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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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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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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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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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