Himachal is cheered up after the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs gave a nod to the Rs 1583.18 crore two-laning project (in formation of four) for 28 kilometers Kathalighat to Shimla section (Dhalli) of NH-22 (old numbering). But environmental activists are worried about adverse impacts of proposed felling of over 33,000 trees including seedlings and saplings. An area of 919 bigah would be acquired for the project. Considering unchecked rise in vehicular emissions and pollution from other harmful practices like biomass/garbage-burning in open in Shimla and Solan.
So far, National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) has paid for only Solan to Parwanoo phase and this cost includes cost of land acquisition, resettlement and rehabilitation and other pre-construction activities. NHAI has already paid Rs. 8, 71,92,790 to the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA) and Rs 9,31,40,305 to the Divisional Forest Officer, Solan.
An RTI activist, Himanshu Thakur, questioned Ministry of Environment, forest and Climate Change (MeEF) about how much CAMPA funds were received and how the funds would be utilized. He sought information regarding the status of CAMPA fund utilization in last 10 years in the state of Himachal Pradesh. But Rajagopal Prashant, CPIO and AIG (FC), did not provide required information saying “No information is available with this office and that the application was being transferred to the Government of Himachal Pradesh for provision of information if any.” But even State Forest Corporation seems to be evading the matter as they haven’t provided any information to the applicant.
Parwanoo- Shimla NH 22 widening and four-laning work began in 2015, and is under progress. NHAI has not initiated widening work at Dharampur, Jabali, and Kummarhatti. It suggests that either the required land isn’t acquired yet or the matter pertains to ligation. In either case, the project could witness long halt, and in that case, it would be nothing more than a gimmick.
So far, 11,984 trees are felled in the first phase from Parwanoo-Solan. Now, thousands of more trees are about to be axed in next phase from Kaithalighat to Shimla. The HP State Forest Corporation has already marked 21,000 trees, 10,221 saplings, 1,604 seedlings, and 5,206 poles to be cleared. The trees marked for felling include Chil, Deodar, Ban, Kharik, Shisham, Siris, Mango, Eucalyptus, Popular, Tun Akhrot, Robinnia and others.
Apparently, between trees and so called “development”, the later is winning. After all, we all want “development”. There is no doubt that the four-lane will minimize traffic congestion, reduce journey distance by 17 kilometers and save up to 45 minutes, and boost transportation of goods, thus, leading to overall development of the state.
Shimla is excited about the four-laning project, but only very few people wonder how it would affect the ecology. The National Green Tribunal was forced to ban commercial activity and entry of fossil fuel vehicles into Rohtang region after excessive air pollution was reported in surveys. NGT needs to take notice of this issue as well to ensure compliance to guidelines provided under Conservation Act.
Trees absorb carbon-dioxide and provide living creatures with breathable oxygen. So, the trees are like purifiers and it does matter when thousands of them are suddenly cleared. The emission levels remain the same, owing to rise in vehicular traffic and other human activities. But clearly we have lost huge chunk of forest and would continue losing more. The other critical issues related to it are destruction of wildlife habitat, especially avian habitat/nests. That’s why, under the provision in Conservation Act 1980, guidelines have mentioned placement of synthetic nests around the affected area due to land diversion, but lack of cognisance to this seems prevalent on Parwanoo – Solan highway.
Disappearance of trees is feared to lead to soil erosion and trigger landslides on newly constructed highway. Further, monkey-human conflict in Himachal is an apt example of what deforestation leads to. Not just Shimla or Solan, “development” is asking for tree-sacrifice in other districts too, like tree felling for widening of National Highway (NH)-88 between Hamirpur and Balugloa village, near Jawalamukhi, in Kangra district. About 2,023 trees were marked in January this year for the proposed widening here.
No clue of Tree Plantation/Afforestation
According to the permissions obtained by NHAI under the Forest Conservation Act 1980, the Forest Corporation must find a barren land double the cleared area and plant trees for afforestation and undertake maintenance and care for 5-10 years. In case of Shimla-Parwanoo four-laning, Forest Department of Himachal Pradesh was given compensation for tree-felling or fund for the afforestation work, which is about 18 crore in this case. The trees will take many decades to grow into the size of trees cleared, so plantation should have been under progress.
However, an RTI filed by an activist, Himanshu Thakur, revealed that the government has no clue about afforestation work. The RTI filed sought information regarding the CAMPA funds utilization, area selected for tree-plantation and progress made so far, but the MoEF clearly replied that there is no such information available with the office and transferred it to HP Govt. offices that haven’t acknowledged receiving any funds for afforestation.
That smells like another corruption scam in making in which money meant to plant thousands, may be lakhs, of trees would just go into the pockets of few individuals. No afforestation work is being carried out when it must have begun with approval of four-laning project itself. At least that’s what the response to the mentioned RTI application indicates.
NHAI paid the amount to CAMPA and HP Forest Corporation for compensatory afforestation. The point is, none of the departments have acknowledged receiving the money, and, on top of that, they have no information about when and how compensatory afforestation will be done. CAMPA says state will answer and the state is evading the matter by not answering it,
|Other information sought in RTI Act 2005|
|1||In the process of widening (4 lane) of National Highway-22 (old numbering) from Parwanoo till Solan in Himachal Pradesh, how many trees have been cut till now?|
|2||Whose permission was sought for the cutting of trees? Please provide the copy of permission letter|
|3||Has NHAI paid any amount of State Forest Corporation for the cutting of trees?|
|4||Who will be having the ownership of the wood of these trees?|
|5||Will NHAI be planting trees in order to compensate the loss of flora and fauna or the particular area?|
NHAI in reply said that it has already transferred funds to the CAMPA account as compensation/fund for afforestation. So, most information sought under RTI was provided except about afforestation work.
Strict guidelines were given under Forest Conservation Act 1980 to cut only as many trees as necessary. The guidelines also require planting new plants on either side of the four-lane as well as on the verge of the road. 11,504 trees had been felled by the end of March 2016 and the wood of these trees belongs to NHAI.
On ground level, the plantation work is not even in the priority list. As observed earlier, HP government is not at all serious regarding critical ecological issues. It has not moved a single muscle to monitor and keep a check on activities causing air, soil and water pollution. The condition is so poor that Shimla Municipal Corporation is directing its sanitation workers to burn garbage instead of collecting it because the capital city does not have an operational solid waste treatment plant. Furthermore, the Jaundice outbreak due to contamination of Ashwani Khud had claimed many lives and had landed about 15,000 people in hospital, which clearly exposed blatant corruption in SMC, PCB, and IPH.
Other than legally felled trees, illegal activities are also leading to deforestation. The tree-massacre in Tara Devi forest in Shimla, in which 500 trees were felled, is an apt example of it. Surprisingly, majority of illegal tree felling was reported from the home district of the forest minister Thakur Singh Bharmauri.
Deforestation is inevitable as we all seek “development”. All we can do is to delay it or work on afforestation. So, tree plantation and rehabilitation of wildlife must be top priority for any sensible and responsible government. Sadly, the awareness among people regarding these critical issues is negligible, and that further encourages government’s lethargic attitude.
Rohtang Tunnel access road facing increased avalanche threats as Himachal’s average temp on rise: Study
Shimla: A research carried out in Himachal Pradesh within the framework of the Indian Himalayas Climate Adaptation Program (IHCAP), a partnership led jointly by the Indian and Swiss authorities with strong scientific input from University of Geneva (UNIGE), Switzerland, has a bad news for the Hill State.
The impacts of global warming are felt especially in mountainous regions, where the rise in temperatures is above average, affecting both glacierized landscapes and water resources.
The repercussions of these changes are manifold and varied, from retreating glaciers to an increase in the frequency and intensity of snow avalanches.
A team of researchers from the UNIGE, Switzerland, has employed endrochronology– the reconstruction of past disasters as recorded in growth series of trees– to disentangle the role of global warming in the triggering avalanches.
The results of this study are published in the Proceedings of the National Academic of Science – PNAS.
Read Detailed Study
Avalanches are a natural phenomenon and occur repeatedly in mountain areas; nonetheless, rising temperatures are altering their triggering. This can lead to disasters and serious consequences in mountain areas where they can severely affect the socio-economic development and the destruction of traffic infrastructure, and buildings.
This is the case in Himachal Pradesh, where increasing residential numbers and tourism are exerting pressure on land use. Along the road to Leh, 500 km north of New Delhi, the Indian government has drilled one of the largest tunnels of the Indian sub-continent.
With the ongoing climate warming, snow avalanches are increasingly threatening the access road to the tunnel. This is why UNIGE researchers conducted their fieldwork at the spot from 2013 to 2015, in a valley located at between 3,000 and 4,000 m.
Trees: silent witnesses to the upsurge in the number of avalanches
The aim of the research group was to evaluate – and add to – the information currently available about avalanches with two goals:
(i) To identify the nature of the changes in avalanche activity currently taking place; and
(ii) To assess future needs for tackling these changes.
In the absence of data comparable to the information collected in European surveys, for which records often exist for the past few centuries, the UNIGE researchers focused on trees: they examined stumps (when the tree had been removed) or cored trees that were still standing to reconstruct past snow avalanches at the study site.
The scientists were able to date individual events by analysing the growth rings and wounds left on the trees by avalanches. The research included nearly 150 trees.
Since we knew the position of each affected tree, we were able to reconstruct the dynamics, lateral extent and runout distance of every avalanche,
explains Juan Antonio Ballesteros-Cánovas, a senior lecturer at UNIGE’s Institute for Environmental Sciences (ISE).
This technique meant we could go back to 1855 and record 38 avalanches over this period in the valley, the largest survey conducted to date in the Himalayas.
The models used for testing the impact of climate change combine the risks of avalanche with local climate data. They were adjusted to include the likely effect on topographical features resulting from earlier avalanches.
Since they destroy the plant cover, they are an aggravating risk factor. The results brooked no argument: from the second half of the twentieth century, there has been an increase in the number of avalanches, both in terms of frequency and intensity. The frequency has risen from one event per decade to almost one event every year.
The impact of temperature on the cryosphere
Avalanches are bigger, travel greater distances and are triggered earlier in the year. These changes can be attributed clearly to rising temperatures, which have reached 0.2 to 0.4 degrees annually in some parts of the Himalayas.
And rising air temperature are also affecting the cryosphere: glaciers are receding and permafrost is melting, losing its role as a sediment stabiliser.
In addition, the structure of the snowpack is changing: it is being transformed by increasingly warmer air temperatures and/or altered by rain-on-snow events.
Snow is now also falling earlier in the season and is being destabilised before spring, at a time when it is thicker, leading to an increase in the number and intensity of avalanches.
Since the snow is wet, avalanches are descending slowly but over greater distances than in the past.
Himachal 72% rain deficient, witnessed above normal temp during 2018 winters
Shimla: The winter session 2018 for Himachal Pradesh ended on February 28. During this winter season, which is counted from January 1- Feb 28, the climate left Himachal, especially the agricultural community and fruit growers worried.
As per the detailed report issued by the Meteorological Department, by the end of this winter session, Himachal received a cumulative rainfall of 55.1 mm, which is 72% deficient from average normal rainfall.
In January and February, total cumulative rainfall received was 9.2mm and 46 mm respectively, which was deficient by (-)91% & (-53%) from normal values for respective months.
Rainfall during Winter Sessions of Recent Years
|Year||Actual||Normal||Departure in %|
During the Winter Season 2018, average minimum temperatures over the mid-hills and high hills of the state were above normal. Over the low hills areas and plains of the state, average minimum temperatures were normal or below normal.
During this winter season, the average minimum temperature of Shimla in the month of January was 4.7deg C, which was 2.1deg C more than more than normal. In February, it was 5.5 deg C, which was 1.9deg C more than normal.
District wise Cumulative Rainfall during the Winter Season 2018
(1st Jan to 28th Feb 2018)
|Name of the District||Actual Rainfall (mm)||Normal Rainfall (mm)||% departure from the normal|
|LAHAUL & SPITI||51.8||269.9||-81|
Important facts about 2018 Winters in Himachal
- Rainfall during this winter season remained below normal in all the districts of the state.
- Rainfall was most deficient in the districts of Kinnaur-38.6mm (-82%) and Lahaul & Spiti-51.8mm (-81%) respectively.
- Cumulative Rainfall during the season in the districts of Chamba- 75.3mm & Shimla- 44.2mm was deficient with a deficit of 68% from their normal values.
- During the winter season 2018, three spells of Widespread Rainfall had occurred (one spell in January and two spells in February) during which Rainfall/ Snowfall occurred over most places in the state.
- On January 24, 2018, Himachal recorded widespread rainfall over the state with prominent rainfall recorded at Sangraha- 32mm, Rajgarh- 29mm respectively.
- During this spell, Khadrala- 13cm, Mashobra- 12cm, Bharmaur-10cm, Jahnjheli-10cm and few other places received snowfall.
- During widespread rainfall spell on 12-13 February 2018, Baijnath-50mm, Dharamsala-28mm, Barsar-27mm, Saluni & Chamba-30mm received rainfall.
- During this spell, Gondhla-70cm, Kothi- 60cm, Keylong-36 cm, Bharmaur-30cm & Kalpa-21cm received snowfall.
- On 23-24th February, widespread rainfall/snowfall occurred over the state. Saluni- 54mm, Kheri- 53mm recorded prominent rainfall.
- During this spell, highest snowfall spell was recorded at Udaipur-39cm followed by Gondhla-35cm, Kalpa-19cm, Kothi-22cm, and Khadrala-15cm.
- Highest rainfall/snowfall in the day during this season was recorded at Saluni-54mm on Feb 25, 2018.
- The average minimum temperature of Kalpa in the month of Jan was -2.2deg C, which was 1.7 deg C more than normal. In February, the temperature was -0.8 deg C, which was 1.1deg C more than normal.
- However, the average minimum temperature of Una in January was 3.8deg C, which was 0.4deg C less than normal, and in February, it was 7.9 deg C, which was 0.9deg C more than normal.
Kangra mining mafia assault case: Police held back from taking action
Mining mafia active in Indora region of Kangra district abducted Puran Chand of Mand-Myani, almost beat him to death with sticks and iron rods, and threw him near Nangal Boor bordering Punjab.
Shimla: Though the Chief Minister Jairam Thakur led Bhartiya Janata Party has been harping about the elimination of mining, forest, and drug mafia in Himachal Pradesh, but in speeches and media statements only.
In its media statements, the new government has taken expeditious action and is up in arms against the mafia, just like the previous government.
The mining mafia had only emboldened during the previous Congress-led government, and it continues to grow after the BJP romped into power in assembly elections held in November.
Now, the situation has become such that mafia has begun to abduct and assault villagers, who are daring to protest against the destruction of the rivulet. The police is yet again held back by the patrons of the mafia.
On January 30, the mining mafia active in Indora region of Kangra district abducted Puran Chand of Mand-Myani, almost beat him to death with sticks and iron rods, and threw him near Nangal Boor bordering Punjab.
He was first taken to the Civil Hospital in Pathankot, and then to Tanda Medical College, Kangra, in a critical condition.
After nine days of the attack, the culprits, identified as stone-crusher owners, are at large not because our police is incompetent, rather because our leaders and government have always been ceding the control to the mafia.
The cause of failure of police needs no explanation considering the fact that the police had filed a complaint against eight assaulters named by the victim. The Chief Minister had visited the victim and had assured him justice, which proved to be only a media statement so far.
Enraged over the inaction of the police, the people had gheraoed the police station, Indora on January 31. They demanded booking the culprits for an attempted murder (Section 307 IPC). The district administration failed to pacify the situation and had to face the wrath of people, who shouted anti-police slogans.
Isn’t it strange that despite the establishment of the Sub-divisional Magistrate (SDM) office in the region, illegal mining still goes on with no fear of the law?
As per the allegations labelled by villagers, the explanation of this inaction of the district administration and police lies in the fat monetary benefits offered by the stone crushers and miners.
This conflict between the common people and growing influence of the mafia is going on for years, but the situation worsened between 2014 to the current date.
As per the Kisan Sabha Unit of Kangra, Puran was playing a leading role in the protest against the illegal miners since 2014, which is why he was targeted to terrorize locals.
Now, the villagers are opposing the movement of tippers carrying mining material. In return, the stone crushers are also obstructing a small bridge to harass the villagers.
Along with the mafia, the government seems to have lost the fear of law too, because the State High Court and the National Green Tribunal (NGT), in 2017, had made serious observations regarding the illegal mining and had imposed a complete ban on mining in tributaries of the Beas.
Following the orders, the administration and the mining department registered several cases for a while but soon discontinued their surveillance due to reasons unknown.
The transfers of IPS Gaurav Singh from Baddi and Sanjeev Gandhi, former superintendent of police, Una, are sufficient to support the allegation of patronage to mafias by the government.
Gandhi had tightened the noose around the mining mafia by launching a special drive for this purpose. In March 2017, the police had even caught the offenders red-handed in Damtal region of the district and seized JCBs and vehicles found on the spot.
However, the amount of money and politicians or their relatives who are, directly or indirectly, involved in illegal mining, make the government agencies accede to mafia raj.
In 2017, Gandhi was slapped three different transfer orders in just 17 days.
He went after the miners in the district who was supplying the illegally mined material to the neighbouring state of Punjab and registered 27 cases against illegal mining.
However, as a reward, his transfer order was issued in his absence within two days after the stone crusher owners and illegal miners exerted pressure on the BJP government.
Previously, during the Congress government, Gandhi, then posted as SP Kangra, had launched a similar drive against the mining mafia. He had registered 17 FIRs alongwith action against 950 violations in just seven months during his tenure in 2016-2017.
During that period, several machines and vehicles were seized by the authorities, which were later released unlawfully.
The mining mafia in the district heaved a sigh of relief when the administration released impounded vehicles in a gross violation of rules and the NGT in its specific orders had directed the state agencies not to release such vehicles. Sources said with the intervention of senior officers of the state government, these vehicles were released,
said a report published in the English daily.
He had even conducted a survey of stone crusher units set up near the Chakki rivulet, a tributary of Beas that marks the boundary between Himachal and Punjab, in the Nurpur and Indora jurisdiction.
Chakki rivulet in the subdivision bordering Punjab and Himachal Pradesh is a witness to the rampant and illegal mining that is threatening over 10 panchayats. The people in the area are dependent on the Chakki water for irrigation.
Illegal and access mining with heavy machinery is turning the fertile fields into barren land. The mafia has destroyed local paths, water channels, and cremation ground, alleges the villagers.
The rivulet is marked by huge ditches as the mining mafia are not adhering to the rules and regulations for extraction of mining material. The government is bearing the huge loss of revenue as the mafia easily evades royalty and local taxes.
At that time, he was transferred to Una. Within four months, he was again transferred.
In 2016, the state High Court had also taken suo-motu- cognizance of the matter, and the Division Bench comprising Chief Justice Mansoor Ahmad Mir and Justice Sandeep Sharma had questioned the Congress government over regressive actions against honest officials.
Earlier, the Kisan Sabha’s protest had compelled the authorities to visit the mining spots, and they had admitted that illegal mining activity was prevalent in the area. The inspection team had found that the miners had excavated upto a depth of about 40 feet. Despite that, no action was ever taken against the culprits, alleged the Kisan Sabha.
The Sabha has expressed doubts over the intentions of the new government as no action is being taken against the perpetrator. The Sabha has also threatened the government that it will launch a massive protest against it if appropriate action is not taken against the assaulters and other stone crushers and mining mafia active in the region illegally.
As the government, which has failed to keep the mining mafia at the bay, has recently asked Punjab for demarcation of its boundary. The unclear boundary line makes it easier for miners from Punjab to intrude into Himachal.
In a report published in another English daily, the police officials in Kangra had admitted that when they chase mafia, the Punjab police raise the issue of jurisdiction.
A similar attempt was made during 2015 to take up the matter with Pathankot counterparts seeking demarcation of the boundary along the Chakki Khud.
By delaying the right action, the government is not only condoning the offenders, but also ignoring the gravity of the environmental debacle that the excess, unscientific, and illegal mining is causing.
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