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Himalayan Ski Village in Manali : A boon for tourism industry or an ecological blunder?

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Huge projects such as the Himalayan Ski Village in Manali, are likely to boost the development of tourism industry in Himachal, but might result in ecological disaster.

On June 5, 2006, then chief minister of Himachal Pradesh, signed an implementation agreement involving the $350 million Himalayan Ski Village on a 94 hectare area in Kullu district, promoted by Alfred Ford, American business tycoon and great-grandson of well-known Henry Ford. The approval of the agreement later in 2007 was challenged by BJP government and resulted in a delay of four and a half years. The approval was challenged on environmental grounds and issues related to the effect of the project on the local population and resources. An appeal was made in the High Court to seek the cancellation of the project.

It was the part of the vendetta between the party in power and the opposition. The cancellation of the proposed establishment worth Rs. 16,00 crore would have been a great blow to the rivals. However, High Court gave green light to resume the work on the project, passed during the reign of Congress. High Court recently annulled the show cause notice served for cancelling by the State government.

The judgment by Justice Rajiv Sharma said:

“It is duly established that the state government had already made up its mind to cancel the project and the issuance of notice based on the recommendations of the (state’s high-power) committee was merely a ritual. Even previously, Former Tourism Minister GS Bali has blamed BJP government for creating hurdles without any factual grounds”

The delay in the project was causing an annual loss of Rs.30-50 crore to the state government. The development of the project is being rated high in the global tourism market and the Himalyan Ski resort would put Manali among one of the best ski resort in the world. Even it’s been considered as an alternative to ski resorts of Swiss alps.

The investor had insured that the project involves no environmental impact, rather it would create lively hood for 4000 people and 70% of which would include local residents, which is considered a cunning temptation to gain the trust of the local residents. The DFL Luxury Villas in Shimla has already axed hundreds of trees; a few more like the new complex of Irrigation and Public Health Headquarters on Shimla bye-pass road waiting for opportunities to kill some more. Considering the impact of the construction over natural resources and environment, the luxury ski resort project can lead to exploitation of the local resources on the name of development of tourism industry. Out of total 96 hectare, 78 hectare land is acquired from private owners. Even the local folks are opposing the project on religious grounds.

Even in terms of pollution, the location of the project doesn’t seem to be considered appropriately. Manali is already facing environmental problems due to rapid construction of concrete structure such as hotels/resorts to accommodate huge number of tourists, increasing traffic and pollution. Hydropower projects like the Parbati and Allian Duhangan have also altered the landscape of the region. It’s very hard to consider that no tree would be axed to build such an huge exotic tourist spot that includes 670 room hotel and 132 chalets. You can read the detailed information on the project here including its impacts on local residents, resources and environment. Also, an article on Tehelka titled, ‘A Himalayan Blunder?’ is worth a read.

Moreover, Himachal Pradesh has grabbed great attention from both state and center government as a potential tourism industry. To exploit the full potential, the government is working on transportation infrastructure that would reduce the traffic problem, reduce the traveling cost and time. Two of these huge projects include a 390 miles Bilaspur–Mandi–Leh railway, which will snatch the title of being world’s highest railway track from China’s Qinghai–Tibet Railway with an estimated budgets of Rs 22,831 crore and the 84.380 kms long four-lane project on NH 21 in Himachal worth Rs 2356.20 crore.

After the completion of these two projects, Kullu-Manali would receive maximum benefits as an tourist spot in Himachal. That means more crowds to the region. Each addition, in terms of vehicles and number of tourist visiting Kullu-Manali, means a proportional increase in the carbon footprint. Most of us must be familiar with the phenomenon known as climate change, and if not, then you better be, because in developed countries, climate change, emissions, deforestation, water and energy saving practices are getting a serious concerns from both, the government and citizens.

We know about billions of dollars being spent on the development of tourism industry and transportation in the targeted areas of Himachal, but somewhere that sounds like overexploiting the natural resources, which would eventually lead to the destruction of natural beauty, greenery and pleasant climate, which presently tempts tourists from all over the globe.

Tourism, no doubt, is a major source of revenue for the state, but over exploitation of resources, especially by selling forest and agricultural lands to private investors would cost a lot in terms of ecology. It’s a great step to develop tourist industry in Himachal, but it would be a fatal mistake to encourage deforestation and excess construction.

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.

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Himachal: Report Forest Fires on Toll-Free Numbers 1077 and 1070

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helpline for Forest Fires in himachal pradesh

Shimla-Forest fire is a recurrent annual phenomenon in Himachal Pradesh and causes losses worth several crores every year. Dry spell and summers make forests, especially chir pine forests, highly vulnerable to forest fires. These forest fires not only damage the forest wealth but also hit wildlife and biodiversity in general. The forest department attributes most fires to human factors.

Like every year, the forest department has claimed that it is all geared up and ready to combat forest fires this year too. Principal Chief Conservator of Forests Dr. Savita on Monday held a virtual review meeting with Forest Circles on preparedness for forest fires in the state.

She said that the Forest department was well prepared to fight the forest fires and a rapid forest fire fighting force and rapid response teams had been set up at forest division and range levels.

“Approximately 40,000 man-days of fire watchers would be engaged by the department in addition to existing frontline staff for preventing and combating forest fires,” she said. The state disaster control room with toll-free number 1077 at the state level and 1070 at the district level were operational for reporting of the forest fire by the local community, she informed.

Dr. Savita said messages regarding forest fire had been shared with the members of the rapid forest fire fighting force, in which approximately 50,000 volunteers had already been registered. Awareness to the community was also conducted through Nukkar Nataks, songs, speeches and other activities at different locations in the state. Besides, a massive state-level awareness program was also conducted at 45 places from 10 to 17 March 2021

She said that the department had created forest fire lines and did control burning and also constructed water storage structures in the forest areas to combat forest fires. Additional multi-utility vehicles and water loaded tankers in 80 fire-sensitive ranges had been engaged for three months. She that matter regarding Standard Operating Systems (SOPs) for requisition of helicopter services for dousing the forest fires had been sent to the Government for approval. 

Feature Photo: Unsplash@Thematthoward

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Himachal Counts 108,578 Waterbirds of 96 Species This Year With Increase in Habitat

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Annual Bird Count in Himachal Pradesh 2021

Shimla-The habitat of migratory and resident water-birds in Himachal Pradesh has gradually improved, said Forest Minister Rakesh Pathania.

The annual water-bird count at Pong Dam Lake Wildlife Sanctuary was conducted in the first of February, 2021 and the exercise was conducted under restrained conditions due to the prevailing Avian Influenza outbreak in Pong Dam Lake as well as the COVID-19 Pandemic, he said.

The exercise was conducted by Wildlife wing of Himachal Pradesh by deploying 57 staff members in 26 sections of the sanctuary for counting the water-dependent birds.

Total 108,578 birds of 96 species were counted during this year. Out of the total number, 101,431 of 51 species are water-dependent migratory birds and 6,433 of 29 species are water-dependent resident birds. As many as 714 birds of 16 other species were also recorded. The total population of the flagship species, Bar-Headed Geese, is 40,570.

The other species which have higher population count during this year are Eurasian Coot (24,163), Northern Pintail (12,702), Common Teal (8,444), Little Cormorant (3,649), Great Cormorant (3,410), Grey Lag Goose (2,297), Northern Shoveler (2,275) and Common Pochard (2,138). The species which find noticeable mention are Red Necked Grebe, Great Bittern, Lesser White-Fronted Goose, Red Crested Pochard, Ferruginous Pochard, Pied Avocet, Northern Lapwing, Peregrine Falcon etc. During the counting exercise, one Bar-headed Goose and one Grey Lag Goose with collars were also spotted.

This year the Annual bird count exercise assumes significance, considering the Avian Influenza outbreak in the Wildlife Sanctuary. Further, the Minister expressed satisfaction over the timely and effective containment measures taken by Wildlife Wing to control and contain Avian Influenza outbreak in the Wildlife Sanctuary.

PCCF (Wildlife) Archana Sharma and CCF Wildlife (North) Dharamshala Upasana Patial also participated and supervised the Annual Water Bird Count.

The total population of birds, as well as number of species, counted this year are marginally less as compared to last year, probably due to the impact of Avian Influenza outbreak which was first reported on 28th December 2020.

Although the total population of water birds declined during the peak of the Avian Influenza outbreak, there is a gradual increase in the total population of birds, the Minister informed.

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Himachal First State to Complete Assessment of Snow Leopard and its Wild Prey

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Snow Leopard Population Assessment in Himachal Pradesh

Shimla-The assessment of snow leopard population in Himachal Pradesh has been completed by the state wildlife wing in collaboration with Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF) Bangalore following the protocol aligning with the SPAI (Snow Leopard Population Assessment in India) protocols of the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change. Himachal Pradesh has become the first state to complete assessment of snow leopard and its wild prey.

The state has an estimated population of up to 73 snow leopards.

It is the first scientifically robust estimate of snow leopards and its prey for the State. Since snow leopard is the state animal, the study assumes great significance for Himachal Pradesh.
The exercise revealed that snow leopard density ranged from 0.08 to 0.37 individuals per 100 sq.km., with the trans-Himalayan regions of Spiti, Pin valley and upper Kinnaur recording the highest densities, both of the predator and its prey, mainly ibex and blue sheep.

This study covered the entire potential snow leopard habitat of Himachal Pradesh: an area of 26,112 sq.km., utilising a stratified sampling design. Camera trapping surveys were conducted at 10 sites to representatively sample all the strata i.e. high, low and unknown. The camera trap deployment over the mountainous terrains was led by a team of eight local youth of Kibber village and more than 70 frontline staff of HPFD were trained in this technique as part of the project. Snow leopards were detected at all the 10 sites (Bhaga, Chandra, Bharmour, Kullu, Miyar, Pin, Baspa, Tabo, Hangrang & Spiti) suggesting that snow leopards are found in the entire snow leopard habitat in Himachal Pradesh either as resident individuals of a population or as dispersing individuals navigating through these connecting habitats.

Another revelation from the study is that a bulk of snow leopard occurrence is outside protected areas, reiterating the fact that local communities are the strongest allies for conservation in snow leopard landscapes.

The NCF and wildlife wing collaborated in the effort and it took three years to complete the assessment. MoEFCC had launched the First National Protocol on Snow Leopard Population Assessment in India, on the occasion of International Snow Leopard Day. You can read the complete protocol here.

Snow leopard is the icon of high mountains of Asia. In India, they inhabit the higher Himalayan and TransHimalayan landscape in an altitudinal range between approximately 3,000 m to 5,400 m above MSL, spanning c. 100,000 km2 in the five states of Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh. This area contributes to about 5% of the global snow leopard range.

Snow leopards occur over a vast, relatively remote and difficult to access mountainous area. Together with their elusive nature, this makes a complete population census of snow leopards an unfeasible goal. Even their distribution remains unclear. For example, recent surveys show that they do not occur in 25 % of the area that was thought to be their range in the state of Himachal Pradesh Their density is expected to be variable in space, dependent on several factors such as habitat suitability, prey availability, disturbance and connectivity. Variation in density across space also poses the risk of biased sampling, and, indeed, most of the snow leopard population assessments conducted so far across the world are biased towards the best habitats.

Feature Photo: Pexels/Charles Miller

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