Shimla, June 8:
Countdown has begun for getting Unesco’s coveted World Heritage Natural Site tag for the Great Himalayan National Park (GHNP) in Himachal Pradesh, India’s richest biodiversity spot in the western Himalayas.
State wildlife officials say the World Heritage Committee, scheduled to meet in Doha, Qatar, June 15-25, will consider the inscription of world’s nine natural sites on the World Heritage List, including India’s lone entry — the GHNP.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Unesco’s advisory panel on nature, last year deferred “the examination of the nomination of the GHNP to allow the state to finalise the addition of Tirthan and Sainj wildlife sanctuaries (adjoining the GHNP) to the nominated property to create a single area”.
The World Heritage Committee said the state “has to continue to resolve rights-based issues with respect to local communities and indigenous people in the site”.
“We followed the procedures as desired by the World Heritage Committee. This time, we are hopeful the park will get the heritage status,” Himachal’s Principal Secretary (Forest) Tarun Sridhar told IANS.
Official sources said the legal process of inclusion of Sainj (90 sq km) and Tirthan (61 sq km) wildlife sanctuaries into the GHNP (754.4 sq km) involve resettlement of three villages from Sainj and providing monetary compensation to the right holders, specifically shepherds, in Tirthan sanctuary.
“The government has appointed an official to settle these issues which may take some time. The methodical procedures concerning legitimacy and compensation have been started,” said a wildlife official.
Regarding settlement of rights of locals in the GHNP, he said it was completed in 1999. A sum of Rs.17,976,000 (about $473,000 at the 1999 rate of exchange) was awarded to 369 families. There was no rehabilitation compensation paid as the area chosen did not have any habitation.
However, the cultural rights of access to sacred spots in the GHNP remain intact and people exercise these during festivals.
The GHNP authorities send a forest guard to monitor activities during the festivals and address poaching incidents, resource damage or littering. In the past 12 years, there have been no complaints lodged by locals concerning access to religious sites, said the official.
With the inclusion of both the wildlife sanctuaries in the GHNP, the total area, known as Great Himalayan National Park Conservation Area, spreads over 905 sq km.
Formally declared a national park in 1999, the altitude of the area ranges from 1,800 metres to 5,200 metres with a major part of the GHNP lying above 4,000 metres.
The GHNP, located in Kullu district and some 250 km from here, is home to several rare and threatened species, including the western tragopan, chir pheasant, snow leopard, Himalayan musk deer, Asiatic black bear, Himalayan tahr, blue sheep and serow.
Some 25 threatened IUCN Red-listed plant species are also recorded in the park.
India currently has six natural sites in the Unesco World Heritage list, including the Sundarbans in West Bengal.