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Health hazard haunts Shimla city as garbage collection heads towards total collapse

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Shimla SHEB Society Strike

Then-Mayor, Sanjay Chauhan, had criticised the sanitation workers for their demand of hike saying they were being paid maximum wages as compared to entire India. Surprisingly, now he supported the striking workers and said the MC should accept their demands. 

Shimla: The Shimla Municipal Corporation has issued a notice warming the striking workers of the Shimla Environment, Heritage and Beautification (SHEB) Society to resume the work by Sept 21.

Otherwise, it cautioned the workers, the door-to-door garbage collection work will be outsourced. A proposal regarding the same was floating in the MC House recently. The decision was taken in a meeting of governing body held on September 19. 

On the other hand, the workers said they will prefer mass resignation than ending the strike. President of the SHEB Society, Jaswant Singh, warned the drivers who are still collecting garbage from collection points will also join the strike from Thursday. 

Shimla MC hardly has any backup plan to deal with such a situation, which can worsen the sanitation situation of Shimla. It would imply that no garbage would be collected even from collection points. 

This situation could lead to sanitation crisis and health hazards related to poor sanitation. 

The residents were hopeful that the sanitation workers would end their strike after the seventh annual general meeting (AGM) of the Society on September 18. The Urban Development Minister, Sudhir Sharma, had presided over AGM after the civic body had said he would take the final call over the demands of the striking workers.

The minister gave nod to only 10 percent hike with an assurance that a proposal for a policy recommending 10 percent annual hike in wages will be sent to the government for an approval. 

The civic body had expressed its inability to hike their wages due to financial crunch. SMC said it is earning much less than it is spending on SHEB Society. 

However, the workers continued their strike as the AGM failed to satisfy them to resume work. 

 

What do SHEB Workers Want?

After seven years of formation of SHEB Society and implementation of door-to-door garbage collection service, the capital city is still struggling with management of solid waste. Though Shimla city did not remain free from littering, the service had proved beneficial in waste management. 

The workers are on strike again and the public is feeling free to burn or throw their garbage in forests or in nullahs. The garbage is scattered on roadsides raising a stink. People are not convenient in carrying their garbage daily to collection points.  

Unfortunately, as the MC had declared the city as ‘dumper free’ and removed most of the dumpers claiming the door-to-door service was working at 100 percent efficiency, and that there was no need of dumpers.

After a while, the SMC had to place dumpers at some places, and as the current circumstances suggest, MC might need to bring the “dumper method” back.

People, from one locality or other, always complained irregularity in the working of the SHEB Society workers.

However, since 2015, SHEB workers have gone on strike several times over their demands regarding regularization under Shimla Municipal Corporation, as promised to them. The SHEB workers also demanded the corporation to provide them information regarding the recruitment, ESI, Employee Provident Fund accounts etc.

The SHEB Society had alleged then Mayor of Shimla, Sanjay Chauhan, and Deputy Mayor, Tikender Singh Panwar, of harassing the workers by not regularizing them under the MC.

In 2010, a door-to-door garbage collector was receiving Rs. 3300 as monthly salary. In 2015, the salary was increased to 7,700. With this hike in their wages went up the cost of service for the residents and clients who fall under 20 categories like dhabas, tea stalls, hotels, restaurants etc. These charges were between Rs 50 to Rs 1,000 per month depending upon the category.

These allegations were rubbished by then-Deputy Mayor. He had explained that the workers do not understand that only state government is eligible for taking such decisions.

SHEB workers had also alleged the SMC and the Urban Development Department ignoring their health. They had alleged the civic body did not provide them with gloves, proper carry-bags, raincoats etc. The president of the society said 19 workers have died and several others are suffering from jaundice. However, he said, they have not received any relief from the civic body. 

In 2015, the SMC had to issue a warning to the workers to join their duty back or face termination under Essential Services Maintenance Act. Notices were also issued to several workers.

Then-Mayor, Sanjay Chauhan, had criticised the sanitation workers over their strike regarding the merger in the MC as regular employees. He had said the workers were being paid maximum wages as compared to entire India.

He supported the striking workers and said the MC should accept their demands.

In 2017, the workers again went on strike multiple times, which lead to the creation of ugly scene as garbage heaps and littering increased. 

This tug-of-war between the civic body and the workers continues in September 2017 too. The workers have locked horns with the SMC over their demands which include a minimum wage of Rs. 10,500 per month.

The workers say they are currently receiving Rs 6,700 per month, which is not sufficient to meet ends.

If the government can increase the salaries of officers and ministers by 50 percent or even 100 percent, why it does not make a 10 percent hike for poor like us who do menial jobs,

said workers in a statement to media.

Waste Management/Segregation Still a Distant Dream

Door-to-door garbage collection service that now covers not only 38,000 residential buildings but also the beneficiaries who fall under 20 categories like dhabas, tea stalls, hotels, restaurants etc. in all 34 wards, is best suited for a hilly region like Shimla.

Majority of houses are not connected to roads in Shimla city, therefore, garbage collection is not possible through vehicles.

The SHEB society was formed in 2010 after the High Court had directed the civic body to make proper policy for collection and segregation of non-biodegradable and bio-degradable garbage at the household level.

Back then, the citizens were given a yellow dustbin for non-biodegradable waste, i.e. plastic, metal, stone etc. and green dustbins for bio-degradable waste, i.e. raw and waste foodstuff, paper etc.

In 2017, waste segregation remains a distant dream as the civic body is not even able to collect garbage. Eventually, now there is a great probability that the door-to-door garbage collection work will be given to a private contractor or some NGO.

Neverthless, till the things come back on track, residents should support the corporation by not taking it for granted to dispose of garbage in forests or nulluhas or burn it to pollute air because door-to-door garbage collectors are on strike. To keep your own city clean and prevent the health hazards, try to carry the garbage to the collection  points to make it easier for the corporation to transport it through vehicles.

If it is not picked up from these collection points, then there is every reason to criticise the civic body.   

Here is the list of ward-wise list of contact numbers of the Nodal Officers appointed by the MC to look after the removal of garbage from various collection points: 

 

Ward                   Mobile Number

Bharari                  8679773967

Ruldbhatta          9418233114

Kaithu                   9816588002

Annadel               9459148055

Summerhill         9459153459

Totu                       9419090195

Majhyath            9418376919

Boileauganj        9817151277

Kachhi Ghati       9459743003

Tutikandi             9418344254

Nabha                   9318727372

Fagali                     9418627780

Krishna Nagar   8894126752

Ram Bazaar         9418029908

Lower Bazaar     9418014593

Jakhu                    888810728

Benmore             9459753722

Engine Ghar        9418016782

Sanjauli Chowk   9817222688

Upper Dhalli        9418064474

Lower Dhali         9418608263

Shanit Vihar        9418038021

Bhattakuffar       9418044534

Sangti                    9418780891

Malyana               9418458702

Panthaghati         9418474747

Kasumpti             8679637396

Chotta Shimla    9418092015

Vikasnagar           9418090790

Patiyog (पटियोग )9816316754

New Shimla        9418062620

Khalini                   9418486558

Kanlog                  9816035624

 

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Govt Legitimizing and Legalizing Environmental Violations for Business by Amending EIA Rules: Activists  

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Himachal pradesh EIA Notification 2020 Amendments news

Shimla-While in statements, the politicians in power at the Centre and State Governments have been expressing concerns over environmental issues and ensuring the people that they are committed to protect and preserve the environment, the reality is contrary to it. The most recent evidence is the proposed 2020 draft amendments to the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification. With these amendments, the process of environmental assessment before granting permission to execute commercial projects, like hydropower projects in Himachal Pradesh, would be reduced to merely a formality.

Environmental activists and people’s organisations from across Himachal have written to the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) to scrap the 2020 draft amendments to the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification proposed by it.

These activists and environmental protection groups are of the opinion that the EIA Notification, first issued in 1994 under the Environment Protection Act 1986, is a critical mechanism that regulates clearances granted to all kinds of development projects and economic activities in the country. It is one of the environmental decision-making processes that makes it mandatory for project developers to not just study the socio-economic, ecological and other impacts of a proposed project but also place them in front of the affected communities for their opinions and objections, thus, ensuring the process of a free, fair and informed consent. However, this notification has been amended and read down several times in the last two decades, in favour of ‘easing the norms’ for business. The latest draft continues to move in the direction of rendering the EIA process a mere formality. 

The submission made by HP groups states,

“In the context of the already vulnerable and sensitive Himalayan region, flouting of various provisions of even the present EIA notification has heavily impacted the local ecology and livelihoods of the people. The new amendments will only legitimize and legalize these violations and this will mean irreparable damage to the Himalayan ecosystem”. 

The key objections raised are around exemptions of a variety of projects from the mandatory  Public Consultation’ process as well as the dismantling of this process itself.

“The reduction of the time prior to public hearing from 30 to 20 days is also highly objectionable. In the given 30 day period itself, the information about Public hearings does not reach all the affected areas which are often spread out widely in case of mountains with some project-affected communities residing in remote and inaccessible terrains. Here accessing information takes a long time and reducing this time to 20 days will completely exclude such people from raising their grievances and suggestions in the public consultation. This is a clear attempt to block their participation in the environmental decision-making process”

said R.S Negi of Him Lok Jagriti Manch, Kinnaur. 

 

“It is shocking that the amendments include allowing post-facto clearance, which means that the project proponent can start work and before they have obtained environmental clearance. If the basic precautionary principle on which the EIA notifications is grounded is itself not followed it can lead to a disastrous situation for the ecology and local people. In this situation who is going to be responsible for the losses? If the project proponent is not in a position to pay for losses, will the MoEF&CC take the responsibility of losses? This provision will encourage project developers to bypass the process of environmental decision making. We absolutely oppose this amendment”,

said Prakash Bhandari of Himdhara Collective.  

The 2020 draft also dilutes the guidelines for monitoring and compliance of Environment conditions.

“Already the system of monitoring is weak, the conditions lose, the pollution control board and companies non-accountable, thus, leading to widespread destruction of local ecology and impacting health, lives, and livelihoods of project-affected communities. In the case of hydropower projects, for instance, the illegal and unmonitored dumping of muck along river beds, in forests and on common lands, has damaged pastures, disrupted the flow of the rivers, and caused massive disasters when floods occur. The proposed changes will give a free reign to those profiting from extractive and polluting projects,” 

according to Kulbhushan Upmanyu of Himalaya Bachao Samiti. 

It is ironic that on one hand, the global COVID crisis has thrown up several studies showing that pandemics like COVID emerge from ecological degradation and forest loss, and on the government is pushing for policy changes which will accentuate the environmental crisis that the country is already reeling under.  

“If the MoEF&CC wants to change the environmental laws, it should carry out countrywide regional consultations”,

added Uma Mahajan of Himachal Van Adhikar Manch.

The country, especially ecologically diverse yet climate-vulnerable regions like the Himalayas need a robust and strong environmental regulatory and governance regime that makes project proponents accountable and keeps the affected communities and ecological concerns at the centre of the EIA and environmental decision-making process. 

Notably, MoEF&CC had called for citizen’s comments before May 11 but this deadline was extended upto  June 30 and now August 11 as environmentalists and concerned groups expressed outrage that calling for public inputs on this critical law amidst the COVID led lockdown was unjustified. The MoEF&CC has in this period received thousands of objections highlighting the new draft as anti-people and environment.

The demand is to scrap these proposed amendments for the sake of the environment. 

Submission Made to Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change by Activists and Organizations

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SC’s Forest Diversion Regulation a Blockade on Forest Rights Act Implementation in Himachal: Himdhara

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Supreme Court On Forest Diversion in Himachal Pradesh 2

ShimlaHimdhara Collective, a Himachal-based environment research and action group, has released a report on the implications of the regulation imposed by the Supreme Court on forest diversion under the Forest Rights Act 2006 in Himachal, through a series of orders passed last year. This brought to a screeching halt the implementation of Section 3(2) of the FRA which grants powers to gram sabhas and Divisional Forest Officers to divert upto 1 hectare of forest land for 13 types of village welfare activities like roads, schools, community centres, PDS shops etc. 

The court orders were based on the conclusions drawn by a Supreme Court Monitoring Committee, headed by a retired PCCF, V.P Mohan, that the diversions were leading to green felling and deforestation in the state. Initially, a stay was imposed on all green felling in the state (in a matter of forest diversions under FCA 1980 and FRA 2006) on 11th March 2019. This stay was partially relaxed but the Supreme court sought all FRA proposals to be brought before it for further diversion.

The report titled ‘Missing the forest for Trees’, assesses the ground reality behind the conclusions drawn by the Supreme Court Monitoring Committee based on which these diversions have been restricted.

“We have found that the Supreme court’s orders need to be reviewed because the alarm raised by the V.P Mohan committee with regard to FRA was a false one”,

stated authors of the report which is based on analysis of RTI information as well as field research.

RTI data sought from the Forest department for all cases under section 3(2) of the Forest Rights Act 2006 from 2014 to 2019 (up to January 2019), was analysed to reveal that 17237 trees were felled in an area of 887.56 hectares for 1959 activities in 41 of the 45 forest divisions of the state.

Roads, followed by schools and community centres dominate the type of activities carried out. Of the total land diverted 91% is for roads. It was found that almost 64% of these diversions showed ‘nil’ trees felled. The average number of trees felled per hectare is very low (19.52) and it may be induced that most activities have been carried out in areas with open forest or no trees.

Rohru (Shimla), Nachan(Mandi), Kinnaur and Chopal were some of the divisions which had a large number of diversions, again mostly for roads.

Case studies we carried out in Mandi and Kangra district showed the desperate need for amenities like village link roads and schools. In Himachal, there remain about 41% villages that have no road connectivity which affects access to health, education and market centres.

On the other hand, large development activities like four lane highways, hydropower projects and transmission lines, have had a much larger ecological footprint in terms of tree loss in the state compared to the very minute, incomparable diversions under FRA.

The report also finds that as far as green cover is concerned in the period corresponding to the high number of forest diversions under FRA (2015-2019), the forest survey of India’s statistics show a 333 sq.km increase in the forest cover.

Why development rights under FRA important for Himachal?

1.No Land available with revenue departments and panchayats for ‘welfare activities’ thus forest land only option

The report concludes that given the fact that 2/3rd of the geographical area of the state is recorded ‘forest area’ where strict forest laws have restricted non-forest use, the FRA provides relief for communities to access basic welfare facilities, which should be seen as their fundamental right and therefore should not be hindered.

2.Cumbersome, costly and lengthy process under FCA 1980

Before FRA it was the Forest Conservation Act, 1980 which governed forest diversion even for small local development activities. This required not only permission from the Central Government (MoEFCC Regional or Delhi Office) but also warranted that user agencies deposit funds (Net Present Value of trees) to carry out Compensatory Afforestation. The whole diversion process under FCA was cumbersome, lengthy and costly, and thus a major hurdle in providing the rural areas, especially remote areas, access to basic welfare development facilities.

 “The section 3(2) of the FRA provides relief for both governmental departments and local communities as it overrides the FCA and puts in place a simple and decentralized process for diversion”states the report.

3.FRA is meant to correct the problems that were posed by strict central forest laws

The Forest Rights Act was passed by the parliament of India in 2006 recognising that across the country there are lakhs of communities dependent on land which is legally categorised as ‘forest land’ and are unable to exercise their basic livelihood and development rights due to extremely strict forest laws. Under this act’s Section 3(1), forest-dependent communities can file claims for their individual and community rights exercised before the cut-off date of 13th December 2005.

“As it is Himachal has been sluggish with FRA implementation and only 136 titles have been issued under section 3(1). But atleast the government was proactive with the implementation of section 3(2). With the Supreme court orders regulating this provision, there seems to be an impression amongst the implementing agencies and officials that there is an over-all blockade on FRA in the state”

added members of the collective.

The report has recommended that the state government and nodal agency for the Act – the Central Ministry of Tribal Affairs, put forth the case in favour of section 3(2) of the FRA strongly in front of the Supreme Court and also move swiftly to ensure implementation of all provisions of this law in Himachal.  

 

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HP Govt Exempts Use of Plastic Straws Attached with Beverages for 6 Months

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Plastic straws in himachla pradesh

Shimla: The use of integrated plastic straws attached with tetra pack of beverages are exempted temporarily for a period of six months in Himachal Pradesh, informed a spokesperson of the state government on January 31, 2020.

He informed that the exemption would be a subject to the implementation of Action Plan submitted by M/s Tetra Pack India Pvt. Ltd., AARC under Extended Producer Responsibility.

During the relaxation period, the manufacturers and producers are to come out with an alternative to plastic straw, which is bio-degradable, he informed. A notification in this regard has been issued recently.

He said that other provisions of the notification issued by Department of Environment, Science and Technology of HP on September 20, 2019, which imposes complete ban on plastic cutlery such as spoons, bowls, katories, stirring sticks, forks, knives, straws made of plastic, would remain banned.

He said that this notification will come into force with immediate effect.

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