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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: Report Forest Fires on Toll-Free Numbers 1077 and 1070

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helpline for Forest Fires in himachal pradesh

Shimla-Forest fire is a recurrent annual phenomenon in Himachal Pradesh and causes losses worth several crores every year. Dry spell and summers make forests, especially chir pine forests, highly vulnerable to forest fires. These forest fires not only damage the forest wealth but also hit wildlife and biodiversity in general. The forest department attributes most fires to human factors.

Like every year, the forest department has claimed that it is all geared up and ready to combat forest fires this year too. Principal Chief Conservator of Forests Dr. Savita on Monday held a virtual review meeting with Forest Circles on preparedness for forest fires in the state.

She said that the Forest department was well prepared to fight the forest fires and a rapid forest fire fighting force and rapid response teams had been set up at forest division and range levels.

“Approximately 40,000 man-days of fire watchers would be engaged by the department in addition to existing frontline staff for preventing and combating forest fires,” she said. The state disaster control room with toll-free number 1077 at the state level and 1070 at the district level were operational for reporting of the forest fire by the local community, she informed.

Dr. Savita said messages regarding forest fire had been shared with the members of the rapid forest fire fighting force, in which approximately 50,000 volunteers had already been registered. Awareness to the community was also conducted through Nukkar Nataks, songs, speeches and other activities at different locations in the state. Besides, a massive state-level awareness program was also conducted at 45 places from 10 to 17 March 2021

She said that the department had created forest fire lines and did control burning and also constructed water storage structures in the forest areas to combat forest fires. Additional multi-utility vehicles and water loaded tankers in 80 fire-sensitive ranges had been engaged for three months. She that matter regarding Standard Operating Systems (SOPs) for requisition of helicopter services for dousing the forest fires had been sent to the Government for approval. 

Feature Photo: Unsplash@Thematthoward

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Himachal Counts 108,578 Waterbirds of 96 Species This Year With Increase in Habitat

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Annual Bird Count in Himachal Pradesh 2021

Shimla-The habitat of migratory and resident water-birds in Himachal Pradesh has gradually improved, said Forest Minister Rakesh Pathania.

The annual water-bird count at Pong Dam Lake Wildlife Sanctuary was conducted in the first of February, 2021 and the exercise was conducted under restrained conditions due to the prevailing Avian Influenza outbreak in Pong Dam Lake as well as the COVID-19 Pandemic, he said.

The exercise was conducted by Wildlife wing of Himachal Pradesh by deploying 57 staff members in 26 sections of the sanctuary for counting the water-dependent birds.

Total 108,578 birds of 96 species were counted during this year. Out of the total number, 101,431 of 51 species are water-dependent migratory birds and 6,433 of 29 species are water-dependent resident birds. As many as 714 birds of 16 other species were also recorded. The total population of the flagship species, Bar-Headed Geese, is 40,570.

The other species which have higher population count during this year are Eurasian Coot (24,163), Northern Pintail (12,702), Common Teal (8,444), Little Cormorant (3,649), Great Cormorant (3,410), Grey Lag Goose (2,297), Northern Shoveler (2,275) and Common Pochard (2,138). The species which find noticeable mention are Red Necked Grebe, Great Bittern, Lesser White-Fronted Goose, Red Crested Pochard, Ferruginous Pochard, Pied Avocet, Northern Lapwing, Peregrine Falcon etc. During the counting exercise, one Bar-headed Goose and one Grey Lag Goose with collars were also spotted.

This year the Annual bird count exercise assumes significance, considering the Avian Influenza outbreak in the Wildlife Sanctuary. Further, the Minister expressed satisfaction over the timely and effective containment measures taken by Wildlife Wing to control and contain Avian Influenza outbreak in the Wildlife Sanctuary.

PCCF (Wildlife) Archana Sharma and CCF Wildlife (North) Dharamshala Upasana Patial also participated and supervised the Annual Water Bird Count.

The total population of birds, as well as number of species, counted this year are marginally less as compared to last year, probably due to the impact of Avian Influenza outbreak which was first reported on 28th December 2020.

Although the total population of water birds declined during the peak of the Avian Influenza outbreak, there is a gradual increase in the total population of birds, the Minister informed.

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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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