The Sustainable Mountain Development Summit (SMDS-XI), a flagship program of the Integrated Mountain Initiative (IMI) concluded on 12th October 2022, in Leh, Ladakh.
This program which began with the Himalayan Youth Summit on the 9th saw a galaxy of participants and speakers from across India and the world. The theme of the Youth Summit was ‘Sustainability and Entrepreneurship’. The youth attending both in person and online came up with a declaration which was presented to the Honourable Minister, MoEFCC Shri Bhupender Yadav during the inaugural function of SMDS-XI. The same was presented to the President of IMI during the valedictory function.
The main theme of SMDS-XI was ‘Harnessing Tourism for Sustainable Mountain Development” with the main organisers being Sustainable Forum of Ladakh (SDFL), the Ladakh chapter of IMI, along with the Office of the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC). The Summit had delegates from all the Mountain States and Governing Council Members of the IMI.
Ladakh has a fragile and unique landscape and environment. It is ecologically threatened by climate change and also faces high challenges due to the huge influx of tourists. Tourism boom has led to some amount of re-thinking and reflection by the many stakeholders including the Tourism department of Ladakh, UT. It was therefore in the fitness of things to delve deep into this existential issue. Many questions surfaced which were dealt with by a variety of speakers representing different fields of expertise.
The issues echoed in full in the talk the Lieutenant Governor, Ladakh, Shri R. K. Mathur delivered to the youth participants. The same was echoed by the Chief Guest at the inaugural function, Shri Bhupender Yadav, Union Minister, Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change. He resonated with the views expressed by the Youth in their declaration and well as those by Shri P. D. Rai, President of IMI and the CEC, LAHDC, Shri Tashi Gyalson. He gave his assurance to look into all the recommendations that would come out of the Summit.
During the 3 days summit, various technical sessions delved into issues of environmental sustainability, tourism products, security and others. It was apparent that the uniqueness of Ladakh needed much more thought that needed to be considered through the tourism products, regulation and policy, waste management, water security, energy security, and regeneration and protection of landscapes. The issues of gender, culture and changing patterns of livelihoods figured prominently. Inputs received from the resource persons were interesting and insightful as it came from all across the Himalaya and other Mountain regions of the world. Sustainability and security was also discussed in a session which was Chaired by Shri Ram Madhav of India Foundation. The GoC, 14 Corps and Shri P. Stopdan of Ladakh International Centre also participated in the session providing their valuable inputs.
One of the main side events of every SMDS is the Mountain Legislators’ Meet, and this year, MLM was centered around the issue of Extended Producer Responsibility. The meeting that was chaired by the Chief Executive Councillor of the Ladakh Autonomous Hill District Council, came up with a declaration to amend the Rules of Extended Producers’ Responsibility (EPR) as applicable for the Mountain States. This was a corollary to the Declaration of the MLM held in Darjeeling in 2021. Endorsements from other Mountain States’ Legislators and MPs will be sought and which will be followed by a meeting with the officials of the MoEFCC for seeking an amendment to the EPR framework to bring in mountain specificities.
The Ladakh Tourism Festival was inaugurated on the 13th which would go on for a few days more. The 13th also witnessed the first snowfall of the season in Leh.
The summit was sponsored by the UT of Ladakh and LAHDC along with others. The University of Ladakh was active in its participation including the Office of the Principle Chief Conservator of Forests, Shri Jigmet Takpa. IMI will mainstream the learnings and outcomes from the summit to other States and Districts of the Indian Himalayan Region.