Globalisation and The Mountains: Evidence from Uttaranchal

Vir Singh and Shilpy Singh

Current surge of globalisation taking all regions and communities of our planet in its fold is perhaps the largest institution-led movement in the history of mankind.  It, indeed, is a process that is all set to transform the whole world (its geography as well as communities) in favour of certain dominant areas and already affluent societies while throwing others into an abyss of miseries and endless struggles for survival.  Riding the tide of economic liberalisation, the globalisation is a process that is likely to culminate into new economic imperialism.  Reckless exploitation of the natural resources and/or ecological niches these areas are famous for, would be inevitable.  Lofty mountains of the Himalayas, owing to their specific resource characteristics, would perhaps be the worst hit by the strengthening of economic liberalization.

Global treaties, trade-related policies, international institutions, market forces, and reconstructing economies are prompting and forcing the local governments to frame new policies to implement programmes that are often incompatible with their own specific conditions.  These policies and programmes are injecting unsustainability into the system and paralysing livelihood security of local communities which are based on using specific natural resources of the region.  Fragile mountains readily fall victim to the factors and processes leading to unsustainability.  Rampant and indiscriminate ‘development ‘ activities largely to serve ‘plains’ interests and often ignoring local perspectives are accelerating mountains’ unsustainability.  This process, due to highland-lowland environmental interactions, is also to affect livelihood systems even in the distant plain areas.

Newly created State of Uttaranchal has been internationally famous for its mass movements, like the oft-quoted Chipko Movement, Anti -Tehri Dam Movement, and, more recently, the Beej Bachao Andolan (Save Seed Movement).  These have not only been an inspiration for the whole world but also influenced policies, resulting in Governments enforcing some measures to protect the ecology and the environment.  However, this mountain regions, owing to dual policies about the politically marginalised mountains could not elude globalisation process. Some of the effects of globalisation policies on the area are mentioned below.

  • Common property resources (CPRs) constitute the core of farming systems and are the base of livelihood in the Uttaranchal region. They are being increasingly acquired by the Development Corporations, private hoteliers, firms, colonisers, and rich individuals, particularly, for promoting tourism as an industry. Construction of roads, buildings, hotels, summer resorts, honeymoon huts, holiday resorts, recreation centres, sports resorts, etc. is rampant in the region. This is happening even in the poorly accessible areas, pristine alpine meadows close to majestic glaciers. Thus, affecting the delicate ecological balance  as well as the sustainability and livelihood security of the people.  In the fast few decades, more than 40 percent area which was under CPRs has been brought under private use.
  • More than 50,000 ha of the area under CPRs (including reserve forests fulfilling various needs of local farmers) was covered with climax oak forests at mid-altitudes. These have been leased out to rich individuals, absentee landlords, and Horticulture Department of Uttar Pradesh Government a few decades ago. About two Lac metric tonnes of the fruit produce from this land floods more than a dozen major market areas in the plains. In fact, virtually no proportion of it is retained in the area, thus depriving the local inhabitants of a nutritive produce of their own land, besides causing ecological and economic disservice.
  • The Tehri Dam, the highest dam in the Hindu Kush-Himalayan (HKH) Region – is under construction at the confluence of the Bhagirathi and the Bhilangana rivers in Tehri town of Garhwal. There are fears that this work is being taken up in an area which is seismically one of the most sensitive ones.  There is a strong resentment from the locals as several thousands of local residents would be displaced. Exepcted to serve energy and irrigation needs of the plains and drinking water supplies to Indian Capital, several such large and medium size dams proposed in the area of Uttaranchal when implemented would prove disastrous for the fragile Himalayan mountains and their communities.
  • Agricultural transformation in the mountains requiring high chemical inputs and external expertise has been designed to fulfil external market demands at the cost of local needs. Exportable soyabeans, for example, replace Barah anaaj culture involving as many as twelve foodgrain crops cultivated with finger millet as a base crop. This is leading to genetic erosion and depriving local people of nutritive food ingredients.  Virtually all horticultural products grown in the region are relished by city dwellers in the plains. At the same time, thanks to the monopoly of middlemen (mostly from plains), do not fetch remunerative prices to the growers.  Mountains’ ecological niches are especially suitable for vegetable seed production.  This lucrative business, however, is being managed by some national and multinational seed companies exclusively for their own benefits.  Numerous valuable herbs of high medicinal and aromatic values are also exploited by external drug firms for their own benefits.  The Uttaranchal Himalayas harbour thousands of varieties of flowering plants. The Valley of Flowers of world fame in Garhwal is a unique natural treasure of ornamental plants.  Mountain farmers have never been given a package to cultivate indigenous flowers, as they have no market value in the plains.  Floriculture in certain pockets (e.g., near Bhowali in Kumaon) is being managed by some external firms, agri-business farms, and rich individuals on private land purchased from local farmers at throwaway prices.
  • Globalisation-directed policies and programmes have been insensitive towards region’s unique cultural heritage and people’s rich experience in conservation-based livelihood systems. Pro-market decisions and activities ignore indigenous knowledge and innovations.  External intervention neither aims at fulfilling local people’s aspirations nor seeks their participation in the implementation of new programmes.  Contrary to people’s own strategies, it is shortsighted rather than futuristic and sustainable.

Dictated by external market forces and global policies, the globalisation process, in essence, is further marginalising the mountain communities by excluding them from getting benefitted from the opportunities of inherent mountain conditions, such as high-value biodiversity, unique ecological niche, and adaptation mechanisms.  This process also sets conditions to further aggravate the effects caused by mountains’ fragility by opening valves of human movement towards the mountains. This leads to increasing population pressure in the area. The damage to areas stocked with climax vegetation (natural oak forests and alpine meadows) so crucial for regulating Himalayas’ own micro-climate is accentuated.  Dangerous consequences of systematically inoculating ecological vulnerability in the Himalayan ecosystems by managing monocultures and reducing biodiversity, and increasing intensity of resource use are well predictable.

Thus, being highly incompatible with the imperatives of mountain conditions, the rapid globalisation is apparently opposed to the processes of sustainability in the mountains.  Since it has no room for socio-economic equity (that, despite poverty, which has been a remarkable feature of mountain communities), ethical, and cultural values, it ought to jeopardise livelihood security of the masses in the region.

Globalisation process, however, can, and should be, made sensitive and mountain-friendly.  The Himalayas – our fragile heritage – as is known to the mainstream world of the plains, are exceptionally rich in their natural resources (especially the biodiversity), and people’s experiences relating to their conservation and sustainable use.  The biodiversity and unique ecological niches of Uttaranchal and other Himalayan States could be pivotal in economic development and welfare of the mainstream areas, the plains.  However, mountains should get what is rightfully theirs.  In the globalisation process, they must get fair deal rather than just become a victim of economic parasitism.  There must be an economic valuation of the Himalayan biodiversity in the context of global norms.  Prices of varieties / products of this biodiversity must be decided based on their direct values (consumptive use value, productive use value etc.) and indirect values (non-consumptive use value, e.g., scientific research, recreation, etc., option value, e.g., value of maintaining options available for the future, and existence value, value of ethical feeling of existence of nature, etc.)

Indian States lying in the mountains, share many common features, experiences, and, challenges.  At this juncture of rapid globalisation, these mountain States should come close to each other and fight for their due share in this process and guide the international institutions to redesign suitable structural arrangements.  The marginal mountains can make the mainstream areas realise that through geo-ecological linkages they send all happiness and prosperity to the latter.  In order to regain glory and a respectable place for the mountains in the dominant world of the plains, all the mountain States must unite.

Dr Vir Singh


Department of Animal Science

College of Agriculture

GB Pant University of Agriculture and Technology

Pantnagar 263 145

Dist. U S Nagar ( Uttaranchal)

Tel: +91-5944-33887 Fax:+91-5944-33611/33473



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