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Accusing Modi Govt. of diluting Forest Rights Act, Congress itself doing exactly same in Himachal

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Kinnaur Tribal forest rights

Petition comes at a point when Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi is gearing up to travel across several states focussing on the poor implementation of the Forest Rights Act by the BJP and other parties.

SHIMLA-While the Congress is accusing Modi- led NDA government of diluting and poor implementation of Forest Rights Act 2006, and even Vice-President Rahul Gandhi is gearing up to visit tribal areas calling himself protector of tribal people, Congress ruled Himachal is trying exactly opposite.

Congress Government in Himachal Pradesh has filed petition in apex court challenging rights of traditional dwellers on forests around their habitat  provided under the Forest Rights Act. The petition, filed by state-run Himachal Pradesh Power Corporation Limited (HPPC), slammed National Green Tribunal’s decision to seek consent from the affected tribes for forest clearance for construction of 130 megawatt (MW) Kashang hydropower project. The government stated in the petition that tribal people are unskilled and should not be allowed to interfere in matters of forest clearance for hydro project.

The move could tarnish Congress leadership’s  attempts to boost its pro-tribal credentials in and outside the Parliament.

A petition by Himachal government’s power corporation was heard on Monday in the apex court, challenging a National Green Tribunal (NGT) judgment, which requires the state government and the power corporation to seek consent of 19 tribal gram sabhas (village councils) before going ahead with the 130-Mw integrated Kashang hydropower project on their forestlands.

For the state government, the state power corporation, with the chief secretary as chairman, have contended, besides other things, that the gram sabha consists of only unskilled persons and local residents and the state government cannot comply with the directions of the NGT. The power corporation has asked that the NGT judgment be set aside, as it is not practicable or enforceable and that the judgment was outside the domain and jurisdiction of the tribunal.

It has cited the 2000 SC order in the Narmada case, that pre-dates the existence of the Forest Rights Act to plead gram sabha consent is not essential. It has questioned the ability of the tribals to take a decision on the impact of the projects on their lands, stating that the question of silt load in rivers being dammed involve technical issues which requires scientists and experts. It has said these issues are being looked after by the funder of the project, the Asian Development Bank.

The need for a consent from impacted tribals’ and other forest dwellers’ village councils under the Forest Rights Act to use the traditional forest land for building any project was last reinforced in the SC order in the Vedanta Niyamgiri mining case.

The petition by congress-led Himachal comes at a point when Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi is slated to travel across several states focussing on the poor implementation of the Forest Rights Act by the BJP and other parties. Only recently the central Congress leaders made much out of it forcing the NDA government to address their concerns on keeping tribal consent powers at the heart of the Compensatory Afforestation Act.

The Congress has also held press conference to condemn the BJP state government in Chhattisgarh for doing away with the rights of tribals to favour Adani group’s mining of a coal block in the state. It has repeatedly accused the central NDA government of often trying to dilute tribal rights provided under the Forest Rights Act.

Congress leadership, particularly Vice-President Rahul Gandhi, has tried to claim the pro-tribal leadership ever since the UPA government cancelled Vedanta’s proposal to mine the Niyamgiri hills in Odisha for bauxite against the wish of the Dongria Kondh tribals and the apex court gave a stamp of approval to the same.

But, the Himachal state government’s move could potentially take the wind out of Congress leadership’s future attacks against the government on this count.

The case began when the the Lippa village in Kinnaur district filed a case against the Kashang Hydro Electric Project before the NGT. Besides other arguments, the village contended that the project was given a forest clearance despite the fact that the project developers – the state power corporation – had not sought the mandatory consent from the village council. It raised other issues of potential environmental damage from the project for their lands not being considered while giving the clearance.

In May 2016, the NGT gave its order against the Himachal Pradesh government and its power corporation. it said that they “shall ensure that the entire proposal pertaining to Forest Clearance in respect of Stages II and III of 130 MW Kashang Integrated Hydro Electric Project is placed before the Gram Sabha of 19 villages Lippa, Rarang, Pangi and Telangi in Kinnaur District of Himachal Pradesh as prescribed.” The tribunal asked that the proceedings of the gram sabha be submitted to it in the form of a report by the state government.

The next hearing in the case is scheduled for September 9 that runs contrary to the decision in the Vedanta matter and the Congress leadership’s pro-tribal plank at the Centre.

Earlier,  the green tribunal in its order also expressed concern at the large number of hydel-power projects coming up in Himachal Pradesh, and hoped that the state government would reconsider its decision for projects where work has not commenced or just commenced.

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Himachal First State to Complete Assessment of Snow Leopard and its Wild Prey

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Snow Leopard Population Assessment in Himachal Pradesh

Shimla-The assessment of snow leopard population in Himachal Pradesh has been completed by the state wildlife wing in collaboration with Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF) Bangalore following the protocol aligning with the SPAI (Snow Leopard Population Assessment in India) protocols of the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change. Himachal Pradesh has become the first state to complete assessment of snow leopard and its wild prey.

The state has an estimated population of up to 73 snow leopards.

It is the first scientifically robust estimate of snow leopards and its prey for the State. Since snow leopard is the state animal, the study assumes great significance for Himachal Pradesh.
The exercise revealed that snow leopard density ranged from 0.08 to 0.37 individuals per 100 sq.km., with the trans-Himalayan regions of Spiti, Pin valley and upper Kinnaur recording the highest densities, both of the predator and its prey, mainly ibex and blue sheep.

This study covered the entire potential snow leopard habitat of Himachal Pradesh: an area of 26,112 sq.km., utilising a stratified sampling design. Camera trapping surveys were conducted at 10 sites to representatively sample all the strata i.e. high, low and unknown. The camera trap deployment over the mountainous terrains was led by a team of eight local youth of Kibber village and more than 70 frontline staff of HPFD were trained in this technique as part of the project. Snow leopards were detected at all the 10 sites (Bhaga, Chandra, Bharmour, Kullu, Miyar, Pin, Baspa, Tabo, Hangrang & Spiti) suggesting that snow leopards are found in the entire snow leopard habitat in Himachal Pradesh either as resident individuals of a population or as dispersing individuals navigating through these connecting habitats.

Another revelation from the study is that a bulk of snow leopard occurrence is outside protected areas, reiterating the fact that local communities are the strongest allies for conservation in snow leopard landscapes.

The NCF and wildlife wing collaborated in the effort and it took three years to complete the assessment. MoEFCC had launched the First National Protocol on Snow Leopard Population Assessment in India, on the occasion of International Snow Leopard Day. You can read the complete protocol here.

Snow leopard is the icon of high mountains of Asia. In India, they inhabit the higher Himalayan and TransHimalayan landscape in an altitudinal range between approximately 3,000 m to 5,400 m above MSL, spanning c. 100,000 km2 in the five states of Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh. This area contributes to about 5% of the global snow leopard range.

Snow leopards occur over a vast, relatively remote and difficult to access mountainous area. Together with their elusive nature, this makes a complete population census of snow leopards an unfeasible goal. Even their distribution remains unclear. For example, recent surveys show that they do not occur in 25 % of the area that was thought to be their range in the state of Himachal Pradesh Their density is expected to be variable in space, dependent on several factors such as habitat suitability, prey availability, disturbance and connectivity. Variation in density across space also poses the risk of biased sampling, and, indeed, most of the snow leopard population assessments conducted so far across the world are biased towards the best habitats.

Feature Photo: Pexels/Charles Miller

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Himachal Gets First Fully Automated ‘Doppler Weather Radar’, Would Provide More Accurate Short Range Forecast

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Dopper Weather Radar in Himachal Pradesh's Kufari

Shimla-India Meteorological Department (IMD) January 15, 2021, celebrated its 146th Foundation Day. IMD is one of the oldest, scientific service organizations in the country, in existence well before Independence.

On the occasion, Dr. Harsh Vardhan inaugurated Doppler Weather Radars at Mukteshwar, Uttarakhand and Kufri, Himachal Pradesh; Multi-Mission Meteorological Data Receiving and Processing System in IMD in collaboration with ISRO (MMDRPS).

According to the IMD, these modernized Radars would give a more specific short-range weather forecast.

It’s pertinent to mention that accurate and advance weather information is of utmost importance to Himachal Pradesh – a state largely dependent on agriculture and tourism.

The one installed in Kufari, Shimla, is Indigenous dual polarised X-Band Doppler Weather Radar. Two more Radars would be installed at Mandi and Dalhousie in Chamba district of the State. A site had already been finalized at Mandi and a site for Radar at Dalhousie would be finalized soon, the State Government informed.

This specific type of Radar uses the Doppler effect to gather velocity data. The Radar transmits a signal, which gets reflected when hits a raindrop. Based on the changes in the frequency of the reflected signal, data is obtained about the motion of droplets and intensity of the precipitation. Scientists can analyze this data to determine the structure and severity of storms.

Radar installed at Kufri is on test mode for a period of two weeks. Thereafter its data would be used for forecasting purposes. This Radar has a range upto 100 kilometres in radial distance. It would observe and provide the weather data of 100 kilometres in all directions, which would be used for forecasting purpose, especially for the short-range forecast. More précised area-specific weather forecast and warning can be issued for a particular place, for the weather phenomenon like thunderstorm, lighting, hailstorm, heavy rainfall/snowfall, gusty winds etc.    

This Centre would help the horticulturists and farmers of the State by providing them with accurate weather information.

The DWR Kufri would run round the clock and it is fully automatic. It would transmit the data in various digital format and picture form.

 Forecasting monsoons is the lifeline to India’s food security and affect the economy as the nation’s GDP is dependent on agriculture. Moreover, weather prediction is critical to reducing the loss of lives from various extreme events like a cyclone, heavy rain, thunderstorm, heatwave and cold wave, monsoonal floods and droughts.

India Meteorological Department says that it is modernizing its observational network in the Central and Western Himalayas by the installation of Doppler Weather Radars in a phased manner, at different locations.

IMD said that this radar will be providing severe weather information to the weather forecasters, thus, improving the safety of the public in the states of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh. It will also provide support to the disaster managers and the pilgrims undertaking the pilgrimage to Kailash Manasarovar and Char Dham yatra. 

 

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The GHNP and Tirthan Wildlife Sanctuary Ranked as Best Managed Protected Areas of India

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MEE Rank himachal pradesh GHNP

Shimla-The Great Himalayan National Park and Tirthan Wildlife Sanctuary (WLS) have been ranked as the best managed protected areas in India. Sainj WLS has also been placed among the top five Sanctuaries.

Minister for Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Prakash Javadekar, on January 11 released Management Effectiveness Evaluation (MEE) of 146 National Park and Wildlife Sanctuaries in the Country. At present, India has a network of 903 Protected Areas in the country covering about 5% of the total geographic area of the country. The purpose of it was to assess the efficacy of Protected Areas, evaluation of management effectiveness.

The evaluation process was executed by the Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun, in which  nation-wide 146 National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries, including 13 protected areas of Himachal Pradesh, were assessed through a team of evaluators. The score is given for various parameters including staff position, provision of financial resources, degree of protection, peoples’ participation and awareness of the communities towards the conservation values. Against a national average of 62 percent GHNP and Tirthan WLS scored a high of 84.17 percent while Sainj recorded 82.5 percent.

Currently, Himachal Pradesh has a network of 5 National Parks, 28 Wildlife Sanctuaries and 3 Conservation Reserves covering 8391.42 km2 which is 15 percent of the total geographical area of the state.

Top five and bottom five scored NP&WLS

Management Effectiveness Evaluation (MEE) of 146 National Park and Wildlife Sanctuaries in India 2

Source: MEE Evaluation Report

According to this Evaluation three of the top five best managed Protected Areas in the country are from Himachal Pradesh. However, the Evaluation also mentioned weaknesses in management in these National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries. (Scroll down for details info)

Top two highest and lowest scored NP&WLS in five regions

Managemaent Effectiveness Evaluation (MEE) of 146 National Park and Wildlife Sanctuaries in India

Source: MEE Evaluation Report

What is Management Effectiveness Evaluation (MEE)?

Protected area (PA) management effectiveness evaluation (MEE) is defined as the assessment of how well NP&WLS are being managed—primarily, whether they are protecting their values and achieving the goals and objectives agreed upon.

The term ‘management effectiveness’ reflects three main themes of PA management -design issues relating to both individual sites and PA systems, the adequacy and appropriateness of management systems and processes, and delivery of the objectives of NP&WLS, including conservation of values.

 Management Effectiveness Evaluation (MEE) of Protected Areas (PAs) has emerged as a key tool for PA managers and is increasingly being used by governments and international bodies to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the protected area management systems.

MEE is a very important document that provides valuable guidance on various aspects of wildlife and protected area expand MEE of Marine Protected Areas. A new framework for MEE of Marine Protected Areas has been also jointly prepared by WII and MoEF&CC.

In recent years there has been a general concern amongst PA professionals and the public that many NP&WLS are failing to achieve their objectives and, in some cases, are actually losing the values for which they were established (Hockings et al. 2008).

As a result, improving the effectiveness of PA management has become a priority throughout the conservation community. Protected areas that are effectively managed generally lead to improved biodiversity outcomes.

However, only 20% (21,743 NP&WLS) of the total coverage of protected areas reported in the WDPA has been assessed for management effectiveness according to the Global Database on Protected Areas Management Effectiveness (UNEP-WCMC, IUCN and NGS 2018). The result indicated that only 17.5% of the countries have achieved the 60% score of management effectiveness (Coad et al. 2015).

Further, Javadekar also announced that from this year onwards 10 best National Parks, 5 coastal and Marine parks and top five Zoos in the country will be ranked and awarded every year.

Management Strengths and Weaknesses of National Parks and Wild Life Sanctuaries in Himachal Pradesh

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