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Mass slaughter of full-grown, fruit bearing apple trees to free forest land: An ecological & economical blunder

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SHIMLA- Thousands of apple trees are being axed after Himachal Pradesh High Court directed the state clear encroachment on forest land in the state including apple orchards. The court took a suo motu cognizance on complaint filed by a resident of Shimla that about 40 people in four Chaithala villages in Kothkhai Tehsil have encroached 500 bighas of land for apple growing.

After HC’s directives, full-grown trees, laden with fruits are being cut by forest department to free the forest land in district Shimla, Kinnaur, Kullu and Mandi.

While it’s an appreciable move to use stringent actions to free forest land encroached illegally, it’s highly condemnable and ridiculous decision to axe thousands of full grown, green trees, which took decades to attain their present growth. Huge apple trees, some of them 20-30-years-old, have been cleared.

So far, according to the forest department, 823 trees in three enclaves under Rampur territory have been axed. The department further adds that three hectare of forest land has been freed. The department has identified 71 hectare land encroached by 354 people under Rampur territory.

The next round of massacre will continue from 23-24 July. Thousands other apple trees are likely to be felled unless Himachal does not react against it. The apple season has begun and these trees are bearing apple crop worth crores.

The forest land encroached by hoteliers for commercial structures in places like Kullu-Manali and Dharamshala must be demolished, but small huts of poverty stricken cultivators need to be attended, rehabilitated by the state government. It’s the responsibility of the state in any democracy.

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Similarly, in order to free forest land, apple trees needed a different strategy. The state should have acted wisely.

First of all, the High Court states that people are clearing cedar and other trees to plant apple trees on forest land, and then, it doubled the blunder. Full grown apple orchards contribute a lot in soaking carbon from atmosphere and preserve ecological balance. New plantation will take decades to attain such position, if it survives.

Secondly, the encroachments of forest land for apple growing could have been solved in other productive ways. Standing trees are not the enemies, those who encroached forest land are. The forest department could reclaim the land and sell this season’s apple crop that would have fetched them revenue worth crores. Not just this season, but these trees would have fetched a fat amount of revenue for the state every year along with maintaining the greenery and ecological balance.

The BJP government had called for all the farmers and agrarian associations to come ahead and help in regularize cultivation of apples on encroached forest land. Lakhs of people had come ahead with affidavits. However, it appears to be a trap to identify encroached land. In a way, the government tricked apple growers.

Himachal Pradesh Government itself encouraged encroachments for years. The encroachers were granted electricity connection and water supply by the respective departments. Now, the government stepped back and followed the orders blindly.

It was mentioned by the petitioner too.

“They have felled deodar trees on the land. Some of them even took financial assistance from the government for constructing apple grading and packing house and water storage tanks. The government also provided the encroachers electricity and water connections,”

the petitioner alleged.

At one hand, NGT puts complete ban on commercial activity in Rohtang-Pass following reports of rising air pollution, one the other hand, the High Court is adding to deforestation. Deforestation is directly related to air quality of any region on earth.

The revenue from the apple could have been claimed and spent for the welfare of orphanages, home for destitute women, school for visually impaired, all of which are in pathetic condition. There are mentally ill people roaming on roads, eating from garbage. The money could have ensured annual fund generation for many other small-public grievance or needs.

However, Himachal Pradesh government and the HC bench consisting of honorable Chief Justice of Himachal Pradesh, Chief Justice Mansoor Ahmad Mir and Justice Tarlok Singh Chauhan , came out with a solution that is highly condemnable and injustice with ecology and economy of the state.

Only one political party came ahead to protest this decision. The state Secretariat of Communist Party of India (CPI-M) criticized the cutting apple trees at Kandroo in Theog and Mandholi in Jubbal-kotkhai. CPM also insisting on initiating the process of leasing land to farmers instead of axing full grown apple trees.

Condemning the idiotic decision to fell fruit-bearing trees, CPI (M) said:

The state government’s decision to axe tree and evict farmers isn’t justifiable at all. Even if it can be believed the government is serious about getting rid of encroachments on forest land there are various other alternatives. These include fencing of forested areas and leasing out land to farmers as has been done in the case of entrepreneurs. The same government was benevolent enough to change land use norms and lease out land to the Jaypee group for cement and hydropower plants. The government has leased out hundreds of hectares of land to private entities in the name of ecotourism. When it can promote ecotourism in the state, then why not horticulture?

CPI (M) has called for the launch of a “Chipko movement”.

The CPM has urged the public to ensure their trees are not cut and are protected from inept state government officials. The Congress party led government is using the Himachal Pradesh High Court order as a pretext to willfully evict horticulturists from lands where they have been cultivating crops for years.

said CPI (M).

The Himachal Kisan Sabha and State Apple Grower Association have also called their eviction an injustice. Himachal Kisan Sabha president Dr Kuldeep Singh Tanwar said”

Of the total 55, 67, 00 hectares land in Himachal Pradesh, farmers have only 9, 55,651 hectares in their possession which is just the 17.14%. Of this only 6, 22,156 hectares land is cultivable while farming is not possible on remaining land. The state government is removing apple trees from its land in the districts of Shimla, Mandi, Kullu and Kinnaur. It is the poor, marginal, dalit and landless farmers who are facing the harsh impact brunt of the drive. No one dares to lay hands on the influential persons.

The apple growers alleged that the state is selling forest land to real estate firms when law doesn’t permit it. The real-estates are building luxury villas by clearing deodar forest. The DLF luxury villa in Kanlog, slaughter of hundreds of trees in Tara Devi hill in Shimla district and mass felling of trees in Chamba serves as some instances that support the allegation.

It’s highly condemnable to encourage deforestation in any way when the world is facing sensitive problems such as climate change and global warming. Both of which are directly associated with deforestation. The whole incident shows that leaders elected by Himachal’s people are somewhat mentally impaired. Moreover, it’s huge blow that the HC allowed mass slaughter of trees and state’s agrarian resources.

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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