the Sikkim government has come out with a notification delegating power to local communities for the protection of lakes in the state. But doubts have been raised about its legality.
"The rising problem of solid waste management had made these guidelines necessary," says M L Arrawatia, a senior forest officer. "This is the first protection scheme that brings local communities into benefit sharing," says Deepankar Ghose of the World Wide Fund for Nature, Sikkim. Officials say if the guidelines work in the Tsomgo Lake, the first test site, they will then be emulated in other areas.
The Tsomgo Lake has approximately 12,000 people living in its vicinity and about 100 direct dependants on tourism, which makes it a good test case. About 100,000 tourists visit the place annually. "The expected income of Rs 10 lakh will primarily be used for better solid-waste management and protection, among others," says Sandeep Tambe of The Mountain Institute, an ngo in Gangtok. Interested parties involved with the lake's test plan are expected to finalise the details by December 2006.
According to the notification, the gram sabha can appoint a Pokhri Sanrakshan Samiti. The committee, with assistance from the department of forest, environment and wildlife management (dofewm) will be responsible for protection and management of the lakes.
On guidelines, Sanjay Upadhyay of Enviro Legal Defence Firm, says, "The guidelines are a safe way of experimenting, but without any liability." Although the samiti has powers, Upadhyay feels there are no legal provisions to support these.
But T R Paudiyal, secretary d o fewm, does not agree with this completely. "In Sikkim, 85 per cent of the land is under the control of the department. We are trying to decentralise and give powers to local people. There may be some deficiencies with the guidelines but nevertheless, they give us a chance to experiment. There will be inputs and improvements with time," he says.
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