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Heavy leakage in Parbati hydro-project tunnel forces villagers to abandon homes, puts 400 families and agricultural land at risk

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leakage in parbati hydropower project in Kullu

KULLU- The leakage in NHPC’s Parbati Hydro Power Project in Sainj, Kullu, Himachal Pradesh, continues to threaten lives and property of nearly 400 families of over a dozen of villages. Several families are already forced to abandon their houses and grab their valuables. Administration had to shift villagers to safer place as destruction almost seems inevitable. Bhenbal (भेंबल) village residents spent their night under open sky for the fear of landslide. The leakage has also destroyed crops of the villagers. The 800 MW capacity project, which was to be commissioned in next few days, has already proved that the run-of-the river hydro power technology is highly risky considering fragile Himalayan Mountains. In fact, access drilling of mountains in Himachal has been cited as a blunder by environmentalists and organization like Himdhara that had been raising alarm over catastrophic consequences that’ll follow it.

In the current case, villagers first reported seepage from the headrace tunnel on April 12 but neither the power corporation nor the administration took it seriously. The National Hydroelectric Power Corporation reportedly didn’t stop water supply to the tunnel. Rather, the corporation, in a written reply, assured the administration that everything was just fine. The leakage continued to increase over the week. As long as 200 meters long cracks appeared on the mountain. On Monday night, villagers were shook by sound of landslide right above their villages. The villagers were forced to spend the night under open sky for the fear of possible, massive landslide. The boulders continue to roll-down the mountain along with erosion of soil. 

The NHPC was forced to block the water-supply only after the landslide. However, the flow of leakage is only increasing despite NHPC’s claim of blocking water supply. The cultivation lands of the villagers are almost drowned due to leaking tunnel. It’s ridiculous that NHPC didn’t stop the water-supply when the leakage was first reported to it.  

The administration also stepped in after the landslide and visible erosion of soil. As much as 30 families were evacuated from their homes. If the landslide of greater scale occurs, it’s estimated to wipe out as much as half of the Rella Panchayat villages including Dahra, Khadoa, Jeeva and two other villages.

Meanwhile, the Chief Engineer, Parbati Project Stage-II, SK Yadav, claimed that there is no more water in the tunnel now and close vigil is being kept on the tunnel. A team of the geologists is also on the way from Delhi, he said. The Deputy Commissioner, Kullu, Yunus Khan, also visited the spot on Wednesday and reviewed the situation. He assured that corporation is directed to take preventive measures to fix the leakage.

Parbati Hydroelectric Project (Stage-II) is a run-of-the-river scheme that proposes to harness hydro potential of the lower reaches of the river Parbati. The river is proposed to be diverted with a Concrete Gravity Dam at Village Pulga in Parbati valley through 31.52 Km long Head Race Tunnel. Power Houses are located at village Suind in Sainj valley.

It’s not the first instance where drilling of mountains and leakage in man-made tunnels have posed risk to the human habitation and their cultivation lands. Earlier, the Central Water Commission, Department of Energy and Central Electricity Authority, during an inspection, had found profuse leakages in the surge shaft of the 17 km long tunnel of Karcham Wangtoo hydro power project. It was assumed that cracks and fissures may have developed over the course of time.

Later, Himdhara, an environment research and action collective based in Himachal, extracted some information through Right to Information (RTI) Act. Surprisingly, there were no details like exact nature and extent of the said leakage. Local communities from the villages around the Karchham Wangtoo tunnel still report leakages in the tunnel. Then, there were reports of leakage from the head race tunnel of Chamera III Hydroelectric Project in 2012. In this case, the residents of an outlying Mokhar village had to live in the imminent danger of soil erosion.

As a matter of concern, the state hardly monitors the safety and water flows in these hydro-projects. In other words, monitoring authority is totally absent and construction of new power projects is being allowed blindly. Even the
Environment Impact Assessment studies reportedly do not mention villages located on the mountainside through which the tunnel passes as affected villages.

According to a article published in the Economic and Political Weekly in 2013,

In response to a series of RTI applications filed by Himdhara, the Irrigation and Public Health department has revealed that in villages located in the area affected by the Karchham Wangtoo project, by 2009 almost 43 out of 167, i.e. almost 26% of water sources had dried up and in 67 sources, i.e. almost 40%, the discharge had reduced.

The article further added,

imilar data has been provided for four other project sites in different parts of the state ‒all revealing that villages located above the tunnel are indeed being affected by the construction of these hydropower projects.

The government need to review its policy before blindly encouraging construction of more and more power projects despite imminent risk to villagers and thousands of lives.

Madan has studied English Literature and Journalism from HP University and lives in Shimla. He is an amateur photographer and has been writing on topics ranging from environmental, socio-economic, development programs, education, eco-tourism, eco-friendly lifestyle and to green technologies for over 9 years now. He has an inclination for all things green, wonderful and loves to live in solitude. When not writing, he can be seen wandering, trying to capture the world around him in his DSLR lens.

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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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