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Environment

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 7 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 world around him in his DSLR lens.

Environment

Himachal to launch Polythene Hatao Paryavaran Bachao Campaign along with plantation of 15 lakh plants

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Plastic Hatao Paryavaran bachao campaign

Shimla: While the two Municipal Corporations of Himachal Pradesh and Municipal Councils of various towns are nowhere near the solid waste segregation and proper disposal, the State Environment, Science and Technology will be launching a week-long ‘Polythene Hatao Paryavaran Bachao Campaign’ from May 27 to June 2, 2018, across the State to motivate people for the elimination of polythene and protection of the environment, Director D.C. Rana informed on Friday.

He said that this campaign would be coordinated in each district by urban local bodies and PRIs under the supervision of Deputy Commissioner.

Cooperation of all government offices, NGO’s would also be sought. Public representatives, MLA’s, Ministers would also be approached for motivating people towards shunning polythene and protecting the environment.

Efforts would also be made for cleaning of water bodies, areas near water sources, tourist places etc, during the campaign, he added.

Plantation Drive during HP Van Mahotsava

The Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (PCCF) G.S. Goraya on Friday informed that 15 lakh plants would be planted in the state during three days plantation campaign after holding of State Level Van Mahotsava between 9 to July 15 this year.

A plantation campaign would be taken up throughout the state for three days starting two days after holding of State level Van Mahotsava between the said dates. In addition to the local communities, all members of H.P. Vidhan Sabha would also be requested to participate in the planting campaign at any of the sites on the date convenient to them.

The matter regarding the implementation of Reward Scheme for the staff of the Forest department, communities, and schools, which are doing good work in nursery raising, carrying out plantations, and forest protection work, was also discussed.

Fields officers were requested to send their suggestions on criteria to be fixed to judge good performances for purpose of nominating and finalizing the recipients of the proposed rewards.

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Creative Corner

Mulakaat: A candid video shot in Manali dedicated to Mother Nature

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Mothers-Day-Video-by-4play

Kullu: A Manali-based startup, 4Play, has offered perhaps the most wonderful tribute to the mother- nature on this Mother’s day. In just four days, a team of youths at 4Play prepared a video, which includes some very well shot scenes and fresh glimpses of marvellous landscapes of Manali.

Watch Video

The video features Praveen Ghanghas (29), a nomadic mountain lover, who can be seen climbing up a high deodar tree and standing at the top of it like an eagle. No need to say, the view was breathtaking.

Manali video by 4play 4

Praveen Ghanghas in action

The 4Play shared some pictures of Praveen, who is definitely a fitness freak, with Himachal Watcher (HW).

He is a professional mountaineer with specialization in mountain search & rescue along with being a certified wilderness medical first aid responder. He is a part of the 4Play team and leads operations of all technical shoots at 4Play.

Praveen Ghanghas

Praveen Ghanghas in action

Nature has been depicted as a caring mother, who’s always willing to give without complaining. Similarly, Mother Nature does not a complaint about the wrath that the humankind has unleashed on it. So, we owe an apology to it for irreversible damage human developmental activities have done to nature.

Manali video by 4play 3

Human flag by Praveen Ghanghas

Ironically, the Manali, like rest of the tourist towns, is overburdened with ever increasing tourist flow, and the resources of the place are falling victim to over-exploitation. The ecology is heading towards its doom while the government and the people are thinking only about exploiting the beauty of Manali for money.

We have been lately trying to bring forth the subject how the weight on the mountains is increasing and how the growing tourism is only making it worse. We have lately done stories on the same line. So on the occasion of Mother’s Day, we wanted to send out this video as an acknowledgement to all mothers (even mother nature) who never complain and continue to take care of us despite everything

, Shantanu Negi of 4Play told Himachal Watcher.

Is not it an excellent way to tell people to spend more time with nature and care-back for it?

Manali video by 4play

The video came from the same team that was behind ‘Bawali Booch’ – a short musical and adventurous tour of Manali town. It’s worth your time.

About 4Play

4Play is a start-up that is catering exclusively to the Extreme, Adventure and Action sports communities in India. Curating stories from the Indian outdoors, the group is currently weaving Eastern Hemisphere’s first content network for extreme and action sports. The team is looking forward to getting into the international arena so that athletes could gain mainstream attention.

Initially, the three founders of the start-up set, Anuj, Kshitij and Sukrit, set up their own shop in a rented apartment in a shady alley of New Delhi. However, they soon realised that metropolis was way unaffordable compared to their meagre investment. That is when they made the decision to move the operations to a quaint place, away from the much-crowded Tier 1 & 2 cities.

Very recently, the start-up launched an incubation program at Indian Institute of Technology IIIT), Mandi – Catalyst. The founders say that being one of the few startups in the region, 4Play enrolled for the program to lay the foundation of a community to spearhead enterprise in the region.

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Environment

Taxi operators cheer after Manali-Rohtang ‘electric bus service’ cancelled ahead of peak tourist season

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Electric bus service in Rohtang cancelled

Shimla: The Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur was supposed to flag-off the much awaited electric bus service on April 30, 2018, from Manali to Rohtang for the tourists.  However, it was cancelled at the last moment. 

It doesn’t sound like a co-incident that the members of the Him Anchal Taxi Union, Manali, had approached the minister urging him to not to begin the service as it was hitting their livelihood. Otherwise, a protest was already planned ahead of the CM’s visit to Kullu.

However, the ceremony was cancelled suddenly.

The peak tourist season beings in May, therefore, the taxi operators are cheering as the tourists won’t have any other option but to hire expensive services of the cabs.  

Himachal Pradesh had not only become the first state to commission 100 percent battery-powered electric buses but also the first in the world to ply them at an altitude of 3, 978 meters (13,000 feet) on mountainous terrain of Pir Panjal ranges of the eastern Himalayas when Transport Minister GS Bali flagged off the first bus on September 22, 2017.

The decision had faced protest from the local cab operators back then too.

However, it was on November 14, 2018, that two of the newly commissioned electric buses on Manali-Rohtang Pass stretch begun ferrying passengers on a regular basis. The HRTC was charging Rs. 600 per seat for a two-way trip starting from Manali to the Rohtang snowline.

The electric buses are manufactured in a tie-up with Chinese firm BYD Auto Industry Co Ltd. Each bus costs 1.70 crores and Himachal had bought 25 of them at that time. The total cost of this deal was Rs. 48 crores.  

The CM, however, said he was not under any pressure and some unfinished formalities caused the cancellation.  He did not mention anything specific about the period for which the introduction of the e-buses would remain pending.

The CM also contradicted his statements given to media in which it was suggested that the government was looking to find a middle-path to provide relief to the taxi operators. Also, the taxi union said the operators were ensured that the e-bus service would be put on hold. 

 The decision was taken by the previous government after the National Green Tribunal had lashed out at it for unchecked environmental degradation around Rohtang Pass due to increasing load of domestic and international tourism.

The taxi operators had been protesting against the NGT orders as well as the plying of electric buses. The previous government could not ignore the orders despite the protests.

In 2014, taking note of research works pointing out fastening of glacier melting in the vicinity to Rohtang and blacking of the snow due to heavy vehicular emissions, the NGT had restricted the entry of vehicles to only 1,000 including both diesel and petrol.

The transport minister is also of the view that the developmental works would be taken up only after considering the interests of the people first.

Though the decision would benefit the local taxi operators and the hospitality industry, it can’t be done at the cost of environmental degradation. It must not be forgotten that the tourism industry exists because of the natural beauty and purity of the air in Rohtang Pass.

Therefore, we should hope that the government would not take such crucial decision to temporarily please a section of the hospitality industry.  The environmental protection lies at the root of human survival and delay in taking measures to avert it will only make it worse.

We hope that the government would actually come out with some productive solution to ensure the protection of both – the interests of the locals as well as environmental protection.    

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