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G.B. Pant National Institute
Himalayan Environment & Sustainable Development
formerly known as G.B. Pant Institute of Himalayan Environment & Development

Brief about Mountain Division (5th Unit of the Institute)...

Mountains, which cover nearly one-quarter of the Earth’s land surface, and are home to over 12 percent of world’s human population, have growingly attracted global attention over the past two decades. The importance of Mountains has now been recognized as provider of goods and services to well over half of the global population. On account of these values, Mountain ecosystems are being considered as pivotal for long-term sustainable global development, poverty alleviation and transition to green economy. All these features and many more, have led to the realization that mountains need to be accorded global priority. The Hon’ble Prime Minister of India in his Independence Day speech in 2010 clearly indicated our responsibility to protect and preserve forests, rivers and mountains for future generations.

In the global forum, the Rio conference in 1992 recognized the crucial role played by mountain ecosystems by highlighting that the livelihood of about 10% of the world’s population depended directly on mountain resources such as water, forests and agricultural products and minerals (Chapter 13: United Nations, 2001). Recognizing the important role played by the mountains, the recently concluded Rio+20 (UNCSD) Summit June 20-22, 2012, calls for strengthening cooperation among stakeholders and greater efforts for conservation of mountain ecosystems including its biodiversity. Further it encourages States to adopt long-term vision and holistic approaches, through incorporation of mountain specific policies into national sustainable development strategies, which could include, inter alia, programmes for mountain areas and poverty reduction plans, etc. The Chapter 35; Science for Sustainable Development, covers the use of scientific knowledge in sustainable development and resource management and specifically calls for a wide variety of environment-related monitoring activities including development of a global observation system for freshwater and mountain systems, especially in the developing countries; and conducting surveys and opinion polls of populations. The report submitted to UN general assembly in 2004 on the sustainable mountain development within the existing policy contexts including Chapter 13 of Agenda 21, the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation and the Millennium Development Goals recommended among other to establish national committees or similar institutional arrangements and mechanisms to enhance intersectoral coordination and collaboration for sustainable development in mountain areas, support national efforts to develop and implement strategic plans and enabling policies and laws and also to assist developing countries to formulate and implement national strategies and programmes for sustainable mountain development.

Mountain ecosystems play an important role in shaping the sustainable development strategy of India. The Indian Himalayan Region (IHR), covering three biogeographic zones – the Trans Himalaya, the Himalaya and the Northeast India, stretches to about 3,000 km. in length and varies between 220-300 km in width. It spreads over the states of Jammu & Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura, Meghalaya, part of Assam, and one district of West Bengal. Inhabited by over 40 million people, IHR covers nearly 17% of the geographical area and 3.8% of India’s population. This complex mountain system consists of narrow and deep valleys, glaciers and fertile terrain. Five climatic zones can be delineated in the Himalayan region based on geographic and physiographic factors. These are: the warm Tropical, warm Sub-Tropical, cool Temperate, Alpine and Arctic. While these are only broad zonations, there are many local variations in the climate due to precipitation, temperature, wind patterns, humidity, etc. The type and nature of soils also varies vastly in the Himalayan region from deep alluvial to the thin and bare soils of the high mountains. The region is a reservoir of over 9,000 glaciers with permanent ice and snow from which rivers like the Indus, the Ganges and the Brahmaputra emanate. The Himalayan region harbours probably one of the highest hydropower potential in the world. This mountain system represents one of the richest natural heritage sites in the world. One-tenth of the world's known species of higher altitude plants and animals occur in the Himalaya (IPCC, 2001). Himalaya is endowed with richness and representativeness in biodiversity elements and has been recognized amongst 34 Global Biodiversity Hotspots.

Notwithstanding the above features, the rich environmental heritage of the Himalayan region is under pressure from natural and human-induced stresses such as earthquakes, landslides, construction activities (roads and dams), deforestation, over harvest and poaching to name a few; and the changing global climate has further exacerbated this situation. The impacts of these pressures are illustrated by declining forest cover in different parts of the region. Deforestation alone has resulted in many species of flora and fauna in the region becoming endangered. Some of the major problems faced by the region are presented in Box 1:

Box-1: Major problems of IHR

1.Over exploitation of natural resources under growing demands
2. Expanding commercial tourism
3.Climate change effects
4.Increasing intensity of natural disasters
5. Greater rates of out-migration
6.Conflicts over resources/ policies
7.Low investment
8.Depopulation of high altitude areas
9.Security concerns

Realizing the importance of the region as a unique treasure of environmental goods and services and a rich repository of biodiversity, including cultural and ethnic diversity, and considering its sensitivity to natural disasters, climatic and anthropogenic perturbations, the Government of India accords Himalaya the highest priority. Measures for the conservation of mountains have been specifically envisaged in the National Environment Policy (NEP) 2006. India has also released its National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC; 2008) which addresses the urgent and critical concerns of the country through a directional shift in the development pathway. NAPCC envisages, in addition to 07 other missions, a National Mission for Sustaining the Himalayan Ecosystem (NMSHE), the only location specific mission, to evolve management measures for sustaining and safeguarding the Himalayan glaciers and mountain ecosystems. This Mission, among others, aims to: (i) understand, whether and extent to which, the Himalayan glaciers are under recession and how the problem could be addressed, (ii) establish an observational and monitoring network for the Himalayan environment including strengthening regional cooperation for data and information sharing with countries that share the same ecology, (iii) promote community based management of the ecosystem through incentives to community organizations and panchayats for the protection of forested lands. DST was given the responsibility of coordinating NMSHE and the Mission Document is already in public domain.

Towards achieving the goals of the mission, a humble beginning was made by Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) in the form of bringing out a Working Document “Governance for sustaining Himalayan Ecosystem (G-SHE): Guidelines & Best Practices” to suggest operational guidelines along with case studies from various regions of IHR which should help restrict (and reduce) adverse effects on the sensitive ecosystem of the IHR, and maintain a critical dynamic equilibrium among key resources of the region. The guidelines in this document cover a wide range of issues – including urbanization, tourism, water security, energy, forest management and infrastructure – all of which are highly pertinent as the Himalayan region faces new and increased challenges and pressures. Further, to appropriately reflect and bring in a sense of urgency on the issue of governance, the Himalayan Chief Ministers’ Conclave at Shimla in Himachal Pradesh (October 2009) reaffirmed its commitment to adhere to the basic principles enshrined in the NAPCC and recognized the threat posed by climate change to the country in general and to the Himalayan states in particular. Action points identified in the Shimla Conclave and listed in Box 2:

Box-2: Shimla Conclave – action points

1.Establishment of a Himalayan Sustainable Development Forum
2.Setting up State Councils for Climate Change
3.Catalyzing Research for Policy Action
4.Payment for Ecosystem Services
5.Managing Water Resources for Sustainable Development
6.Challenges of Urbanisation
7.Green Transport
8.Dealing with impacts of climate change on livelihoods
9.Decentralized energy security
10.Managing growth of eco-friendly tourism and pilgrimage
11. Green Industry
12. Green Job Creation

Considering the slow pace of development of the Indian Himalayan Region (IHR) in comparison to rest of the country and its fragile nature and difficulty of taking up conventional development initiatives, the Hon’ble Prime Minister of India, expressed the need for a fresh analysis of the problems of the hill states and hill areas of the country in a manner that these areas do not suffer in any way on account of their peculiarities. To take note on this, a Task Force was constituted by the Planning Commission of India. The Task Force report released in August 2010 by the Deputy Chairman, Planning Commission, recommended that the IHR States should invest in agro-horticulture-forestry, skill & technology development, improving connectivity and marketing arrangements including IT enabled service infrastructure, and that the development path should keep sufficient emphasis on the preservation of the precious natural resources of IHR, namely the snow, water, forest and land.

At the National level, Himalayan region received some focus with the establishment of G.B. Pant Institute of Himalayan Environment and Development (GBPIHED) by MoEF in August 1988, with environmental conservation and sustainable development of the IHR in view. The Institute has a decentralized set-up with headquarters at Kosi-Katarmal (UK) and four regional units at Srinagar- Garhwal (UK), Kullu (HP), Pangthang (Sikkim), and Itanagar (AP). Ministry’s other key Institutions with significant engagement in the IHR include the Indian Council of Forestry Research & Education, Forest Survey of India, Forest Research Institute (FRI), Botanical Survey of India (BSI), Zoological Survey of India (ZSI) , and Wildlife Institute of India (WII). Similarly, many NGOs have good presence through their programs in the IHR for, e.g., WWF, Snow leopard trust, WTI. Ministry of Science and Technology, Ministry of Earth Science, MoRD, MOA are some of the key Ministries, other than MoEF that have focus on IHR. Involvement of several stakeholders calls for improved synergy and coordination among them for the sustainable and wholesome development of IHR in tandem with the downstream regions. At this juncture it may be pertinent to note that the “Task Force on the Mountain Ecosystems for the 11th Five Year Plan (2006)” among other things also felt that “the sectoral approach which has been taken so far would not be of much use of integrated mountain environment and development”. It is also emphasizes that all organizations working in the IHR are required to be brought together to address vital environmental issues. This could be possible through (i) giving new role to local traditional institutions based in rural areas (ii) creating a synergy amongst different organizations, mountain scholars, and social workers, and (iii) recognizing social institutions, social sanctions, local culture and traditional knowledge systems.

In the light of above, need has been felt to establish a dedicated unit as “Mountain Division” within the MoEF to address specific issues of the mountain ecosystem in an integrated manner, within division of the MoEF across the relevant key Ministries, and with NGOs and Academia to ensure conservation of mountain ecosystem and sustainable development of the mountain regions. The envisaged broad objectives of the Mountain Division are listed in Box 3:

Box-3: Broad objectives of the Mountain Division

1.To deal comprehensively with the sustainable and integrated development of mountain ecosystems;
2.To sharpen focus on mountain issues and bring these regions in the main stream of development;
3.To foster linkages between upstream and downstream regions by influencing policy & planning based on mutual dependence;
4.To create recognition and awareness regarding dependence of non-mountain ecosystems on mountains;
5.Developing a suitable framework of incentives for providers of ecosystem services.

Presenlty Mountain Division has been set-up as a 5th Unit of the Institute and functioning at MoEF&CC, New Delhi.


Er. Kireet Kumar
Scientist-G & SIC (Mountain Division)
Mountain Division (5th Unit of the Institute)
G. B. Pant Institute of Himalayan Environment and Development
Address: MoEF&CC, Indira Paryavaran Bhavan, Jor Bagh Road, New Delhi - 110 003, India

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