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Himachal becomes first state to run electric buses, thanks to High Court and NGT

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The state government had no plans or vision of its own to take such an eco-friendly initiative. Before the lash of court struck it first in 2014, the government did not report efforts to evaluate and measure the negative impacts of increasing tourists influx.

Shimla: Himachal Pradesh became the first state in India to introduce electric buses. The Transport Minister GS Bali gathered all the appreciation for this historical achievement after he flagged off the first electric bus on the 51 kms long Manali-Rohtang Pass stretch on September 21, 2017.

Initially, 25 buses will be delivered with each bus costing Rs 1.70 crore. The buses can carry about 30 passengers and cover a distance of about 200 kms before asking for recharge.

The minister informed that soon 50 more electric buses will ply on defined routes in other parts of the state. The buses will provide services in the towns of Manali, Dharamsala, Mandi etc. during the period when Rohtang Pass remains closed due to snowfall.

The fair would higher than the normal bus services, but the amount has not been decided yet.

However, it is a bitter fact that the state government had no plans or vision of its own to take such an eco-friendly initiative. Before the lash of court struck it first in 2014, the state government did not report efforts to evaluate and measure the negative impacts of increasing tourists influx.

It is important to credit the true authority which made it possible – the state High Court and the National Green Tribunal.

On February 24, 2014, the NGT had passed an order restricting the commercial activities and number of vehicles entering Rohtang pass to cut down increased emissions.

After facing pressure from the local people of the region, who lost their livelihood that was dependent on tourism activities, the government and some geologists had claimed that there are no glaciers in the vicinity to Rohtang Pass.

Over 15 petitions were filed by various unions and individual pleading the NGT to show leniency on the restriction put on commercial activities.

In March 2016, the Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh had called the NGT orders as ‘an overreaction.

The state does not agree to the NGT order entirely, therefore, it may proceed to the Supreme Court, if green bench did not give relief to the affected people,

he had held.

The state government took about two years before it could decide which type of buses to be opted – electric or CNG. In fact, the NGT had rebuked the government in 2016 for its slow pace in execution of the orders.

You have taken 1.5 years, first to say yes to CNG and now you want to divert from CNG. You may make a statement before us stating as to which mode of transport you would prefer in this region,

a bench headed by NGT Chairperson Justice Swatanter Kumar had said on January 16, 2016.

 The NGT had observed in its judgment that

Tourism is also the cause for adverse impacts on ecology and environment of the State. Diverse and devastating impacts are attributable to unregulated and heavy tourism, overcrowding, misuse of natural resources, construction of buildings and infrastructure, littering of waste and other activities associated with tourism.

The carrying capacity of amenities and facilities has virtually crossed the physical and ecological limits of the region. Over-construction increased vehicular traffic and associated air pollution and its impact on snow caps owing to unregulated tourism remain the notable, had observed the NGT in its order.

The tribunal had directed the state government that

BS-IV compliant fuel should be provided. Preferably, CNG or electrical vehicles should be used for tourism purposes, at 30 least at the initial stage. Only these vehicles should be plying on those roads.

The tribunal had also directed the government to be stricter in the monitoring of the vehicles going to the glacier for tourism or commercial purposes by regular pollution and over-loading checks.

The orders had also asked to restrain entry of the vehicles which are more than 10 years’ old.

While the tourists directly impact the ecology of the region, the commercial infrastructure hit it indirectly.

The tourist spots to the north of Manali township have an influx of around 11 lakh visitors annually.

During 2010, nearly 10,000 persons were visiting this tourist spot and nearly 3600 were going to the Rohtang daily in the months of May and June. Out total, 76% of these vehicles were taxis, had observed the Expert Committee constituted by the state High Court in October 2010.

Further, the NGT had observed that snow recorded at Keylong (3064 m.) in Lahaul & Spiti district was 685 cm in 1990, which reduced to 150 cm in 2000.

The tribunal had referred to a study conducted between this period and said the Parbati Glacier in the Kullu Valley is receding at the rate of 52 meters per year.

The tribunal had also referred to another study conducted by the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, in which Black Carbon* was reported as the major causative factor for rapid melting of the glacier in the Himalayan region.
The study had attributed 40% of the glacial retreat to Black Carbon impact.

Thus, had it not been for the High Court and the NGT, the condition would have worsened manifold by now. In fact, there are no serious check on vehicular emission in Himachal, which Himachal Watcher have highlighted several times through videos and images showing visibly polluting buses emitting heavy pollutants.  

*Black Carbon is primarily unburnt fuel that travels from warmer to colder areas through air, settles on glaciers and makes them melt and is believed to be the biggest contributor to global warming after Carbon Dioxide.

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After 15 Years of Passing of Forest Rights Act, Implementation in Himachal Still in Doldrums, Jeopardizing Ecological Conservation

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Forest rights fight in himachal pradesh

Shimla-‘Planting a tree to celebrate World Environment Day has been reduced to a symbolic tradition. But is this enough for the conservation of our ecology? The efficacy and use of plantation drives are being questioned all across the world today. These drives, especially when conducted by the government tend to be a wastage of resources due to poor survival rates, said environmental and community groups in Himachal Pradesh in a joint statement released recently on World Environment Day.

Further, trees are just one part of our ecosystem which comprises soil, grasslands, scrubs, wetlands, wildlife and even human beings, the statement said.  

In India, especially in the Himalayas communities have co-existed with nature since times immemorial – dependent on it for day-to-day life and livelihoods, the groups said. Because of this connection between forests and local livelihoods and culture-communities across the landscape fought to protect the ecosystems they inhabit from destruction – be it the Chipko movement in Uttarakhand 50 years ago or the recent struggles in the tribal district of Kinnaur to highlight the ill-effects of dams and hydropower projects – indigenous and forest-dependent people have protected forest resources, they said.

“It is unfortunate then that these historical custodians of forests were labelled ‘encroachers’ and ‘thieves’ as their livelihoods were displaced from forests sometimes to build dams, highways and cities and at other times in the name of conservation were restricted from using the forests citing forest laws,” the statement said.

The groups said this has happened in Himachal too, where communities like pastoralists and farmers are slowly getting alienated from the forests. This jeopardizes their capacity to protect the forests too – whether from natural calamities like fires or indiscriminate felling. 

Forest revival and afforestation programs, it is understood the world over, are only successful when local communities are made in charge and are given full access to use the forest and make decisions about its management.

“We have examples of community forest management like Gramya Jungles of Orissa and Van Panchayats of Uttarakhand. This became part of the Forest Policy in 1988 which is why programs like Joint Forest Management were planned for participatory governance of forests. However, in these too the forest department retained their control and communities were used as labour to plant trees,” the groups highlighted.

Based on these experiences and the repeated evictions of forest-dependent people from their rightful use it became apparent that there was a need for a law that recognised the community’s right to both use and protect/ govern the forest, they said.

It was after years of struggle that the Forest Rights Act 2006 was passed by the parliament of India. The Act recognises individual and community rights over any kind of forest lands for those dependent on these for their bonafide livelihood needs before 13th December 2005. The act also recognises development rights and community management rights. Himachal, where 2/3rd of the landscape is legally classified as ‘forest’ – there is a tremendous need and potential to implement this law to secure the land and livelihood rights of people on forest lands be they for fuelwood, fodder, pastures as well as farming and shelter. 

The statement said today it has been 15 years since the passing of FRA but in Himachal, its implementation is in the doldrums.

“While 20 lakh forest rights claims have been accepted all across the country in Himachal only 164 claims have been recognised whereas 2700 are pending with the administration at various levels. The key reasons for the poor implementation include – lack of political will, misinformation about the act amongst the line officials, distrust of the people leading to non-filing of claims and inadequate awareness amongst common people,” the statement said.

It further said that, ironically, the state government has shown great enthusiasm in using this act to grant forest land for village development activities, the rest of the rights namely individual and community forest use and management rights are languishing due to state negligence and actively blocking the granting of these rights. 

The groups further highlighted that in the last 5 years, community voices from Kangra, Chamba, Kinnaur, Lahaul-Spiti, Sirmaur and Mandi have been raising the demand for the implementation of this law in the state.  It was after this that the state government was forced to announce that it would implement the Forest Rights Act in a mission mode in the state in 2018. The tribal department also worked on training and making educational material on the act. However, these are yet to be properly distributed at the village level.

The joint statement further added that in March 2020 post the pandemic led lockdown the FRA implementation process received a setback. Even as gram sabha meetings and FRC processes came to a grinding halt the economy too got hit. During this time, it became evident more than ever that it is the land and forest-based livelihoods that are available to rural communities to fall back on for survival. 

“Whereas the Government should be focused on strengthening land and nature-based livelihoods for the local communities. However, the focus of the state remains on pushing destructive commercial ventures in ecologically fragile areas and valuable farmlands of the state,” the groups said.  

The coronavirus has taught the world what the climate crisis had already indicated – that we will continue to be victims of such crisis as long as the ecological destruction continues unabated, the statement said.

“This calls for a change in the model of ‘development’ which prioritises the basic needs and services rather than run blindly after economic growth which is meant to profit companies and contractors”, the groups said.

The statement also said that it is the communities who will now have to believe in their own capacity to manage lives and resources and also call the government to account if our natural resources have to be protected for future generations. 

Signatories

  • Ajay Kumar, Sanjay Kumar, Advocate Dinesh, Bhoomiheen Bhoomi Adhikar Manch, Himachal
  • Birbal Chaurhan, Shamlat Sangharsh Samiti, Sirmaur
  • Gulab Singh and Dhaniram Shamra, Sirmaur Van Adhikar Manch
  • Joginder Walia Balh Ghaati Kisaan Sangharsh Samiti, Mandi
  • Jiya Negi, Van Adhikar Samiti, Kinnaur
  • Kulbhushan Upmanyu, Himalaya Bachao Samiti, Chamba
  • Lal Hussain, Ghumantu Pashupalak Mahasabha, Chamba
  • Meera Devi, Nekram,Shyam Singh Chauhan, Paryavaran evam Gram Vikas Samiti, Karsog, Mandi
  • Himshi Singh and Prakash Bhandari, Himdhara Environment Research and Action Collective
  • Prem Katoch and Kesang Thakur, Save Lahaul Spiti, Lahaul
  • Tenzin Takpa and Sonam Targey, Spiti Civil Society, Spiti  

Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay

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Himachal: Report Forest Fires on Toll-Free Numbers 1077 and 1070

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helpline for Forest Fires in himachal pradesh

Shimla-Forest fire is a recurrent annual phenomenon in Himachal Pradesh and causes losses worth several crores every year. Dry spell and summers make forests, especially chir pine forests, highly vulnerable to forest fires. These forest fires not only damage the forest wealth but also hit wildlife and biodiversity in general. The forest department attributes most fires to human factors.

Like every year, the forest department has claimed that it is all geared up and ready to combat forest fires this year too. Principal Chief Conservator of Forests Dr. Savita on Monday held a virtual review meeting with Forest Circles on preparedness for forest fires in the state.

She said that the Forest department was well prepared to fight the forest fires and a rapid forest fire fighting force and rapid response teams had been set up at forest division and range levels.

“Approximately 40,000 man-days of fire watchers would be engaged by the department in addition to existing frontline staff for preventing and combating forest fires,” she said. The state disaster control room with toll-free number 1077 at the state level and 1070 at the district level were operational for reporting of the forest fire by the local community, she informed.

Dr. Savita said messages regarding forest fire had been shared with the members of the rapid forest fire fighting force, in which approximately 50,000 volunteers had already been registered. Awareness to the community was also conducted through Nukkar Nataks, songs, speeches and other activities at different locations in the state. Besides, a massive state-level awareness program was also conducted at 45 places from 10 to 17 March 2021

She said that the department had created forest fire lines and did control burning and also constructed water storage structures in the forest areas to combat forest fires. Additional multi-utility vehicles and water loaded tankers in 80 fire-sensitive ranges had been engaged for three months. She that matter regarding Standard Operating Systems (SOPs) for requisition of helicopter services for dousing the forest fires had been sent to the Government for approval. 

Feature Photo: Unsplash@Thematthoward

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Himachal Counts 108,578 Waterbirds of 96 Species This Year With Increase in Habitat

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Annual Bird Count in Himachal Pradesh 2021

Shimla-The habitat of migratory and resident water-birds in Himachal Pradesh has gradually improved, said Forest Minister Rakesh Pathania.

The annual water-bird count at Pong Dam Lake Wildlife Sanctuary was conducted in the first of February, 2021 and the exercise was conducted under restrained conditions due to the prevailing Avian Influenza outbreak in Pong Dam Lake as well as the COVID-19 Pandemic, he said.

The exercise was conducted by Wildlife wing of Himachal Pradesh by deploying 57 staff members in 26 sections of the sanctuary for counting the water-dependent birds.

Total 108,578 birds of 96 species were counted during this year. Out of the total number, 101,431 of 51 species are water-dependent migratory birds and 6,433 of 29 species are water-dependent resident birds. As many as 714 birds of 16 other species were also recorded. The total population of the flagship species, Bar-Headed Geese, is 40,570.

The other species which have higher population count during this year are Eurasian Coot (24,163), Northern Pintail (12,702), Common Teal (8,444), Little Cormorant (3,649), Great Cormorant (3,410), Grey Lag Goose (2,297), Northern Shoveler (2,275) and Common Pochard (2,138). The species which find noticeable mention are Red Necked Grebe, Great Bittern, Lesser White-Fronted Goose, Red Crested Pochard, Ferruginous Pochard, Pied Avocet, Northern Lapwing, Peregrine Falcon etc. During the counting exercise, one Bar-headed Goose and one Grey Lag Goose with collars were also spotted.

This year the Annual bird count exercise assumes significance, considering the Avian Influenza outbreak in the Wildlife Sanctuary. Further, the Minister expressed satisfaction over the timely and effective containment measures taken by Wildlife Wing to control and contain Avian Influenza outbreak in the Wildlife Sanctuary.

PCCF (Wildlife) Archana Sharma and CCF Wildlife (North) Dharamshala Upasana Patial also participated and supervised the Annual Water Bird Count.

The total population of birds, as well as number of species, counted this year are marginally less as compared to last year, probably due to the impact of Avian Influenza outbreak which was first reported on 28th December 2020.

Although the total population of water birds declined during the peak of the Avian Influenza outbreak, there is a gradual increase in the total population of birds, the Minister informed.

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