Published: Wednesday 30 September 1998

Sikkim: fact and fiction

Sikkim: fact and fiction This is with reference to the cover story on Sikkim 'Beauty and biology: the Shangri la' (Down To Earth, Vol 7, No 3; June 30). We, at the Mountain Institute, are very disappointed with the level of inaccuracy in the article - both in the reporting of scientific data and the general level of writing about the initiatives in the state. The initiatives that are described in training and conservation in the tourism sector are not being conducted by the government of Sikkim and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The initiatives are being conducted by the Mountain Institute and G B Pant Institute through the Sikkim biodiversity and ecotourism project which is funded by the biodiversity conservation network which receives funds from USAID. The project is an innovative effort to work in the private sector to improve positive linkages between economic activity and conservation efforts.

Scientific data was also inaccurately reported. Artetnisia vulgaris is not an alpine species and nor is it threatened by over-grazing and over-harvesting. It is a temperate plant that grows abundantly in wastelands or degraded areas and forests. These plants have not yet been harvested for medicinal purposes on a large scale. These plants have medicinal value and are used by local people only. Cardamom's botanical name is amotnum subulatum and has been wrongly written as Cinnamomum obtusifolium. Cardamom which is a shrub, has been wrongly described as a tree. The vernacular name of Schima waUichii has been mistaken for "Chtlounji". In fact, it should he "Chilaunac". It would also be appropriate to use the local vernacular for plants and animals in addition to names used throughout India, such as the local "okhar" for "akhrot".

The spoils of tourism have been projected prominently in one of the boxes. However, steps taken by local communities such as Travel Agents Association of Sikkim, the government of Sikkim and the Sikkim biodiversity and ecotourism project in the last two years to mitigate the impacts and build local capacity to address current and future impacts were not reported. The impression given is that very little is being done, and no effort has gone into examining tourism and its role in sustainable development. In fact, significant steps have been made in this direction.

It was indeed unfortunate that these facts were not reported accurately despite our efforts to inform and guide the writer.

The editor replies:
We regret that some of the scientific facts were reported wrongly. As an editor, I insist that factual errors must not creep into any article. But when people write about these things, they are not always technically trained. When we get journalists to write these things errors are bound to creep in. However, we try our best to ensure scientific accuracy as much as we can, especially when the story has been written in the interest of readability by non-technical people.

The initiatives taken by the Mountain Institute and the G B Pant institute have not found their way in the story because the purpose was to focus mainly on its biodiversity. An in-depth report is being prepared for our next State of India's Environment report on Sikkim and Darjeeling. I am sure that your work will find a place there....

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