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HP Govt. blunder embarrasses Congress high-command, forced to withdraw anti-FRA appeal in hydro-project case

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SHIMLA- Controversial petition in Apex court by Congress government in Himachal Pradesh to subvert Forest Rights Act 2006 to favour hydropower projects has caused embarrassment to party high-command, especially to Vice-President Rahul Gandhi, who was  scheduled to go on an eight-state tour soon to protest against attempted and committed dilution of tribal rights by Modi-led NDA government. Unfortunately, the petition by the Congress government in Himachal came as embarrassment and panic in central party leadership.

On Monday, Himachal government defended their petition during the first hearing, which was taken up by regional and national media. Right after it, the Congress high-command intervened to prevent the public relation disaster.

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

The Himachal Pradesh Power Corporation Limited (HPPCL), a state government entity, had challenged the May 2016 National Green Tribunal judgement related to the Kashang Hydroelectric project (stage II and III) in the Supreme Court. The NGT judgement had directed the Ministry of Environment and Forest and the State government in May 2016 to acquire the consent of the four Gram Sabhas (Lippa, Rarang, Pangi and Telangi in Kinnaur District) that were to be affected before any activity related to the 130Mw integrated hydropower project could take place on their forestlands.

The judgement upholding the spirit of FRA had said that “the Gram Sabha shall consider all community and individual claims” and consider cultural, religious, environmental and livelihood impacts as a result of the loss of forest and water resources. As per news reports the HPPCL contended in the Supreme Court that the ‘villagers were not qualified to take the decisions’ related to these technical matters and that the NGT judgement should be annulled.

As per a news report in Business Standard today, after pressure from Rahul Gandhi who is on a campaign for implementation of FRA, the Himachal government withdrew the case.

 

On Thursday as senior Congress lawyer Salman Khurshid appeared for Himachal Pradesh to withdraw the petition. It was an unnecessary diversion from our commitment to forest rights. No notices had been issued yet (in the petition) so there was not much to be done except withdraw it. The court was gracious to allow us to do so,

he said

The Integrated Kashang Project was conceptualised in 2002 under the Himachal Pradesh State Electricity Board (HPSEB) as a 65 Mw hydroelectricity project. Three more projects were introduced later in addition to the initial plan and a Rs.1800 crore project was to be executed by the state owned HPPCL with funding from the Asian Development Bank. The project was located in Lippa region of Kinnaur District a Schedule V area.

While stage I of the project is nearly complete, stage II and III were stalled due to resistance by the local communities in light of the project being in violation of FRA and their livelihoods being at stake.

The NGT judgement of May 2016, where the forest diversion was challenged, taking the issues raised by the local communities into consideration had said,

The folly of allowing hydel projects in the State at such alarming scale which was highlighted earlier manifestly resulting in serious consequences to its ecology and environment and, the very life and livelihood of the people in whose benefit the State claims to have allowed the projects.

The judgement referring to the Karcham-Wangtoo HEP which had been detrimental for the health of 167 sources of water in the project area said

These illustrate the adverse effect on only one aspect of the environment within just one project area. We can, therefore, well imagine the cumulative impact of the 150 projects.

The judgement had also raised issue with the MoEF for evading the cumulative impact assessment report of the Satluj river basin.

The attempt by the state government to override the powers vested to the people under FRA 2006 is not a stand alone case but rather a pattern across the state carrying on since last few years, in clear contradiction to the pro-poor and pro-rights image that the party has been chiselling out for itself. Environmental activists have alleged that the State Government has dragged its feet in the implementation of FRA in the state since the coming of the Act. Activists emphasize that it is high time that the government wake up from its slumber and recognise the spirit of this landmark legislation and its criticality for the tribal people of Himachal.

Environment

Watch: Baddi’s Kenduwal dumping yard exposes hypocrisy over Swachh Bharat

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Baddi solid waste management plant

Solan: The government agencies in Himachal Pradesh are quite infamous for disrespecting court orders, especially those relating to environmental protection. This time, we have a case where the local civic body first created an illegal dumping yard on a site selected and cleared for an integrated waste management facility and now covering it with soil and mud after the matter reached the State High Court.

In fact, the government does only what the court orders it to do after activists or the common people file petitions. There is a very clear hypocrisy going on over the Swachh Bharat campaign, which is often used to gain political mileage.

So far, the government has given no sign about being serious when it says, “The government is committed to protect and preserve the environment and ecology of the State.”

The ground-level situation of Solid Waste Management (SWM) in Himachal Pradesh can be best used to demonstrate this hypocrisy by both the current and succeeding governments and the public itself. There is no limit to the callousness of the government agencies at both local as well as the state levels.

Baddi MC waste

If we take up a particular case, then Baddi-Barotiwala-Nalagarh area in Solan district is perhaps in the worst state. The Municipal Council of Baddi and BBN Development Authority (BBNDA) are responsible for the collection and scientific disposal of waste generated in the area. Both agencies had joined hands with a proposal of managing waste disposal in the BBN area.

The MC and BBNDA were supposed to establish a facility where collected waste could be disposed of scientifically. They had obtained the clearance for the same on August 13, 2015, and were allotted 42 bighas and 13 Biswas of land in Kenduwal.

However, as expected, the facility never came into existence. Instead, the MC and BBNDA began dumping MC waste at the selected site and turned it into a big open dumping yard. Within a couple of years, the life of the locals residing very near to this illegally created dumping site became a hell as every day they faced foul smell, flies, mosquitoes.

The nearest house is located merely at a distance of 30 meters while the Sirsa river floodplain is not far at about 100 meters from the dumping site. The locals, supported by an environmental group Himdhara Collective, approached the local civic body and the district administration several times with their grievance. None of the two disappointed the locals and, as usual, didn’t move a muscle.

About 1200 villagers wrote to the President of India after they were disappointed by their own government. 

The State Pollution Control Board confined itself to issuing repeated notices to the local bodies to solve the grievance of the locals. While the MC and BBNDA didn’t care about these notices, the HP PCB did not proceed to take proper action.

Very recently, the matter reached the State High Court pleading for justice.

In the interregnum, we direct that no garbage shall be dumped into the land owned by the present petitioner or dumped at any other site, save and except, in accordance with law. We further direct the Senior Environmental Engineer of respondent No.3 to visit the site and after inspecting the same, submit his report with regard to the compliance of the statutory provisions,

a bench of then Acting Chief Justice Sanjay Karol and Justice Ajay Mohan Goyal had said in its order passsed on October 4, 2018.

However, both responsible bodies violated these orders as well and continued to dump garbage at the same site. The villagers captured videos of the same and wrote an application to the Superintendent of Police, Solan. The SP was informed regarding the violations of the court orders.

Letter to the SP Solan by Kenduwal petitioner

Letter written by villagers to SP Solan

The Court directed the Senior Environmental Engineer of the HP PCB to file a status report regarding this matter within four weeks

As per the report of the Chief Engineer dated October 15, 2018, the MC, Baddi and BBND hardly collect 30-40 percent of total solid waste generated, which is about 50 tons per day in this case. The collected waste is dumped at Kenduwal while remaining can be found scattered near the BBN area.

HP PCB has repeatedly directed the Municipal Council and BBNDA to dispose of the waste in a scientific manner in accordance with the provision of SWR,

2016, the report submitted to the court said.

The Municipal Solid waste is being collected unsegregated and transported to MSW site at Kenduwal where it is being dumped unscientifically. Most of the time it remains exposed in an open atmosphere and sometimes covered with soil layer, which is a breeding place for flies, mosquitoes, rats etc. The nearest human habitation is a house located at about 30 meters from the boundary of the dumping site, whereas the flood plain of river Sirsa is about 100 meters away from the site,

the report said.

The court concluded that despite having a clearance for the proposed facility to dispose of this waste scientifically, the MC and BBNDA failed to perform their duties.

We have gone through the contents of the report and are satisfied that prima facie, Municipal Council, Baddi, as well as Baddi-Barotiwala-Nalagarh Development Authority (BBNDA), have failed to perform their duties towards collection of solid waste and its dumping in a scientific manner at the MSW disposal site at Kenduwal, for which requisite clearance has been already granted by the Ministry of Environment and Forests,

a Bench of Chief Justice Surya Kant and Justice Ajay Mohan Goel directed the MC and BBNDA.

The court also directed the local agencies to take immediate action on the report of the Senior Environmental Engineer.

We direct both the aforesaid Agencies to immediately act upon the report of the Senior Environmental Engineer and submit their respective compliance reports within four weeks. Any delay or defiance will be viewed seriously,

the court directed the MC and BBNDA.

However, the entire waste at the dumping site is being buried under mud and soil.

MC Baddi/BBDNA may be asked to transport the waste as per the past practice of disposing the waste to the Jaypee Plant in Sector 25 of Chandigarh or to Mars Envirotech Ltd. Lalroo (Dera Basssi), Punjab or setting up of ward level compositing/shredding machines till the erection, commissioning and time-bound setting up of Solid Waste Management facility at Kenduwal Baddi, for the cluster of Baddi-Barotiwala-Nalagarh area,

the report submitted to the court said.

According to the 2011 Census, the total pollutions of the Baddi MC and BBNDA area were 29911 and 29293 respectively while the total amount of waste generated per day was 25.50 tons and 20.30 tons respectively. The number of migrant labourers or workers from other states was not included in this Census. The populations in both the areas have increased by 2018, which implies growth in a waste generation too. But the responsible government bodies, as well as the district administration, are completely blank when it comes to the chapter on waste management. The Solid Waste Rules, 2016, do exist but only in papers.

The report of the PCB Environmental Engineer aptly proves it.

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Baddi MC and BBNDA first create illegal dumping site, now trying to cover it with mud

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Baddi MC Dumping Site

Solan: The State Government had been bragging about environmental conservation in announcements and speeches. In papers, the status of waste management has improved during the first year of the new Government. The Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur says his government is committed to promoting Swachh Bharat campaign as it is the flagship initiative of the current government.

However, on the ground level, the insensitivity and indifference of the government towards environmental protection is only growing. More startling is the way in which the State Pollution Control Board (PCB) and district administrations respond to public complaints regarding illegal dumping of waste.

Rather, the government bodies are violating laws to create illegal dumping sites.

Related Story: Baddi MC turns site of Rs 9.7 crores proposed Waste Management Facility into illegal dumpyard

For the last two years the Municipal Council, Baddi, and BBNDA have openly been dumping municipal waste of Baddi town in Kenduwal village which has become a potential health hazard and nuisance for the residents of nearby villages. Since the last four months, the villagers, distraught by the illegal dump, have been petitioning several authorities to stop the dumping.

Now, the BBNDA, instead of cleaning up and ensuring scientific disposal of the garbage, is covering the illegal dump yard with mud and soil. JCB machines are simply grabbing mud/soil from nearby and throwing it on the dumped waste with an intention to bury it.

Last week we met with the BBNDA officials and asked them to stop putting the garbage there. Not only are they continuing to dump the garbage but also put piles of mud to cover the stinking heaps of garbage during the last five days. We are being told that the area will now be turned into a shed and our problem will be solved

said Ghulam Nabi a resident of Kenduwal in front of whose home the piles of garbage has come up.

It needs to be noted that the BBNDA had proposed an Rs.9.7 crore Integrated Solid Waste Management facility in the area in 2012 and obtained a clearance for the same in 2015. But for the last three years, it made no move to set up the plant and was dumping in violation of the Solid Waste Management guidelines 2016 as well as the environment clearance conditions.

Related Story: Families living in inhuman, hazardous conditions due to Baddi MC’s dumping ground

On August 12 and 13, the Sirsa River flooded and the dumping site, which is adjacent to the river became waterlogged making the rotting garbage stink badly. The boundary wall was then broken to release the water from the dumping site and the contaminated water eventually made its way into the Sirsa River.

Now they are just burying the garbage and the leachate will contaminate the groundwater too

, said Ramanathan of Himdhara Collective a watchdog group that monitors environmental issues in Himachal.

The State PCB has sent about five notices to the Baddi MC, which were not entertained at all. Despite that, the PCB never proceeded to take action and continue to supply notices.

Through an RTI application we have learned that the Regional Office of PCB in Baddi has served five show cause notices to the Municipal Council in this regards but no further actions were taken,

he added

The BBNDA, in a statement in a newspaper on September 19, has claimed that it has finally identified the firm from Ludhiana for setting up the Solid Waste Management facility.

If they have identified a company to set up the disposal plant why did they cover up the garbage, rather than letting the company take care of it. This is not a solution and neither is it in compliance with the guidelines of solid waste management,

said Ramanathan.

While BBNDA has gone into damage control mode, it still seems least concerned about the laws or the demands of the people.

Our demand is clear, we want this nuisance removed and a proper waste management plant should be set up in an appropriate location. Not near the river or in front of people’s homes,

added Nabi

The Solid Waste Management Rules have clear criteria regarding the selection of a site for waste management plants and landfills, which cannot be on floodplains or near habitations.

Municipal Solid waste has become a serious nuisance across the state of Himachal and a National Green Tribunal appointed committee has recently asked all states to formulate their waste management plans in compliance with SWM rules within a month,

said Manshi Asher of Himdhara Collective.

Long-term solution of solid waste requires an integrated approach involving resident welfare associations of municipal areas, waste pickers and municipal bodies. Decentralised segregation and disposal at source would help to reduce the quantum of waste,

Asher added.

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After NGT orders, Govt forms Special Task Force to check pollution in Ghaggar tributaries

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stf for ghaggar river pollution

Shimla: Bound by the orders passed by the National Green Tribunal on August 7, 2018, the Himachal Pradesh Government has constituted Special Task Forces (STFs) at the state and district levels to check discharge of effluents in into the tributaries of river Ghaggar.

The National Green Tribunal, in its order, had directed the chief secretaries of Haryana, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Chandigarh to form STFs to deal with the pollution in the said river within a month.

It’s pertinent to mention that the neighbouring States have been blaming unlawful discharges of effluents from the industries established in Kala Amb into Markanda river. The pollution in the tributaries is reaching alarming levels. The court had to take Suo motu cognizance in the matter and pass orders to the state governments.

The NGT had also given directions regarding the officials to be included into these STFs. The will of the government in this entire process was completely missing.

The District level STF will identify the persons responsible for discharging of industrial and municipal effluents causing water pollution in river Ghaggar and its tributaries and will submit a monthly action taken the report to the State level STF, the government informed.

It said the State level STF will furnish a quarterly report or an action taken report to the Central Pollution Control Board. These reports will be uploaded on the websites of the State PCB as well as the Department of Environment, Science and Technology.

The state-level special task will include the Chief Secretary, Additional Chief Secretary (Environment, Science and Technology), Additional Chief Secretary (Urban Development), Member Secretary, H.P. state pollution control board as the Member Secretary of the State Level STF.

The officers in the district Level Special Task Force for Solan and Sirmour will include concerned Deputy Commissioners, the nominee of the concerned district and Session Judge, concerned Superintendent of Police, executive officer of the local bodies of concerned district, Regional officer, State Pollution Control Board of the concerned district.

Ghaggar river originates from the Shivalik Hills and passes through Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan before entering Pakistan.

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