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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

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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