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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 7 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 world around him in his DSLR lens.

Environment

Baddi MC turns site of Rs 9.7 crores proposed Waste Management Facility into illegal dumpyard

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dumpyard of Baddi MC

“We have filed close to 100 RTI applications with different departments on this issue. We have no other way to make our voice heard.”

Solan: While the Centre and State Government of Himachal Pradesh are claiming improvement on every front including waste management under Swacch Bharat campaign, as another infamous achievement, the State Government has turned the site of a proposed waste treatment plant for the Baddi town of Solan district into an illegal dump yard.

Due to the increased pollution and hazards due to the illegal dumping of Municipal Waste and the dysfunctional common effluent treatment plant (CETP) in their area, the residents of villages under two Panchayats, Malpur and Sandho, are compelled to form a front ”Paryavaran Sangharsh Samiti to take the fight for the right for clean air and water to the door-steps of authorities.

The BBNDA was supposed to build a 9.7 crore ‘Integrated Solid Waste Management Facility’ on this spot where today they have created a foul-smelling open dump. This is totally illegal,

Sukhdev Singh, a resident of Malpur and Vice Chairperson of the Samiti said.

Baddi waaste management facility

Members of the Samiti of local residents

The BBNDA had in 2015 received an environment clearance for an ‘integrated solid waste management’ project provided 36 conditions were satisfied. (Read More Details in the Annexures Uploaded after the story)

The components of the project, expected to cost about Rs 9.7 crore, included a receiving facility, a compost plant, a recycling plant, a secured landfill, and a leachate collection unit

The aggrieved residents allege that none of this exists on the ground. Since 2016, the Municipal Council of Baddi started throwing waste on the site where this project was to be set up.

The illegal dumping came to the notice of the Environment Ministry ’s regional office during their half-yearly compliance monitoring visit about a year ago

The scientist, Dr Bhavna Singh, who visited the site had reported the violations and recommended an immediate suspension of dumping given non-compliance. However, the Pollution Control Board took no action on this front and the dumping continues to this day.

On July 19, 2018, we approached the Sub-Divisional Magistrate, Deputy Commissioner of Solan, Secretary, Urban Development, the Pollution Control Board and the Ministry of Environment about this gross negligence and have demanded that this illegal dumping be stopped and the site be immediately cleared,

said Rafiq, Deputy Secretary of the Samiti, also a member of the Gujjar Community.

The unscientific garbage dumping is posing a serious threat to not only the environment around but also to the 32 members of Gujjar families settled right in front of the dump yard. The Gujjar community is a scheduled tribe that practices their traditional livelihood of cattle rearing and are dependent on the public lands for purpose of grazing.

Baddi MC Dumping site

In addition, the dumping site is a breeding ground for flies, mosquitoes, rats, etc. and has caused an alarming increase in the incident of illnesses even to people who live in the neighbouring villages.

We are also writing to the Scheduled Tribe Commission and will go to the court if there is no action by the authorities,

added Rafiq.

Members of the Samiti in the last month have initiated a mass RTI campaign asking authorities for information about the dump and the actions taken by them.

We have filed close to 100 RTI applications with different departments on this issue. We have no other way to make our voice heard,

added Dharampal, secretary of the Paryavaran Sangharsh Samiti.

Meanwhile, the BBNDA has gone into damage control mode and has made announcements about fogging the area regularly to prevent smell and flies.

These are superficial steps and they do not change the fact that for the last two years the authorities have been sleeping when actually they had ample time to construct a proper waste management plant if they wanted to. Our demand is clear that the waste can no longer be dumped here. The area needs to be cleared of all the dumped waste

, said Charan Das, a resident of Sandholi and Chairperson of the Samiti.

Annexure I – Environmental Clearance

Annexure II – Indemnification of Project and Project Proponent

Annexure III Monitoring Report by Dr.Bhawna-Singh

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PCB report on garbage discharge into Ashwani Khud points out Shimla’s poor SWM

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Ashwani Khud Inquiry report

Shimla: The seven-member committee constituted to probe the matter pertaining to a video that showed an enormous amount of plastic/solid waste floating in Ashwani Khud – the main drinking water supply source to Solan – could not ascertain the origin or culprit responsible for it.

The committee headed by the Environmental Engineer of the Himachal Pradesh Pollution Control Board (HPPCB), Surender Shandil, was formed after the National Green Tribunal took suo motto cognizance of the disturbing video clip shot by a local youth Abhay Sharma and uploaded on social media by the Healing Himalayas – a non-profit organization.

The video had gone viral on the social media and reached the national media. The video was retweeted over 1,000 times.

Abhay is self-employed and is also a member of the NGO, who took up the issue despite fearing that the administration might come after his business following the consequences of the blowing whistle. Abhay decided to fight for the cause and came ahead to rubbish government’s claims that the video was fake.

This whistleblower indeed made a difference. This video clipped had shocked everyone who saw it. It won’t be wrong to say that he sounded an alarm for all the Himalayan water sources/rivers.

Following it, the Tribunal had asked the Board to file a report regarding it within a week.

While district administration of Shimla and most of the government agencies had washed their hands off by simply terming the video clip as a fake, the team first verified that the video was indeed real. The video was recorded in Neri village and the panel has recorded the statements of the locals too.

In fact, the people were not able to believe that it could happen in a State like Himachal. They prayed the video to be fake but to their demise, it was not.

The locals have confirmed that it has become a routine to see solid waste floating in the Khud, but the situation was way far intense this time.

The PCB’s Engineer told Himachal Watcher that the inquiry was completed, and  its report would be submitted to the Tribunal. Though the report is not made public yet, Mr Shandil suggested that there is a high probability that the waste could have entered the stream from a large number of nullahs in the catchment area located in Shimla district.

The catchment area of the Khud is so large and there are so many nullahs within it that it was hard to spot a specific source. It has been raining heavily and there could be several reasons for the flooding of waste in it,

Mr. Shandil told HW.

He further suggested that during their visits to the catchment area, they did see garbage being washed away by rainwater and entering the nullahs.

The report would be finalized by today evening and submitted to the Tribunal,

he added.

The panel has also suggested that the waste could have emanated from the dumping ground in Slogra in Solan.

Earlier, the panel was suggesting that the garbage could have been dumped into the stream from a spot like Sadhupul through dumpers. 

However, there was no word regarding the discharge of the sewerage that was reported by Abhay. Abhay had told HW that the video could only show the solid waste floating on the water and could not give an idea of the smell of sewage that the water of the Khud was carrying with itself in addition to the garbage.

HW had posted additional video clips recorded on the same day by different individuals. One of the clips shows the water had turned dark in colour, which Abhay said, was due to sewage. 

Sewage in Ashwani Khud

The probe in the deadly jaundice outbreak in 2015, in which about three dozen people were killed, had revealed that the contractor of the Sewage Treatment Plant in Malyna, Shimla, was releasing a large amount of untreated sewage into Ashwani Khud, which was the cause of the outbreak. 

The Shimla Municipal Corporation had suspended the supply from Ashwani Khud following this deliberate genocide.

However, during the water scarcity in May-June this year, the SMC had resumed the supply from the Khud despite the fact that water samples were failing quality tests.

It is to be seen whether the PCB has also included sewage discharge in its inquiry report or not.

Further, as per the whistle-blower, the garbage flooded the Khud only when it rained heavy in Shimla. 

HW had also posted a video showing two nullahs located below the Krishna Nagar colony in Lalpani of Shimla city, which were entirely covered with solid waste. A number of nullahs including the one near the lift on Cart-Road could be seen filled with garbage, which flows down to the Khud with rainwater.

Other than that, the former Mayor of Shimla, Sanjay Chauhan, had also pointed out the nullahs in the catchment area where a large amount of solid waste collected from panchayats is dumped.

However, the Deputy Commissioner of Shimla, Amit Kashyap had told HW that there is no such problem in the areas of Shimla falling under various panchayats. The waste management was perfectly fine in both the rural as well as in the city, he had claimed.
The PCB’s report, if the initial information is to be believed, largely suggests that poor or no solid waste management in Shimla’s catchment could be blamed for it.

The Ashwani Khad episode has raised concerns about the ill attitude of the locals, tourists, and the government towards the growing problem of managing solid waste in the State.

Littering by tourists along National Highway 21 also produce a large amount of garbage which ends up in nullahs. The civic body or the local administrations hardly have any strategies in hand to deal with littering and unlawful dumping of garbage. 

At the same time, the matter also questions awareness and the inaction of State PCB regarding poor solid waste management and improper dumping in the State.  

 

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Public health in Shimla town still at risk as MC’s drinking water samples again fail quality tests

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Shimla water samples in 2018

Shimla: An advisory has been issued by the Shimla Municipal Corporation to boil drinking water as a precaution as samples of several sources including tanks and tube wells have been found contaminated with Citrobacter, Klebsiella oxytoca and Pseudomonas ssp bacteria.

These bacterias are associated with serious health problems including physical diseases to infections in various parts of the body.

As per the latest report released by the Indira Gandhi Medical College, Citrobacter bacteria was found in the samples taken from the public tap on Sanjauli Chowk and in Tibetan colony in Nabah and water tank in Phagli.

The samples taken from the water tank in Sector 3 of New Shimla were contaminated with Klebsiella oxytoca bacteria.

Despite spending on the installation of Ultra Violet water treatment technology, the samples of the Ashwani Khud keep failing the quality tests. The treated and untreated samples taken from Ashwani Khud contained Pseudomonas spp and Citrobacter, thus, failed the test.

Scroll Down to Read About Diseases/Infections Causes by These Bacterias

As a matter of serious concern, a video of showing the gigantic amount of plastic/solid waste and sewerage floating in the Khud that had gone viral on social media shows that the degradation of this source had only increased.

 

Further, samples taken from a hand pump in Chalaunthi and Engine Ghar were also found contaminated.

The Chau\launthi bawari and Bir Khana bawari in Kanlog also failed the test.

The samples were collected between 14 to 17 July.

The SMC, on the other hand, suggested that there could be some error in collecting samples and the water would be tested again.

The promises of the current SMC to provide clean and regular drinking water supply have fallen flat on their face. The Corporation is spending on water treatment technologies blindly without going into details of the causes that are leading to water contamination.

Former Mayor of Shimla and leader of Communist Party of India (Marxist), Sanjay Chauhan, condemned the act of putting public health at risk by supplying contaminated water to the citizens. He also questioned spending on expensive Ultra Violet Technology to treat water of Ashwani Khud as the samples of the same are still failing.

We can see in the reports also that samples of UV treated water have failed,

Sanjay pointed out

Malyana STP is almost redundant and about 4.5 MLD raw and untreated sewer water is released in the Ashwini Khud from this STP. It can’t be even treated with UV treatment,

he said when asked why spending on UV technology was in vain.

Moreover, it can’t be foolproof because of our lousy handling of plants and pumping stations. Nowhere in the world sewer treated water used for drinking. It’s used for agricultural and other purposes,

he added.

The SMC is still rationing water supply. While most of the localities are supplied water after a gap of one day, some localities complained they were still receiving even rationed supply regularly, he said.

Currently, the city requires 30 MLD water per day to meet the total demand and MC is receiving 40-45 MLD water per day, but still the public is not receiving regular water supply, Sanjay said.

The water pumps at the supply schemes are shut down for several hours as storage tanks of the Corporation remain full, which could be easily avoided if the town is given daily supply. 

Further, Sanjay also pointed out that the SMC has decided to cancel the Greater Shimla Water Supply & Sewerage Circle (GSWSSC) and to hand over the water supply in the municipal area to a newly formed private company. However,  no attention was paid on improving the quality of the water, he said.

The MC should learn from the way the privatization of sanitation works is already heading towards a failure even before it could be implemented in the entire town.

The CPI(M) has demanded supply of clean water supply to the town and the revival of the GSWSSC instead of handing the supply to private hands, which, it expects, would only worsen the situation.

Otherwise, the party warned the government of public protests.

The Ward Councilors and the Deputy Mayor recently visited Kerala as a study tour, if the SMC to be believed. The MC claimed it studied the methodology of the civic bodies of the State to learn how to supply 24×7 water. It further claimed, it would implement the same in Shimla town and by October, some of the Wards would start to get non-stop supply.

In reality, that credit would go to the ongoing Kol Dam project that has faced a delay of over five years before it was taken up following the severe scarcity of drinking water in the town.

Currently, the civic body needs to focus on the issue of contamination of drinking water supply. The public money must be spent judiciously while buying more technologies for the treatment of water. The government departments need to take up the task of conducting research studies/surveys to comprehend the real problem and buy a suitable technology or take steps accordingly.

Diseases Caused by Citrobacter Bacteria

The members of this species can cause several infections and diseases primarily in neonates and individuals with a weak immune system. It can cause nosocomial infections of the respiratory tract, urinary tract, and the blood. Further, Citrobacter is the well-identified cause of sporadic pneumonia, Hepatic, biliary and pancreatic disease, and neonatal sepsis and meningitis.

The mortality rate of Citrobacter meningitis is unacceptably high, with death rates of patients ranging from 25 to 50 %. About 75 percent of the survivors face serious neurological problems.

Diseases/infections caused by Klebsiella oxytoca

Klebsiella also targets individual with a weak immune system including diabetic patients, alcoholics, those using catheter tube, antibiotics for long time and ventilators.

Klebsiella normally lives inside the human intestine but it does not cause any disease in the intestine. Klebsiella causes a range of illness to the human body including, pneumonia, wound infection, surgical site infection, bloodstream infection, urinary tract infection and meningitis.

Diseases/infections caused by Pseudomonas ssp bacteria

As opportunistic pathogens, Pseudomonas spp. often invades the host tissue and cause infection and bacteremia in immunocompromised hosts (e.g., HIV/AIDS, cystic fibrosis, bronchiectasis, and severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, burns, malignancy, or diabetes mellitus)

The common site of infection is the lower respiratory tract, and severity ranges from colonization without immunological response to severe necrotizing bronchopneumonia.

It’s also a common cause of nosocomial ventilator-related pneumonia. Infections also include endocarditis, osteomyelitis, urinary tract infections, gastrointestinal infections, meningitis, and, commonly, septicaemia.

The symptoms depend on the location of the infection in all three cases. However, some of the common symptoms include fever, flu symptoms, breathing issues and cough.

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