Empowering Mountain Communities

New Delhi: The Mountain Climate Trust conducted an international seminar on “Empowering Mountain Communities” along with the book launch of Dr. Kamaljit S. Bawa’s internationally acclaimed coffee table book “Himalayas: Mountains of Life” on Saturday, November 4th, 2023 at Seminar Hall, 1, 2 & 3, Kamladevi Block, India International Centre (IIC), New Delhi.

The event was graced by the honorable Sant Balbir Singh Seenchewal, Padmashri, Member of Parliament (Rajya Sabha) and world-renowned environmentalist. The seminar was inaugurated by the dignified presence of Shri Virendra Dayal, Padma Bhushan, Former Chef de Cabinet United Nations, Member Human Rights Commission and Lt. Gen Ata Hasnain (Retd), Former GOC 15 Corps (Srinagar), Member NDMA and Chancellor Central University of Kashmir.

The seminar was focused on the importance of empowering mountain communities to counter global warming through sustainable development. Eminent Indian and international environmentalists and disaster experts discussed their insights with participating NGOs, Environmental Institutes, and policy makers on the occasion.

Emphasis was laid upon the unique challenges mountain states face in overcoming climate change and disasters due to their location and fragmented development. An overarching regional authority could coordinate efforts to build resilience.

An environmentalist at heart and weaving spirituality to eco-friendliness, Sant Balbir Singh Seenchewal is rightly termed as the Green Sant. He is a man with a mission and shares his thoughts as, “My heart goes out to the mountains as they are the first to bear the brunt of climate change. Our sages in the past climbed up the hills to meditate, they survived alone on fruits and were scarcely equipped to lead their lives. Life in the hills isn’t easy which is why people there are simple and make do with whatever little they can. But in recent times, things have changed. Everyone wants to travel to the hills for holidays, trek etc and the more affluent ones want to build their homes there to live comfortably in the summer months leading to unnecessary construction. And trust me, as compared to the facilities we are now developing in the hill states of India, we are not even sparsely equipped to manage the solid waste! None of us are unaware of the monsoons hills faced the past season. Cloud bursts and landslides are only becoming frequent.”

In his speech Sant Balbir quoted Gurbani as “The wind is our guru, water is father, and the earth, mother” emphasizing the importance of ecology and nature in the scriptures. He mentioned how he and his contemporaries transformed a rivulet into its current exemplary form. Kali Bein, the river was a dirty drain due to negligence of the population of the surrounding area is now a source of clean water supply for irrigation purposes. Proudly he states that President APJ Abdul Kalam termed this project as ‘One of the Nine Wonders of India’.

Sant Balbir wishes to see humans respecting and revering the gift of nature that we have all been bestowed upon just like our ancestors did.

On the occasion Lt Gen Syed Ata Hasnain, Chancellor Central University of Kashmir and Member Disaster Management Authority delivered the Keynote Address and said, “Mountains are where National Security has huge stakes; with the LoC and the LAC both existing there. The onset of Climate Change threatens mountain infrastructure and displaces several mountain communities from traditional areas posing several security and disaster risks which need deep study to overcome.”

Ambassador Ashok Sajjanhar shared his concern as “This is an occasion for all of us to discuss the serious threat to Himalayan Ecology. Supporting the livelihoods of mountain communities living in remote areas is the best way to protect the Environment and promote Social Development Goals.”

Shri Falguni Rajkumar, former Secretary Government of India said, “Though the North Eastern States are doing a commendable job, distance from the rest of the country makes the Management of Climate Change more difficult. An overarching regional Authority maybe a way out to coordinate the efforts as a region.”

Zohra Chatterji, Former Secretary, Government of India stated, “I am very concerned and feel helpless about the smog situation in Delhi. The warnings are consistent with every passing year and very clearly now indicate that the time to act has arrived! In our individual capacities we can’t do very much but together a lot can be achieved to combat this situation. So here I salute and thank Mrs Saifullah for this extremely essential initiative that I am more than delighted to support.”

Mrs Saifullah, Founder and Managing Trustee of MCT said, “The objective of the seminar was to be a voice and a platform to all Institutions and NGOs working to mitigate Climate change in the Mountains.”

The seminar was graciously honoured to have the attendance of the following dignitaries:

– Shri Dan Singh Rawat, Chairman, Uttarakhand Development Bank Ltd.

– Lt. Gen Ata Hasnain (Retd),Former GOC 15 Corps (Srinagar), Member NDMA and Chancellor Central University of Kashmir.

– Shri Eklabya Sharma, former Director General, ICIMOD (International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development) and the world’s leading authority on the subject

– Dr. Kamaljit S. Bawa FRS. Distinguished Professor Emeritus, University of Massachusetts, Boston and Founder, Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment, Bengalurut

– Shri Falguni Rajkumar, IAS Retd, Former Secretary, Government of India, Special Advisor UNIDO, Chairman IIM, Shillong

– Dr Siddiq Wahid, PhD, Harvard University and distinguished Professor, Centre of Excellence for Himalayan Studies

– Representatives of Ministry of Environment and Forests, Wildlife Institute of India Dehradun and Govind Ballabh Pant National Institute of Environment, Katarmal, Almora, Amity University Noida also attended

Apart from the above-mentioned dignitaries, thoughts and efforts made towards the goal to adopt sustainable route were shared by representatives of NGOs from all the Himalayan States, Indian Forest Service /Institute on Himalayan forests and wildlife and Institute of Excellence on Himalayan Studies, Shiv Nadar University.

Needless to say that the seminar on “Empowering Mountain Communities” was a success also because of the efforts of the following participants:

  • – Captain Swadesh Kumar, Founder-President, Adventure Tour Operators Association who spoke on the importance of porters and sherpas in the mountain tourism industry.
  • – Vikramjit Singh Bangari, Founder of Stone Age Hospital and Sarpanch of Sainkarvi Village
  • – Shri Kartikeya Desai, Founder of Desai and Associates shared how the role of development economics can help promoting sustainability and impact in mountain communities.
  • – Samay Chedda, Partner, Nova Char spoke about the use of biochar charcoal and wood vinegar for soil rejuvenation.
  • – Shri Asheesh Sharma, Senior Executive, Greenbird spoke on the need for sustainable waste management in mountain communities. He shared his expertise on how to develop and implement sustainable waste management systems that are tailored to the specific needs of mountain communities.

In addition to their individual contributions, these speakers also worked together to create a cohesive and informative program. They ensured that the topics covered were complementary and that the audience had the opportunity to learn from a variety of perspectives.