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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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After 15 Years of Passing of Forest Rights Act, Implementation in Himachal Still in Doldrums, Jeopardizing Ecological Conservation

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Forest rights fight in himachal pradesh

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. 

Signatories

  • 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  

Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay

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

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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

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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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