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Himalayan Peoples Conclave On Climate Justice Report

Himalayan people’s conclave on climate justice was organized by Himalaya Niti Abhiyan HP and people’s movements from the Western Himalaya states of J&K and Uttarakhand at Shimla on 30th Oct. 2009. Six hundred delegates participated in it.

Climate change has emerged as a new catchphrase that is being used by different people for different purposes. While it means real life hardships for the farmers on the ground, the governments are looking at it as a reason to obtain additional funds from the Central pool as they continue to follow the same development paradigm that is aggravating climate change and livelihoods erosion at a large scale. A Himalayan Chief Ministers’ conclave was held at Shimla on the 29-30th of October, 2009 for the same purpose in which the Chief Ministers of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh, the Union Minister for Environment and Forests and representatives of three other Himalayan state governments were present. While these people were playing with words and concepts to get to their own ends, hundreds of people who are actually being effected by climate change and the skewed development policies of the both the Himalayan and the Central governments, gathered in Shimla to hold a parallel conclave to highlight the issues that, from their point of view, are responsible for aggravating climate change in the Himalayas and should be addressed if the governments are willing to engage with the issues that effect the common people.

The Peoples’ conclave held at the Kali Bari Temple Hall, saw the participation of people from movements from Jammu Kashmir, Uttarakhand, and Himachal Pradesh. The speakers present at the conclave highlighted the destruction of forests and livelihoods and pollution being caused by the large scale construction of hydro-electric projects, dams with large reservoirs, mining, cement plants, and other resource-intensive industries that are being promoted as government policy despite the knowledge that the fragile Himalayan ecosystems need an eco-sensitive model of sustainable development. Suresh Bhai, representing Nadi Bachao Andolan of Uttarakhand, stated that the large scale construction of hydroelectric projects in the Himalayas should be stopped since they were impacting the forest cover and peoples’ livelihoods, as well increasing glacial melt and ecological displacement. Ranjit Singh Negi of Him Lok Jagriti Manch, an organisation of people affected by ecological change from Kinnaur, demanded that the Himalayas should be declared as a world heritage and an eco-sensitive zone so that the unique natural and cultural heritage of the region could be preserved.

Kulbhushan Upmanyu of Himalay Niti Abhiyan demanded a complete shift in the way the development was perceived by the policy makers in the Himalayan region and professed a unique policy for development for the Himalayan region which is based upon local forest and farm resources, animal husbandry, cottage industry and provides a respectable means of livelihood for the ordinary people of the hills without having to resort to the pain of migration to industrial areas. He also said that the governments that had gathered at the Chief Minister’s conclave were just talking about climate change impacts from a very technical point of view while ignoring the sensitive issues that are affecting the people. This, in his opinion, had made the whole exercise designed to garner more funds into the state governments’ kitty rather than some serious action to alleviate peoples’ problems.

Ahmed Ziad, a social activist from Jammu and Kashmir, said that the cement and hydroelectric projects being promoted in the Himalayas are impacting the apple crop and tourism in his state. Sh. Bihari Lal, a Gandhian activist from Uttarakhand, stressed on the need for exploring eco and human sensitive alternatives to power generation and chemical-based farming. He also said that forests that provided for the livelihoods needs of the people and were managed through peoples’ institutions were essential in order to ensure the sustainability of natural resource base.

Guman Singh, the convener of Himalay Niti Abhiyan, said that the people of the Himalayas had to join forces in order to expose the contradictory stands of the governments and in order to take the common struggle for climate and livelihoods justice to a logical end. He also said that a national convention of all the peoples’ movements based in the Himalayas would be held shortly in Uttarakhand. He said that this struggle was not just with an eye on the Copenhagen Conference but had to be carried on constantly till the governments realised the futility of their unsustainable development policies.

The people at the conclave came out with a People’s Shimla Declaration highlighting issues related to climate change and ecological degradation due to the unsustainable development approach of policy makers.

After the conclave concluded, more than six hundred people who had come for the occasion marched in the form of a rally from Victory Tunnel to the Indian Institute of Advanced Studies, near Hotel Peterhoff, where the CM’s conclave was going on. After holding a public meeting outside the IIAS, a deputation of representatives from the different movements went to submit the Peoples’ Shimla Declaration to the CMs present and Sh. Jairam Ramesh, the Union Minister of State for Environment and Forests. The delegation consisted of Kulbhushan Upmanyu, Ranjit Singh Negi, Meera Sharma, Ganga Singh Thakur, Suresh Bhai, Ahmed Ziad, and Sikand Singh Jamwal.

About 500 people from 16 different people’s movements of the Himalaya Niti Abhiyan Himachal Pradesh, Nadi Bachao Andolan, Raksha Sutra Andolan, Jal Sanskriti Manch from Uttrakhand, People’s movements and environmental activists from J&K, and activists from Delhi platform participated in alternative summit. The conclave was also supported and encouraged by organizations and individuals from Delhi and other parts of country.

Guman Singh
Coordinator, Himalaya Niti Abhiyan