Parvat Manthan brings together Mountain Urban Local Bodies to discuss WASH (water / sanitation / hygiene) in the Indian Himalayan Region (IHR)

December 7, 2023

Urban Local Bodies from various Indian Himalayan States and regions met in Delhi on December 4 -5 2023 to discuss WASH issues as part of Parvat Manthan, an important dialogue platform for Manifestation of Clean and Sustainable Hills initiated by National Institute of Urban Affairs (NIUA). The meet was facilitated by NIUA and BORDA in collaboration with Integrated Mountain Initiative (IMI) at the Indian Habitat Centre, New Delhi. The main objectives of the workshop was to assess the capacities of ULBs with regards to the 74th amendment, to understand the major bottlenecks and delineate future action towards holistic sanitation planning.

Mayors, Chairpersons and Councillors from ULBs and Autonomous Hill Councils from Shimla, Palampur, Ladakh, Gangtok, Darjeeling, Pasighat, Aizawl, Lunglei, and Tura participated in the two day’s dialogue. The inaugural session had the presence of NIUA Director, Ms. Debolina Kundu, President IMI, Mr. Ramesh Negi and Team Lead, (SCBP) Dr. Mahreen Mattoo, Dr. Mattoo provided the overview of Parvat Manthan and the role of NIUA and BORDA. In his opening remarks, the Deputy Chief Councilor of Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council Mr. Tshering Angchuk highlighted the challenges of water, sanitation and health service delivery in Himalayan cities, and the resource and knowledge gaps associated with it. Honorable Mayor of Shimla Mr. Surinder Chauhan commended the efforts of the organisers in bringing urban local bodies of the mountains on one platform, and highlighted the challenges of governance in mountain cities. He called on the need to include environment conservation as part of ULB institution.

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Panel discussion on capacity building and skills of urban local bodies was organised on day 1 which was Chaired by Mr. Tikender Panwar, former Deputy Mayor of Shimla who spoke on the various issues and challenges as well placed questions for the house on sustainability and resilience of mountain cities. He stressed on the need to redefine what was urban in the mountain context, highlighting the challenges of imminent disasters mountains faced and the need for climate resilient infrastructure. Challenges of capacities from a financial perspective were also placed by Mr. Matthew Idicula from Azim Premji University and Dr. Sandeep Thakur of NIUA who reflected on the challenges of the 74th amendment in terms of power devolution, and the difficulties of accessing central grants by ULBs amongst others. Bringing the perspective of the geographical challenges in terms of access to water and waste management, Mr. Roshan Rai from IMI and Zero Waste Himalaya advocated for adequate resource allocation for mountain ULBs, enabling capacities of the elected and the need to think of rural urban connect as well as the transboundary landscapes. Elected representatives from the ULBs of Gangtok (Ms. Tshering -Deputy Mayor), Shimla (Mr. Chauhan, Mayor) and Pasighat (Ms. Okiam,Chief Councillor) reiterated the challenges faced by municipalities in terms of power devolution, and also that of funds and functionaries.

The second panel discussion on key bottlenecks to WASH service delivery was chaired by Mr. Deepak Sanan, retired IAS officer, who highlighted that a key challenge was that of misplaced priority on asset creation, and not towards service delivery and capacities. He highlighted the need for institutional strengthening. Panelist Ms. Akila Sivadas from Center for Advocacy Research rallied for human centric development, highlighting the importance of galvanizing  community action and evidence supported cases. Mr. Santanu from NIUA focused his inputs on the role of NIUA with regard to the key challenges in service delivery. Focus on technological solutions only and lack of support for long term behavioural change was highlighted as key concern by Ms. Priyadarshinee Shrestha of IMI and Zero Waste Himalaya. She also spoke about the limits of extended producer responsibility implementation, mentioning that the current framework did not mandate producers to focus on mountain regions. Elected representatives from ULBs of Darjeeling (Mr. D.Thakuri - Chair), Leh (Mr. I.Namgyal - Chair) and Aizawl (Mr. L. Lalrinawma - Vice Chair) municipalities spoke about the issue of water access from an increasing tourism and climate change perspective. The need for municipalities to make byelaws on water conservation and waste management was also highlighted by the elected.

Field visit to the Moti Bagh colony, New Delhi Municipal Corporation waste transfer station and aspirational toilet was organised for the participants to understand practical aspects of segregation, material recovery facility and role of municipalities and private players in waste management and sanitation. Further ideas from Leh town on aspirational toilets constructed by the municipality were also presented to the participants by Mr. Snehit Prakash, BORDA.

A session focusing on climate change impacts on urban service delivery was also organised as part of the workshop which had speakers Dr. Rajan Kotru from IMI and Ms. Vaishnavi from NIUA. The significance of the Indian Himalayan Region was highlighted as water towers that sustain life and livelihoods of millions of populations downstream. Highlighting the Himalayan vulnerabilities and ecological fragility, Dr. Kotru’s talk focused on pushing for stakeholder driven participatory land use planning within urban landscapes that identifies the priorities in a fast-changing climate so that future resource flow in the form of water-food-energy is assured.

The Parvat Manthan event in Delhi highlighted the need for voices of Himalayan cities to be expressed and heard, as well as for policies, resources and actions to be suitable and adequate considering the socio-ecological importance and fragility of the Himalaya. Key action points that emerged from the elected representatives were strengthening the ULB platform for mountain cities, building skills and capacities of ULBs on specific issues, enhancing understanding through research on various topics, and technical support for construction of aspirational toilets, preparing DPRs, liquid waste management, composting solutions for mountainscapes as well as appointment of technical personnel. All elected representatives of  the mountain ULBs expressed their commitment and were hopeful that the platform would contribute to the wellbeing of mountain citizens.

In his address, the Chief Executive Councillor of Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC), Adv. Tashi Gyalson expressed his gratitude to NIUA, BORDA and IMI and endorsed the objectives of Parvat Manthan, mentioning that the important work of ULB strengthening must continue into the future for sustainable mountain cities. In his summary address, President IMI, Mr. Ramesh Negi reiterated the importance of enhancing ULB allocations in the 16th Finance Commission and the need of providing funds, functions and functionaries to ULBs.

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