Clearance-man or a man of clear-sense? Serving party command or following peoples demand? Conflict of interests or confluence of innovations? Dilution of norms or densification of monitoring?
Never-sleeping Indian media will be debating all these with high decibels and scurrying with articulated writings as Prakash Javadekar slides from Ministry of Environment Forest and Climate Change (MOEFCC) into his new Human Resources Development (HRD) avatar. Hardly they have noted that Javadekar , in collaboration with the Ministry of Culture , would be leaving back an ever-lasting parting gift of Himalayan proportion.
If it happens, it will be a very distinct achievement for India on the international platform of nature conservation. It will contribute to further enhancing India’s image, promoted by PM Modi, as the country that respects nature as a matter of its culture.
The gift is in the form of the inscription by UNESCO of national park of Khangchendzonga (also spelled as Kanchenjunga) as World Heritage Site as proposed by India. The inscription is presently highly recommended by two internationally renowned advisory bodies appointed by the World Heritage Committee of UNESCO. The positive recommendation of the two bodies would be considered by a group of 21 countries of World Heritage Committee of UNESCO this week in Istanbul for final inscription.
World Heritage Sites of UNESCO fall under three categories: Cultural, natural and mixed. These sites are legacy from the past, what we live with today, and what we pass on to future generations as irreplaceable sources of life and inspiration, as stated by UNESCO. Presently there are more than 1031 World Heritage sites inscribed by UNESCO of which 802 are cultural, 197 natural and 32 mixed. India’s share is total of 32 sites of which 25 are cultural and remaining 7 are cultural.
The World Heritage sites that fall under ‘mixed category’ special and complex to propose for inscription and very complex to manage after inscription. They are not only those that represent masterpieces of human creativity. Nor they radiate exceptional natural beauty and biological diversity. They are the ones with outstanding example of a traditional human settlement living sustainably with ecosystems, with treasure of invaluable traditional knowledge and culture that highlights human interaction with the environment. Such heritage sites have sort of intangible features that provide encyclopedia of lessons for vulnerable communities under change of ecosystems. Such lessons are of immense value today when we are faced with challenge of climate change.
India’s two ministries, MOEFCC through its Wildlife Institute and MOC (Ministry of Culture) thought its World Heritage advisory body proposed, smartly and very appropriately, that Khangchendzonga National Park be under the mixed category.
Situated in the northern Indian State of Sikkim, Khangchendzonga National Park (KNP) exhibits one of the widest altitudinal ranges of any protected area worldwide and occupies third of the state’s area.
Mount Khangchendzonga and park around are endowed with deep cultural meanings and sacred significance. The multi-layered landscape of Khangchendzonga is sacred land both to Buddhists (Beyul) and to Lepchas as Mayel Lyang. The expanse represents a unique example of co-existence and exchange between different religious traditions and ethnicities, constituting the base for Sikkimese identity and unity.
The ensemble of sacred texts, the still-performed rituals, the oral history and traditional practices around Mount Khangchendzonga- third highest peak in the world, strengthen human bonds with nature. It conveys and manifests the cultural meanings projected onto natural resources and the indigenous and specific Buddhist cosmogony that developed in the Himalayan region.
The indigenous traditional knowledge of the properties of local plants and the local ecosystem, which is peculiar to local peoples, is on the verge of disappearing and represents a precious source of information on the healing properties of several endemic plants. The traditional and ritual management system of forests and the natural resources of the land pertaining to Buddhist monasteries express the active dimension of Buddhist cosmogonies and could contribute to the property’s effective management.
The participation of state of Sikkim, which already shown its extraordinary stewardship by converting the whole state as Organic Farming state, in developing proposal has provided ‘ bottom-up’ approach to the process.
Two international bodies of experts evaluated India’s proposal. International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) assessed natural values and its outstanding Universal values, where as International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) evaluated the cultural aspects of the nominated property visible and invisible. Both bodies found undeniable outstanding universal natural and cultural values and clear tangible and intangible authenticity and integrity of the 178,400 hectare of this Himalaya global biodiversity hotspot, that has with a buffer zone of some 114,712-hectare. It is second largest World Heritage site in India, after Western Ghats, which was inscribed in 2012 by UNESCO.
India’s proposal presently stands a presumptive candidate for final inscription. It comes at the time when, the environmental change sweeping the world is occurring at a faster pace than previously thought in human history, as stated by the most authoritative study ever published in May 2016 by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), such news of ambitious conservation and protection of national park inscribing it as World Heritage site is remarkable. It is response by India in attempt to reverse the damage being done to our planet. It is also coming at the time when India’s tolerance for the diversity of cultures in and around the culture is part of the debate. The proposed site is not far from the borders of Nepal. Bhutan and China.
The proposal and its eventual inscription also strengthens the Indian message that nature, culture and development are not opposing to each other, the message that the new Minister of MOEFCC, Mr. Anil Dave, indicated while taking his new responsibilities. Javadekar, while departing from MOEFCC, has also shown the way to sustain and enhance the carbon sink by protecting the national park as a way to implement India’s Nationally Determined Contributions promised at Paris Climate meeting. END
By Rajendra Shende, IIT-Alumni, Chairman TERRE Policy Centre, former Director UNEP