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Why Himachal must act now to cut down diesel emissions

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SHIMLA- After a story published in HW on unchecked, rising vehicular pollution in Shimla, the Transport Minister of Himachal Pradesh GS Bali had assured action to control the situation in a month.

We aren’t sure if it was only a reply or the minister really meant it. He has shown active presence on social media recently where the transport minister attends grievance, complaints, and issues raised by citizens. In the history of Indian government, law makers are rarely comfortable talking about alarming rise in emissions. We’ve heard long speeches, but rarely seen action towards a permanent solution. We hope that Mr. GS Bali won’t disappoint the people of Himachal. For now, let’s concentrate on issue of the vehicular emissions from diesel exhausts that are just getting worse by the day.

There are some crucial facts that each one of us must know about the most toxic fuel – diesel. Before reading about the facts, take a look at some video clips recorded this week. The clips reveal shocking state of diesel emission through vehicular exhaust in Shimla, the capital city of Himachal Pradesh.

It’s a great mistake for a state like Himachal to ignore such critical issue. Himachal is dependent on tourism, which is its second largest industry. Himachal used to be a heaven – a gift of nature. However, what happened in Rohtang-Pass is just a little trailer of ecological disaster that awaits Himachal.

From past few years, the air quality of most towns in Himachal has begun to degrade at a rapid rate. Shimla is worst hit. The purchasing power of people is increasing, they are able to own vehicles, and that has led to overcrowding and burden on Himachal’s insufficient transportation infrastructure. This year, the tourist influx is high after J&K floods and Nepal quake. The tourists were diverted to Himachal. But the government did not prepare for it.

To help you better understand the scenario in Himachal, let’s take you through some facts about what’s going on in Delhi – world’s most polluted city according to this years ranking.

Why National Green Tribunal (NGT) banned old diesel vehicles in Delhi?

Delhi ended up first in the list of world’s most polluted cities. That made headlines worldwide. The world was stunned and concerned about poor Indians, but the people and the government didn’t get even a single clue about the severity of the situation.

Delhi air pollution

The vehicular pollution reached such alarming levels in Delhi that NGT had to order ban plying of vehicles olde than 10 years. That’s what China had done to cut pollution in Beijing too. The idea isn’t just to cut diesel emission but to discourage consumers from buying diesel vehicles. The ban reduced the sale of diesel cars by 33% in one year. The real motive is to motivate people to use petrol vehicles and compel car makers to cut down production of diesel versions. It’s, indeed working for Delhi. The ratio of diesel and petrol was around 70:30 earlier, which is now 50:50. That means now petrol and diesel vehicle sales are equal.

NGT is concerned about air pollution, but more than that, it’s scared of World Health Organisation’s recent finding regarding toxicity of diesel emissions.

In June 2012, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a wing of World Health Organizaiton (WHO) officially labeled diesel exhaust as highly carcinogenic (causing cancer). WHO had declared that fine particulate found in diesel exhaust were a definite cause of lung cancer and tumors in bladder.

What are PM 2.5 particles and why they are lethal?

Air pollution Himachal

These particles are less than 2.5 microns in diameter (PM 2.5). The particles are so fine that they easily enter and lodge deep inside lungs and blood tissues.

The density of highly toxic 2.5 PM particulate matter is very high in diesel exhaust. That is the reason two out of every five children in Delhi were found to be suffering from some kind of respiratory or lung diseases. Majority of traffic policemen in Delhi did not pass the lung capacity test. Does Himachal wish to end up like Delhi?

International organization and researchers on diesel exhaust

According to the Lancet’s Global Health Burden 2013, air pollution is the six biggest cause of deaths in India.

It was a misconception that diesel is more eco-friendly because it emits less CO2 and delivers higher fuel-economy.

In the same year, the UN health agency classified diesel exhaust as crucial cause of cancer and lethal respiratory and lung diseases.

A news release by UN said:

The IARC working group reviewed the evidence and, overall, it concluded that there was sufficient evidence in humans for the carcinogenicity of diesel exhaust. In particular, it found that there was sufficient evidence to determine that diesel exhaust is a cause of lung cancer, and noted that there a positive association with an increased risk of bladder cancer.

How we can save Himachal?

Himachal needs to wake up and take immediate measures to control diesel emission and air pollution in general. First of all, Himachal needs to limit the number of diesel-guzzling cars, carriage vehicles, SUVs, transport and goods carriage like trucks.

Diesel as a fuel for vehicles is entangled with economy of the state and livelihood of its people. Therefore, the state can’t reform it without the will of centre government.

Public transport needs to be revamped to improve efficiency and service, impose annual road taxes, improve fuel quality, encourage vehicles with enhanced and upgraded automotive technology, and try to introduce alternative fuels such as CNG and electric motors, at least in plain regions of Himachal.

Himachal will have to implement stringent emission control guidelines. The Centre Govt. must be reminded to be at par with developed nations like United States and European Union countries in terms of air quality and emission standards. The pollution in India is predicted to grow fivefold by 2030, so India needs to act fast.

Himachal must pressurize the centre government to invest and promote generation of renewable energy with every possible method like solar panels and wind turbines. Hydropower projects are already there, rather, way too many, which are troubling the ecology.

The car makers must be encouraged to fit diesel models with particulate filters to bring them within norms.

Another major concern for Indian government must be to upgrade fuel quality standards. India must shift to emission VI standards as rest of the world is doing.

Further, the gap between diesel and patrol prices has become quite narrow. Commenting on the need of change in diesel policy, Vivek Chattopadhyay, Senior Campaign Program Manager, Centre for Science and Environment, said:

The pricing of diesel is still distorted because of a tax structure that favours diesel truck owners and agriculture. Farmers using diesel for cheap are a big vote bank and politicians have been wary of letting the price rise to the real market level.

HP Govt. needs to work on huge lack of public awareness?

People consider air pollution or emissions as a regular business. Himachal Pradesh government and people are aware of the terms air pollution but they aren’t able to associate it with their daily lives and ecological and health hazards. So far, people have failed to realize that the nature and ecology are in danger because no immediate side-effects of air pollution are visible. HW has published many stories regarding deforestation, vehicular pollution, waste management etc., many times. We recorded video footages and pictures to make people react. We hoped that HP government would take note of it, but there has been no move yet.

Lack of awareness restricts the readers and public in general from pressurizing the government to act. Public also fail to to check the faults on their own part. That’s like we are digging our own grave.

Put check on deforestation and illegal axing of trees

Green-Shimla
Deforestation is making the scenario even more poisonous. Himachal Pradesh government needs to take up the issue of axing of trees for illegal construction and encroachment by real estates soon. Recent examples include the illegal axing of hundreds of trees in the Tara Devi Forest and DLF luxury villas in Kanlog in Shimla. In Chamba, the illegal axing of trees is quite higher than it appeared in newspapers.

We need to stop deforestation and take steps to preserve what is left. Himachal needs plantation campaigns.

Corruption: Biggest challenge in implementation of measures

Sadly, the state of affairs is badly infected with corruption in our political and bureaucratic sphere. For example, NGT put a limit on the number of vehicles visiting Rohtang-Pass. According to NGT, only 1000 vehicles (600 petrol and 400 diesel) will be allowed to visit on any day. The tribunal had put heavy cess also, but later put a stay on it after appeal from HP Govt. and taxi unions in Manali.

The step proved to be a jackpot for administration in Manali. In a raid, it was revealed that tourist and taxi drivers are still on the same business. It’s just that they now bribing the administration in order to get a pass. In nutshell, the order from NGT just led to increase in corruption along with pollution.

Madan has studied English Literature and Journalism from HP University and lives in Shimla. He is an amateur photographer and has been writing on topics ranging from environmental, socio-economic, development programs, education, eco-tourism, eco-friendly lifestyle and to green technologies for over 9 years now. He has an inclination for all things green, wonderful and loves to live in solitude. When not writing, he can be seen wandering, trying to capture the world around him in his DSLR lens.

Environment

Garbage Dumping Polluting Giri Ganga River – A Drinking Water Supply Source of Shimla

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Giri Ganga River pollution in Shimla

Shimla– The Gumma Nagar Panchayat in Kotkhai, Shimla district, like most of the other rural areas, lacks a proper solid waste management system. As a result, the usual method adopted here is dumping daily solid waste down the hill in an official dumping yard.

The locals from the panchayat wrote to Himachal Watcher regarding the adverse effect the dumping site in Gumma causing.

Gumma dumping yard in Shimla district 03 (2)

Overflowing dumping site in Gumma

They said the panchayat has allocated the site shown in the photo above to dump their garbage. This garbage is mostly left unsorted. 

With the growing population and increasing number of shops, the hillside is now overflowing with rubbish. This overflowing waste from the dump finds its way down to the Giri river water. 

It not only looks unsightly but also emits a foul smell. Moreover, the half-burnt rubbish flies in all directions, mostly downhill into the water.

Gumma dumping yard in Shimla district 3

The office of the Assistant Engineer, IPH Subdivision Gumma, is located near to this location. Still, the issue is being ignored. 

“Interestingly, the Department of Irrigation & Public Health is sitting above the location, blind and oblivious to it all,”

Devanshe Chauhan Lidgley, a local told Himachal Watcher.

IPH Office in Gumma

Office of the Assistant Engineer, IPH, Gumma

She further added,

“Complaints have been made to the Gumma Panchayat Pradhan who showed helplessness since it was a decision made by higher officials,”

The panchayat pradhan of Gumma told HW that, indeed, the area is facing a problem with daily garbage. There are five wards in the Nagar panchayat, and villagers do not have any common dumping ground. 

“The villagers have found suitable spots near their habitats where they dump their daily garbage,”

Tara Chauhan, the Pradhan of the panchayat told HW

“The dumping site shown in the pictures is particularly created to accommodate daily waste generated by shops in the market. The market has about 300 shops, and the daily waste is transported through pic-ups to the dumping site,”

she added.  

Gumma dumping yard in Shimla district 03 (1)

A Pick-up dumping Gumma Market’s daily waste downhill

She also accepted that this dumping site is now overflowing as the amount of waste dumped is increasing. The issue has been brought to the attention of district administration of Shimla, she said, adding that the administration has asked the panchayat to find a new location for the creation of another dumping yard. However, it’s hard to procure land for it as no one would allow the creation of dumping site on private land, she said. 

“Earlier, we used to set the garbage ablaze when dumping reached on the verge of overflowing. However, now, we have directions not to burn garbage as it causes air pollution,”

Chauhan told HW. 

Gumma dumping yard in Shimla district

As a matter of fact, the said dumping site is overflowing and, in monsoon, a lot of waste is likely to find its way into the Giri Ganga. 

Giri Ganga is one of the main sources of drinking water supply to Shimla, and there is no need to say more why it requires immediate intervention of the district administration and the state pollution control board to prevent water pollution.

In the past, Shimla has already witnessed instances of jaundice outbreaks due to contaminated water that had killed about two dozen people.  However, it appears, we are waiting for another catastrophe to happen before appropriate action is taken.  

The garbage dumped here needs to be removed regularly and disposed of properly before the next truck of garbage is dumped. 

“Is the ‘Swaacch Bharat’ campaign only on papers? How can the National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG) succeed if the sources of Ganga are being polluted?”

asked the local.

It is a matter of concern that the district administration is still stuck at creating dumping yards, which is not a proper way to dispose of solid waste. At the same time, the villagers are left at their own to deal with the daily waste they generate. The State government needs to provide a solid waste treatment facility in rural areas.  

However, there are reasons to believe that the government is hardly concerned about this gigantic environmental issue. The only waste treatment plant that was supposed to convert Shimla town’s municipal waste into energy, is lying defunct. Instead, the locals allege, the plant has been turned into a dumping yard, which was on fire last month. The fire kept smouldering for over a week. 

A similar example was witnessed in Kenduwal of Baddi in Solan district where the Municipal Council and the Baddi-Barotiwala-Nalagarh Development Authority (BBNDA) were supposed to construct a solid waste treatment plant. They had obtained the clearance for the same on August 13, 2015, and were allotted 42 bighas and 13 Biswas of land in Kenduwal. 

However, the plant never came up and the two responsible authorities created a huge dumping site by violating a number of environmental laws and guidelines. Not only they created this site on the flood-plains of Sirsa river but also ignored human habitat located at a distance of 30 meters from it.  The families living in this habitat had to approach the state High Court to get relief from the hellish conditions created by this illegal dumping site. 

 

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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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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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