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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 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

After NGT orders, Govt forms Special Task Force to check pollution in Ghaggar tributaries

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stf for ghaggar river pollution

Shimla: Bound by the orders passed by the National Green Tribunal on August 7, 2018, the Himachal Pradesh Government has constituted Special Task Forces (STFs) at the state and district levels to check discharge of effluents in into the tributaries of river Ghaggar.

The National Green Tribunal, in its order, had directed the chief secretaries of Haryana, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Chandigarh to form STFs to deal with the pollution in the said river within a month.

It’s pertinent to mention that the neighbouring States have been blaming unlawful discharges of effluents from the industries established in Kala Amb into Markanda river. The pollution in the tributaries is reaching alarming levels. The court had to take Suo motu cognizance in the matter and pass orders to the state governments.

The NGT had also given directions regarding the officials to be included into these STFs. The will of the government in this entire process was completely missing.

The District level STF will identify the persons responsible for discharging of industrial and municipal effluents causing water pollution in river Ghaggar and its tributaries and will submit a monthly action taken the report to the State level STF, the government informed.

It said the State level STF will furnish a quarterly report or an action taken report to the Central Pollution Control Board. These reports will be uploaded on the websites of the State PCB as well as the Department of Environment, Science and Technology.

The state-level special task will include the Chief Secretary, Additional Chief Secretary (Environment, Science and Technology), Additional Chief Secretary (Urban Development), Member Secretary, H.P. state pollution control board as the Member Secretary of the State Level STF.

The officers in the district Level Special Task Force for Solan and Sirmour will include concerned Deputy Commissioners, the nominee of the concerned district and Session Judge, concerned Superintendent of Police, executive officer of the local bodies of concerned district, Regional officer, State Pollution Control Board of the concerned district.

Ghaggar river originates from the Shivalik Hills and passes through Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan before entering Pakistan.

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Satluj environmental impact report still not complete, but Himachal continues granting clearance to more hydropower projects

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Luhri hydropower project in rampur

Shimla: As per the Scientific American – the leading and one of the oldest science and technology magazine of the United States of America, the country has decommissioned as well as removed at least 1,000 dams so far, and several others are under the process of decommissioning. The removal of dams is costing the US a gigantic amount of money, but still, it is taking the pain to do the needful.

The reason was simple – the adverse and irreversible environmental damages of these dams. The Hydropower Reform Coalition (HRC), a joint platform comprising of 150 environmental groups, had been advocating the removal of the dams due to their impacts on the environment including the aquatic life.

On the other hand, in the State of Himachal Pradesh, blessed with five perennial rivers including the longest Sutlej, in addition to already operational projects, the government is trying to sell over 700 projects by inviting private investors.

The government argues that hydropower projects have given the state economy a boost along with creating employment opportunities. After agriculture and tourism, hydropower is the biggest contributor towards the state economy. Moreover, hydropower is ecofriendly.

However, the government does not want to stop here and is targeting to harness 100 per cent of the total power generating capacity. During Congress government, it was officially stated that a hydropower potential of 27436 MW was identified in the state. The state was harnessing only 10351 MW.

During the tenure of the Congress government, Himachal had commissioned about 31 hydropower projects of 2067 MW capacity and had earned a revenue of Rs. 3345 crore from the sale of free and equity power.

The new Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur, after coming into power, had said that the hydropower projects were facing difficulties in getting clearances. He had announced that all such hurdles would be removed under the new government. There were no words about the impact on the environment at all.

The environmental protection has never been a matter of concern for both Congress and Bhartiya Janata Party governments in the state. The leaders are completely visionless in this regard, which is why the environmental impacts of the hydroporjects remain absent from the list of major poll agendas.  

The latest project in making is the new venture of Satluj Jal Vidyut Nigam Limited (SJVNL); the Luhri Stage -I hydropower project (219 MW) on the last free-flowing stretch of the River Sutlej.

The environmental activists and groups are up in arms against the construction of more dams for the projects. The feedback from previous projects has shown that these projects did have an adverse effect. The project is proposed downstream of the 420 MW Rampur Project in Shimla and Kullu Districts.

Environmental group reaches the Expert Committee of Ministry of Environment

Raising objections to the granting of clearances to dams on the last free-flowing stretch of the Satluj River, the Himdhara Collective, an environmental group, recently sent a submission to the Expert Committee of Ministry of Environment demanding Cumulative Impact Assessment for individual projects on the Satluj river basin.

The committee, in its meeting to be held on August 28, 2018, is to consider the grant of Environment Clearance for SJVNL’s Luhri project. It’s the same project that was dropped after the SJVN faced resistance from the locals. Earlier, there was a proposal to construct a 750 MW project with a 35 km long tunnel in this stretch.

It was due to the objections of the local community that the massive tunnel will disturb the geology of the region, already prone to landslides that the project was dropped,

the submission said.

Instead, the HP government has now allocated three dams, namely, Luhri Stage I and Luhri stage II (163MW) and Sunni (355MW) in the same stretch. The key objection raised in the submission is that the committee instead of studying the overall impact of the three projects put together was looking at each project in a singular way.

70% of land granted for the project is forest area

The total land requirement for the three proposed projects is 654.02 hectares, which is twice the size of the land required for the earlier proposed 750 MW project. Considering 70% of the required land falls in the category of ‘forest’, this would lead to more deforestation in the Satluj River basin which has already faced severe forest diversion, erosion and slope de-stabilisation.

The move to build bumper to bumper dams on a single river basin is destructive and this is the reason why we have been saying that the Ministry of Environment should look at the cumulative impacts of the dams rather than for individual projects,

the environmental group stated in the submission.

The Govt denies reply to RTI seeking information on the CEIA Report

In 2013, on clear directions from the Ministry of Environment, the HP Directorate of Energy had commissioned Cumulative Environment Impact Assessment (CEIA) studies for all the major river basins of Himachal Pradesh. The process for Satluj river basin was initiated first in 2013. A series of public consultations were held in Pooh, Rekong Peo, Rampur where local communities and environmentalists had filed detailed objections.

The group said the DoE had even appointed an independent Panel of Environmental and Social Experts, which had submitted a damning report to the HP Government in 2015, raising that the state government was apathetic to the adverse impacts these projects had on the lives of local communities. However, since then, there has been complete silence on the CEIA study of Satluj river basin.

In 2017 we filed an RTI to the DoE seeking the final report, but the matter was transferred to the Union Ministry of Environment who did not respond despite appeal in the Central Information Commission. The matter is now pending in the Central Information Commission,

Himdhara members said in the submission.

For the last three years, the Expert Committee of the ministry has been according to clearances to hydro projects on the Satluj without even as much as mentioning the Cumulative Impact study that it itself had made mandatory to be conducted.

The CEIA should have a bearing on the decision to be taken in the Luhri I, II and Sunni HEP, else the exercise (CEIA of Satluj river basin) itself will be rendered meaningless given that, in the middle zone of the Satluj river basin this is the last and the only stretch of the free-flowing Satluj river.

the group said.

The group has demanded that the CEIA of Satluj river basin should be first finalized, and till then, all projects on the Satluj river basin must be put on hold. The issue of dam building in the Himalayas has also now become a major concern amongst mountain communities and environmentalists given the threat of disasters like cloudbursts floods and earthquakes to the lives and economy of the region.

However, the SJVNL terms these arguments as a non-sense saying there would be no tunnelling for the project. The company, like the centre and state governments, has as nothing to say about the CEIA report. Why is the government not finalizing the report and making it public if there is nothing wrong with the construction of the new projects?

Read Complete Submission

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Environment

Baddi MC turns site of Rs 9.7 crores proposed Waste Management Facility into illegal dumpyard

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dumpyard of Baddi MC

“We have filed close to 100 RTI applications with different departments on this issue. We have no other way to make our voice heard.”

Solan: While the Centre and State Government of Himachal Pradesh are claiming improvement on every front including waste management under Swacch Bharat campaign, as another infamous achievement, the State Government has turned the site of a proposed waste treatment plant for the Baddi town of Solan district into an illegal dump yard.

Due to the increased pollution and hazards due to the illegal dumping of Municipal Waste and the dysfunctional common effluent treatment plant (CETP) in their area, the residents of villages under two Panchayats, Malpur and Sandho, are compelled to form a front ”Paryavaran Sangharsh Samiti to take the fight for the right for clean air and water to the door-steps of authorities.

The BBNDA was supposed to build a 9.7 crore ‘Integrated Solid Waste Management Facility’ on this spot where today they have created a foul-smelling open dump. This is totally illegal,

Sukhdev Singh, a resident of Malpur and Vice Chairperson of the Samiti said.

Baddi waaste management facility

Members of the Samiti of local residents

The BBNDA had in 2015 received an environment clearance for an ‘integrated solid waste management’ project provided 36 conditions were satisfied. (Read More Details in the Annexures Uploaded after the story)

The components of the project, expected to cost about Rs 9.7 crore, included a receiving facility, a compost plant, a recycling plant, a secured landfill, and a leachate collection unit

The aggrieved residents allege that none of this exists on the ground. Since 2016, the Municipal Council of Baddi started throwing waste on the site where this project was to be set up.

The illegal dumping came to the notice of the Environment Ministry ’s regional office during their half-yearly compliance monitoring visit about a year ago

The scientist, Dr Bhavna Singh, who visited the site had reported the violations and recommended an immediate suspension of dumping given non-compliance. However, the Pollution Control Board took no action on this front and the dumping continues to this day.

On July 19, 2018, we approached the Sub-Divisional Magistrate, Deputy Commissioner of Solan, Secretary, Urban Development, the Pollution Control Board and the Ministry of Environment about this gross negligence and have demanded that this illegal dumping be stopped and the site be immediately cleared,

said Rafiq, Deputy Secretary of the Samiti, also a member of the Gujjar Community.

The unscientific garbage dumping is posing a serious threat to not only the environment around but also to the 32 members of Gujjar families settled right in front of the dump yard. The Gujjar community is a scheduled tribe that practices their traditional livelihood of cattle rearing and are dependent on the public lands for purpose of grazing.

Baddi MC Dumping site

In addition, the dumping site is a breeding ground for flies, mosquitoes, rats, etc. and has caused an alarming increase in the incident of illnesses even to people who live in the neighbouring villages.

We are also writing to the Scheduled Tribe Commission and will go to the court if there is no action by the authorities,

added Rafiq.

Members of the Samiti in the last month have initiated a mass RTI campaign asking authorities for information about the dump and the actions taken by them.

We have filed close to 100 RTI applications with different departments on this issue. We have no other way to make our voice heard,

added Dharampal, secretary of the Paryavaran Sangharsh Samiti.

Meanwhile, the BBNDA has gone into damage control mode and has made announcements about fogging the area regularly to prevent smell and flies.

These are superficial steps and they do not change the fact that for the last two years the authorities have been sleeping when actually they had ample time to construct a proper waste management plant if they wanted to. Our demand is clear that the waste can no longer be dumped here. The area needs to be cleared of all the dumped waste

, said Charan Das, a resident of Sandholi and Chairperson of the Samiti.

Annexure I – Environmental Clearance

Annexure II – Indemnification of Project and Project Proponent

Annexure III Monitoring Report by Dr.Bhawna-Singh

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