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Himachal leading to deforestation, most hit by hydropower projects: CAG report

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HP hydral projects and deforestation in himachal

HP hydral projects and deforestation in himachal

A report of CAG confirms the claims that the hydropower projects in Himachal Pradesh gobbling up forests, drying up water channels, and putting region’s natural ecology and for stabilization of hill slope in severe hazards due to lack of re-greening, hydel projects use 7,000 hectares out of over 9,000 hectares of forest land turned into non-forest use

Shimla: Green activists have long protested the hydropower projects in Himachal Pradesh that have been gobbling up forests and drying up water channels. Now a report from the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) too backs the claims of the greens.

Compensatory afforestation was highly deficient, as 58 percent of the 12 surveyed hydropower projects reported no afforestation at all, the CAG has said.

As per the union environment and forests ministry, the hydro project developer is required to deposit funds for compensatory afforestation in place of the number of trees that were axed and the extent of afforestation required. The state forest department carries out the afforestation, meant to “rehabilitate” degraded forests and improve the habitat in a project’s catchment.

The CAG pointed out that lack of re-greening of hills poses severe hazards, both for the region’s natural ecology and for stabilization of hill slopes.

Significantly, the CAG report, tabled in the state assembly this month, pointed out that reforestation was negligible, even though companies had deposited the necessary funds for it; the blame, thus, lies with the state government’s forest department.

“Thousands of trees have been axed and thousands would soon meet the same fate,” rued R.S. Negi, who heads the Him Lok Jagriti Manch (HLJM), a people’s movement in Kinnaur district which champions environmental issues and has been spearheading the fight against upcoming hydro projects.

Before allocating any new project in the entire Himalayan region, which falls in seismic zone-IV and the more severe zone-V, the government should first undertake carrying capacity and cumulative impact assessment of the projects, Negi said.

Many residents of the remote Lahaul Valley are up in arms against the hydro projects in the Chenab river basin, as it falls largely in the high-altitude region (above 2,500 metres) in Lahaul and Spiti district.

“The Chenab river basin is under threat. The government has allocated more than two dozen mini and mega projects in the past four-five years,” said Ravi Thakur, local legislator and president of Jispa Bandh Jan Sangharsh Samiti (a group fighting against the large numbers of dams in the region).

“Of late, abnormal rise in temperatures, receding glaciers and increase in precipitation in these cold deserts indicate that something has gone wrong with nature,” Thakur told IANS.

In Chamba district, since 2003, the people of eight panchayats in the Saal Valley, under the banner of the Saal Ghaati Bachao Sangharsh Morcha, have been demonstrating against an upcoming private hydro project.

The Hul hydropower project, being executed by Hul Hydro Power Private Ltd near Chamba town, will ruin five kilometers or one-fourth of the catchment of the Hul stream, a tributary of the Saal river, environmentalists Manshi Asher and Prakash Bhandari said.

Forest Minister Thakur Singh Bharmouri told IANS that the government is sensitive to the concerns raised by environmentalists.

“We are soon going to set up an authority to look into environmental violations by any project and monitor implementation of catchment area treatment, compensatory afforestation and environment management plans,” he said.

According to forest department estimates, over 9,000 hectares of forest land has so far been diverted to non-forest use. Of this, 7,000 hectares were used for hydel projects. IANS

Environment

Neglecting Warnings of Environmental Groups, Studies, HP Govt to Sign MoU for 5 More Hydro Power Projects

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Five more SJVNL hydroproject in himachal Pradesh

Shimla-Ignoring the appeals of the environmental groups and studies indicating devastating effects of hydro power projects on Himalayan ecology and on the lives of the locals, the State government of Himachal Pradesh has decided to allocate five more projects.

An Environmental group Himdhara Environment Research and Action Collective had in June 2019 released their report titled “The Hidden Cost of Hydropower” to highlight the risks associated with hydro power construction, especially in Himalayan regions like Himachal Pradesh.  Echoing the fragility of the Himalayan region due to geological instability and climate change-related disasters like flash floods and cloud bursts, the report had highlighted the role of construction activities that accentuate this fragility.

However, in a meeting Chaired by the Chief Minister Jairam Thakur on July 6, 2019, the government has decided to sign 5 MoUs with SJVNL.

“Proper memorandum of understanding (MoU) would be signed for five hydro power projects most likely in the month of August, this year, which have been allocated to the SJVNL,

Chief Minister said.

These projects include Luhri stage-1 (210 MW), Sunni Dam (382 MW), Dhola Sidh (66 MW), Luhri, stage-2 (172 MW) and Jangi Thopan (780 MW).

“These five hydro power projects have the potential of investment of Rs. 15,000 crores and would provide employment to around 8,000 people,”

he said.

He also suggested that the Chenab river basin would also be developed as it has a capacity of 3000 MW hydro-power generation. The five projects allocated in the Chenab basin have been cancelled and now the government would consider the viability before further allocation of these projects and providing concession to the investors, he said. 

The Chief Minister termed the decision as best possible efforts to boost investment in the hydro power sector. He claimed that this sector is not only an engine of growth but also has immense potential to provide employment. He said the government would expedite the pace of execution of power projects, which had slowed down during the last few years.

The above-mentioned report of the Himdhara Collective had also found that over the last few years, increasing evidence has emerged that hydro power production may not be so ‘clean and green’ after all.  This report, that compiled primary and secondary pieces of evidence of the impacts triggered by underground construction for the run of the river (ROR) hydropower projects, highlighted the issues of environmental hazards and risks involved.

The Report had also mentioned that there are severe environmental hazards linked to the construction of these projects, which the government was not ready to admit. As a result of this deliberate neglection, the villagers, rivers, local water sources, farming lands, local wildlife etc. were suffering. Houses of people were destroyed due to seepage of water from tunnels of hydropower projects and they were forced to evacuate.

The Report had also said that the Ministry of Power had issued an order in March 2019 recognizing hydro power projects with a capacity of more than 25 MW as ‘renewable’ source of energy, thus eligible for further subsidies. Himdhara’s report, however, had brought out that hydro projects do not deserve the ‘green’ tag and the government should stop further subsiding the sector, especially large projects.

You can read the complete Report Here

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Environment

Forest Fires – NGT Issues Guidelines for Effective Implementation of Action Plan for Control

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NGT Guidelines for controlling Forest-fires-in-himachal-pradesh

Shimla-Himachal Pradesh is the storehouse of biodiversity and animal life, which exists in perpetual threat of forest fires. Out of total 45,000 species of plants found in the country, 3,295 species (7.32 percent) are present in the state. More than 95 percent of flora species are natural to the state and characteristic of Western Himalayan flora, while about five percent (150 species) are exotic introduced over the last 150 years.

Forest department records show 22 percent, or 8,267 sq km of the total forest area, particularly in the mid and low hills, is fire-prone. Majority of the fires are reported from pine forests since, during summer, the trees shed pine needles that are highly inflammable for their rich content of turpentine oil. The pine forests are found up to an altitude of 5,500 feet.

Official figures show that 2018 was the worst year with 2,469 fire incidents reported — the highest in eight years — that consumed 25,300 hectares of forest across the state. In 2012-13, the second-worst year, pine forest fires consumed 20,773 hectares with a total of 1,798 cases.

There are 196 forest ranges in the state, of which 80 are most sensitive and fire-prone.

Recently A Coram of Adarsh Kumar Goel (Chairperson), J. and S.P. Wangdi (Judicial Member), K. Ramakrishnan (Judicial Member), JJ. and Dr. Nagin Nanda (Expert Member) in Rajiv Dutta v. Union of India laid down guidelines for effective implementation of the action plan for controlling forest fires.

Tribunal in one of its interim Orders had sought a report on:

  • Fire alerts
  •  Mapping of forest areas which are critical and vulnerable
  •  Steps for fire line cutting as preventive measures for forest fires

Further, in the same order, a direction was made to prepare “A National Policy” periodically, and keep it updated under Section 5 of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.

Section 5 of the Act envisages Forest Fire Management Plans, Crisis Management Policy, plans for relief, rehabilitation and restoration, financial resources, manpower, transport, fire-fighting equipment, community involvement, including 2 involvement of Panchayati Raj Institutions, Van Panchayats, satellite-based forest fire alert system in collaboration with the National Remote Sensing Agency (NRSA) and the Forest Survey of India (FSI), use of media for information, dissemination and awareness, having a nodal officer to oversee fire prevention and control at Head Quarters to coordinate with different Government agencies, dissemination of best practices and experiences, network of automated surveillance or watch towers/observation posts at strategic locations, mock drill exercises, capacity building at various levels.

The Hon’ble Tribunal, on the basis of the said report submitted by MoEF, gave the following guidelines:

  1. Though a comprehensive action plan had been duly adopted, its implementation required a robust institutional mechanism in view of the increase in the incidents of forest fires.
  2. Institutional mechanism for preventing and controlling forest fires may comprise of representatives of the MoEF&CC, Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), Wildlife Institute of India, National Disaster Management Authority, Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education (ICFRE), Forest Survey of India (FSI) and the National Remote Sensing Centre representing the Central Government on one hand; and the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests of all the States/Union Territories on the other hand.
  3. The Central Monitoring Committee will be headed by the Secretary of MoEF with seven members mentioned in point no. (ii) above. The Secretary would be free to add any member or expert, apart from special invitees, if any.
  4. Central Monitoring Committee must meet once in three months and address all the issues arising out of forest fires, including the effective implementation of NAPFF.
  5. The Tribunal also noted that from the NAPFF, a national level database must be developed for burnt area assessment on a yearly basis.
  6. Standardized protocols and procedures must be developed by ICFRE and FSI to facilitate the reporting of the area affected and losses due to the forest fire.
  7. ICFRE was also directed to assist in designing and organizing adequate training programs for forest officials at various levels.
  8. The Secretary, MoEF&amp may issue directions for the constitution of an appropriate institutional mechanism at State levels also.

 

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Environment

Budget 2019: Subsidy on Electric Vehicle Loan, Reduction in GST to Encourage Faster Adoption of EVs

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subsidy on electric vehicle purchase in India

New Delhi- While the Centre government has decided to make an increase in Special Additional Excise Duty and Road and Infrastructure Cess each by Rs. 1 per litre on petrol and diesel, proposals were given for giving a boost to manufacturing of electric vehicles.

In her maiden budget speech in Parliament today, the Union Minister of Finance and Corporate Affairs, Nirmala Sitharaman said that Under Phase-II of the FAME Scheme, only advanced battery and registered e-vehicles will be incentivized, with greater emphasis on providing affordable and environment-friendly public transportation options for the common man. The main objective of the Scheme is to encourage faster adoption of electric vehicles through upfront incentive on the purchase of such vehicles and by establishing the necessary charging infrastructure for the same.

Phase II of FAME has an outlay of Rs10,000 crore for a period of 3 years and has commenced from 1st April 2019.

We aim to leapfrog and envision India as a global hub of manufacturing of Electric Vehicles. Inclusion of Solar storage batteries and charging infrastructure in the above scheme will boost our efforts,”

she said.

The Finance Minister has further said that the inclusion of solar storage batteries and charging infrastructure in the FAME scheme will give a boost to manufacturing, which is needed for India to leapfrog and become a global hub for manufacturing of these vehicles.

The Finance Minister also said that the Government has already moved GST council to lower the GST rate on electric vehicles from 12% to 5%.  Also to make electric vehicles affordable to consumers, the Union Budget says the government will provide additional income tax deduction of Rs 1.5 lakh on the interest paid on loans taken to purchase electric vehicles.  This amounts to a benefit of around Rs 2.5 lakh over the loan period to the taxpayers who take loans to purchase an electric vehicle. 

To further incentivize e-mobility, customs duty is being exempted on certain parts of electric vehicles.

Read What Got Cheaper, What Got Expensive

1. Road and infrastructure cess has been raised by Re 1 per litre on petrol and diesel

2. Precious metals including gold, silver, platinum in base, semi-manufactured, unwrought ot powder form will see buyers paying 12.5% customs, increased from 10%. This is applicable to waste and scrap, as well as ornaments made of precious metals as well. 

3. Construction materials such as floor covering of plastics, ceramic tiles and metal fittings will have a customs duty of 15% from 10%. 

4. For 2019-20, marble slabs will see twice as much customs tariff of 40%.

5. An increased duty of 7.5% will be imposed on stainless steel in ingots or other primary forms as well as its semi-furnished products, from the earlier 5%.

6. Cigarettes containing tobacco will become more expensive. 

7. A range of automobile parts will also see an increase in rate of duty. That includes motor vehicle parts, chassis and bodies, including cabs, for certain motor vehicles from 10 to 15%.

8. Duty on electronics and electrical equipment increases for indoor and outdoor split-system air conditioning units, loudspeakers, digital video records, network, video recorders, CCTV cameras and optical fibres, among others. 

9. Duty on imported books has been increased by 5% 

10. Cashews are going to get more expensive. While the earlier tariff rate was 45%, it has now been increased to 70% under this budget.

What’s Going to Get Cheaper 

1. Electric items including cell phone cameras, phone chargers and adapters, set-top boxes, lithium-ion cell, display modules 

2. No Duty on electronic parts now manufactured in India

4. No export duty on tanned leather,  while duty on hides, skins, leather, tanned and untanned of all sorts has been reduced from 60% to 40%. 

5. No customs duties on defense equipment and its parts imported by the Ministry of Defence or Armed Forces 

6. No duty on raw material, parts or accessories for use manufacture of artificial kidneys, disposable sterilized dialyzer and micro-barrier of artificial kidney

7. The duty on inputs for manufacturing CRGO steel, and amorphous alloy ribbon have been halved to 2.5% and 5% respectively.

8. No custom duties on all forms of Uranium ores and concentrates for the generation of nuclear power as well as all goods for the generation of nuclear power 

Photo:  Edler von Rabenstein

Read Key Highlights of the Budget 2019 Here

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