Held in Delhi on 23 May 1973 under the auspices of the Himalayan Club and the India International Centre. Report from the Statesman dated 24 May 1973.
THE beauty of the Himalaya is in danger. In his search for material prosperity man is moving into the mountains, exploiting the natural riches, but with typical callousness doing little to replenish what he has extracted. What were once lush forests are now deserts, the bird and animal life is dwindling, and unless there is a massive effort to change this unhappy trend, the magic of the greater mountains may be lost forever.
This was the consensus of opinion at a symposium on "Conserving the Himalayan Environment" organized by the Himalayan Club and the India International Centre in New Delhi on Wednesday. A host of mountain-lovers and experienced people made clear that there must be a sustained campaign to save the Himalaya from ruin, and the first step is to awaken the public to the beauties of the region, and the threat they are facing.
The President of the Himalayan Club, Mr. J. T. M. Gibson, set the scene for the symposium by showing a series of slides of the beautiful valleys and peaks, snapped during his many expeditions. Then he posed the question—will this last any longer?
Mr. Leslie Johnson, a retired ICS officer, referred to the vanishing wild life of the hill and mountain regions, and decried the tendency to thrust the blame on the shikari. He maintained that the shikari was a sportsman, not a butcher; it was the poachers and the forest contractor who were the real culprits. It was often believed, Mr. Johnson said, that if an area was closed to shikaris the game would be preserved but this was a fallacy. Once the genuine shikari was denied permission to hunt, in the absence of efficient policing, the poachers took over and what followed was sheer slaughter. He said he recently visited an area closed for the shikaris for three years, and saw blood-stains and animal bones scattered all over the place—the work of poachers.
He called for a proper study of the Himalayan fauna so that a proper classification could be made to form the basis of a comprehensive conservation policy. Simply declaring an area a game reserve or a sanctuary was not enough. Steps must be taken to ensure that the animals would be allowed to live m peace.
At present the sanctuaries offered little solace to the animals as, villagers went there in search of food and fuel, and forest contractors were denuding parts of the preserves. Also the low- paid game staff were easily bribed by poachers.
Mr. Johnson said that while tigers and lions were famous animals so people appreciated the need to save them from extinction, the same was not true of the Himalayan fauna. It was necessary to enlighten the people on the subject so that public opinion backed all efforts at conservation.
He pointed out that no effective conservation was possible without the active co-operation of the officers of the Army and Border Security Force. The defence of the nation has resulted in armed units moving into the mountains, but it was unfortunate that these men, with the various arms at their disposal, cleared an area of all wild life in a short period.
Mr. Aspi Moddie, an experienced trekker, said the mountains are rapidly losing their natural beauty. The forest line was going higher and higher, and so the hill-sides were being eroded. As development spread there was even greater danger of the trees disappearing. He displayed a number of photographs, the last being one of a sunset and asked: "Are we going to see a sunset of Himalayan beauty?"
He said mountaineering clubs must create public opinion, for at present conservation was beginning to attract attention. He also said that while most mountaineers concentrated on peaks and summits, they often overlooked the glories of the approaches to peaks. This must be changed. Mr. Moddie felt that while hill areas were being developed as tourist resorts, care must be taken to prevent the ecological balance of the area from being upset.
While mountaineers and trekkers could contribute to the welfare of the area by making sure they did not litter the place or destroy too much vegetation when establishing camps, they could go further by planting quick-growing trees as they went on their missions. This would be building for the future, he said.
Brig. Gian Singh, the famous Indian mountaineer who led the 1960 Everest expedition, said that an Institute for Himalayan Studies must be established without delay so that science could be effectively used to preserve the ecology of the mountains. And something must be done to shake-off the apathy of officialdom to conservation efforts. Professor Rahul, also an experienced Himalayan lover, supported Brig. Gian Singh's suggestion for an Institute.
"The trail to Everest is littered with cans and refuse, some years ago this was appreciated by mountaineers for it assured them that they were on the right track, but this no longer holds true" said the British mountaineer Chris Bonington. He said the Himalayan valleys were littered with refuse as much as those in the Alps.
Mr. Bonington said the fuel problem, faced by mountaineers and the people who live in such regions, resulted in vast forest areas being chopped down for firewood, and perhaps there could be a marginal reduction in this if all mountaineers and trekkers were asked to carry gas or oil stoves.
Mr. Joseph Allen Stein, architect and town planner, said it was inevitable that man would move more and more into the mountains. This was a change, which could not be altered, but could be controlled and directed correctly. The fuel problem was a major one but unfortunately our existing resources offered no solution.
Mr. Hari Dang, the mountaineer, said that while natural forests were being wiped out, the "human" replacements were often trees that took too much from the soil without making compensating returns. And what had happened in mountain regions elsewhere was now being felt in India too. But he struck a ray of hope, after the recent mountaineers gathering in Dar- jeeling, 15 of them from all over the world have formed an informal committee to formulate a charter of Himalayan demands. Winding up the discussion Mr. F. C. Bhadwar maintained that there were many ways in which the ravages on the Himalaya could be reversed. What was needed were adequate resources, and above all, the will to keep the Himalaya beautiful for all time.