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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

Himachal Gets First Fully Automated ‘Doppler Weather Radar’, Would Provide More Accurate Short Range Forecast

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Dopper Weather Radar in Himachal Pradesh's Kufari

Shimla-India Meteorological Department (IMD) January 15, 2021, celebrated its 146th Foundation Day. IMD is one of the oldest, scientific service organizations in the country, in existence well before Independence.

On the occasion, Dr. Harsh Vardhan inaugurated Doppler Weather Radars at Mukteshwar, Uttarakhand and Kufri, Himachal Pradesh; Multi-Mission Meteorological Data Receiving and Processing System in IMD in collaboration with ISRO (MMDRPS).

According to the IMD, these modernized Radars would give a more specific short-range weather forecast.

It’s pertinent to mention that accurate and advance weather information is of utmost importance to Himachal Pradesh – a state largely dependent on agriculture and tourism.

The one installed in Kufari, Shimla, is Indigenous dual polarised X-Band Doppler Weather Radar. Two more Radars would be installed at Mandi and Dalhousie in Chamba district of the State. A site had already been finalized at Mandi and a site for Radar at Dalhousie would be finalized soon, the State Government informed.

This specific type of Radar uses the Doppler effect to gather velocity data. The Radar transmits a signal, which gets reflected when hits a raindrop. Based on the changes in the frequency of the reflected signal, data is obtained about the motion of droplets and intensity of the precipitation. Scientists can analyze this data to determine the structure and severity of storms.

Radar installed at Kufri is on test mode for a period of two weeks. Thereafter its data would be used for forecasting purposes. This Radar has a range upto 100 kilometres in radial distance. It would observe and provide the weather data of 100 kilometres in all directions, which would be used for forecasting purpose, especially for the short-range forecast. More précised area-specific weather forecast and warning can be issued for a particular place, for the weather phenomenon like thunderstorm, lighting, hailstorm, heavy rainfall/snowfall, gusty winds etc.    

This Centre would help the horticulturists and farmers of the State by providing them with accurate weather information.

The DWR Kufri would run round the clock and it is fully automatic. It would transmit the data in various digital format and picture form.

 Forecasting monsoons is the lifeline to India’s food security and affect the economy as the nation’s GDP is dependent on agriculture. Moreover, weather prediction is critical to reducing the loss of lives from various extreme events like a cyclone, heavy rain, thunderstorm, heatwave and cold wave, monsoonal floods and droughts.

India Meteorological Department says that it is modernizing its observational network in the Central and Western Himalayas by the installation of Doppler Weather Radars in a phased manner, at different locations.

IMD said that this radar will be providing severe weather information to the weather forecasters, thus, improving the safety of the public in the states of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh. It will also provide support to the disaster managers and the pilgrims undertaking the pilgrimage to Kailash Manasarovar and Char Dham yatra. 

 

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Environment

The GHNP and Tirthan Wildlife Sanctuary Ranked as Best Managed Protected Areas of India

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MEE Rank himachal pradesh GHNP

Shimla-The Great Himalayan National Park and Tirthan Wildlife Sanctuary (WLS) have been ranked as the best managed protected areas in India. Sainj WLS has also been placed among the top five Sanctuaries.

Minister for Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Prakash Javadekar, on January 11 released Management Effectiveness Evaluation (MEE) of 146 National Park and Wildlife Sanctuaries in the Country. At present, India has a network of 903 Protected Areas in the country covering about 5% of the total geographic area of the country. The purpose of it was to assess the efficacy of Protected Areas, evaluation of management effectiveness.

The evaluation process was executed by the Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun, in which  nation-wide 146 National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries, including 13 protected areas of Himachal Pradesh, were assessed through a team of evaluators. The score is given for various parameters including staff position, provision of financial resources, degree of protection, peoples’ participation and awareness of the communities towards the conservation values. Against a national average of 62 percent GHNP and Tirthan WLS scored a high of 84.17 percent while Sainj recorded 82.5 percent.

Currently, Himachal Pradesh has a network of 5 National Parks, 28 Wildlife Sanctuaries and 3 Conservation Reserves covering 8391.42 km2 which is 15 percent of the total geographical area of the state.

Top five and bottom five scored NP&WLS

Management Effectiveness Evaluation (MEE) of 146 National Park and Wildlife Sanctuaries in India 2

Source: MEE Evaluation Report

According to this Evaluation three of the top five best managed Protected Areas in the country are from Himachal Pradesh. However, the Evaluation also mentioned weaknesses in management in these National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries. (Scroll down for details info)

Top two highest and lowest scored NP&WLS in five regions

Managemaent Effectiveness Evaluation (MEE) of 146 National Park and Wildlife Sanctuaries in India

Source: MEE Evaluation Report

What is Management Effectiveness Evaluation (MEE)?

Protected area (PA) management effectiveness evaluation (MEE) is defined as the assessment of how well NP&WLS are being managed—primarily, whether they are protecting their values and achieving the goals and objectives agreed upon.

The term ‘management effectiveness’ reflects three main themes of PA management -design issues relating to both individual sites and PA systems, the adequacy and appropriateness of management systems and processes, and delivery of the objectives of NP&WLS, including conservation of values.

 Management Effectiveness Evaluation (MEE) of Protected Areas (PAs) has emerged as a key tool for PA managers and is increasingly being used by governments and international bodies to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the protected area management systems.

MEE is a very important document that provides valuable guidance on various aspects of wildlife and protected area expand MEE of Marine Protected Areas. A new framework for MEE of Marine Protected Areas has been also jointly prepared by WII and MoEF&CC.

In recent years there has been a general concern amongst PA professionals and the public that many NP&WLS are failing to achieve their objectives and, in some cases, are actually losing the values for which they were established (Hockings et al. 2008).

As a result, improving the effectiveness of PA management has become a priority throughout the conservation community. Protected areas that are effectively managed generally lead to improved biodiversity outcomes.

However, only 20% (21,743 NP&WLS) of the total coverage of protected areas reported in the WDPA has been assessed for management effectiveness according to the Global Database on Protected Areas Management Effectiveness (UNEP-WCMC, IUCN and NGS 2018). The result indicated that only 17.5% of the countries have achieved the 60% score of management effectiveness (Coad et al. 2015).

Further, Javadekar also announced that from this year onwards 10 best National Parks, 5 coastal and Marine parks and top five Zoos in the country will be ranked and awarded every year.

Management Strengths and Weaknesses of National Parks and Wild Life Sanctuaries in Himachal Pradesh

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Environment

Himachal Bans Import of Poultry Products from Other States, Migratory Bird Death Toll Reaches 4324

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Poultry ban in himachal pradesh

Shimla-Import of poultry products to Himachal Pradesh from other States has been banned for a week, the State Government informed today. The step was taken in order to ensure that the Bird Flu (Avian Influenza) infection does spread from other States through poultry products.   

According to the Government, the “Bird Flu death toll” for migratory birds has reached 4324. The Government said that about 65 rapid response teams of Animal Husbandry and Wild Life departments were regularly monitoring the Pong Dam and adjoining areas. It said that keeping in view the intensity of Bird Flu, samples of poultry have been sent to RDDL Jalandhar by Animal Husbandry Department. 

Further, recently 1000 dead domestic poultry birds were found dumped in Dharampur Sub Division of Solan district, which were disposed of by deep burial and area was being sanitized as per protocol, it was informed. Samples of these dead birds have been sent to RDDL Jallandhar for diagnosis.

Further, it was informed that 215 other birds were also found dead in various parts of the State till date.

Officers have been asked to keep a strict vigil on birds alongside reservoirs and people to sensitize about proper handling of poultry products.

The Government has requested the people to inform the Animal Husbandry and Wild Life Departments if any dead bird is found in their areas.

Bird Flu Confirmed in 10 States

According to the official statement released by the Government of India, till January 11, 2021, Avian Influenza was confirmed in 10 states of the country. ICAR- NIHSAD has confirmed death of crows and migratory/wild birds in Tonk, Karauli, Bhilwara districts of Rajasthan; and Valsad, Vadodara and Surat districts of Gujarat. Further, death of crows was confirmed in Kotdwar and Dehradun districts of Uttarakhand. In Delhi, crows and ducks, respectively, were reported dead in New Delhi and Sanjay lake areas.

Additionally, an outbreak of Avian influenza has been among poultry in Parbhani district where 800 hens died of the Flu. Also, the Flu is confirmed from Mumbai, Thane, Dapoli, Beed in crows in Maharashtra.

Culling of Infected Birds Underway in Haryana

In Haryana, culling of infected birds is underway for the control and containment of the spread of the disease. A Central team has visited Himachal Pradesh and will reach Panchkula on 11 January 2021 for carrying out monitoring the epicentre sites and conducting epidemiological investigation.

States have been requested to build awareness among the public and avoid the spread of misinformation. States/ UTs have been requested to increase surveillance around water bodies, live bird markets, zoos, poultry farms, etc. along with proper disposal of carcasses and strengthening of bio-security in poultry farms.

The States have been asked to maintain adequate stock of PPE kits and accessories required for culling operations, Secretary, DAHD, requested.

Feature Photo: unsplash@relentlessjpg

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