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.
Dust storms hit air quality of Himachal, no health advisory issued from Govt
Shimla: Himachal Pradesh along with other North India states like Haryana and Delhi-NCR is affected by the dust storms due to strong-anti cyclonic winds, blowing from Rajasthan.
All major towns remained covered in a blanket of haze for the second day on Friday. The air quality has dropped in the capital Shimla. The amount of suspended particulate matter was reported to above 300 µg/m³ from 80-85 µg/m³ on normal days.
As per the Meteorological Department, the haze is worsened by higher humidity levels.
The tourist activity may also be effected in tourist towns like Shimla during the peak season as flights from airports in Himachal were also grounded for the second day due to the low visibility. The heli-taxi service from Shimla to Chandigarh was also suspended.
The State Pollution Control Board or the State Government has not issued any health advisory to the public so far. Some media reports said the PCB was not even aware of the exact levels of suspended particulate matter during past two days.
The haze could cause several problems from respiratory to allergic reactions including wheezing, cough, chest discomfort and shortness of breath.
For people suffering from asthma, it could prove to be fatal.
The reports suggested that a number of asthma patients visiting the Indira Gandhi Medical Hosptial saw a rise during last two days.
Children and elderly persons, who have smaller lung-reserve, can also face breathing problems. Therefore, remaining indoor to avoid long exposure to haze is advisable for vulnerable individuals.
It is a mixture of dust particles, gases, and other pollutants already floating in the breathable air.
The dust particles become a platform for deadly PM 10 and PM 2.5 particulate matter to cling on.
Previous studies have also confirmed the presence of chemcical pollutants in the haze of the Delhi-NCR.
Moreover, dust is a respiratory irritant even if it is not accompanied by toxic particles.
During such conditions, wearing a simple mask is advisable to minimize the damage.
Other than the health issues, the dust is settling on everything from clothes to edibles.
The Met Department had predicted rain with thunderstorm and gusty winds in all part of Himachal on Saturday and Sunday. The rain could bring relief from both humidity and dust storm.
The situation is alarming in the Delhi-NCR. So far, the dust storms have reportedly killed about 15 people in Uttar Pradesh. It may worsen as the storm is predicted to last for next two days.
HP Govt’s failure in implementing FRA Act turning habitants into encroachers
The right to claim titles in “Forest” areas occupied prior to December 13, 2005, is clearly provided in the FRA for the individuals regarded as “encroachers” under the previous legal framework.
Shimla: About 1500 people participated in a rally and public meeting held on June 7, 2018, at Reckong Peo, Kinnaur, to raise their voice against on-going eviction drive that is terming a large number of occupants of forestland as illegal encroachers in complete violation of the Forest Rights Act, 2006.
The people protested against HP Government’s poor implementation of the FRA, in their district as well as in the entire state.
The rally and public meeting were organized jointly by the Him Lok Jagriti Manch, Zilla Van Adhikar Mancha, a Kinnaur-based platform, Himachal Van Adhikar Manch, Himdhara Collective, and Himalaya Niti Abhiyan.
A memorandum was submitted to the Deputy Commissioner with a demand to immediately start processing the claims under FRA from Kinnaur district.
The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers Act, or Recognition of Forest Rights Act – commonly known as the Forest Rights Act (FRA)- was passed by Parliament in 2006 to address historical injustices and exclusion meted out to a large community of forest dwellers in India. Rights over forestlands were taken away since notification of forests under colonial Indian Forest Act (1927).
While in Himachal, there was a Forest Settlement in the 1970s that settled people’s access to forestlands, for the community, these remained privileges that could be taken away any time, the activists of organizing groups said.
Since then, a process of alienation of forest-dwelling communities has intensified in the name of development, wildlife conservation, forest management, and development, shrinking survival spaces of the forest-dependent people each time, they said.
It is only logical to assume that this piece of legislation is extremely relevant for Himachal Pradesh, where 67 percent of the total land area is under the jurisdiction of the Forest Department, the activists said.
In the initial phase, the State government had implemented the Act only in the Schedule – V (Tribal regions) areas of the State. As a result of this, the process of implementation in the State faced a long delay.
In 2013, after a High Court order and repeated instructions from the Centre, the government decided to implement the Act in non-tribal areas also. Despite the formation of more than 17503 Forest Right Committees (FRCs), which would file the claims, the process is not taking off in most areas.
Local administration and government officials have a partial understanding of the act and several misgivings. As a result of it, the process is just not moving forward.
The activists informed that it is extremely unfortunate that despite the formation of FRCs in 99.82% of revenue villages, only 53 individuals and 7 community titles have been issued under the Act in Himachal in past five years.
Further, on April 6, 2015, the Himachal Pradesh High Court ordered the removal of encroachments on “forest land” in the state within six months. It has triggered an eviction drive by the Forest Department.
This includes serving notices for removal of encroachments, disconnecting electricity and water supply provided to all “illegal” structures raised over encroached land and legal action in case of non-compliance.
In upper Shimla, the Forest Department went to the extent of felling apple trees from orchards on “forest land.” In Kinnaur, 98 such notices have been served to so-called “encroachers”.
Fearing further action, the people of Kinnaur, earlier on July 25, 2015, organised a huge rally at District headquarters, Rekong Peo, questioning the manner in which the Forest Department is implementing the orders of the High Court.
The activists emphasized on the importance of understanding the right to claim titles in “Forest” areas occupied prior to December 13, 2005, is clearly provided in the FRA for the individuals regarded as “encroachers” under the previous legal framework.
The provisions of this Act are applicable for Scheduled Tribes and other forest-dwelling communities, which mean almost the entire state. This is a special Act that supersedes all other previous acts related to forests like the Indian Forest Act 1927 or the Forest Conservation Act 1980.
It is a matter of concern that the state government failed to bring the issue of this non-implementation of the FRA Act to the attention of the High Court, the activists said.
As per the Section 5(4) of Chapter III of the FRA,
No member of a forest dwelling Scheduled Tribe or other traditional forest dwellers shall be evicted or removed from forest land under his occupation till the recognition and verification procedure is complete.
According to the 2011 Census, of the total workforce in Himachal, around 62 percents are cultivators and agricultural labourers. This means that a majority of the population dependent completely on farming and forests (livestock rearing) as a livelihood is not a beneficiary in the state budget allocations, the activists said.
Further, the falling number of jobs in the private sector has added to the crises between communities, which could ultimately lead to distress migration, visible in states like Uttarakhand, they said expressing concern.
Undertake research on ways to reduce dependence on plastic, say Nauni varsity scientists
Solan: The scientists and students of the Environment Science Department at Dr. YS Parmar University of Horticulture and Forestry, Nauni celebrated the World Environment Day with the students of Government Senior Secondary School, Kothi Deora. The students, staff, villagers and Dangri Gram Panchayat representatives took part in the celebrations.
Speaking at the occasion, Dr. SK Bhardwaj, Head Department of Environment Science said that the theme of this year’s celebrations was ‘Beating Plastic Pollution’.
The scientists and research scholars Apoorva Sharma, Shivani, Lal Rinzuali and health specialist Dr. Ajay Singh took part in the event and apprised the students about the various kinds of pollution and their impact.
Addressing the gathering, Apoorva explained the need to curtail the use of plastic products, as they were one of the main pollutants.
She urged everyone to look for environmentally friendly alternatives and undertake research on the ways to reduce the dependence on plastic. Another speaker, Shivani highlighted the pollution of water sources and the importance of water for humans.
She called for collective efforts to conserve water by building small tanks and by proper disposal of soapless water from kitchens and bathrooms in the soil.
School Principal Dr. Narender Sharma also shared effective techniques of environmental conservation with the students. The eco club of the school also administered the oath for the protection and conservation of the environment.
In addition, the Dangri Panchayat also organized a Workshop on Air Quality and TB at its premises. The university scientists set up Respirable Dust Sampler machine, which will help to ascertain the air quality of the area within the next one month.
The panchayat has already taken steps to fight pollution and has distributed plants like a spider plant, snake plant, aloe vera etc., which were provided to them by the university.
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