By Akash Vashishtha
India has agreed on a plan to jointly protect and conserve the whole of the Kangchenjunga landscape in the Hindu Kush Himalayan region with Bhutan and Nepal.
The initiative - which will cover about 22,000 sq km spread across Sikkim; northern parts of West Bengal, including Darjeeling and Jalpaiguri; Nepal and western Bhutan - is also aimed at guarding the region from inter-governmental differences.
The Kangchenjunga landscape is one of seven key trans-boundary areas identified by the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), a regional learning centre for the eight Hindu Kush Himalayan countries - Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Nepal, Myanmar, Pakistan and Nepal.
According to sources in the Environment Ministry, the new "globally important" Kangchenjunga landscape plan is designed to explore and develop livelihood issues of people living in the region and to improve the ecosystem management.
It would also go a long way in conserving precious Himalayan wildlife and biodiversity. Besides, the move would enable India to fulfil its international obligations towards conservation, the sources said.
Of the 22,000 sq km covered by the plan, India has 14,000 sq km, while Nepal and Bhutan have 3,700 sq km and 4,600 sq km, respectively.
Being one of the seven landscapes shared by India, Bhutan and Nepal; the Kangchenjunga region is considered one of the world's most critical centres for biodiversity, with vegetation ranging from tropical to alpine within a short distance of just 100 km distance.
The landscape is also home to over 100 species of mammals, 550 birds and 600 butterflies. It is inhabited by "umbrella species" like snow leopard, red panda, takin, blue sheep, serow, Himalayan musk deer, Himalayan tahr, tiger and Asian elephant.
The landscape has a network of about 20 protected areas, eight of which are shared by two or more countries.
"The need for conserving the whole of the landscape was felt for a long time. The three countries had already agreed on consultations at a meeting in Gangtok in August 2012. There has been constant progress since then. In a recent meeting in Bhutan, the three governments shared feasibility reports," said David Molden, Director General of ICIMOD, from Kathmandu.
P.P. Dhyani, Director of the G.B. Pant Institute of Himalayan Environment and Development, the nodal centre of the environment ministry for the programme, said, "We are in the preparatory stage for the programme. It is expected to identify and address long neglected issues of the whole transboundary landscape, which is one of the most fragile regions in the world.The round of consultations and discussions would commence soon. We are already in touch with other Himalayan countries on several issues concerning the Hindu Kush Himalayan region."