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.
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.
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.
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.
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<
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.
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?
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.
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.
Watch: An interesting case of leopard sighting in Shimla’s Dhanda locality
Shimla: People of Dhanda, a sort of suburb near the Totu in Shimla city, on Saturday found a leopard roaming around in their neighborhood in broad daylight. Leopard sightings in Himachal Pradesh are not unusual and Shimla is no exception. After all Himachal has 65 percent forest cover, as per official statistics.
However, this leopard was behaving like a stray dog that is used to living among humans. The big cat was not responding to the noises made by the people to scare off the animal.
The animal was not aggressive or afraid.
The leopard casually walked onto an under-construction floor of a residential building.
Luckily, the people did not harm the cat at all. In other parts of India, animals like leopard pay with their lives for straying into a human habitat. The people beat them to death with sticks and stone pelting.
But here, in Shimla, people informed the forest department about it, which was the right thing to do. Meanwhile, they just tried to scare it off so that it returns to the jungle. The people were discussing why the animal was behaving in an unusual way.
The people deserve appreciation for it because in most cases these animals revert as a defense to any sort of assaults by humans.
A resident posted some pictures and two videos of the incident. One of the video showed the animal roaming inside the residential locality. The other one showed the forest officials carrying the leopard on a stretcher and the crowd including kids following them.
They speculated it might have escaped from a zoo, which is why it was accustomed to human presence.
They spotted some wound on leopard’s body and assumed that perhaps the cat was injured.
The wildlife wing of the forest department arrived at the scene (this time with tranquilizer guns) and spotted the leopard in nearby bushes.
The animal was carried to the Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre situated in Tutikandi. It was identified as a seven-months-old female. It is not clear how it happened to stray into the locality.
The matter also pertains to the critical issue of man and animal conflict due to depletion of natural habitat. HW will try to get hold of the vet on Monday for a follow up.
Pollution killed 25 lakh people in India in one year – highest in the world: Report
Applying similar legislation and regulation from high-income countries to low- and middle-income countries could help to improve and protect health as countries develop.
While the leaders of the ruling political party are trying to politicize the firecracker ban imposed in Delhi by the Supreme Court, India has achieved another milestone – highest number of deaths due to various kinds of pollutions.
The Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health released its report on October 19. As per the report, air pollution is the biggest killer of all.
The report said out of total 6.5 million (65 lakhs) deaths reported worldwide, 28% occurred only in India. Air pollution mainly resulted in diseases such as heart disease, stroke, lung cancer, and COPD.
Almost all (92%) pollution-related deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries.
The findings of the say that in 2015, pollution killed about 2.5 million (25 lakhs) people. China reported the second highest number of deaths at 1.8 million (18 lakhs) during the same year.
It implies that air pollution kills doubt the number of people killed by AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined.
The next largest risk factor was water pollution the caused gastrointestinal diseases and parasitic infections.Workplace pollution including exposure to toxins and pneumoconiosis in coal workers, bladder cancer in dye workers, and asbestosis, lung cancer, mesothelioma, and other cancers in workers exposed to asbestos.
Finally, lead pollution resulted from high blood pressure, renal failure, and cardiovascular disease caused by lead in adults.
As per the report, human activities, including industrialisation, urbanisation, and globalisation, are all drivers of pollution.
Types of pollution associated with industrial development, such as ambient air pollution (including ozone), chemical, occupational pollution and soil pollution, have increased from 4.3 million (9.2%) in 1990 to 5.5 million (10.2%) in 2015 as countries reach higher levels of development.
The greatest impacts occured in countries that are currently undergoing rapid development and industrialisation – with pollution responsible for up to one in four deaths in the most severely affected countries (such as in India, Pakistan, China, Bangladesh, Madagascar and Kenya).
As countries develop and industrialise, the type of pollution and the related health problems they face change.
For example, water pollution and household air pollution are more common in early stages of industrial development, causing higher rates of pneumonia and diarrhoeal diseases in low- and middle-income countries.
Economic costs of pollution
The costs of pollution-related death and disease are also highly concentrated in developing regions imposing vast costs on national budgets – equivalent to around 1.3% GDP in low-income countries, compared to around 0.5% GDP in high-income countries, and 0.13% GDP globally. Healthcare spending on pollution-related diseases also disproportionately affects lower income countries – accounting for an estimated 7% of health spending in middle-income countries each year, and 1.7% annual spend in high-income countries.
Welfare losses due to deaths and disease from pollution equate to US$4.6 trillion each year (equivalent to 6.2% of global economic output). Proportionately, low-income countries pay 8.3% of their gross national income to pollution-related death and disease, while high-income countries pay 4.5%.
The environmental injustice often violates these people’s human rights.
Pollution, poverty, poor health, and social injustice are deeply intertwined. Pollution and related diseases most often affect the world’s poor and powerless, and victims are often the vulnerable and the voiceless. As a result, pollution threatens fundamental human rights, such as the right to life, health, wellbeing, safe work, as well as protections of children and the most vulnerable
Says Commission author Karti Sandilya, Pure Earth, USA.
In order to tackle pollution, we must prioritise it as an issue that affects us all, integrating it into health planning, and increasing funding to allow more research into pollution, such as monitoring pollution and its effects, and developing ways to control pollution,
says Commission co-lead, Richard Fuller, Pure Earth, USA.
Pollution can be eliminated, and pollution prevention can be highly cost-effective – helping to improve health and extend lifespan, while boosting the economy. This has been seen in high-income and some middle-income countries where legislation has helped to curb the most flagrant forms of pollution, and has led to cleaner air and water, lower blood lead concentrations, removal of hazardous waste sites, and less polluted and more liveable cities, the report further said.
The report suggest that pollution is not the inevitable consequence of economic development, and applying similar legislation and regulation from high-income countries to low- and middle-income countries could help to improve and protect health as countries develop.
Top Photo: Hindustan Times
HP Polls 2017: EC directs parties to use eco-friendly & biodegradable material for publicity
Shimla: With the announcement of the polling and counting date for the General Elections to the Legislative Assembly of Himachal Pradesh would come an environmental menace – waste of publicity material left by party workers during campaigning period. Use of flex boards would be an suitable example.
Considering the fact that the public, administration, and the politicians are least concerned about environmental or visual pollution, it was necessary that the Election Commission interfere here.
In its notification issued regarding the schedule for the elections, the Election Commission of India has included separate direction to all the political parties, contesting candidates and their authorized agents etc. to desist from utilizing environmentally hazardous materials like plastics, polythene etc for the preparation and usage election-related publicity materials.
The EC has directed them to use eco-friendly and bio-degradable substances for preparing election campaign or publicity material.
The EC has directed the DEOs and ROs to emphasize the importance of environment protection and preservation during the meetings with the political parties and contesting candidates. They were also asked to ensure that the the political parties adhere to the instructions of the Commission with regard to the usage of non-eco-friendly materials.
The Commission has directed all the CEOs to instruct all the political parties in their respective states regarding the usage of eco-friendly and biodegradable materials.
The concern of the Commission about the long-term deleterious impact of materials like plastics, polythene etc on the life-giving and life-sustaining environment is worth appreciable provided it is actually followed.
The political parties and their leaders bear the moral and ethical duty of passing instruction to their party-workers to adhere to the EC directions and help keep Himachal clean.
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