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Himachal at high risk of floods due rise in number of Supra glacial lakes formed by melting snow: Study

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GLOF Threat in Himachal Pradesh

According to the studies carried out by the Centre, number of such lakes in Satluj basin has increased from 38 in 1993-94 to 390 in 2015.

SHIMLA- Scientists have already warned Himachal Pradesh about quakes and, indeed, abnormal seismic activity in the Himalayan belt was observed during past couple of years. Now, the State Centre on Climate Change of the State Council for Science Technology & Environment has warned Himachal Pradesh regarding devastating floods as melting of glaciers is causing formation of more lakes. Outburst of these lakes could unleash massive amount of water leading to floods.

The government has been advised to regularly monitor changes in these lakes, especially the smaller one in the higher Himalayan region of the State. Attention of government in this case is critical for averting any future eventuality in Himachal and loss of precious human lives, said the Centre.

Morain dammed lake in chandra basin

Example: Photographical representation of how the Moraine Dammed Glacial Lake looks like in the Satellite Image-vis-à-vis the Field

To understand the situation, which is in this case is rapid growth in formation of small lakes due to retrieval of glaciers, let’s go through some review.

The state of Himachal Pradesh invariably experiences flash floods, the cause of which is unknown. In the year 2000, the Satluj valley experienced the heaviest floods causing economic loss of more than 800 crores. The cause of this flood event was not known to the experts that whether the floods were caused by cloud bursting or due to Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOF) phenomena as it started from the Tibetan Himalayan Region.

GLOF Threat in Himachal Pradesh

Satellite and Field photograph of Moraine Dammed lake at the Snout of the Geepang Gath Glacier in Chandra Basin,District Lahaul & Spiti, H.P.

The formation of landslide dammed lakes in high altitude zones such as Parachoo in the upper catchment of Spiti basin in Tibet caused tremendous threat to the life and property located in the downstream areas since its inception in the year 2004.

The recent tragedy of 2013 in the Uttrakhand Himalaya has also been correlated with the bursting of a lake having a total area of about 08 hectare in front of the snout of the Chorabari glaciers that caused widespread damage in the downstream areas besides the heavy rainfall in the area.

Causes and Threats of GLOF

As per various studies carried out in the past, Himalayan glaciers are in a state of general retreat since 1850. In the Himalayas, during the retreating phase a large number of lakes are being formed either at the snout of the glacier as a result of damming of the morainic material known as moraine dammed lakes or supra glacial lakes formed in the glacier surface area.

Most of these lakes are formed by the accumulation of vast amounts of water from the melting of snow and by blockade of end moraines located in the down valleys close to the glaciers. In addition, the lakes can also be formed due to landslides causing artificial blocks in the waterways. The sudden break of a moraine/block may generate the discharge of large volumes of water and debris from these glacial lakes and water bodies causing flash floods namely GLOF.

The sudden bursts of lakes can happen due to erosion, a buildup of water pressure, an avalanche of rock or heavy snow, an earthquake, or if a large enough portion of a glacier breaks off and massively displaces the waters in a glacial lake at its base. There are number of such events that have happened in Nepal Himalayas but no such event has been reported so far from Indian Himalayas.

According to the State Centre on Climate Change of the State Council for Science Technology & Environment, which has been carrying different studies in the Himachal Himalaya since 1993, number lakes has increased manifold in last two decades.

Lake Formation Increasing River Basins

Satluj Basin

GLO Floods In Himachal Pradesh

According to the studies carried out by the Centre, number of such lakes in Satluj basin has increased from 38 in 1993-94 to 390 in 2015.

Out of these 390 lakes, 42 lakes have area more than 10 hectare, 45 between 5-10 hectare, and remaining 303 lakes have an area less than 5 hectare.

Chenab Basin

Chenab Basin Glacier Lakes

Likewise the Chenab basin which mainly originates from the Himachal Himalaya, total number of lakes has increased from 116 in 2013 to 192 in 2015, which is almost four times than the number of lakes identified during 2001.
Out of these 192 lakes, 04 lakes have area more than 10 hectare, 6 lakes between 5-10 hectare and 182 are the small ones having area less than 5 hectare.

Beas Basin

Beas Basin Glacier Lakes
In the Beas basin, number of lakes has gone up from 67 lakes during 2013 to 89 lakes in 2015, revels satellite data. Further analysis of these 89 lakes reveals that 80 lakes are smaller one having area less than 5 hectare, 07 lakes with aerial range between 5-10 hectare and 02 lakes which are having area more than 10 hectare.

Ravi Basin

Moranic Lakes in Himacahl PRadesh
The Ravi basin had total 22 lakes in 2013, which has now increased to 34 in 2015. When seen based on aerial distribution ,it is found that 03 lakes are having area more than 10 hectare, only 01 lake is having area between 5-10 hectare and 30 lakes are such which have area less than 5 hectare.

Need of time

Number of lakes in Himalayan River Basins

Based on the above analysis carried out by the Centre for the year 2015, it is evident that there is a considerable increase in the number of moraine dammed lakes (GLOFs) in each basin which reflects that formation of such lakes in the Higher Himalayan region is indicating an increasing trend. The higher number of smaller lakes i.e. lakes with area less than 5 hectare indicates that the effect of the climatic variations is more pronounced on the glaciers of the Himalayan region resulting in the formation of small lakes in front of the glacier snouts due to the damming of the morainic material.

The lakes with area more than 10 hectare and those with area between 5-10 hectare are more vulnerable sites for causing damage in case of bursting of any one of them.

Therefore, a proper monitoring and change analysis of all such lakes in higher Himalayan region of the State is critical for averting any future eventuality in Himachal Pradesh, so that the precious human lives are saved.

Another aspect of this report is about climate change caused by rising carbon emissions. Himachal need to pay attention to check air pollution. Currently, the Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh and his minister hardly believe in theory of global warming or glacier melting. Annoyed over NGT’s ban on fossil fuel vehicles into Rohtang Pass region, the CM had claimed that there are actually no glaciers around Rohtang. Vehicular emissions are excess and widespread with literally no check on it.

Environment

Govt Legitimizing and Legalizing Environmental Violations for Business by Amending EIA Rules: Activists  

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Himachal pradesh EIA Notification 2020 Amendments news

Shimla-While in statements, the politicians in power at the Centre and State Governments have been expressing concerns over environmental issues and ensuring the people that they are committed to protect and preserve the environment, the reality is contrary to it. The most recent evidence is the proposed 2020 draft amendments to the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification. With these amendments, the process of environmental assessment before granting permission to execute commercial projects, like hydropower projects in Himachal Pradesh, would be reduced to merely a formality.

Environmental activists and people’s organisations from across Himachal have written to the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) to scrap the 2020 draft amendments to the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification proposed by it.

These activists and environmental protection groups are of the opinion that the EIA Notification, first issued in 1994 under the Environment Protection Act 1986, is a critical mechanism that regulates clearances granted to all kinds of development projects and economic activities in the country. It is one of the environmental decision-making processes that makes it mandatory for project developers to not just study the socio-economic, ecological and other impacts of a proposed project but also place them in front of the affected communities for their opinions and objections, thus, ensuring the process of a free, fair and informed consent. However, this notification has been amended and read down several times in the last two decades, in favour of ‘easing the norms’ for business. The latest draft continues to move in the direction of rendering the EIA process a mere formality. 

The submission made by HP groups states,

“In the context of the already vulnerable and sensitive Himalayan region, flouting of various provisions of even the present EIA notification has heavily impacted the local ecology and livelihoods of the people. The new amendments will only legitimize and legalize these violations and this will mean irreparable damage to the Himalayan ecosystem”. 

The key objections raised are around exemptions of a variety of projects from the mandatory  Public Consultation’ process as well as the dismantling of this process itself.

“The reduction of the time prior to public hearing from 30 to 20 days is also highly objectionable. In the given 30 day period itself, the information about Public hearings does not reach all the affected areas which are often spread out widely in case of mountains with some project-affected communities residing in remote and inaccessible terrains. Here accessing information takes a long time and reducing this time to 20 days will completely exclude such people from raising their grievances and suggestions in the public consultation. This is a clear attempt to block their participation in the environmental decision-making process”

said R.S Negi of Him Lok Jagriti Manch, Kinnaur. 

 

“It is shocking that the amendments include allowing post-facto clearance, which means that the project proponent can start work and before they have obtained environmental clearance. If the basic precautionary principle on which the EIA notifications is grounded is itself not followed it can lead to a disastrous situation for the ecology and local people. In this situation who is going to be responsible for the losses? If the project proponent is not in a position to pay for losses, will the MoEF&CC take the responsibility of losses? This provision will encourage project developers to bypass the process of environmental decision making. We absolutely oppose this amendment”,

said Prakash Bhandari of Himdhara Collective.  

The 2020 draft also dilutes the guidelines for monitoring and compliance of Environment conditions.

“Already the system of monitoring is weak, the conditions lose, the pollution control board and companies non-accountable, thus, leading to widespread destruction of local ecology and impacting health, lives, and livelihoods of project-affected communities. In the case of hydropower projects, for instance, the illegal and unmonitored dumping of muck along river beds, in forests and on common lands, has damaged pastures, disrupted the flow of the rivers, and caused massive disasters when floods occur. The proposed changes will give a free reign to those profiting from extractive and polluting projects,” 

according to Kulbhushan Upmanyu of Himalaya Bachao Samiti. 

It is ironic that on one hand, the global COVID crisis has thrown up several studies showing that pandemics like COVID emerge from ecological degradation and forest loss, and on the government is pushing for policy changes which will accentuate the environmental crisis that the country is already reeling under.  

“If the MoEF&CC wants to change the environmental laws, it should carry out countrywide regional consultations”,

added Uma Mahajan of Himachal Van Adhikar Manch.

The country, especially ecologically diverse yet climate-vulnerable regions like the Himalayas need a robust and strong environmental regulatory and governance regime that makes project proponents accountable and keeps the affected communities and ecological concerns at the centre of the EIA and environmental decision-making process. 

Notably, MoEF&CC had called for citizen’s comments before May 11 but this deadline was extended upto  June 30 and now August 11 as environmentalists and concerned groups expressed outrage that calling for public inputs on this critical law amidst the COVID led lockdown was unjustified. The MoEF&CC has in this period received thousands of objections highlighting the new draft as anti-people and environment.

The demand is to scrap these proposed amendments for the sake of the environment. 

Submission Made to Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change by Activists and Organizations

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Environment

SC’s Forest Diversion Regulation a Blockade on Forest Rights Act Implementation in Himachal: Himdhara

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Supreme Court On Forest Diversion in Himachal Pradesh 2

ShimlaHimdhara Collective, a Himachal-based environment research and action group, has released a report on the implications of the regulation imposed by the Supreme Court on forest diversion under the Forest Rights Act 2006 in Himachal, through a series of orders passed last year. This brought to a screeching halt the implementation of Section 3(2) of the FRA which grants powers to gram sabhas and Divisional Forest Officers to divert upto 1 hectare of forest land for 13 types of village welfare activities like roads, schools, community centres, PDS shops etc. 

The court orders were based on the conclusions drawn by a Supreme Court Monitoring Committee, headed by a retired PCCF, V.P Mohan, that the diversions were leading to green felling and deforestation in the state. Initially, a stay was imposed on all green felling in the state (in a matter of forest diversions under FCA 1980 and FRA 2006) on 11th March 2019. This stay was partially relaxed but the Supreme court sought all FRA proposals to be brought before it for further diversion.

The report titled ‘Missing the forest for Trees’, assesses the ground reality behind the conclusions drawn by the Supreme Court Monitoring Committee based on which these diversions have been restricted.

“We have found that the Supreme court’s orders need to be reviewed because the alarm raised by the V.P Mohan committee with regard to FRA was a false one”,

stated authors of the report which is based on analysis of RTI information as well as field research.

RTI data sought from the Forest department for all cases under section 3(2) of the Forest Rights Act 2006 from 2014 to 2019 (up to January 2019), was analysed to reveal that 17237 trees were felled in an area of 887.56 hectares for 1959 activities in 41 of the 45 forest divisions of the state.

Roads, followed by schools and community centres dominate the type of activities carried out. Of the total land diverted 91% is for roads. It was found that almost 64% of these diversions showed ‘nil’ trees felled. The average number of trees felled per hectare is very low (19.52) and it may be induced that most activities have been carried out in areas with open forest or no trees.

Rohru (Shimla), Nachan(Mandi), Kinnaur and Chopal were some of the divisions which had a large number of diversions, again mostly for roads.

Case studies we carried out in Mandi and Kangra district showed the desperate need for amenities like village link roads and schools. In Himachal, there remain about 41% villages that have no road connectivity which affects access to health, education and market centres.

On the other hand, large development activities like four lane highways, hydropower projects and transmission lines, have had a much larger ecological footprint in terms of tree loss in the state compared to the very minute, incomparable diversions under FRA.

The report also finds that as far as green cover is concerned in the period corresponding to the high number of forest diversions under FRA (2015-2019), the forest survey of India’s statistics show a 333 sq.km increase in the forest cover.

Why development rights under FRA important for Himachal?

1.No Land available with revenue departments and panchayats for ‘welfare activities’ thus forest land only option

The report concludes that given the fact that 2/3rd of the geographical area of the state is recorded ‘forest area’ where strict forest laws have restricted non-forest use, the FRA provides relief for communities to access basic welfare facilities, which should be seen as their fundamental right and therefore should not be hindered.

2.Cumbersome, costly and lengthy process under FCA 1980

Before FRA it was the Forest Conservation Act, 1980 which governed forest diversion even for small local development activities. This required not only permission from the Central Government (MoEFCC Regional or Delhi Office) but also warranted that user agencies deposit funds (Net Present Value of trees) to carry out Compensatory Afforestation. The whole diversion process under FCA was cumbersome, lengthy and costly, and thus a major hurdle in providing the rural areas, especially remote areas, access to basic welfare development facilities.

 “The section 3(2) of the FRA provides relief for both governmental departments and local communities as it overrides the FCA and puts in place a simple and decentralized process for diversion”states the report.

3.FRA is meant to correct the problems that were posed by strict central forest laws

The Forest Rights Act was passed by the parliament of India in 2006 recognising that across the country there are lakhs of communities dependent on land which is legally categorised as ‘forest land’ and are unable to exercise their basic livelihood and development rights due to extremely strict forest laws. Under this act’s Section 3(1), forest-dependent communities can file claims for their individual and community rights exercised before the cut-off date of 13th December 2005.

“As it is Himachal has been sluggish with FRA implementation and only 136 titles have been issued under section 3(1). But atleast the government was proactive with the implementation of section 3(2). With the Supreme court orders regulating this provision, there seems to be an impression amongst the implementing agencies and officials that there is an over-all blockade on FRA in the state”

added members of the collective.

The report has recommended that the state government and nodal agency for the Act – the Central Ministry of Tribal Affairs, put forth the case in favour of section 3(2) of the FRA strongly in front of the Supreme Court and also move swiftly to ensure implementation of all provisions of this law in Himachal.  

 

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Environment

HP Govt Exempts Use of Plastic Straws Attached with Beverages for 6 Months

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Plastic straws in himachla pradesh

Shimla: The use of integrated plastic straws attached with tetra pack of beverages are exempted temporarily for a period of six months in Himachal Pradesh, informed a spokesperson of the state government on January 31, 2020.

He informed that the exemption would be a subject to the implementation of Action Plan submitted by M/s Tetra Pack India Pvt. Ltd., AARC under Extended Producer Responsibility.

During the relaxation period, the manufacturers and producers are to come out with an alternative to plastic straw, which is bio-degradable, he informed. A notification in this regard has been issued recently.

He said that other provisions of the notification issued by Department of Environment, Science and Technology of HP on September 20, 2019, which imposes complete ban on plastic cutlery such as spoons, bowls, katories, stirring sticks, forks, knives, straws made of plastic, would remain banned.

He said that this notification will come into force with immediate effect.

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