The Moun­tain is Com­ing to Modi, Soon!

Modi govt may set up a nodal agency or a sep­a­rate min­istry al­to­gether for all things Hi­malayas

The Economic Times - - Front Page - AK­SHAY DESHMANE

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.”

SALAM

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