As a part of the 10th Sustainable Mountain Development Summit (SMDS) organised in Darjeeling, over 20 legislators from different IHR states came together for Mountain Legislators’ Meet (MLM) 2021. The theme of MLM was ‘Pathways for Plastic Waste Management in the Indian Himalayan Region’. The event was organised by Integrated Mountain Initiative (IMI) and Darjeeling Himalaya Initiative (DHI).
Mr. P.D. Rai, President of the IMI and former Lok Sabha MP (Sikkim) opened the meet by welcoming the dignitaries and participants. Mr. Chowna Mein, Deputy Chief Minister, Arunachal Pradesh, was the Chief Guest of the meet and representatives across different levels of Indian law-making bodies including MPs, MLAs, members of local bodies joined the Meet.
In his welcome address, Mr P.D. Rai emphasized on building resilience in the mountain and highlighted challenges concerning the mountains such as development disability, accessibility, and climate change induced challenges. He also reiterated the notion of ‘One Health’ that is collective planetary health, previously deliberated in the three-day Summit. To this end, the collaboration with the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) will embark on the creating awareness of plastic pollution in the riverine systems of India in general, and IHR states in particular. He also stressed on devising a layout of actionable items to bring about the much needed change.
Dr. Sumit Sharma, Programme Officer, UNEP, made an insightful presentation on “Action Against Marine Plastic Litter and Plastics Waste”. Marine litter which is becoming a global concern majorly originates from land. The negative impact of plastic waste will not only be limited to marine life, but through food chains, even humans will be under great harm. Dr. Sharma articulated that the UNEP, along with the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, is also working in states including Uttarakhand, along the Ganges, to curtail this problem at hand. He listed several initiatives and ways of management of plastic waste such as the social media campaign “Plastic Se Behtar” - seeking alternatives to plastics.
Mr. Roshan Rai of IMI and ZWH shared insights on the issue of plastic waste and plastic pollution in the mountain regions. He argued that the lack of mountain specific waste management lens must be addressed to incorporate mountain sensitivities to it. Proactive measures such as education, awareness, better implementation of policies, behavioral change will aid in effectively handling the plastic waste crisis.
Dr. Gopal Rawat reviewed the groundwork undertaken by Sustainable Development Forum Uttarakhand (SDFU) on the cleanliness of the Ganges and the cities as well. Further, Anoop Nautiyal talked about the stakeholder consultations and focus group discussions successfully conducted on the issue of plastic waste management.
In his opening remarks, the chief guest of the Meet, Mr. Chowna Mein thanked IMI for bringing together all Himalayan states. He focused on plastic waste in the Himalayan region and its effect on health and the environment. He highlighted the recent Climate Change Declaration of Arunachal Pradesh on the principles of ‘Panchamrit’. He further outlined that if plastic waste is tackled effectively it will also lead to a significant strengthening of the tourism sector in the Himalayas. He conclusively voiced that all the mountain states have overlapping requirements in this realm. Hence, they should collectively spearhead sustainable climate initiatives, protection of the environment and put forth many more such initiatives.
Dr. Sanjay Jaiswal, MP and Chairman of Parliamentary Standing Committee on Water Resources drew attention to the dangers faced by the Himalayas such as climate change, melting of glaciers, and increased frequency of natural disasters. Subsequently, Dr. Jaiswal traced that for required actions against the developing crisis sustainable initiatives and holistic policy development are a must.
Thereafter, the discussion was chaired by session chair Mr. Vincent Pala, MP Lok Sabha (Shillong), and moderated by P.D. Rai. Noteworthy arguments were raised in the discussion that followed. It was noted that plastic waste management is the need of the hour which will surface from long term behavioral change and sensitivity in people. For mountain regions, the cost and effort to achieve the underlined targets will also be greater.
Ms. Agatha Sangma, MP and Member of Parliamentary Standing Committee on Water Resources supplied innovative mechanisms and alternatives to control plastic wastes. Sangma called for the taxation of production of plastics as is done in various other countries. Allowing India to shift from linear economy to circular economy and ensuring maximum usage of products with recycling possibility. She said that manufacturers may also be encouraged to use less virgin plastic and use more recycled plastic. Recycling based economy must be heavily stressed upon along with alternatives such as biodegradable tapioca bags, cloth bags must also be encouraged.
Mr. Kishore Upadhyaya, a former legislator from Uttarakhand, recalled the limitations faced previously while developing inclusive sustainable development policies for the Himalayan region was that mountain people lack self-confidence. He stressed that the forest cover in and around Darjeeling should be accounted for. He also talked about the essential movements as the “Himalaya Bachao Abhiyan”. Upadhyaya argued that the Forest Rights Act, 2006 needs to be revisited and gave suggestions such as restoring ancestral rights over forest and alternate employment opportunities for people whose livelihood depends on the forest and wildlife.
Mr. James Sangma, Minister, Environment & Forest, Meghalaya, the Guest of Honor, encapsulated the effects of the plastic waste crisis on nature specifically in the Himalayan areas. He also added that brainstorming is being done in order to create a Green-GDP equivalent. Involving and evolving previous economic indicators is required as well.
Conclusively, the Mountain Legislators’ Meet 2021 acted as a whistleblower for the current overpowering of plastic waste in all sectors of existence. Through the interactive discussion all speakers contributed towards identifying and investigating the setbacks. Their problem-solving arguments also paved way to arrive at potential solutions to tackle the plastic waste in the mountains. Evidently the measures discussed will prove to be substantial in curbing the plastic waste issue. The Meet concluded with the reading and adopting of the Declaration at the MLM 2021.
We, the representatives and former representatives of various elected bodies of the Himalayan States, Union Territories and districts of India, having heard, discussed and deliberated on several important issues of the Indian Himalayan Region, especially on the pathways for plastic waste management in the region, collectively do hereby:
Placed on record at the Mountain Legislators’ Meet 2021 held in Darjeeling on 20th November 2021.
(Vincent Pala, MP)
(HM Shangpliang, MLA)
(ST Venchungpa, MLA)
(Miani Shira, MLA)
(Pravat Chowdhury, MLA)
(Tashi Gyalson, CEC, LAHDC)
(Suneel Uniyal, Mayor, Dehradun)
(Kishore Upadhyay, fmr MLA)
(KT Gyaltsen, fmr MLA/Speaker)
Rigzin Spalbar, fmr CEC, LAHDC)
And approved via virtual confirmation: