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Open Garbage Burning and Littering in Shimla Town: A report by St. Thomas’ students

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Four class XII students of St. Thomas School, Shimla, who were attending their Industrial Training Sessions on Online Media at Himachal Watcher, prepared this brief report on rampart practice of garbage burning in open by both people and civic bodies, which is leading to a rise in air pollution levels.

SHIMLA- Choked in polluted air, capital Delhi has requested neighboring states to not burn crop residues/biomass. However, the government in its neighboring state Himachal Pradesh doesn’t seem to be concerned either about Delhi or about its own ecology or health of people. Civic bodies in Himachal’s towns are regularly taking liberty to burn garbage in open. The capital Shimla, a major tourist destination, is so far leading. Disheartening is the attitude of Shimla’s civic bodies as even condition of Delhi- world’s most polluted city failed to wake them up. The condition of waste management is also self-evident from littering all over the town. The garbage that isn’t burnt is dumped by public and SMC sanitation workers in most convenient locations.

Premature Deaths Due to Ambient Air Pollution in India

In India, everyday, ambient air pollution claims 3,283 lives as premature deaths, says a report that is based on analysis of Global Burden of Disease (GBD) data by Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington in Seattle. It is on record before that burning of garbage and other materials is not only source of air pollution but forms 29.4 per cent of air pollution with reference to PM10.

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According to another report released by International Energy Agency (IEA), air pollution causes over 6.5 million premature deaths worldwide.  More than half of them are reported from India and India China together.  This number will increase to 7.5 million in 2040. Since 1990, China reported the highest number of premature deaths due to air pollution until India took lead in 2015 and left China behind. 

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Burning of municipal solid waste in open has played a major role in making India number one air polluter and Delhi as the world’s most polluted city.

Shimla Following Footsteps of Delhi

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Like Delhi, the imperial capital Shimla is equally threatened by its own failure to manage waste collection, segregation and treatment. Rising number of tourists also increasing the waste production. The Municipal Corporation of Shimla and State Pollution Control Board have responded to the situation in minimal possible efforts.  None of the departments are working to assess and create awareness among people regarding hazards of garbage burning in open. Himachal Pradesh boasts a high literacy rate as compared to other states, however, the majority doesn’t behave like educated citizens at all, which points out Himachal’s ineffective education system. Further, the situation can be attributed insufficient and inefficient waste management policies or poor implementation of existing norms. 

Read: Did we pass on anything better to Dev Bhoomi in 2016?

A research study states that the daily waste generation in Shimla City is approximately 93.0 MT (350gm /capita/day). The Municipal Corporation of Shimla claims that collection of the waste through door to door collection and community bins is approximately 70-75 MT. The waste is taken for treatment after collection, claims civic body. However, these are official statistics, which are mostly targeted to mislead centre government and International organizations to justify expenditure of loans taken.  

As per a recent report published by Times of India, the door-to-door garbage collection facility in limited to only a few areas.  Chamiyana, Maliyana and suburbs of the Shimla were merged with SMC long ago. But the locality is still facing an acute problem of garbage mismanagement. Locals allege lack of facility of garbage collection and availability of sufficient dustbins.  Similarly, residents of Summerhill and Sangti also allege that they neither have door-to-door garbage collection facility nor dustbins. Therefore, people have no choice but to throw domestic waste into the jungle to be burnt later.

Where Does Shimla’s Waste Go?

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Even in 2016, the capital doesn’t have an operational waste treatment plant. The SMC has been assuring re-opening of the plant for long, but in reality nothing is accomplished. So, if the city does not have a waste treatment plant, then where does all this waste go? The Civic body has come out with its own policy to fix it: burning garbage in open or dumping it at random locations. Burning large piles of garbage would attract attention of people, so the sanitation workers are reportedly advised to collect small heaps of everyday garbage and set them on fire without absent.

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While public believed the practice is very limited, in reality, the sanitation workers have been doing the same all over the town. When viewed collectively, the amount of garbage burnt on daily basis is huge. It’s directly related to air pollution, which in turn leads to climate change.

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In 2015, Shimla Civic body was also rebuked by the National Green Tribunal bench on waste treatment (plant). The bench had noted,


“We are informed by the committee appointed by the tribunal that it is not even possible to reach the plant because of huge quantity of MSW lying in that area. Needless to notice that there is complete failure of the functioning of public bodies, including all the relevant departments of the state government and it is an open threat to public health and more seriously to the environment of these areas”.

Similarly, SMC was summoned by the Himachal Pradesh High Court, too, over burning of garbage near city.  

Recently, the Himachal Pradesh Pollution Control Board (HPPCB) instructed people not to throw and burn their garbage in the open. The board warned people of facing penalty on being caught violating this instruction. On the other hand, people complain that civic bodies and panchayats have themselves failed to provide the city and its suburbs proper facility to discard the waste.

Garbage Burning a Major Cause of Air Pollution

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A major portion of toxic gases and elements emanate from open garbage burning or biomass burning. Biomass-burning increases during winters as people burn more of it to keep warm.   

Read:Shimla city’s air quality worsens as MC allows burning garbage and biomass in open

While entire world studies Indian Capital Delhi as case study of excess air pollution, its reasons, and attitude of civil bodies towards it, other neighboring North Indian States have not realized the gravity of ecological crises they are heading towards. Himachal Pradesh is fortunate to have tougher geography and comparatively larger green cover of about 65 percent (As Per HP Govt. data). However, the population has multiplied many times in towns like Shimla. Modernization is inflicting the town, but the civil bodies or other governing bodies couldn’t develop aesthetic and civic sense. Urbanization has invaded with all modern tools available, but sense of sophistication didn’t develop to keep up with this process. The results are simply terrifying and ugly. 

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The capital city Shimla is turning out to be the ugliest hill stations with the passage of time. Civil bodies are lethargic and State is mostly out funds to invest in providing habitable, clean environment. The city is overpopulated when available infrastructure is considered. Moreover, announcements of government regarding pacts with developed nations for assistance in waste management didn’t bear any fruits so far. In 2015, the Himachal Pradesh had signed an agreement with Holland under which it was proposed that approx. 200 MW electricity will be generated from 300 metric tonne of daily waste produced by the State.  Holland had even provided financial assistance of 50,000 Euros to conduct the feasibility study.  However, so far, no such improvement was observed.

Report with Photos by Class XII Students, St. Thomas’ School Shimla (Eliza Negi, Dheeman Goud, Neha Verma, Deepak Thapar)

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St. Thomas’ School had introduced Mass Media Studies and Media Production as a vocational subject in 2013. As part of it, the course students are acquainted with Production processes in T.V., Radio, Print and Online Media.

Four class XII students of St. Thomas School, Shimla, who were attending their Industrial Training Sessions on Online Media at Himachal Watcher, prepared this brief report on rampart practice of garbage burning in open by both people and civic bodies, which is leading to a rise in air pollution levels.  The students captured images of garbage burning at various places in Shimla city using smartphones cameras. The students also scanned sources to extract (verified) data about environmental and health hazards of garbage burning. The aim was to create awareness among people regarding hazards of air pollution.

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

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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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