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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

New Shimla Youth Carry Out Forest Cleaning Drive, Request Residents to Maintain Cleanliness

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yatan youth club new shimla

Shimla-Littering and waste disposal in forests in Himachal Pradesh is becoming a grieve environmental issue. Not only the tourists, but locals too contributing towards filling the forest with solid waste. The worst affected are the forests in tourist towns. The district administrations, the pollution control board, and the Municipal Corporations and Councils have no plan of action to deal with this problem. As usual, they are in deep slumber. They are only interested in getting photographed with brooms and masks, sweeping floors of some park, which is already clean.

There is only one Solid Waste Treatment Plant in the State, and that’s, too, has been turned into a dumping yard. A week ago, the heaps of waste were on fire, causing air pollution.

Unfortunately, a section of educated youth is responsible for littering. However, at the same time, a section of the same youth is making efforts to rectify the situation and create awareness in the society regarding cleanliness.

The latest example is the forest area near Kanlu Temple in Sector 4 of New Shimla.

The Yatan Youth Club of New Shimla carried out a cleaning campaign and found that not only domestic solid waste is being dumped into the forest but also the construction waste. The members of the club are carrying out this campaign in multiple rounds as it is not possible to collect entire waste in one day.

New Shimla Youth Club Cleaning Campaign
In the first round, the members collected a large amount of beer and plastic bottles, which were thrown into the forest by ignorant locals.

New Shimla Youth Club Cleaning Campaign 2

In the second round, they found plastic bags, baby diapers, sanitary napkins etc dumped into the forest, which are not only an environmental hazard but also a sanitation issue. Diapers and sanitary napkins, especially in monsoons, attracts flies and mosquitoes alongwith emitting a foul smell.

The members of the Club took the pain of taking out this waste from the forest as well, which is highly appreciable.

“Though the door-to-door garbage collection service is available in the locality during morning hours, the locals throw garbage generated during the day into the forest at evening,”

the members of the Youth Club told Himachal Watcher.

“Waste generated from maintenance or construction activity in the locality is also dumped into the forest, which is extremely harmful to the environment,”

the members added.

New Shimla Youth Club Cleaning Campaign 3

Forest After Cleanliness Drive

The Youth Club, through their campaign, has requested the locals to at least keep their surrounding clean and refrain from dumping waste into forests. The locals should take responsibility for their locality instead of indulging in littering, the members said.

At the same time, the Youth Club has sent out a message to youth in other localities to come ahead and take similar initiatives if they really want to bring a change.

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Over 500 Forest Fire Cases Reported in Himachal, Forest And Fire Deptts Remain Irresponsive, Allege Locals

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Forest Fires in Himachal Pradesh in 2019

Shimla-Over 500 forest fire cases have been reported from Himachal Pradesh affecting an area of over 2600 hectare of forests in the state. These forest fire incidents in the state have caused huge financial loss, which is expected to rise in days to come as forest fire incidents are increasing each day.

The forest fire incidents in and around Shimla town are also increasing each day. The local residents in Totu, Chakkar, Tara Devi, Shogi, Bhatakufer and Mehli areas say they are facing troubles due to the forest fire.

Locals allege that neither forest department nor any fire department responds to their information of fire in the region.

“We called the fire services yet no fire brigade or firemen came to our rescue. The administration also did not help us nor take any information regarding the forest fire.Ultimately we had to douse the fire with whatever water we had collected on our own,”

Praveen, a local of Chakkar area of Shimla told ANI.

 

Locals in Chakkar and Totu on Monday and Tuesday had to collectively save the forests from fire and also had narrow escape by saving their houses from the forest fire.

They alleged that the forest and fire departments spend a huge amount of money to constitute fire fighting teams but they all have failed to control the incidents of the forest fire. They also said that the forest department’s claims of helicopters being deputed to control the forest fire are just fake claims.

“We left everything and started dousing the fire as soon as we got to know that the forest fire is reaching our homes. The government claims to have to spend a lot on controlling the forest fires but nobody in the administration responded to our calls for help. Either the information has not reached the officials or they are not doing anything about it,”

Anay Kant, another resident told ANI.

Locals say they hired labourers to control the forest fire. Dev Raj, one of the local labourers told the agency:

“We reach the spot and try to douse the fire as soon as possible. We don’t know about the help from the administration as we were busy in our work.”

The forest minister of the state, Govind Singh said that despite all efforts to sensitize the people about the forest they could not stop these incidents.

He said that the department has announced money rewards for those informing about those responsible for fire in the forests.-ANI

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Hydropower Projects in Himachal Not ‘Eco-Friendly, Govt Keeps People in Dark Through Biased Environment Impact Assessment Reports

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Himachal's Hydropower Projects Are not eco-friendly

Shimla- The Himachal Pradesh Government, as witnessed on several occasions, favours hydropower companies over the environmental impacts and affected people. It believes that these projects would boost the economic growth of the state and that there are hardly any environmental hazards linked to the construction of excess hydropower projects. There is a long list of pending projects that the government wants to get constructed.

In its environmental assessment reports,  the government preach that hydropower is eco-friendly. However, as a bitter reality, it does not appear to be true. There are severe environmental hazards linked to the construction of these projects, which the government is not ready to admit. As a result of this deliberate neglection, the villagers, rivers, local water sources, farming lands, local wildlife etc. are suffering. Houses of people were destroyed due to seepage of water from tunnels of hydropower projects and they are forced to evacuate. Let’s take a look at a new report compiled by an environmental group explaining why hydropower projects in the Himalayas are not eco-friendly.  

In the month of the ‘World Environment Day’, Himdhara Environment Research and Action Collective released their report titled “The Hidden Cost of Hydropower” to highlight the risks associated with hydropower construction, especially in Himalayan regions like Himachal Pradesh.  Over the last few years, increasing evidence has emerged that hydropower production may not be so ‘clean and green’ after all. This document compiles primary and secondary pieces of evidence of the impacts triggered by underground construction for the run of the river (ROR) hydropower projects highlighting the issues of environmental hazards and risks involved.

Echoing the fragility of the Himalayan region due to geological instability and climate change-related disasters like flash floods and cloud bursts, the report highlights the role of construction activities that accentuate this fragility.

 “A report of the state’s own disaster management cell says that around 10 Mega hydropower stations are located in the medium and high-risk landslide area,”

states the document.

  The report explains that the magnitude of the underground component of the civil work in hydropower projects involving blasting and dynamiting exacerbate existing vulnerabilities. These impacts are yet to be adequately studied and understood.

Visuals and testimonies of affected people from project sites in Kinnaur, Kullu and Chamba falling in the Satluj, Beas and Ravi basin collected over the years have been used to show the impacts. Case studies like that of the Parbati II, Karccham Wangtoo, Kashang and Bajoli Holi projects illustrate how landslides, drying up of springs, damages to houses, farms and forests have made difficult the lives and livelihoods of the people in the project area.

Landslide in Jhakri village of shimla due to hydropower project

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The report finds that the existing studies available on these impacts are inadequate or biased in favour of the hydropower producers, with economics as the main concern. Environment Impact Assessment reports of hydro-power projects gloss over the geological & seismic vulnerability of the project sites, with an explanation that the ‘hurdles’, ‘surprises’ and ‘incompetencies’ of the mountain geology would be handled at a later stage, if and when they occur. ‘Scientific’ linkages become difficult to establish later, and during EIAs, the concentration is to only rush through the studies to get ‘clearances’.

“They say there is no scientific evidence that the landslides are because of project activities and so we cannot claim compensation in case of cracks in the houses or damage to fields”,

according to Ramanand Negi of Urni Village located in the affected area of the Karchham Wangtoo project and now sitting on a huge landslide. 

The report also refers to the Audit reports of the Comptroller Auditor General to show how the costs of these ‘surprises’ are borne by the affected people or transferred to the public exchequer. The costs that producers have been forced to bear have led to financial losses, bad loans, and cumulatively a slump in the hydropower sector over the last few years. 

According to the report,

“The contribution of hydropower sector today to the country’s total electricity production has halved from 25% to 13% in the last decade. Where this state of hydropower industries was an opportunity to review hydropower policy and the sector’s viability, the report of Parliamentary standing committee on energy that reviewed the performance of hydro projects in 2018 turned a blind eye to environmental impacts and safety norms”.

 

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

Water Sources drying due to hydropower projects

Water sources drying in himachal due to hydro projects

 

The report also identifies the institutional failures of the Central Water Commission, the Central Electricity Authority that are supposed to assess the Detailed Project Reports and give techno-economic clearances, monitor the progress, and reasons for the delay in projects.

This list also includes the Ministry of Environment that has blindly granted environment and forest clearances overlooking the above impacts and non-compliance; the State Directorate of Energy and State Disaster Management Authority, who have failed to fulfil their regulatory roles and ensure that there is no negligence.

The environmental group demanded that an independent scientific review of the immediate or long-term implications of construction work for hydropower development in the Himalayas should be commissioned. Citizens’ engagement, public consent mechanisms need to be strengthened, and a grievance redressal process needs to be put in place.

 

Loos of wildlife in himachal due to hydropower projects

 

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