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India eyes first 'mixed site'

India is a step closer to getting its first "mixed site" under Unesco with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) recommending Khangchendzonga National Park of Sikkim.

By Roopak Goswami in Guwahati
  • Published 29.05.16
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Guwahati, May 28: India is a step closer to getting its first "mixed site" under Unesco with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) recommending Khangchendzonga National Park of Sikkim.

A "mixed site" contains elements of both natural and cultural significance.

"We have got a positive recommendation from the IUCN and the International Council on Monuments and Sites (Icomos). This is the first 'mixed site' from India which has been considered for nomination," director, Wildlife Institute of India, V.B. Mathur, told The Telegraph today.

This would be the 24th "mixed site" under Unesco in the world once it gets the final nod at the 40th World Heritage Committee meeting to be held in July in Istanbul, Turkey.

The Wildlife Institute of India (WII), Dehradun, now has a category 2 centre under the auspices of Unesco to help and contribute to the strengthening of capacities in the management of Natural World Heritage in Asia and Pacific and this was its first major success of getting a nomination for the site in Sikkim.

The centre in WII is the world's first centre dealing with natural world heritage.

India has 32 sites in the World Heritage list of which 25 are in "cultural category" and the rest in "natural category".

Thomas Chandy, PCCF-cum-principal secretary forests, environment and wildlife management department in Sikkim, said the site is "a mixed one and portrays the best cultural elements and sound environmental policies of the state government".

The IUCN, in its technical evaluation report, says the national park meets the World Heritage criteria and exhibits one of the widest altitudinal ranges of any protected area worldwide.

The park has an extraordinary vertical sweep of over 7km within an area of only 178,400 hectares and comprises a unique diversity of lowlands, steep valleys and spectacular snow-clad mountains, including the world's third highest peak Kanchenjunga (8,586metres). Numerous lakes and glaciers, including the 26km-long Zemu glacier, dot the barren high altitudes.

"The park is located within a mountain range of global biodiversity conservation significance and covers 25 per cent of Sikkim, acknowledged as one of India's most significant biodiversity concentrations," the report says.

"The property is home to a significant number of endemic, rare and threatened plant and animal species. The nominated property has the highest number of plant# and mammal# species# recorded in the central/high Asian mountains and also has a high number of bird species," the report says.

The park was established in 1977 and later expanded in 1997 to include the major mountains, glaciers and additional lowland forests.

The report adds that the fringe area of the park also harbours an assemblage of cultural elements of local people who have maintained their traditional identities, cultures and religious practices. The protected-area status of the park preserves its cultural uniqueness and conserves its exceptional aesthetic value and biodiversity.

There are no significant threats to the property. However, vigilance will be required to monitor and respond to the potential for impact from increasing tourism as a result of publicity and promotion. The "protected-area" status of the park under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 of India ensures strong legal protection of all fauna and flora as well as mountains, glaciers, water bodies and landscape which contribute to the habitat of wildlife.

On the cultural criteria, Icomos says: "It is the heartland of a culture which has evolved over time and includes several Sikkimese ethnic groups and a multi-layered syncretic religious tradition that exists in a precious balance with nature in its traditional use of resources, its culture and its religion."