Sustainable Urbanisation of the Indian Himalayan Region

By Krittika Uniyal

A large fraction of the mountain communities across the world live in villages with living arrangements still encompassing subsistence agribusiness and pastoralism. The Himalayan region isn’t absolved from this worldwide livelihood pattern. The Himalayas are a home to numerous indigenous ethnic communities whose subsistence to a great extent relies upon common assets accessible in mountain zones. As the water tower of Asia, this mountain range contributes to environmental fortification, ecological sustainability as well as to economic and ecological resilience in the downstream regions.

“The Indian Himalayan Region (IHR) faces complex and interconnected sustainability challenges that are closely tied to the social and physical geology of the locale. This region is one of the four most vulnerable regions of India from climate change perspective” (MoEF, 4×4 Assessment Report) The census data of India, particularly for the eleven Himalayan Mountain States, has shown a comparable progressive change in the populace density and related socioeconomic elements, raising serious sustainability concerns across the IHR. Many villages/towns across these states experience high levels of rural poverty, human-wildlife conflict, changes in the land use pattern resulting in environmental degradation. These changes are majorly a resultant of necessity for an improved employment opportunity, education, medical facility, and a better infrastructure, pushing inhabitants to urban areas.

Furthermore, the Himalayas have witnessed increased snow and glacial melt, the recurrence of such superlative occasions have exacerbated the livelihood challenges coming about as a result of increased poverty, nourishment instability, natural hazards and social-cultural imbalances. The traditional sustainable livelihood model is progressively replaced by rampant unplanned concrete developments. The population growth and human mobility towards few developed towns are outpacing the available urban spaces. Consequentially, the urban areas expand their footprints into the surrounding rural areas to accommodate their growing populations. These factors have severely affected the urban infrastructure and the usage of urban spaces in the region. At present, there is a lack of a concrete structural plan for urban transport systems along with poor basic necessities like drinking water, sewerage, drainage & solid waste management.

These above states problems neither have one definite conclusion nor a simple solution as these challenges are tied to serious interlinked socioeconomic conditions. Understanding and addressing the grounds of these social indicators, together with well-planned and implemented national and international environmental policies, may slow the socioeconomic dilapidation of the Himalaya states. The development of the IHR must be seen in totality without boundaries of states. Although, the government bodies have consistently made efforts to improve the lives of rural residents by introducing various skill development, ecotourism projects, and community forestry concept build on conventional communal land management practices, these have succeeded in generating short-term cash income to rural areas in most cases, but these projects will only be considered a true success if they are able to sustain as a long-term livelihood option for the inhabitants.

A chief solution addressing the above challenges is a specified agenda for well premeditated and sustainably developed infrastructural alternatives across the Himalayan states. Frequently in mountain areas, with the absence of the private sector in value addition of high-value mountain products, NGOs and other civil society play an important facilitating role in value chain development. In spite of the fact that the procedure can be very requesting, tedious, and expensive, the agreed frameworks can be recreated over a more extensive region, to profit mountain agriculturists, particularly women. Further elements can be added to the already existing framework by building a strong inter-state network, ensuring the progress of sustainable interventions implemented by government and non-government institutions while providing technical and policy support, that is directly managed by local civil bodies. The local people must gain autonomy of such institutions, as these collective mechanisms directly target the benefit of their community and their land. This shall also lift the pressure from the limited capital cities and similar urban spaces. Whilst, keeping in mind the fragility of the region in question, the already existing cities and towns need a well-planned capability building mechanism to reduce and manage the negative implications of climate change and disaster risk reduction (DRR) frameworks.

The unforgiving landscape and absence of empowering institutional structures and policies have compelled and postures genuine challenges to sustainable development of this important mountain system. The tri-juncture formed by the social, environmental and economic crisis in the IHR is a serious concern and requires imperative. Hence, in order to prolong this reservoir of copious wealth, a serious alteration and amendments are considered necessary to be adopted at the level of policy and practice.

About the Author: Krittika Uniyal holds a Masters degree in Politics with (specialization in International Relations) from Jawaharlal Nehru University, India. She has an extensive experience of working with National and International NGO’s, her professional interest includes the issue of human mobility and social change. Her most recent engagement has been as a Research Assistant at the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) Nepal. She is currently studying Chinese Language at the Yunnan University, Kunming China. 

One Comment

  1. Samruddhi Saxena

    Very well structured article.the concern is imperative.the environment needs to be studied systematically,following viable and healthy mutations hitherto.the cosmetic monitoring should be replaced by incorporating indigenous community who can genuinely track,protect and monitor all the environmental issues.