SHIMLA- Although, it is not an odd sight for majority of public, but visual pollution in Himachal Pradesh’s capital city Shimla is becoming a critical problem because it is being neglected by both public and government equally. The consumer culture is taking over the city and the scenario is worsening due to sticking of promotional bills, commercial and political posters, bunting, sign-boards etc on public places. While cities like Beijing (China) and São Paulo (Brazil) have put a complete ban on virtually all outdoor advertising to deal with visual pollution, the civic body of Shimla City isn’t even able to adhere to defined standards and directions for placement of billboards and hoardings.
Like most of the cities in India, queen of hills is also on the verge of losing its unique identity because every city share same cluttered view. Although, Municipal Corporation of Shimla does have defined rules & regulation regarding advertising on public places, in reality there is no execution in field. The civic body that always make excuses of shortage of funds can generate considerable revenue if it regulates advertising on public places.
Not only the public has lost aesthetic sense growing amid clutter, but even highly educated and well paid public servants and representatives lack required vision to foresee ugly consequences of not controlling visual pollution.
Entire city is cluttered by unlawfully stuck posters, overhead power lines, telephone and cable wires, and littered public places. Graffiti on public and private property is another mean to create visual pollution.
The civic body or administration of Shimla is never heard debating or preparing comprehensive strategies to deal with well any form of pollution like air and water pollution. So, it’s futile to expect them to observe other forms of pollution like visual, noise, light pollution etc.
Treatment of public spaces by student outfits of higher educational institutes like Himachal Pradesh University and colleges is even more surprising. Student bodies, despite being educated, don’t show respect and care towards public property. Students even deface legally placed hoardings as shown in above image.
Researchers have conducted studies along with laboratory experiments to establish negative psychological impact on people who are unwillingly exposed continuously to unwanted visuals.
Visual environment is no less significant a part of fabric of communities as clean water or air and animal habitat. The issue isn’t been paid heed earlier because it is mostly considered less significant and merely associated with beautification. It is newer and unconventional concept. Anything altered by human-activities that are unattractive and affects people’s ability to enjoy or appreciate the view and vista.
On the other hand, visual pollution is a kind of visual sampler, without any regulation, which affects our assimilation capability and conditions the aesthetics of our public spaces.
Considering the aforesaid statement, Shimla cityscapes have become a mixture of of irregular formations, unorganized dumping of litters, billboards, cables, wires, worn-out buildings, and heaped and congested construction.
Impacts of visual Pollution
A study published in the European Scientific Journal, June 2015, “Visual Pollution Can Have Deep Degrading effects on Urban and Sub-Urban Community: A Study In Few Places of Bengal, India, With Special References to Unorganized Billboards” shed light on some of the negative impacts.
Negative visual influence increases secretion of adrenaline, which raises the acidity of the stomach and rapid the heart rate, and thus speed irritability.
On the other hand, positive scenes increases secretion of cortisone in the body and this natural cortisone reduces the feeling of pain.
Visual pollution can also create psychological aversion and thus affect mental and physical health, says researches.
Due to unpleasant and cluttered sights visual cortex of a person is stressed. This stress is directly associated with the light frequency and variety of light to which it is exposed. Citizens are exposed, without any consideration or respect to their individuality, to a constant visual saturation. Unconscious irritation of the visual cortex can interfere with performance and sleep quality.
Studies also show that effects of visual pollution include distraction, decreases in opinion diversity, and loss of identity, and health hazards of diverse kinds, irritability and psychological disturbances, eye fatigue, loss of sense of hygiene, and felling of civility.
Loss of Aesthetic Sense in Children
Children growing up in such cluttered environment not only lose aesthetic sense, but also lose ability to react or correct it. As grownups, no matter how unpleasant their surroundings are, this clutter becomes an acceptable part of routine view. Their aesthetic sense is blunted. Civic sense and civic behavior of entire society is badly hit by it.
Psychological Longing for Natural View
Another evident proof that cluttered public spaces caste negative impact on overall wellbeing of public is our longing to witness nature in its pure form. To re-energize themselves, people mostly prefer to visit a forest, a seaside, garden, and parks which are supposedly visually and aesthetically pleasing as compared to visiting a mall or waling by roadside.
The civic bodies in popular towns of Himachal Pradesh are already struggling to manage, vehicular emissions, solid waste-disposal and to create awareness among people about littering in public places. It is no surprise that administration isn’t paying any attention to this form of pollution. However, it is the need of the time to consider other forms of pollution as hazard to social environment and economic health of a city dependent on tourism.
Rear Side of Shimla Mall Showroom Buildings
Photo Credit: Tarun Sharma
After 15 Years of Passing of Forest Rights Act, Implementation in Himachal Still in Doldrums, Jeopardizing Ecological Conservation
Shimla-‘Planting a tree to celebrate World Environment Day has been reduced to a symbolic tradition. But is this enough for the conservation of our ecology? The efficacy and use of plantation drives are being questioned all across the world today. These drives, especially when conducted by the government tend to be a wastage of resources due to poor survival rates, said environmental and community groups in Himachal Pradesh in a joint statement released recently on World Environment Day.
Further, trees are just one part of our ecosystem which comprises soil, grasslands, scrubs, wetlands, wildlife and even human beings, the statement said.
In India, especially in the Himalayas communities have co-existed with nature since times immemorial – dependent on it for day-to-day life and livelihoods, the groups said. Because of this connection between forests and local livelihoods and culture-communities across the landscape fought to protect the ecosystems they inhabit from destruction – be it the Chipko movement in Uttarakhand 50 years ago or the recent struggles in the tribal district of Kinnaur to highlight the ill-effects of dams and hydropower projects – indigenous and forest-dependent people have protected forest resources, they said.
“It is unfortunate then that these historical custodians of forests were labelled ‘encroachers’ and ‘thieves’ as their livelihoods were displaced from forests sometimes to build dams, highways and cities and at other times in the name of conservation were restricted from using the forests citing forest laws,” the statement said.
The groups said this has happened in Himachal too, where communities like pastoralists and farmers are slowly getting alienated from the forests. This jeopardizes their capacity to protect the forests too – whether from natural calamities like fires or indiscriminate felling.
Forest revival and afforestation programs, it is understood the world over, are only successful when local communities are made in charge and are given full access to use the forest and make decisions about its management.
“We have examples of community forest management like Gramya Jungles of Orissa and Van Panchayats of Uttarakhand. This became part of the Forest Policy in 1988 which is why programs like Joint Forest Management were planned for participatory governance of forests. However, in these too the forest department retained their control and communities were used as labour to plant trees,” the groups highlighted.
Based on these experiences and the repeated evictions of forest-dependent people from their rightful use it became apparent that there was a need for a law that recognised the community’s right to both use and protect/ govern the forest, they said.
It was after years of struggle that the Forest Rights Act 2006 was passed by the parliament of India. The Act recognises individual and community rights over any kind of forest lands for those dependent on these for their bonafide livelihood needs before 13th December 2005. The act also recognises development rights and community management rights. Himachal, where 2/3rd of the landscape is legally classified as ‘forest’ – there is a tremendous need and potential to implement this law to secure the land and livelihood rights of people on forest lands be they for fuelwood, fodder, pastures as well as farming and shelter.
The statement said today it has been 15 years since the passing of FRA but in Himachal, its implementation is in the doldrums.
“While 20 lakh forest rights claims have been accepted all across the country in Himachal only 164 claims have been recognised whereas 2700 are pending with the administration at various levels. The key reasons for the poor implementation include – lack of political will, misinformation about the act amongst the line officials, distrust of the people leading to non-filing of claims and inadequate awareness amongst common people,” the statement said.
It further said that, ironically, the state government has shown great enthusiasm in using this act to grant forest land for village development activities, the rest of the rights namely individual and community forest use and management rights are languishing due to state negligence and actively blocking the granting of these rights.
The groups further highlighted that in the last 5 years, community voices from Kangra, Chamba, Kinnaur, Lahaul-Spiti, Sirmaur and Mandi have been raising the demand for the implementation of this law in the state. It was after this that the state government was forced to announce that it would implement the Forest Rights Act in a mission mode in the state in 2018. The tribal department also worked on training and making educational material on the act. However, these are yet to be properly distributed at the village level.
The joint statement further added that in March 2020 post the pandemic led lockdown the FRA implementation process received a setback. Even as gram sabha meetings and FRC processes came to a grinding halt the economy too got hit. During this time, it became evident more than ever that it is the land and forest-based livelihoods that are available to rural communities to fall back on for survival.
“Whereas the Government should be focused on strengthening land and nature-based livelihoods for the local communities. However, the focus of the state remains on pushing destructive commercial ventures in ecologically fragile areas and valuable farmlands of the state,” the groups said.
The coronavirus has taught the world what the climate crisis had already indicated – that we will continue to be victims of such crisis as long as the ecological destruction continues unabated, the statement said.
“This calls for a change in the model of ‘development’ which prioritises the basic needs and services rather than run blindly after economic growth which is meant to profit companies and contractors”, the groups said.
The statement also said that it is the communities who will now have to believe in their own capacity to manage lives and resources and also call the government to account if our natural resources have to be protected for future generations.
- Ajay Kumar, Sanjay Kumar, Advocate Dinesh, Bhoomiheen Bhoomi Adhikar Manch, Himachal
- Birbal Chaurhan, Shamlat Sangharsh Samiti, Sirmaur
- Gulab Singh and Dhaniram Shamra, Sirmaur Van Adhikar Manch
- Joginder Walia Balh Ghaati Kisaan Sangharsh Samiti, Mandi
- Jiya Negi, Van Adhikar Samiti, Kinnaur
- Kulbhushan Upmanyu, Himalaya Bachao Samiti, Chamba
- Lal Hussain, Ghumantu Pashupalak Mahasabha, Chamba
- Meera Devi, Nekram,Shyam Singh Chauhan, Paryavaran evam Gram Vikas Samiti, Karsog, Mandi
- Himshi Singh and Prakash Bhandari, Himdhara Environment Research and Action Collective
- Prem Katoch and Kesang Thakur, Save Lahaul Spiti, Lahaul
- Tenzin Takpa and Sonam Targey, Spiti Civil Society, Spiti
Himachal: Report Forest Fires on Toll-Free Numbers 1077 and 1070
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
Himachal Counts 108,578 Waterbirds of 96 Species This Year With Increase in Habitat
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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