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Posted at: Jan 20, 2015, 12:36 AM; last updated: Jan 19, 2015, 11:07 PM (IST)NATIONAL SYMPOSIUM ON TRANSFORMING MOUNTAIN FORESTS

Lawyer for safeguarding interests of hill people

Tribune News Service

Dehradun, January 19

An forceful plea for an urgent need to safeguard interests of hill communities was made at the lawmakers’ session with parliamentarians from SAARC countries and forest ministers of the Indian hill states on the second day of the National Symposium on Transforming Mountain Forests held at the FRI here today.

Sanjay Upadhaya, a lawyer practising at the Supreme Court of India, set the tone for the lawmakers’ session by flagging questions for the panellists on the legal challenges for transboundary cooperation among member countries. “The Supreme Court of India has passed as many as 700 orders on forests alone,” Upadhya said. “However, transboundary issues, including riparian concerns, are yet to gain desired legal attention,” he added.

While enlisting the progress with respect to promoting participatory forestry in the state, Uttarakhand Forest Minister Dinesh Agarwal said the Kailash sacred landscape initiative between India, China and Nepal could set a framework for future cooperation. Tsering Wangdi, Sikkim Forest Minister, joined his counterpart in highlighting global recognition to the Kanchenjunga National Park as a perfect start to sharing obligations for cooperation at the transboundary scale.

While mentioning that a policy dialogue amongst parliamentarians and lawmakers has been long overdue, PD Rai, a Member of Parliament from Sikkim, wondered why there have been no specific laws to manage mountain issues. “Institutionalised instruments like the EIA Act are like band-aids that generate political outcomes, and are managed by politicians alone,” he added. That land is a state subject and forest is part of the concurrent list only complicates matters in evolving legal instruments. Presence of ethnic minorities along international borders, like in Myanmar, further challenges the integration of their concerns while developing transboundary protocols. Given the fact that mountain issues are influenced by global factors, it is time over-arching laws get written at the global level.

A participant from Afghanistan said the gains of forest conservation in his country benefited riparian countries, Pakistan on the east and Iran in the west, since the natural flow of rivers has a geographical orientation towards these countries. “There are no laws to ensure that benefits accrue to upstream riparian areas,” he added.

Upadhaya said land management laws in Afghanistan did not include transboundary issues. Existence of different civil and common laws have indeed impedes transboundary cooperation.

Rai said the political process for policy formulation had been different from the science behind issues related to mountains. Incentive-based mechanism such as payment for ecosystem services are still emerging concepts, and are not yet fully considered in policy making processes. The overall tone of the session focused towards amplifying the voices of local communities and their connection with natural resources to creating conditions for lawmakers to press the ‘urgency clause’ for developing appropriate laws.

B M S Rathore, Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, Madhya Pradesh, who co-chaired the session, argued in favour of sharing best practices across the region to mainstream peoples’ concerns. In his conclusion, Dr David Molden, Director General, ICIMOD, mentioned that voice has to emerge from the grassroots for lawmakers to press the urgency button.

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