The Mountain is Coming to Modi, Soon!
Modi govt may set up a nodal agency or a separate ministry altogether for all things Himalayas
First the rivers, then the mountains. Mother Ganges has her hopes high with the Narendra Modi government setting up a separate ministry altogether for cleaning India’s most revered river. Next, it seems, is the turn of the Himalayas, the world’s youngest mountain range that’s home to a unique blend of mystique, adventure, security concerns, and of course, business opportunities. The Modi administration is toying with the idea of setting up a nodal agency — that could even be launched as a separate ministry in the next Cabinet expansion — which will work as a fulcrum for all things Himalayas. While the Ganga clean-up ministry that functions under Uma Bharati has its mandate limited to ecological concerns, this new Himalayan agency will dabble with topics ranging from ecology, tourism, power, trade and security. ET learns that former Lok Sabha speaker and veteran leader from the North-East, PA Sangma, is among the front-runners to lead the effort. Talking to ET, Sangma welcomed the idea but refused to be drawn into speculation on whether he will lead the effort. “It is a good idea to have a dedicated agency for the entire Himalayan region.” Sangma said.
“I have had an occasion to discuss on matters pertaining to the Himalayas with Modi and I can tell you that he has a sound understanding of the region, and what needs to be done there,” Sangma added. Those in the know inside the administration and the BJP told ET that the new mission could take the shape of a ministry, commission or an authority which will have a “political” chairman — with the rank of a cabinet minister— who is familiar or associated with the region. When asked what kind of institutional arrangement should be ideal, Sangma said, “(Setting up a) Ministry will be desirable.” He insisted, though, that there are better experts working on Himalayas, particularly in Uttarakhand, who can also be considered to lead the initiative. Among the key tasks this proposed agency is likely to focus on is co-ordinating with China in context with the relatively less spoken of rivers in the North-East. Himalayas have been a part of the BJP’s areas of special attention for some time now. Its election manifesto shows the party’s keen interest in Himalayas. Among the key promises it has made in- clude setting up of a National Mission on Himalayas, a Himalayan Sustainability Fund and a Central University on Himalayan Technology. The party has also promised that it will give “due importance to the programmes devised to arrest the melting of Himalayan glaciers from which most of the rivers in North India originate”. While the party has not made a mention of any institutional arrangement for overseeing the implementation and monitoring of these promises, it appears that this will be ensured now. But the interest in Himalayan region is not purely ecological. According to one person intimately associated with the discussions surrounding this idea, the key reasons for the party to focus on the region are primarily owing to its direct link with the country’s internal security and relationships with neighbouring countries. “Emphasis on Himalayas — apart from concerns of ecological conservation— also gives a message about the importance given to border security by Modi,” said this person.
Apart from this, the person quoted above also informed that other factors which make the setting up of structured mechanism for dealing with Hima- layas include economic opportunities in sectors such as tourism, (particularly pilgrimage tourism), natural resources, hydel power and industries based on resources native to the Himalayas.
Prior to the assembly elections in November 2013, a team comprising Bihar BJP’s Rajiv Pratap Rudy, Uttarakhand’s Bhagat Singh Koshiyari and Sunil Bhargava – formerly of BJP’s thinktank and now NDA ally National People's Party – had discussed the idea of a special department/ministry for Himalayan affairs.
Bhargava confirmed that the idea of “having a separate institutional arrangement is being discussed seriously and is likely to materialise, though what form it will take depends upon the PM.” Experts and bureaucrats had been asked to work out the modalities for this and a “concept note” was also being worked out, he added. Dr DP Dobhal, senior scientist with the Dehradun-based Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology, feels the idea of focusing on the Himalayas as a distinct geographical region is necessary and, “for better co-ordination between the fourfive government departments working broadly on Himalayan issues at present, this arrangement may be useful.”