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Mon, 23 Oct 2017

Northeast Today

Drafting Special Development Goal into its Statute

Drafting Special Development Goal into its Statute
August 10
15:23 2017

July Edition, Statewide Sikkim, Aadil Brar

Sikkim is planning to draft a legislation that would empower UN’s Sustainable Development Goals into its statute. The focus of this legislation would be to enshrine sustainability into the future statutes; with particular focus on education, environmental sustainability, and mental health

Sustainability: Idea with many authors

Sustainability emerged as an idea in the late 80s with the founding of Brundtland World Commission on Environment and Development- a United Nations-led initiative to explore sustainable ways to develop economies around the globe. The commission produced a report which is now famously known as ‘Our Common Future’ or the Brundtland report (Gro Harlem Brundtlandwas the former Prime Minister of Norway). It was in the Brundtland report that sustainability emerged as a popular term in context of environment and development. But since then the notion of sustainability has evolved into a concept with many meanings- each one with its own semantics.

United Nations and the Second Wave of Sustainability

Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were ratified by the member states of the United Nations on September 25, 2015. SDGs are a set of 17 goals that would shape UN’s policies and its mission in various member states. The previous Millennium Development Goals (MGDs) have been instrumental in halving extreme poverty rates, halting the further spread of HIV/AIDs, and providing primary education to the masses.

Though SDGs will expand the original 8 MGDs to 17, but certain goals such as poverty, hunger, gender equality, and global partnership for the goals have remained unchanged. The characteristic of these new goals is the rise of sustainability as the core ideology (sustainability was goal number 7 in MDGs).

Sustainability and Wellness Law in Sikkim

Sikkim Chief Minister Pawan Chamling, time and again, has been lauded for his policies promoting sustainable development and the recently he was awarded with the Sustainable Development Leadership Award, which was presented to him by President Pranab Mukherjee.

Sikkim’s brand of sustainable development has established its name in areas such as organic farming and sustainable tourism. These recognitions have been instrumental in initiating the current efforts of Sikkim government to legislate a law that enshrines sustainability as the core principle of governance. Sikkim is currently drafting a law that is being called the ‘Well Being of Generations Bill’ through public consultations with citizen stakeholders.

The team drafting this law is led by Member Parliament (Sikkim) PD Rai, Ecotourism and Conservation Society of Sikkim (ECOSS), the Integrated Mountain Institute, and other local NGOs. The international participants of this initiative are the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, WWF India, and Development Alternatives (a Delhi-based NGO), and other legal experts. Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas is a leading law firm in India that is doing a pro-bono legal analysis on the viability of this law.

The Well Being bill will harmonise the policies between various state departments to make their working efficient, and also improve decision making that takes into account sustainability. Rai is leading a team of NGOs and agencies to conduct public consultations with the various local stakeholders such as civil society members, student unions, teachers, lawyers, working professionals and businessmen. These consultations are aimed at incorporating concerns of the citizens from various walks of life into the Well Being Bill- it is first such effort to draft a law through the public consultations in Sikkim. These efforts are being supported by United Nations Development Program’s state team in Sikkim.

“United Nation’s mandate has changed in recent times and it is now focused on working with the state governments in India. Traditionally United Nations has worked through its office in New Delhi,” said Rowena Mathew, a UNDP Project Associate, who is leading the‘Strengthening State Strategies for Climate Change’ project in Sikkim.

The draft version of the law has been shared in the public domain; on being approved by the legislative assembly a Well Being of Generations Council would be assembled with an entire bureaucratic apparatus that would look over the implementation of sustainable governance. Though these are commendable efforts, and Sikkim would join a handful of states in India that have attempted to draft legislations or incorporate sustainability into their law. But the draft, as it stands now, doesn’t really describe the vision that the concept of sustainability will inspire, and fails to describe the mechanism by which sustainable practices would be promoted in governance.

Another major issue for Sikkim and other North-Eastern states is the conflict between the developmental projects such as hydroelectricity projects, mining complex, and oil-gas industry that stands at odds with the sustainability vision as being forwarded at the moment. This is highlighted by complete oversight of public discontentment over hydroelectricity projects in news media articles on Sikkim’s sustainability bill.

In an opinion piece by Development Alternative (one of the participants helping with ‘Well Being bill’) hydroelectricity is mentioned in the context, “These guidelines will further work on two levels; to inherently drive planning of each state department towards sustainable development as well as to ensure convergence within various departments to remove instances of operational conflicts (something Sikkim has been seeing increasingly with the growing number of Hydro-Electric Power Plants in the state resulting in conflicts between the Energy and Power Department – the department that oversees the HEP Plants, and the Forest, Environment and Wildlife Management Department which provides environmental clearances).” The discussion on sustainability precludes the issue of public discontent over the issue of hydroelectricity projects such as Teesta Stage IV in Dzongu, North Sikkim. An analysis of Google Trends for search parameters reveals that‘hydroelectricity’ was most searched word in Sikkim.

Bilateral and multilateral organizations such as World Bank, United Nations, Asian Development Bank, and USAID have invested in various capacity building projects in the Northeast. Sustainability has witnessed a revival of interest from these organizations in context of Northeast India, and which is also visible across the board in the NGO sector. But each organization has its own definition of sustainability; an alien concept which is constantly overlapped with notions of indigenous knowledge, environmentalism, and biodiversity in context of Northeast India. As long as these organizations continue to work with alien concepts such as sustainability, there will be mushrooming of development based industrial complex in the Northeast without much effort at incorporating indigenous concepts into development projects.

(The author is a researcher with National Geographic Society’s Young Explorer program, currently based in Gangtok, Sikkim. Hecan be followed at https://medium. com/@aadilbrar)

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