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Gorkhaland: Environment and resource

base
By Vimal Khawas on August 10,2008

vimalkhawas@gmail.com

GORKHALAND: ENVIRONMENT AND RESOURCE BASE

Vimal Khawas*

The proposed state of Gorkhaland consisting of the district of Darjeeling and adjoining
Duar-Terai region of Jalpaiguri and Coochbehar districts accommodate over 25 lac
population. The region as a whole is a multi-ethnic, multicultural and multi-lingual in
character. The society in the area is made up of various elements drawn from diverse
origin. The social diversity is perhaps the most powerful manifestation of the area. The
social groups with diverse ethnic and linguistic origins, representing various racial stocks
and social status have found a place for themselves at different points of time adapting
themselves to the different ecological niches offered by the physiographic and climatic
setting of the area. Their dispersal across the region has resulted in a social mosaic with
ethnic distinctiveness.

Geography and Environment

Darjeeling Himalaya consisting of the three picturesque hills of Darjeeling, Kalimpong


and Kurseong represents a unique geo-environmental perception. As an integral part of
the larger Himalayan orogeny it shares the geologic, geomorphic and geo-environmental
characteristics of the unparallel Himalayan Mountain System. The Duar-Terai region
representing the Siliguri subdivision of the Darjeeling district and northern region of
Jalpaiguri and Coochbehar districts is basically a Savanna and Grasslands ecoregion that
sits at the base of the Darjeeling Himalaya. This narrow lowland ecoregion is perhaps a
continuation of the Gangetic Plain. In fact, the Duar-Terai stretches right from the base of
western Nepal up to Bhutan. It is traversed by numerous rivers and streams rushing down
from the hills and by the upland ridges which mark their courses.

The relief of the proposed Gorkhaland starts from 100 Mts. above the mean sea level at
its base and stretches up to the mighty Kanchenjunga. Gorkhaland therefore represents
four important geomorphic blocks namely: Terai, Lower Himalaya, Middle Himalaya and
the Great Himalayan Ranges. The region is endowed with varied micro-climatic zones,
rich natural resource bases and wealthy bio-diversity.

Natural Resources

The economy of the proposed Gorkhaland would be sustained by meticulously exploiting


its rich natural resource bases like land, water, forest, biodiversity and aesthetic beauty of
the region.

Land: Land would be a scarce resource for a majorly hilly state like Gorkhaland.
However, unlike the state of Sikkim with merely 11% arable land of its total geographical
area, Darjeeling Himalaya itself has a relatively better arable land (25%). Gorkhaland
with Duar-Terai region under its fold would have over 35% of its geographical area under
arable land. The economy of the state would depend primarily on tea production;
agriculture and allied activity including horticulture, floriculture, and forestry; and
tourism. There is also ample scope of scientifically exploiting the abundantly available
water resource.

Arable
State Major Agricultural Activity
Land (%)
rice, maize, wheat, barley, millet, potato, fruit, vegetable,
Gorkhaland > 35
flowers, medicinal herbs, ginger, cardamom, livestock.
rice, maize, cardamom, wheat, barley, millet, potato, fruits,
Sikkim 11
vegetables, medicinal herbs, ginger, livestock.

Primary Economic Other Economic


State
Activity Activity
Agriculture and allied
Gorkhaland Tea, Tourism, Forest, Hydropower
activity (> 40% )
Agriculture and allied
Sikkim Tea, Tourism, Forest, Hydropower,
activity (> 85%)

Water: The proposed state of Gorkhaland forms a part of the Brahmaputra river water
ecosystem or Brahmaputra basin. The most important river the state - River Teesta along
with its major tributary River Rangeet ultimately flows through the basin and join the
great Brahmaputra. Teesta and Rangeet have their own basins with distinct watersheds
and sub-watersheds. These rivers are not only fed by the glaciers but they also benefit
from various jhoras that flow across their basins. Other important rivers that fully or
partly flow through the proposed state include: Mechi, Balason, Mahananda, Lish, Gish,
Chel, Ramman, Murti and Jaldhaka. These small rivers again have formed their own
smaller basins where smaller streams or what we also locally called jhoras flow their
basin and ultimately join them.

The water rich Gorkhaland would therefore meticulously and scientifically exploit its
abundant water resource for the benefit of its people and the nation. Further, conserving
and maintaining small jhoras becomes critical in order to maintain the volume of big
rivers and the ecological linkages there in. Their conservation and optimal utilization is
also crucial as they are the only sources of domestic and drinking water across the spaces
of the Gorkhaland.

Important Rivers traversing the Teesta, Rangeet, Mechi, Balason, Mahananda, Lish,
state of Gorkhaland Gish, Chel, Ramman, Murti and Jaldhaka.

Forest and Biodiversity: Like Sikkim, the proposed state of Gorkhaland has enough
scope to sustain and improve its forest resource and its biodiversity. The Darjeeing-
Sikkim Himalaya today is one of the important biodiversity ‘hotspots’ within the Eastern
Himalayan region. The proposed Gorkhaland consisting of Darjeeling Himalaya and the
adjoining Duar-Terai would prove to be one of the richest states in India in terms of its
forest resource and
bio-diversity therein. The state would have following forest type:

• Savanna grasslands, evergreen and deciduous forests, thorn forest, and steppe (below
300mts) [available in Terai-Duar region]

• Tropical moist deciduous forest (300-1000mts)

• Tropical evergreen lower montane forest (1000-2000mts.)

• Tropical evergreen upper montane forest (2000-3000mts.)

• Temperate forest (3000-3500mts.)

• Sub temperate forest (above 3500mts.)

The most remarkable feature of natural vegetation of Darjeeling and its adjoining lowland
is the wonderful diversity of species. The proposed Gorkhaland state with its varied agro-
climatic zones and distinctly unique environmental attributes is endowed with
tremendously rich floral and faunal diversity. Abundant presence of a variety of wild
orchids and medicinal plants in the hilly region would be a boon for the state of
Gorkhaland if such resources are exploited scientifically.

Floristically, Darjeeling is one of the richest district in India with its various areas still
due to be scientifically explored. The heavy annual rainfall and other climatic,
physiographic and edaphic conditions combine themselves to provide the most conducive
environment for richness in diversity of plant species. Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker, who
was the first naturalist to study the Botany of the Eastern Himalayas, had recorded 4,000
different species of flowering plants under 160 families, 280 species of ferns and their
allies of which, 8 were tree ferns, 20 palms, 23 species of bamboo and 440 species of
orchids. The diversity of species is always on the increase as a result of natural
hybridization and immigration from neighbouring countries.

Species Diversity Number of Species


Flower Plants 4000
Ferns and their allies 280
Tree Ferns 8
Palms 20
Bamboo 23
Orchids 440

Moreover, moist and humid Terai-Duar contains the highest densities of tigers, rhinos,
and ungulates in Asia. One of the features of this region is the diversity of ungulate
species and extremely high levels of ungulate biomass recorded in riverine grasslands and
grassland-forest mosaics. The world's tallest grasslands, found in this ecoregion are the
analogue of the world's tallest forests and are a phenomenon unto themselves. Very tall
grasslands are rare worldwide in comparison with short grasslands and are the most
threatened. Tall grasslands are indicators of mesic or wet conditions and nutrient-rich
soils. Most of the terai land, therefore, has been converted to agricultural use needing
urgent scientific attention.

Tourism: Tourism is the other important sector where Darjeeling Himalaya and its
adjoining lowland have a comparative advantage. It is one of the important contributors
to the regional economy. It is a growing sector and is growing relatively faster. This
sector is, however, yet to be properly regulated and efficiently diversified. Of late
massive mass tourism pouring across the urban spaces of the Darjeeling Himalaya
coupled with weak regulatory mechanism and inadequate institutions have been the cause
of serious environmental concern. In order to accommodate the influx of mass tourists
many new hotels, buildings, roads and such other infrastructure facilities are constructed
across the hills degrading the environmental situation therein. Diversification of the
tourism into eco-tourism, adventure tourism, cultural tourism, religious tourism, nature
tourism etc is a welcome step. Such ventures should, however, need to be rationally
planned and scientifically managed.

To conclude, from the point of view of availability and endowment of natural resources,
Gorkhaland is a viable proposition. The region is rich in its history, culture and society
and is blessed with copious environmental resources in terms of water resource, forest
resource, species diversity, aesthetic beauty and agro-climatic diversity. It has tremendous
scope for scientifically exploiting and enhancing agro-horticulture, floriculture, forest
based industries, sustainable tourism and hydel power. The region produces the best
quality tea in the world. The humid Terai-Duar region of Gorkhaland with its rich floral
and faunal diversity would be agriculturally one of the most fertile resource zones of the
state of Gorkhaland and of the country at large.

*An ardent son of the Darjeeling Hills, Vimal Khawas in every respect supports the
formation of Gorkhaland - consisting of Darjeeling District and its adjoining Terai-
Duar region - as the 29th state of India.