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HP Govt. letting Kinnaur Hydro-Projects kill people and destroy villages knowingly: Himdhara

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In the last two weeks a half a dozen lives have been lost in the Kinnaur region alone in three separate incidents that have one thing in common – accidents at hydropower project sites. The first event took place in Burang village on the 18th of November 2015 where a penstock pipe burst off the 100 MW Sorang Hydro-electric project led to the death of three people.

Himdhara, an Environment Research and Action Collective in Himachal,has been fighting against irregularities in the construction of hydro-power projects and negligence of the Himachal Pradesh Government towards lethal consequences of it. After recent mishaps, the group is demanding strict safety norms and monitoring of such projects.

sorang-gi-2

Image: SANDRP

On November 29, 2015, two labourers died in blasting operations in the 450 MW Shongthong Karchham project, some others were seriously injured. And on the same day in the Bhabha Valley, a young teacher lost her life in a landslide that occurred in the area.

Kinnaur in crisis Sheer Negligence in hydro projects claiming lives-himachal

Penstock pipe burst at 100 MW Sorang Hydro-electric project/ Image Credit:Sumit Mahar

Even now more lives are at stake – Four days after the Sorang project disaster on 22nd November, a massive landslide occurred in Chagaon Village, located on the alignment of the Karchham Wangtoo project’s tunnel. While houses and property was damaged fortunately there were no fatalities. More of the area is likely to slide soon. Residents of Panvi Panchayat from Kinnaur carried out a demonstration last week at Shimla protesting the cracks in their houses due to the underground construction by the 9 MW Ralla-Taranda project.

Cracks on link roadChagaoun

Cracks on link road Chagaoun/Image Credit: Sumit Mahar

It is time that the Himachal government wake up from its long slumber, because these events are not freak accidents, they are the result of sheer negligence in the construction of hydropower projects in the state. This negligence is evident at two levels – firstly the failure in ensuring compliance to environmental and safety norms by project authorities and the government. The second, is the negligence towards the very impacts of unregulated hydropower development. In both cases the project authorities have shown sheer callousness, continuously ignoring the issues raised by local people and environmentalists.

Destable land Chagaoun

Land Destabilisation at Chagaoun/Image Credit: Sumit Mahar

Now the geological, ecological and hydrological impacts of these projects, especially in fragile zones like Kinnaur are emerging clearly.

For instance, during tunnel digging heavy blastings are used which causes cracks in the houses. Around 80% people of project area are affected by this problem. It has also caused drying up of springs, grazing and agricultural fields. According to data obtained by Him Dhara, a Himachal based environment action group, under the Right to Information Act in 2012 from the Irrigation and Public Health Department, 43 out of 167 water sources had dried up in villages affected by the Karchham Wangtoo project, and discharge in another 67 has gone down. That was three years ago. The condition has worsen.

According to forest department estimates, over 9,000 hectares of forest land have so far been diverted to non-forest use. Of this, 7,000 hectares were used for hydel projects.

However, Himdhara alleged that the government has not just overlooked these impacts but justified each and every project making excuses and even trying to cover these impacts. For instance, the issue of slope destabilisation and landlsides in Kinnaur has been blamed on rainfall fluctuations, floods or other natural factors without conducting any independent studies. The project authorities have gone to the stupid extent of saying that these landslides are occurring naturally in the area. If that is the case, is it not all the more reason that the construction in these regions has to be controlled and regulated rather than allowing disastrous projects like Karchham Wangtoo to come up here?

No action against companies openly flaunting Safety Regulations and Monitoring&lt

As far as issues of safety regulations and monitoring goes, there are an ample number of incidences vis a vis hydropower projects that have occurred in the last couple of years apart from the ones that happened in the last two weeks in Kinnaur.

The seepage in the Chamera III project had washed off Mokhar village’s habitations. The reservoir of the Aleo-II project in Kullu in its first testing, had burst washing off the labour camps.

Mokhar village tragedy

A villager standing in front of the debris of his leftover house after the leakage tragedy

Gallery Showing Horrific Chamera III Project Disaster in 2012

Images by South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People

Three engineers were suffocated to death at the state-run Rongtong hydropower project in Spiti valley when a valve at the plant burst all of a sudden.

The seepages in the Karchham Wangtoo tunnel which were noticed in 2011 – are indicators of a disaster waiting to happen. Despite it being mandatory as per the Hydropower Policy 2006 that there will be a safety monitoring authority in the state that will look into the safety quality monitoring for hydropower projects, no such authority existed till recently.

As late as August 2013, the Department of Power and MPP issued a notification about the creation of such an authority. Now the government should immediately make public all the work that has been done by this authority in the last two years. The people have a right to know, how often this committee convened its meetings, which are the projects it has monitored and what action has been taken in the cases of negligence and accidents. Has any punitive action been taken against power companies for negligence?

House is sliding Burang, Shorang HEP

House is sliding Burang, Shorang HEP/ Image Credit :Sumit Mahar

It needs to be put on record, in the context of the 100 Mw Sorang Hydro-Electric Project that the villagers had brought to the company’s notice that there were leakages in the penstock pipe at an earlier date on 8th May 2015. This indicates that there was some technical fault in the project despite which the testing was carried out. Further, it needs to be raised that on the night of the testing (when the accident occurred) no warning was issued by the project authorities while carrying out the testing of the penstock pipe.

Disaster awaits Burang Village

Today, the Burang village is nothing less than a danger zone with rock and debris just hanging above heads of the residents. We wonder how the company even had the audacity to carry out construction in an area where there was habitation – even if temporary/ for part of the year. In event of heavy rains or tremors of any sort there will be additional damage and fatality which should be avoided at any cost. All families who are residing in Burang need to be protected so that they do not become victims of yet another accident which will be caused due to sheer negligence of the company as well as the administration, who is now responsible for the safety of the people.

House sliding down Chagaoun

House sliding down Chagaoun/Image Credit: Sumit Mahar

Complete Failure of Central and State Government

As per a report (2013) by Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG), a total of 559 run-of-river hydro projects with an aggregate generation capacity of 10,131 MW were allotted to independent power producers from November 1991 to January 2012.

The central and state monitoring and regulatory authorities have failed miserably and have ignored several incidents of landslides, massive erosion, drying up of water sources, sudden reappearance of water sources, deforestation leading to soil erosion, illegal muck dumping etc. Despite the impact of these on the horticulture, local vegetable cultivation, day to day life and safety of the people the government has not taken any action whatsoever on project proponents and have been blind to the issues raised by the affected people time and again.

Environment

Govt Legitimizing and Legalizing Environmental Violations for Business by Amending EIA Rules: Activists  

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Himachal pradesh EIA Notification 2020 Amendments news

Shimla-While in statements, the politicians in power at the Centre and State Governments have been expressing concerns over environmental issues and ensuring the people that they are committed to protect and preserve the environment, the reality is contrary to it. The most recent evidence is the proposed 2020 draft amendments to the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification. With these amendments, the process of environmental assessment before granting permission to execute commercial projects, like hydropower projects in Himachal Pradesh, would be reduced to merely a formality.

Environmental activists and people’s organisations from across Himachal have written to the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) to scrap the 2020 draft amendments to the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification proposed by it.

These activists and environmental protection groups are of the opinion that the EIA Notification, first issued in 1994 under the Environment Protection Act 1986, is a critical mechanism that regulates clearances granted to all kinds of development projects and economic activities in the country. It is one of the environmental decision-making processes that makes it mandatory for project developers to not just study the socio-economic, ecological and other impacts of a proposed project but also place them in front of the affected communities for their opinions and objections, thus, ensuring the process of a free, fair and informed consent. However, this notification has been amended and read down several times in the last two decades, in favour of ‘easing the norms’ for business. The latest draft continues to move in the direction of rendering the EIA process a mere formality. 

The submission made by HP groups states,

“In the context of the already vulnerable and sensitive Himalayan region, flouting of various provisions of even the present EIA notification has heavily impacted the local ecology and livelihoods of the people. The new amendments will only legitimize and legalize these violations and this will mean irreparable damage to the Himalayan ecosystem”. 

The key objections raised are around exemptions of a variety of projects from the mandatory  Public Consultation’ process as well as the dismantling of this process itself.

“The reduction of the time prior to public hearing from 30 to 20 days is also highly objectionable. In the given 30 day period itself, the information about Public hearings does not reach all the affected areas which are often spread out widely in case of mountains with some project-affected communities residing in remote and inaccessible terrains. Here accessing information takes a long time and reducing this time to 20 days will completely exclude such people from raising their grievances and suggestions in the public consultation. This is a clear attempt to block their participation in the environmental decision-making process”

said R.S Negi of Him Lok Jagriti Manch, Kinnaur. 

 

“It is shocking that the amendments include allowing post-facto clearance, which means that the project proponent can start work and before they have obtained environmental clearance. If the basic precautionary principle on which the EIA notifications is grounded is itself not followed it can lead to a disastrous situation for the ecology and local people. In this situation who is going to be responsible for the losses? If the project proponent is not in a position to pay for losses, will the MoEF&CC take the responsibility of losses? This provision will encourage project developers to bypass the process of environmental decision making. We absolutely oppose this amendment”,

said Prakash Bhandari of Himdhara Collective.  

The 2020 draft also dilutes the guidelines for monitoring and compliance of Environment conditions.

“Already the system of monitoring is weak, the conditions lose, the pollution control board and companies non-accountable, thus, leading to widespread destruction of local ecology and impacting health, lives, and livelihoods of project-affected communities. In the case of hydropower projects, for instance, the illegal and unmonitored dumping of muck along river beds, in forests and on common lands, has damaged pastures, disrupted the flow of the rivers, and caused massive disasters when floods occur. The proposed changes will give a free reign to those profiting from extractive and polluting projects,” 

according to Kulbhushan Upmanyu of Himalaya Bachao Samiti. 

It is ironic that on one hand, the global COVID crisis has thrown up several studies showing that pandemics like COVID emerge from ecological degradation and forest loss, and on the government is pushing for policy changes which will accentuate the environmental crisis that the country is already reeling under.  

“If the MoEF&CC wants to change the environmental laws, it should carry out countrywide regional consultations”,

added Uma Mahajan of Himachal Van Adhikar Manch.

The country, especially ecologically diverse yet climate-vulnerable regions like the Himalayas need a robust and strong environmental regulatory and governance regime that makes project proponents accountable and keeps the affected communities and ecological concerns at the centre of the EIA and environmental decision-making process. 

Notably, MoEF&CC had called for citizen’s comments before May 11 but this deadline was extended upto  June 30 and now August 11 as environmentalists and concerned groups expressed outrage that calling for public inputs on this critical law amidst the COVID led lockdown was unjustified. The MoEF&CC has in this period received thousands of objections highlighting the new draft as anti-people and environment.

The demand is to scrap these proposed amendments for the sake of the environment. 

Submission Made to Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change by Activists and Organizations

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SC’s Forest Diversion Regulation a Blockade on Forest Rights Act Implementation in Himachal: Himdhara

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Supreme Court On Forest Diversion in Himachal Pradesh 2

ShimlaHimdhara Collective, a Himachal-based environment research and action group, has released a report on the implications of the regulation imposed by the Supreme Court on forest diversion under the Forest Rights Act 2006 in Himachal, through a series of orders passed last year. This brought to a screeching halt the implementation of Section 3(2) of the FRA which grants powers to gram sabhas and Divisional Forest Officers to divert upto 1 hectare of forest land for 13 types of village welfare activities like roads, schools, community centres, PDS shops etc. 

The court orders were based on the conclusions drawn by a Supreme Court Monitoring Committee, headed by a retired PCCF, V.P Mohan, that the diversions were leading to green felling and deforestation in the state. Initially, a stay was imposed on all green felling in the state (in a matter of forest diversions under FCA 1980 and FRA 2006) on 11th March 2019. This stay was partially relaxed but the Supreme court sought all FRA proposals to be brought before it for further diversion.

The report titled ‘Missing the forest for Trees’, assesses the ground reality behind the conclusions drawn by the Supreme Court Monitoring Committee based on which these diversions have been restricted.

“We have found that the Supreme court’s orders need to be reviewed because the alarm raised by the V.P Mohan committee with regard to FRA was a false one”,

stated authors of the report which is based on analysis of RTI information as well as field research.

RTI data sought from the Forest department for all cases under section 3(2) of the Forest Rights Act 2006 from 2014 to 2019 (up to January 2019), was analysed to reveal that 17237 trees were felled in an area of 887.56 hectares for 1959 activities in 41 of the 45 forest divisions of the state.

Roads, followed by schools and community centres dominate the type of activities carried out. Of the total land diverted 91% is for roads. It was found that almost 64% of these diversions showed ‘nil’ trees felled. The average number of trees felled per hectare is very low (19.52) and it may be induced that most activities have been carried out in areas with open forest or no trees.

Rohru (Shimla), Nachan(Mandi), Kinnaur and Chopal were some of the divisions which had a large number of diversions, again mostly for roads.

Case studies we carried out in Mandi and Kangra district showed the desperate need for amenities like village link roads and schools. In Himachal, there remain about 41% villages that have no road connectivity which affects access to health, education and market centres.

On the other hand, large development activities like four lane highways, hydropower projects and transmission lines, have had a much larger ecological footprint in terms of tree loss in the state compared to the very minute, incomparable diversions under FRA.

The report also finds that as far as green cover is concerned in the period corresponding to the high number of forest diversions under FRA (2015-2019), the forest survey of India’s statistics show a 333 sq.km increase in the forest cover.

Why development rights under FRA important for Himachal?

1.No Land available with revenue departments and panchayats for ‘welfare activities’ thus forest land only option

The report concludes that given the fact that 2/3rd of the geographical area of the state is recorded ‘forest area’ where strict forest laws have restricted non-forest use, the FRA provides relief for communities to access basic welfare facilities, which should be seen as their fundamental right and therefore should not be hindered.

2.Cumbersome, costly and lengthy process under FCA 1980

Before FRA it was the Forest Conservation Act, 1980 which governed forest diversion even for small local development activities. This required not only permission from the Central Government (MoEFCC Regional or Delhi Office) but also warranted that user agencies deposit funds (Net Present Value of trees) to carry out Compensatory Afforestation. The whole diversion process under FCA was cumbersome, lengthy and costly, and thus a major hurdle in providing the rural areas, especially remote areas, access to basic welfare development facilities.

 “The section 3(2) of the FRA provides relief for both governmental departments and local communities as it overrides the FCA and puts in place a simple and decentralized process for diversion”states the report.

3.FRA is meant to correct the problems that were posed by strict central forest laws

The Forest Rights Act was passed by the parliament of India in 2006 recognising that across the country there are lakhs of communities dependent on land which is legally categorised as ‘forest land’ and are unable to exercise their basic livelihood and development rights due to extremely strict forest laws. Under this act’s Section 3(1), forest-dependent communities can file claims for their individual and community rights exercised before the cut-off date of 13th December 2005.

“As it is Himachal has been sluggish with FRA implementation and only 136 titles have been issued under section 3(1). But atleast the government was proactive with the implementation of section 3(2). With the Supreme court orders regulating this provision, there seems to be an impression amongst the implementing agencies and officials that there is an over-all blockade on FRA in the state”

added members of the collective.

The report has recommended that the state government and nodal agency for the Act – the Central Ministry of Tribal Affairs, put forth the case in favour of section 3(2) of the FRA strongly in front of the Supreme Court and also move swiftly to ensure implementation of all provisions of this law in Himachal.  

 

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HP Govt Exempts Use of Plastic Straws Attached with Beverages for 6 Months

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Plastic straws in himachla pradesh

Shimla: The use of integrated plastic straws attached with tetra pack of beverages are exempted temporarily for a period of six months in Himachal Pradesh, informed a spokesperson of the state government on January 31, 2020.

He informed that the exemption would be a subject to the implementation of Action Plan submitted by M/s Tetra Pack India Pvt. Ltd., AARC under Extended Producer Responsibility.

During the relaxation period, the manufacturers and producers are to come out with an alternative to plastic straw, which is bio-degradable, he informed. A notification in this regard has been issued recently.

He said that other provisions of the notification issued by Department of Environment, Science and Technology of HP on September 20, 2019, which imposes complete ban on plastic cutlery such as spoons, bowls, katories, stirring sticks, forks, knives, straws made of plastic, would remain banned.

He said that this notification will come into force with immediate effect.

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