Uttarakhand: Development and Ecological Sustainability

Uttarakhand: Development and Ecological Sustainability

The devastating floods in Uttarakhand, India, in June 2013 claimed over 6,000 lives and significantly set-back the state’s economy. Much debate in the intervening period has focused on the extent of anthropogenic causes of the disaster and ways in which they can be reduced or eliminated in the future. This paper, produced by Oxfam India, seeks to add to that debate by examining Uttarakhand’s current development pattern in terms of equity and sustainability.

The first chapter illustrates the inequitable nature of the state’s present development model, before the nature and extent of the 2013 disaster is examined in detail in chapter two. Chapter three makes the case that development activities aggravated the impact of the floods, including poor governance and anti-environment development, leading to the outlining of development actions that can enhance ecological sustainability, equity and reduce regional imbalances in chapter four.

The recommendations that close the report include:

  • Afforestation for ecological sustainability requires a pro-active approach to the 2005 Forest Rights Act by the Utterakhand government. New legislation should be adopted to give villagers ownership of their forests, and Himalayan states deserve equal payment for providing ecological services as the rest of India.
  • Equitable livelihoods development includes reviving mountain agriculture, requiring integration of high value crop cultivation, basic agro-processing, etc, together with adequate market linkages. Productivity should be a priority of development schemes, and women must be recognised as co-owners of family land.
  • Sustainable and safer infrastructure development must be a focus. Transparent approval, compensation, and resettlement must involve the community at all levels, and be complete before commissioning of new projects.
  • Disaster preparedness strategies are required at the village panchayat, district and state levels, with community- and technology-based approaches required in tandem. Major infrastructure projects in the Inner Himalaya region should be prohibited.
  • Good governance is a prerequisite of being in a constant state of preparedness. The state must prepare a strategic State Disaster Management Plan, translated into Hindi, and placed in the public domain.
  • Advocacy must come in a unified and effective manner from civil society, pressing for a people-centric mountain development agenda. Areas requiring advocacy include the need for a focus on green development, local ownership of resources, and direct, equal payment for eco-services provided by communities in the region.
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