maintained that it was basically due to their contribution that the area was saved from mass scale felling as their elders hugged the trees and gave birth to the famous CHIPKO movement. Now the functioning of the World Natural Heritage site is destroying their unique culture and they have right to fight against such national and international agencies. Consequently the recommendation the first recommendation which emerged from the workshop was as under:
During the deliberations it was also pointed out that a host of government and non-government agencies regularly conduct studies on the local communities without any intimation to local Self-Governments and often use biased research methodologies to implicate the local communities. The style of functioning of NGOs also came under severe criticism as the speakers questioned the mandate of NGOs to represent them in various forums and access funds without any intimation or approval of the local communities. The debate on the behavior of researchers culminated in the form of following recommendation:
At the end of the very first session, an Impact Study Team was constituted and following experts offered their services for impact assessment exercise. It was decided that the team would approach other professionals and institutions to extend its manpower and expertise and should submit its report at the earliest. Mr. Ritwick Dutta representing the Environment and Human Law Network and Indian People’s Tribunal ensured full legal support to the local communities in this process.
Members of the Impact Assessment Team: Dr. D. R. Purohit, Advocate Ritwick Dutta, Ms. Soma Dutta, Ms. B. Pratima, Mr. Anoop Kumar Singh, Mr. Prem Bahukhandi, Ms. Manisha Joshi.
Concluding the first session Mr. Pankaj Sakhsaria, began with quoting the instance of Medha Lekan, BASTAR, where the Gram Sabha has already developed the scrutiny system for study and research. He said that Kalpvriksha can help in providing the details of this system. He emphasized on the very need of this kind of system in all over the country. Throwing light on the forest related facts he said that Biosphere has no legal validity, it is merely an administrative tool. The complicated nature of the acts and the laws and the issue of National Park that has cut across the international politics make it necessary for us to be focussed. We need to be clear on why do we want to open NDBR. As for legal action against the government for dishonoring the settlement, he said it is possible but details need to be found out regarding the initial notification and the final notification, for which he requested Mr. Ritwick to comment on.
Mr Ritwick Dutta informed the participants that dishonoring of the settlement could be challenged in the court. Responding to one of the participants statement that we need to guard our rich biodiversity not only from the multinational but also national companies, Ritwick acknowledging the problem maintained that the MNCs might not be the main culprits but the culprit could even be the Indian pharmaceutical giants also. He advised for a monitoring team for Eco – Tourism and for being very cautious in this approach. Citing the case study of the North-Eastern states on Forest Management he said the forests were managed by the tribal but now maximum deforestation is the major concern there, apparently involving the local vested interests. As far as extending help was concerned he said his organization will extend all possible legal help by taking cases to the appropriate courts but also advised for clarity and maximum possible quantification of facts.
Before the start of the field trip Mr. Dhan Singh Rana, Gram Pradhan of Village Lata presented an outline of the community based ecotourism model the villagers want to evolve in the NDBR area. The salient features of the plan that envisages the development of a Nanda Devi Ecotourism Development Authority.
Nanda Devi Eco-Tourism Development Authority will endeavor to do the following:
The proposed Institutional structure of the Nanda Devi Ecotourism Development Authority will be based on:
Proposed Tourism Activities in the NDBR Area:
The Employment will be generated in the following ways and areas:
While concluding his presentation Mr. Dhan Singh mentioned the Nanda Devi Declaration of 14th October 2001, which he said is comprehensive enough to address the conservation and equitable tourism issues from a holistic perspective. He appealed the experts to help the local communities in steering the right course of action in the struggle for a pro-active role in conservation and tourism in the NDBR area. The field trip up to Suraithota was designed to provide the outstation participants an exposure to the rich bio-cultural diversity of the region. At village Reni, the birth place of Chipko Movement, the outstation participants were welcomed in traditional manner. A mass meeting was arranged at Suraithota, where the Bhutia women celebrated the event and presented their folk dances and songs. The lunch arranged by the local community was a statement on the rich ethnic cuisine of the Bhutia.
In the final session the discussion again concentrated on the history of forest movement in the valley and the legacy of Chipko. It was decided that efforts need to be made to take Chipko to its logical conclusion i.e. community based conservation in NDBR. It was also decided that government and international organizations such as UNESCO, UNEP, and World Bank; should clarify their position on biospheres and outline their commitment to local community; whose natural heritage they want to protect for the larger cause of humanity. The impact of development and conservation induced displacement in Uttaraanchal also came into focus as speakers pointed out that the proposed large scale hydro-electric projects will displace the population residing in the valleys while the people residing in the upper reaches are being threatened by the conservation induced displacement. The highlight of the final session was a presentation by Hari Babu from Equations, a Banglore based organization working exclusively on equity and sustainable tourism issues. Mr. Hari Babu, discussed in detail the holistic perspective of tourism and praising the Nanda Devi Declaration signed by the local community offered the support of his organization in evolving a community based conservation and ecotourism plan for the NDBR area.
The Divisional Forest Officer and Director of NDBR promised the local community that he would extend all help in exploring the potential for ecotourism in NDBR. He announced that forest department is all keen to support the local community and it has been decided that the Van Panchayat of Lata would give permissions for trekking, and was free to charge a fee from the tourist. It would be mandatory for the tourist to take a guide from the village. The guide would also keep a check on the activities of the tourist that is unfriendly and harmful to the local ecology. In the final session few more recommendations and decisions were made to actively pursue a pro-people conservation and equitable tourism agenda in solidarity with the struggling Bhutia tribal community.