1.Visualising the Himalaya with other coordinates
Looking at it only through the prism of geopolitics and security concerns ignores its other crucial frameworks
A conceptual audit of questions related to geopolitics and security concerns while talking or thinking about the Himalaya is perhaps long overdue. There is no gainsaying the truth that we have been examining the Himalaya mainly through the coordinates of geopolitics and security while relegating others as either irrelevant or incompatible. In a certain sense, our intellectual concerns over the Himalaya have been largely shaped by the assumption of fear, suspicion, rivalry, invasion, encroachment and pugnacity. If during colonial times it was Russophobia, then now it is Sinophobia or Pakistan phobia that in fact determines our concerns over the Himalaya. Within the domain of geopolitics and security, conceived by that which lies outside the Himalaya, a process that decolonial scholars such as Pauline Hountondji refers to as extroversion. Ironically it is the Delhi-Beijing-Islamabad triad, and not the mountain per se, that defines our concerns about the Himalaya. Are we not really leading Himalayan studies towards the dead end of violent intellectual pursuits?
A national Himalaya
If extroversion in the field of knowledge production has resulted in academic dependency, in the case of Himalayan studies it has given birth to the political compulsion of territorialising the Himalaya on a par with the imperatives of nationalism. Thus the attempt to create a national Himalaya by each of the five nations (Nepal, Bhutan, India, Pakistan, and Tibet/China)that fall within this transnational landmass called the Himalaya. The National Mission on Himalayan Studies, for example, under the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Government of India, is a classic case in point that provides funds for research and technological innovations, but creating policies only for the Indian Himalayan Region (IHR). The Mission document avowedly claims: “The Government of India has come-up with this Mission in recognition of the fact that the Himalayan Ecosystem is important for ecological security of India”. Thus, comes the Indian Himalaya. It reminds us of that ancient parable where a few blind men were trying to fathom how huge an elephant was by touching only the different parts of its body.
By considering cartographic fixations as the natural limit of scholarship, we have overburdened Himalayan studies with the concerns of States in place of people, culture, market or ecology. India’s understanding of the Himalaya is informed by a certain kind of realism, as the Himalaya continues to remain as a space largely defined in terms of sovereign territoriality, in contrast to alternative imaginations such as community, ecology or market. It may be perceived that such an alternative conceptualisation of Himalaya is not only possible but also necessary. But can we really work out such an alternative imagination especially when we find territorialisation and securitisation to be the two dominant modes through which the Himalaya is imagined both in the official context, and, by extension, in popular discourses.
A historical logjam
The Himalaya’s territorialisation bears a colonial legacy which also sets up its post-colonial destiny as played out within the dynamics of nation states. The arbitration of relationships between and among the five nation states falling within the Himalayan landmass has failed to transcend the approach derived from the given categories of territoriality, sovereignty and difference. As such, the fact that the lines of peoplehood and the national border, especially within the context of the Himalaya, never coincided, is bound to give birth to tensions while working out projects predicated upon national sovereignty. Given this historical logjam, what we can only expect is the escalation of territorial disputes as the immediate fallout when infrastructure development projects in the border areas are adopted by constituting nation states to secure their respective territories falling within the Himalayan landmass.
Borders and their differences
It needs to be recognised that political borders and cultural borders are not the same thing. Political borders are to be considered as space-making strategies of modern nation-states that do not necessarily coincide with cultural borders. In other words, while a statist imagination has a telling effect on the way a border is understood in political terms, culture in that sense defies the (political) idea of border or at best considers it as permeable, penetrable, connective, heterogeneous and one that can be accounted for mainly through dreams, passions, flows and livelihoods. The singular statist conception of a political border would then appear to become a ‘polysemic’ or even ‘rhizomatic’ when viewed in cultural terms, and, by extension, in terms of trade and ecology or the environment.
It needs to be realised that human security cannot be effectively appreciated through the paradigm of sovereign territoriality, although state systems operating within the Himalaya have failed to devise any other framework to grapple with the issue of security. More often than not, the state has dominated the agenda of defining the domain of non-traditional security (such as human rights, cases of ecological devastation, climate change, human trafficking, migration, forced exodus of people, transnational crime, resource scarcity, and even pandemics) besides setting the tone of an approach to handling traditional security threats (such as military, political and diplomatic conflicts that were considered as threats against the essential values of the state, territorial integrity, and political sovereignty). Interestingly enough, it has often appeared as a fact that the measures to deal with traditional security threats from outside have in fact triggered non-traditional insecurities on several fronts on the inside.
Understanding the Himalaya
Keeping these arguments in order, it is proposed that there could be several alternate ways of reading the geopolitical and the security concerns of the Himalaya and if the statist meaning (territoriality, sovereignty and difference) is privileged over and above those of the anthropological, historical, cultural, and ecological ones, it would continue to reflect a set of mental processes predicated on a certain conception of spatial imagination that could be anything but ‘unHimalayan’ or, for that matter, antithetical to the very idea of the Himalaya itself. How long should one go on referring to the Himalaya as the one of the largest biodiversity hotspots? Or as the largest water tower of Asia? Or as a zone that is culturally and linguistically diverse, sharing a common historical pool of resources, communities, cultures, civilisations and memories, and susceptible to climate change and ecological vulnerabilities? When would these terms of references be predicated in our scholarly, and, by extension, pedestrian, attempts to understand the Himalaya and produce impactful policy research on the Himalaya?
The argument is simple. The Himalaya being a naturally evolved phenomenon should be understood through frameworks that have grown from within the Himalaya. The Himalaya needs to be visualised with an open eye and taken in as a whole instead of in parts unlike the ancient parable of the efforts of the blind men in trying to understand the elephant in parts. The Himalaya is a space whose history defines its geography rather than the other way round. Since histories are always made rather than given, we need to be careful about what kind of Himalayan history we are trying to inject or project in the way we imagine the Himalaya. Viewing the Himalaya as a space of political power and, by extension, through the coordinates of nation states epitomising differential national histories is a violent choice, which actually enriched ultra-sensitivity towards territorial claims and border management.
A road map of other routes
In contrast to this, if we are ready to consider the Himalaya as a space that is deeply embedded in human subjectivities, we can possibly come out of the grip of a national absolute space, which is actually necessary if we are to address the concerns of trade, commerce, community, ecology and environment — issues which are no less important when we are to think of securing livelihoods, cultures and the environment in the Himalaya. In fact, the road map of all these alternative routes — trade, community, environment — are located beyond the absolutist statist position. The need is that these alternative imaginations of security should be given the required space in the way policy making, state-building strategies and diplomatic relations are worked out in relation to the Himalaya. The time has come when we need to take position between the Himalaya as a national space and as a space of dwelling instead of avoiding our encounter with this ambivalence.
Panel Urges Plan to Save Himalayan Springs
Five Thematic Working Groups set up by NITI Aayog in 2017 have presented a report which aims to encourage well-being of the people in the Indian Himalayan Region (IHR).
- The five themes relate to improving water security in mountain towns and cities through revival of springs, developing responsible mountain tourism, increasing skilled workforce, transforming shifting cultivation in north eastern hill region to ensure ecological, food and nutritional security and making available required dataset and information.
- The Himalayas are the largest and tallest mountain range in the world, spanning 8 countries viz., Afghanistan, Pakistan, China, India, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, and Myanmar
- Most of northern India’s river systems originate in the Himalayan region, fed either by glacial melt or the many springs that dot the mountainous landscape. The Himalayas, therefore are aptly known as ‘the water tower of the earth’.
Indian Himalayan Region
- The IHR covers ten states and four hill districts of India, viz. Jammu & Kashmir, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura, among the states and the hill districts of Dima Hasao, Karbi Anglong in Assam and Darjeeling, Kalimpong in West Bengal.
- The uncontrolled demand-driven economic growth has led to haphazard urbanization, environmental degradation and increased risks and vulnerabilities, seriously compromising the unique values of Himalayan ecosystems.
- In addition to a focus on economic growth, the roadmap for sustainable development of the Indian Himalayas needs to be in sync with the relevant Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
- Therefore the development in the Himalayas must be fully embedded in the environmental, socio-cultural and sacred tenets of the region.
Working Group I: Inventory and Revival of Springs in the Himalayas for Water Security
- Mountain springs are the primary source of water for rural households in the Himalayan region.
- As per a rough estimate, there are five million springs across India, out of which nearly 3 million are in the IHR alone.
- Spring discharge is reported to be declining due to increased water demand, land use change, ecological degradation, climate change and rising temperatures, rise in rainfall intensity and reduction in its temporal spread, and the decline in winter rain.
- Besides, water quality is also deteriorating under changing land use and improper sanitation.
- Traditionally, policy makers have broadly focussed on watersheds for they are easy to demarcate.
- However, the watershed concept only accounts for surface water movement over slopes, while movement of spring water which is groundwater, is determined by underlying geology, and the nature and slope of such rocks underneath the surface.
- The concept of watershed, therefore, cannot account for water which travels outside watershed boundaries, through rock beds that slope towards an adjoining watershed.
- For spring revival, the appropriate unit is the springshed – the unit of land where rain falls (recharge area), and then emerges at discharge point, the spring.
- National Programme on Regeneration of Springs in the Himalayan Region
- The programme will entail several short ( first 4 years), medium ( 5th – 8th years) and long-term actions (Beyond 8th year).
- Mapping of Springs
- Systematic mapping of springs across the Himalayas and creation of a web-enabled database/web portal on which the springs can be mapped/tagged.
- Implementing Revival of Springs
- Reviving springs and sustaining them requires a combination of scientific knowledge (hydro-geology) and community ownership of the resource.
- Focus on ‘aquifer’ as the unit for planning and integrate watersheds and aquifers for a ‘springshed’ approach.
- Development of adaptive strategies (risk management as an adaptation measure to climate change impacts), regular long-term monitoring of springs.
- Capacity Building
- Create a cadre of young professionals and community-based resource persons (para-hydrologists) through training and capacity building programmes. This will help in efficient use of resources allocated for springshed management.
- The Government should launch a national mission/programme on springshed management.
- The subject of springs transcends several ministries like the Ministry of Water Resources, Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEF&CC), Ministry of Tribal Affairs, Ministry of Rural Development, Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation, and key institutions like State government groundwater agencies. Hence, there is a need for inter-ministerial coordination.
- The Central government should promote regional efforts and platforms to exchange experiences and knowledge on springshed management.
- State governments across the IHR (and also non-Himalayan States) need to take a proactive role in mapping and revival of springs as depletion/drying has socio-economic implications.
- Mainstreaming of springshed management with other developmental programmes at National and in particular at the State level to facilitate more convergence with government schemes (e.g. Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) in Sikkim).
- Cross-Cutting Issues
- Scientific knowledge from assessments on status of springs and techniques of springshed management need to be translated into simple language and communicated for policymaking and development of climate adaptation projects.
2.Govt. introduces Bill on insurance firms
LS members allege efforts to privatise insurance sector, Opposition protests stall proceedings again
Amid continuing protests by Opposition members on various issues, Lok Sabha proceedings were disrupted again on Friday.
The Union government introduced the Commission for Air Quality Management in National Capital Region and Adjoining Areas Bill and the General Insurance Business (Nationalisation) Amendment Bill, amid the din. However, a scheduled discussion on the COVID-19 situation could not be held.
The proceedings had just begun at 11 a.m. when Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said the party had been demanding a discussion on the Pegasus snooping case since the first day of the monsoon session, and that there were also other issues linked to farmers, COVID-19 and price rise. “We want a discussion in the House… But the government should change its approach,” he said.
The Speaker said Mr. Chowdhury could raise the matter after the Question Hour, during which several Opposition members kept shouting slogans.
Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi later intervened to make an appeal to the protesting members. Stating that IT Minister Ashwini Vaishnav had already given a detailed statement on the Pegasus matter in both the Houses, he said they were raising a non-issue, over which Parliament had not been functioning properly for the past seven or eight days. He said the government did not want to pass any Bills without a discussion.
“The government is ready for a discussion, but most unfortunately, they [Opposition members] are not allowing Parliament to run. The Question Hour is the right of the members. More than 350 members want the Question Hour to run. In spite of that, it is unfortunate if they behave like this…,” he said.
However, as the sloganeering continued, the House was adjourned till noon.
Thereafter, Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav and Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman sought the leave of the House to introduce the Commission for Air Quality Management in National Capital Region and Adjoining Areas Bill and the General Insurance Business (Nationalisation) Amendment Bill.
Revolutionary Socialist Party MP N.K. Premachandran strongly opposed the insurance Bill, stating that it would lead to a total privatisation of the general insurance companies. He said the Bill was vague, indefinite, ambiguous and not in consonance with the original Act. He urged the government to withdraw the Bill and defer it as the House was not in order. Congress MPs Kodikunnil Suresh and Santokh Singh Chaudhary also opposed the introduction of the insurance Bill.
In her reply, Ms. Sitharaman said: “Yes, I also wish that the House discusses this Bill. I also wish that the members, understanding the importance of a Bill of this nature, also participate in the debate… However, I still like to say that the apprehensions mentioned by the members are not well founded at all.”
She said through the Bill, the government was bringing in some provisions to enable the common citizens’ participation in the general insurance companies. “Our markets can raise money from the retail participants who are Indian citizens. Through that, we can have greater supply of money, bring in greater inclusion of technology and also enable faster growth of such general insurance companies in India,” she said.
Following an approval from the House, both the Bills were introduced by the Ministers.
GENERAL INSURANCE BUSINESS (NATIONALISATION) AMENDMENT BILL 2021
The General Insurance Business (Nationalisation) Amendment Bill 2021 and the Commission for Air Quality Management in National Capital Region and Adjoining Areas Bill 2021 was introduced in the Lok Sabha on Friday.
Amid protest by agitating opposition members, The General Insurance Business (Nationalisation) Amendment Bill 2021 bill was introduced by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman.
Introducing the Bill, the Minister said, it will provide a better ecosystem for General Insurance Companies because it propagates the idea of private-public partnership. The minister further said, it will help to infuse more money in this sector.
She said, the apprehension of the opposition members regarding the privatisation and other issues are totally unfounded. The Finance Minister said, through this bill the Government is working on better future of General Insurance companies.
The minister said, after the changes in The General Insurance Business (Nationalisation) Act 1972 common people have more options on insurance packages as several new avenues will be opened for the sector.
NK Premchandran of RSP opposed the amendment bill. He said, the government doesn’t want discussion on important bills. Mr. Premchandran said, the main agenda of the bill is privatization of General Insurance companies.
The Commission for Air Quality Management in the National Capital Region and Adjoining Areas Bill 2021 was introduced by Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change Bhupender Yadav. The bill aims for the constitution of a commission for better coordination, research, identification and resolution of problems related to air quality in the national capital region and adjoining areas. Adjoining areas refers to Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab and Rajasthan where any source of pollution may cause adverse impact on air quality in the NCR.