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



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.


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



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



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



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, 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, 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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