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Himachal’s sacred Rewalsar Lake reports ‘mass fish death’ for third time in 3 years as pollution reaches alarming levels

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rewalsar fish death probe

The present rate of sedimentation in the Rewalsar Lake, 3.92 cm/year, was still much higher than that of the other north-western Himalayan lakes which is less than 1 cm/year

MANDI– Rewalsar Lake in Mandi district of Himachal Pradesh, India, has come into lime-light for mass death of thousands of fish in just two days. News reports even suggested that 90 percent of fish in Rewalsar are now dead. Before fish started dying, the color of the water suddenly turned muddy on April 18, 2017. For next two days, fishes continued to die. From usual green, the color changed to muddy. Leela Vashishth, a resident of Rewalsar, lodged a complaint with Balh police station on April 19 on suspicion that some unidentified person could have contaminated the lake water with chemical or other sort of poison to kill the fish. A case of mischief by killing animals has been registered.  It’s indeed a wise thing to consider this possibility as well. However, mass death of fish isn’t a surprise, and the lake doesn’t require someone to poison it to kill aquatic life. It’s already dying.

The lake has eventually reached on the verge of dying due to pollution, sewage discharge, rainwater flooding, sedimentation, siltation, excess growth of weeds, and mess created by visitors. Slumber of the administration is again apparent.

Polluted-Rewalsar-lake

Located at 1360 meters above sea level, Rewalsar, also known as Tso Pema to Buddhists, is one of the most unique places in Himachal that possesses a diverse and rich history. The lake is of great spiritual and religious importance to three religious communities, Sikh, Budhisht, and Hindus. There are monasteries, a gurudwara, temples of Lord Shiva and Lord Krishna, and saint Lomas. This pristine lake is formed in the hollow of the mountains and the history dates back to the times of Budhisht Guru Rinphoche. There is a wonderful story associated with the formation of the lake. It used to be an amazing place. But now, the pollution and siltation is killing it.

Mandi-Polluted-lake

The degrading condition of the lake was aptly brought to the attention of the district administration and authorities responsible for conservation and protection of the lake since last seven to eight years. It was not the first time that fishes have died in the lake.
Mass fish death in Himalayan Lakes
Thousands of fish had died in the Rewalsar lake in July 2014 too. The authorities had cited flooding of rainwater into lake as the reason for death of fish. Excess dispersal of feed to fish by pilgrims and tourist was another major reason, which continued despite demand of ban on this practice.

After this incident, the Pradhan of the Nagar Panchayat, Bansi Lal Thakur, had told a Hindi Daily that the Chief Minister had laid foundation stone for establishment of sewerage system on May 11, 2012. The CM had allotted budged to the Irrigation & Public Health Department, and had asked to complete the work as soon as possible. Sadly, the small township settled on the boundary of the square-shaped lake still lack sewerage system. He had also said that DPR was prepared to remove silt, but the department hadn’t move a muscle in reality.

Pollution in Himachal 's Rewalsar lake

A report had appeared in 2015 in which it was revealed that the lake is overcrowded as there is no control on population growth of fish. The area of the lake is ideally suitable for presence of not more than 15, 000 fish. However, the number of the fishes were in lakhs. The administration tried to shift thousands of fish in other water-bodies and rivers but didn’t succeed in solving the problem. The report had also pointed out that the township lacks proper drainage system and all domestic wastewater and rainwater ends up in the sacred lake. The catchment slope of the lake is such that all rainwater flows right into it.
Rewalser fish death

In May 2016, again thousands of fish were choked to death due to rise in water toxicity level. The administration stood helpless and did nothing more than burying the the dead fish. Administration didn’t bothered about this grieve crisis the lake had been facing.

Rewalsar Development Action Group, an NGO, raised the demand to take measures to prevent pollution of the lake. The NGO had also submitted a special report on conservation of the lake to the government. Save Rewalsar Lake campaign was also launched.

In April 2016, the National Green Tribunal has ordered ban on use of plastic around the lake, which was hardly followed. The NGT had pointed out complete failure of government to protect the lake. The tribunal had constituted a four-member high-level committee comprising of Secretary, HP Pollution Control Board the Secretary, Environment, and Secretary, Irrigation and Public Health. The committee was supposed to submit a comprehensive report over possible solutions for the restoration of original condition of the lake. God knows what happened to that report and the committee.

In June 2016, the issue of alarming degradation of the lake was again raised by the locals and the NGO. The community was still pleading for sewerage system and measures to prevent flood-water and domestic waste-water from draining into the lake. When an engineer of the Pollution Control Board, RK Nadda, was asked about the matter, he had simply refused to comment. District administration had told media that it’s seeking funds from the government. Again, there were only problems but no solution.

In March 2017, the Rewalsar Development Action Group approached the Chief Secretary, VC Pharka and the Deputy Speaker, Jagat Singh Negi requesting intervention to save the lake. President and Secretary of the Group briefed them about the plight of the lake and need to remove rising siltation. They again pleaded for the sewerage system. 

A research study by the Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology (WIHG), Dehradun and Physical Research Laboratory, Ahmedabad tittles “Rapid sedimentation history of Rewalsar Lake, Lesser Himalaya, India during the last fifty years…”

The study carried out using Pb and Cs dating on the top 2 meter (below lake floor) core of the lake. They found an average sedimentation rate of 3.35 cm/year during the last 50 years which is found to be the highest in comparison to the other lakes in the north-western Himalayan region.

The study concludes,

“During 1995 to 1963 AD, the Rewalsar Lake experienced a rapid sedimentation rate of 3.92 cm/year while it reduced to 2.78 cm/year after 1995 AD. At the Rewalsar Lake, the natural parameters, such as lithology, catchment area and slope, rainfall, etc. do not appear to be the limiting factors controlling the rate of sedimentation.”

The study further added,

“Rather, human interference, in terms of civil constructions and growth of township in the lake catchment area appears to be the most plausible factor controlling the sedimentation rate during the past fifty years.”

Siltation in Rewalsar lake

Comparison of Rewalsar Lake and some of the north-western Himalayan lakes

The study also said that,

“The present rate of sedimentation in the Rewalsar Lake, 3.92 cm/year, was still much higher than that of the other north-western Himalayan lakes which is less than 1 cm/year.”

“An early action plan is required to be followed up by the concerned authority to arrest the extremely higher sedimentation rate Rewalsar Lake and to protect the water body from faster degradation,” further suggested the study.

Rewalsar lake contamination

As we know, on April 17, locals were shocked to see sudden change in the color of the lake water. It turned muddy and suggested possible contamination. In next two days, thousands of fish were seen struggling to breath as soluble oxygen levels dropped to critical 0.8%. Aquatic life requires minimum level of 4-15 mg/L to support aquatic life (Fish). Thousands of fish died in next couple of days. The administration had to collect the dead fish and dispose of them to prevent health hazard.

Lake pollution in himachal pradesh
Nearly, 5000 fish were rescued by shifting to other water bodies, claimed the administration. For media, the reason for mass death of the fish was low-level of oxygen. However, no one commented about the reason behind depletion of oxygen levels. Now, a ban has been imposed on feeding the fish and shopkeepers are directed not to sell fish-feed. Public is prohibited to visit the lake due to health hazards.

The government has again formed a committee to examine the issue of possible adverse effects on the natural aquifer and assess the chances of possible contamination of water. Committee is supposed to submit a report regarding the whole situation in detail, pinpoint reasons for fish mortality and suggest remedial measures.

The committee will be headed by Divisional Forest Officer, Mandi and Environment Engineer, HPSPCB, Bilaspur, Assistant Director, Fisheries, Mandi will be is members while Shri Kamraja Kaisth, Principal Scientific Officer-I, State Council for Science, Technology and Environment as its Member Secretary.

Additional Chief Secretary Environment, Science and Technology Shri Tarun Kapoor said the committee will assess and will submit its report to the Government within seven days.

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.

Environment

Over 500 Forest Fire Cases Reported in Himachal, Forest And Fire Deptts Remain Irresponsive, Allege Locals

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Forest Fires in Himachal Pradesh in 2019

Shimla-Over 500 forest fire cases have been reported from Himachal Pradesh affecting an area of over 2600 hectare of forests in the state. These forest fire incidents in the state have caused huge financial loss, which is expected to rise in days to come as forest fire incidents are increasing each day.

The forest fire incidents in and around Shimla town are also increasing each day. The local residents in Totu, Chakkar, Tara Devi, Shogi, Bhatakufer and Mehli areas say they are facing troubles due to the forest fire.

Locals allege that neither forest department nor any fire department responds to their information of fire in the region.

“We called the fire services yet no fire brigade or firemen came to our rescue. The administration also did not help us nor take any information regarding the forest fire.Ultimately we had to douse the fire with whatever water we had collected on our own,”

Praveen, a local of Chakkar area of Shimla told ANI.

 

Locals in Chakkar and Totu on Monday and Tuesday had to collectively save the forests from fire and also had narrow escape by saving their houses from the forest fire.

They alleged that the forest and fire departments spend a huge amount of money to constitute fire fighting teams but they all have failed to control the incidents of the forest fire. They also said that the forest department’s claims of helicopters being deputed to control the forest fire are just fake claims.

“We left everything and started dousing the fire as soon as we got to know that the forest fire is reaching our homes. The government claims to have to spend a lot on controlling the forest fires but nobody in the administration responded to our calls for help. Either the information has not reached the officials or they are not doing anything about it,”

Anay Kant, another resident told ANI.

Locals say they hired labourers to control the forest fire. Dev Raj, one of the local labourers told the agency:

“We reach the spot and try to douse the fire as soon as possible. We don’t know about the help from the administration as we were busy in our work.”

The forest minister of the state, Govind Singh said that despite all efforts to sensitize the people about the forest they could not stop these incidents.

He said that the department has announced money rewards for those informing about those responsible for fire in the forests.-ANI

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Hydropower Projects in Himachal Not ‘Eco-Friendly, Govt Keeps People in Dark Through Biased Environment Impact Assessment Reports

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Himachal's Hydropower Projects Are not eco-friendly

Shimla- The Himachal Pradesh Government, as witnessed on several occasions, favours hydropower companies over the environmental impacts and affected people. It believes that these projects would boost the economic growth of the state and that there are hardly any environmental hazards linked to the construction of excess hydropower projects. There is a long list of pending projects that the government wants to get constructed.

In its environmental assessment reports,  the government preach that hydropower is eco-friendly. However, as a bitter reality, it does not appear to be true. There are severe environmental hazards linked to the construction of these projects, which the government is not ready to admit. As a result of this deliberate neglection, the villagers, rivers, local water sources, farming lands, local wildlife etc. are suffering. Houses of people were destroyed due to seepage of water from tunnels of hydropower projects and they are forced to evacuate. Let’s take a look at a new report compiled by an environmental group explaining why hydropower projects in the Himalayas are not eco-friendly.  

In the month of the ‘World Environment Day’, Himdhara Environment Research and Action Collective released their report titled “The Hidden Cost of Hydropower” to highlight the risks associated with hydropower construction, especially in Himalayan regions like Himachal Pradesh.  Over the last few years, increasing evidence has emerged that hydropower production may not be so ‘clean and green’ after all. This document compiles primary and secondary pieces of evidence of the impacts triggered by underground construction for the run of the river (ROR) hydropower projects highlighting the issues of environmental hazards and risks involved.

Echoing the fragility of the Himalayan region due to geological instability and climate change-related disasters like flash floods and cloud bursts, the report highlights the role of construction activities that accentuate this fragility.

 “A report of the state’s own disaster management cell says that around 10 Mega hydropower stations are located in the medium and high-risk landslide area,”

states the document.

  The report explains that the magnitude of the underground component of the civil work in hydropower projects involving blasting and dynamiting exacerbate existing vulnerabilities. These impacts are yet to be adequately studied and understood.

Visuals and testimonies of affected people from project sites in Kinnaur, Kullu and Chamba falling in the Satluj, Beas and Ravi basin collected over the years have been used to show the impacts. Case studies like that of the Parbati II, Karccham Wangtoo, Kashang and Bajoli Holi projects illustrate how landslides, drying up of springs, damages to houses, farms and forests have made difficult the lives and livelihoods of the people in the project area.

Landslide in Jhakri village of shimla due to hydropower project

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The report finds that the existing studies available on these impacts are inadequate or biased in favour of the hydropower producers, with economics as the main concern. Environment Impact Assessment reports of hydro-power projects gloss over the geological & seismic vulnerability of the project sites, with an explanation that the ‘hurdles’, ‘surprises’ and ‘incompetencies’ of the mountain geology would be handled at a later stage, if and when they occur. ‘Scientific’ linkages become difficult to establish later, and during EIAs, the concentration is to only rush through the studies to get ‘clearances’.

“They say there is no scientific evidence that the landslides are because of project activities and so we cannot claim compensation in case of cracks in the houses or damage to fields”,

according to Ramanand Negi of Urni Village located in the affected area of the Karchham Wangtoo project and now sitting on a huge landslide. 

The report also refers to the Audit reports of the Comptroller Auditor General to show how the costs of these ‘surprises’ are borne by the affected people or transferred to the public exchequer. The costs that producers have been forced to bear have led to financial losses, bad loans, and cumulatively a slump in the hydropower sector over the last few years. 

According to the report,

“The contribution of hydropower sector today to the country’s total electricity production has halved from 25% to 13% in the last decade. Where this state of hydropower industries was an opportunity to review hydropower policy and the sector’s viability, the report of Parliamentary standing committee on energy that reviewed the performance of hydro projects in 2018 turned a blind eye to environmental impacts and safety norms”.

 

Based on the committee’s recommendations the Ministry of Power issued an order in March 2019 recognizing hydropower projects with a capacity of more than 25 MW as ‘renewable’ source of energy, thus eligible for further subsidies. Himdhara’s report, however, brings out that hydro projects do not deserve the ‘green’ tag and the government should stop further subsiding the sector, especially large projects.

Water Sources drying due to hydropower projects

Water sources drying in himachal due to hydro projects

 

The report also identifies the institutional failures of the Central Water Commission, the Central Electricity Authority that are supposed to assess the Detailed Project Reports and give techno-economic clearances, monitor the progress, and reasons for the delay in projects.

This list also includes the Ministry of Environment that has blindly granted environment and forest clearances overlooking the above impacts and non-compliance; the State Directorate of Energy and State Disaster Management Authority, who have failed to fulfil their regulatory roles and ensure that there is no negligence.

The environmental group demanded that an independent scientific review of the immediate or long-term implications of construction work for hydropower development in the Himalayas should be commissioned. Citizens’ engagement, public consent mechanisms need to be strengthened, and a grievance redressal process needs to be put in place.

 

Loos of wildlife in himachal due to hydropower projects

 

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India to Face Water and Food Security Risks by 2030, 21 Major Cities to Run Out of Groundwater by 2020: Report

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Water crisis in India by 20310

India is suffering from the worst water crisis in its history and millions of lives and livelihoods are under threat. Currently, 600 million Indians face high to extreme water stress and about two lakh people die every year due to inadequate access to safe water. The crisis is only going to get worse. By 2030, the country’s water demand is projected to be twice the available supply, implying severe water scarcity for hundreds of millions of people and an eventual 6% loss in the country’s GDP.

No Water in India by 2030

As per the report of National Commission for Integrated Water Resource Development of MoWR, the water requirement by 2050 in high use scenario is likely to be a milder 1,180 BCM, whereas the present-day availability is 695 BCM. The total availability of water possible in the country is still lower than this projected demand, at 1,137 BCM. Thus, there is an imminent need to deepen our understanding of our water resources and usage and put in place interventions that make our water use efficient and sustainable.

Water crisis in India by 2030

Classification according to Composite Water Index Scores (FY 16-17)

India is undergoing the worst water crisis in its history. Already, more than 600 million people are facing acute water shortages. Critical groundwater resources – which account for 40% of our water supply – are being depleted at unsustainable rates.

Droughts are becoming more frequent, creating severe problems for India’s rain-dependent farmers (53% of agriculture in India is rainfed). When water is available, it is likely to be contaminated (up to 70% of our water supply), resulting in nearly 200,000 deaths each year. Interstate disagreements are on the rise, with seven major disputes currently raging, pointing to the fact that limited frameworks and institutions are in place for national water governance.

Indeed, if nothing changes, and fast, things will get much worse: best estimates indicate that India’s water demand will exceed supply by a factor of two by 2030, with severe water scarcity on the horizon for hundreds of millions.

Water Index scores vary widely across states, but most states have achieved a score below 50% and could significantly improve their water resource management practices. The Water Index scores for FY 16-17 vary from 76 (Gujarat) to 26 (Meghalaya), with the median score being 49 for Non-Himalayan states and 31 for North-Eastern and Himalayan states. Gujarat is the highest performer, closely followed by other High performers such as Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh. Seven states have scores between 50-65 (including two North-Eastern and Himalayan states) and have been classified as Medium performers.

Water crisis in India by 2030 2

Ranking of states according to Composite Water Index Scores (FY 16-17)

Alarmingly, 60% of states (14 out of 24) have achieved scores below 50 and have been classified as Low performers. Low performers are concentrated across the populous agricultural belts of North and East India and among the North-Eastern and Himalayan states.

Most states have achieved less than 50% of the total score in the augmentation of groundwater resources, highlighting the growing national crisis—54% of India’s groundwater wells are declining, and 21 major cities are expected to run out of groundwater as soon as 2020, affecting 100 million people. Further, 70% of states have also achieved scores of less than 50% on managing on-farm water effectively. Given the fact that agriculture accounts for 80% of all water use, this underperformance, as discussed in the analysis of low performers above, poses significant water and food security risks for the country.

Finally, states have also performed averagely on providing safe drinking water to rural areas. With 800 million people or 70% of the country’s population, living in rural areas, and about two lakh people in the country dying each year due to a lack of access to safe water, this is one of the most critical service delivery challenges in the world.

Encouragingly, several water-scarce states are the leaders in Index performance. Several of the high and medium performers—Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Telangana— are states that have suffered from severe droughts in recent years.

Overall, there is large inter-state variation in Water Index scores, but most states have achieved a score below 50 (out of 100) and need to significantly improve their water resource management practices. The Water Index scores for FY 16-17 vary from ~76 (Gujarat) to ~26 (Meghalaya), with the median score being ~49 for Non-Himalayan states and ~31 for North-Eastern and Himalayan states. Gujarat is the highest performer, closely followed by other high performers such as Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh. Most other states are clustered around the 40-60 band. Seven states have scores between 50- 65 (including two North-Eastern and Himalayan states) and have been classified as Medium performers.

This data was compiled and collected from 24 states. The data was collected for two years—the base year of FY 15-16, and FY 16-17—thereby enabling not only a benchmarking of the current water performance of states but also the study of the evolution of this performance across the last two years.

However, 60% of states (14 out of 24) have achieved scores below 50 and have been classified as Low performers. Most North-Eastern and Himalayan states are the lowest performers on the Index, but a few have scores that are comparable to or better than most of the larger states. Assam, Nagaland, Uttarakhand, and Meghalaya have the lowest Index scores (in FY 16-17) out of all states, ranging from 26 to 31. This low performance involves low scores across almost all indicator themes, with several states scoring zeroes or not submitting data for as many as seven indicators (out of 28).

On the other hand, Tripura and Himachal Pradesh have high scores, with both performing well in supply-side management (irrigation and watershed development) and water-supply provision (rural and urban).

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