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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

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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Himachal to Adopt ‘Borehole Resin Extraction’ Method to Minimize Damage to Pine Trees & Maximize Quality

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Pine Resin Trapping in Himachal Pradesh

Solan-In the past decade, intensive resin tapping by rill method has resulted in the drying of thousands of pine trees in Himachal Pradesh. It has also been observed, that the application of higher concentration of acid, used as a freshener, had adversely affected the growth of trees and even the tapped surface area is not healing.

Therefore, the HP State Forest Development Corporation will soon adopt the borehole technique of oleoresin extraction to minimize the damage caused to pine trees by resin tapping and simultaneously increase the quality of the collected resin.

It was informed by Himachal Pradesh Forest Minister Sh. Gobind Singh Thakur during the concluding session of the one-day training of officials from HP State Forest Development Corporation at the Dr YS Parmar University of Horticulture and Forestry (UHF) Nauni. The method has been developed by the scientists of the Forest Products Department of the university. 

Bore hole resin extraction

Borehole Resin Extraction’ Method

The Forest Minister said that the department would adopt the new technique in the coming time so that the twin motives of resin quality and its quantity along with ensuring the good health of the trees can be met. He said that the Forest Department will work in collaboration with the university so that the benefit of the various technologies developed by it can be put to the best use for the development of the state.

BD Suyal, MD State Forest Corporation said that technique is quite encouraging and the corporation will take up setting up 10-15,000 bores in every directorate to assess the results of the method. He added that in the second phase the contractors and the labourers will be also be trained on technique by the university. Earlier, Dr Kulwant Rai Sharma gave a detailed presentation and practical demonstration on the technique to the forest officials. He said that the adoption of the technology can prove to be boon for the forests and the resin industry. 

What is Borehole Method of Resin Extraction  

The new method involves drilling small holes (1 inch wide and 4 inches deep) with the help of simple tools into the tree to open its resin ducts. The holes are drilled with a slight slope towards the opening, so that oleoresin drains freely. Multiple boreholes are arrayed evenly around the tree’s circumference, or clustered in groups of two or three. Spouts are tightly fitted into the opening with polythene bags attached to it with the help of tie for resin collection.

resin trappig method in Himachal Pradesh

Borehole Resin Extraction’ Method

The new technique was developed in an attempt to overcome some of the limitations of other conventional methods. A key feature of the method is that a closed collection apparatus prevents premature solidification of resin acids, thereby maintaining oleoresin flow for an extended period of up to six months. Due to reduced oxidation and contamination, the end product is of higher quality with substantially higher turpentine. The average yield per tree is almost the same if numbers of boreholes on a tree are adjusted as per the maximum carrying capacity of the tree. The method also allows tapping of lower diameter trees depending upon their potential of production without having any impact on their health. The crown fire hazards incidents are also less because there is no hard resin accumulation on the main stem and spread of ground blaze can be easily avoided by removing the bags well in time.

The rosin and turpentine oil obtained from borehole method are of very good quality, which can fetch higher prices in the market. In addition to tackling the problems of tree health, labour requirements and costs for borehole tapping are significantly lower than conventional methods. The borehole wounds cause little damage to the tree bark and since these holes are near the ground level, only a healed scar can be seen in the converted woods. Therefore, there is no damage to the merchantable part of the tree.

Further, the Forest Minister also said that the university and the forest department will look to work together for establishing an eco-tourism model on the university campus. He added that the University Vice-Chancellor will be invited to all the important policy meetings of the state forest department to seek their expertise. The forest minister visited the demonstration block of borehole technique and also planted a tree at the university.

UHF Vice-Chancellor Dr Parvinder Kaushal called for continuous interaction between the university and the forest department. He emphasized on apprising the grass root level workers and train them on the new technique.

The event was attended by  BD Suyal, Managing Director, HP Forest Corporation; KK Kataik Director(South); Dr JN Sharma, Director Research, Dr Kulwant Rai Dean College of Forestry and other officials of the university. Around 30 officers of the rank of Divisional Managers and Assistant Managers from various parts of the state took part in the training.

 

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