Land use policy for the Himalayas

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Dilli Raman Dhakal

The Himalayas are ecologically fragile and badly affected by climate change. The bad scars of global warming and human encroachment around the Himalayas have become more and more evident. The 1700 km long Himalayas are precious boons for Nepal. However, till 1950s mountain region remained almost isolated from the outer world. The same was partly true with other regions of the country.

The interaction and interconnectedness between the people of the hill and terai with mountain people were too limited. Mountain people have lived isolated making living as herders and dependent on small scale farming.  Life in the Himalayan region was akin to nomadic until a few decades ago.

The people of the region started taking advantage of the opening of mountains and hills for expedition and trekking after the 1950s. The people’s lives at the foothill of the mountain stretches tremendously changed to better with the tourists, domestic and foreign, flocking into the region.

The tourism development in the country in general and to the mountain region, in particular, grew steadily without a long-term policy & planning. The first tourism master plan was drafted in 1972 while the Tourism ministry was only created in 1978 A.D.  The country adopted tourism policy in 2065 BS and later tourism vision 2020. The subsequent introduction of plans, policies, laws, rule & regulations on tourism dramatically changed the perception among the people recognizing tourism as one of the core pillars of development. However, with many brighter aspects, it has harmed the pristine environment, affected socio-cultural mores. The tourism law currently under revision has to address many new but burning issues related to the use of Himalayas.

Current law and policy touches a small portion of the use of Himalayas but lacks the core segment of it. None of the tourism policies have addressed the most vital aspect of the land use policy for the Himalayas that stretches 1700km east to west Nepal. The issuance of a large number of permits for the expedition has resulted in overcrowding in the Himalayas. Also, the trekking business has yet to systematize and properly monitored by the government. The government control and monitoring mechanism are painfully weak.

It is to be noted that the government has entrusted the monitoring job for Sherpas or locals above the Base Camp. The unplanned and uncontrolled commercial mountaineering have turned Mount Everest and other mountains into the world’s highest rubbish dumping sites.  The tourism policy, plans, and laws say nothing about the use of Himalayas/mountains.  It is surprising that the government has given authority to a private organization/ NGO to issue permits for the expedition to some selected mountain peaks and collect royalty since the past several years.  When the government had no enough idea, skill and ability on mountaineering probably that was the way out to promote expedition.

There was and is no harm using locals and Sherpas for promoting tourism business but the question arises on how a sovereign nation lacked the capacity to manage mountain tourism. Though it was too late for the government to take control of the use of all Himalayas, the time has come to review and take charge of managing all mountain peaks. The Sherpas and locals need and definitely deserve appreciation for shouldering such a big responsibility. Their contribution has greatly helped in extending the area of mountain tourism. The government has a responsibility to manage the whole Himalayas or to say all mountain peaks.

Mountaineering in Nepal should be treated as one unit under government control thus subletting of mountain peaks to private parties/NGOs is not suggested.   The Himalayas belong to the nation and to all people of this country. This shows a glaring need for land use policy covering all vital aspects of Himalayas or broadly speaking Himalayan region.

On the broader arena of land use policy, the Nepal Government for the first time had adopted National Land Use Policy in 2013 A.D. The policy was revised aftermath of the earthquake in 2015.  The 2015 National Land Use Policy was revised so as to address the changed context aftermath the massive earthquake devastation. The land use policy thinly mentions about tourist hubs and natural heritage but speaks nothing about the Himalayas. The Himalayas is a common treasure which is so precious for the prosperity of this country, the land use policy must have covered the Himalayas.  The Himalayas are completely different in respect of land use with the rest of the country.

Considering the special status of the Himalayas where all land belongs to the nation, requires a plan, policy, and laws that help to preserve, protect the pristine Himalayan environment and promote tourism. It’s time to think for the remote future to protect the environment and expand tourism without harming mountain ecology. Land use policy for the Himalayan region is a must. The government and the stakeholders must work together to adopt a policy and the effective implementation of the same as well.

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