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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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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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Himachal First State to Complete Assessment of Snow Leopard and its Wild Prey

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Snow Leopard Population Assessment in Himachal Pradesh

Shimla-The assessment of snow leopard population in Himachal Pradesh has been completed by the state wildlife wing in collaboration with Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF) Bangalore following the protocol aligning with the SPAI (Snow Leopard Population Assessment in India) protocols of the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change. Himachal Pradesh has become the first state to complete assessment of snow leopard and its wild prey.

The state has an estimated population of up to 73 snow leopards.

It is the first scientifically robust estimate of snow leopards and its prey for the State. Since snow leopard is the state animal, the study assumes great significance for Himachal Pradesh.
The exercise revealed that snow leopard density ranged from 0.08 to 0.37 individuals per 100 sq.km., with the trans-Himalayan regions of Spiti, Pin valley and upper Kinnaur recording the highest densities, both of the predator and its prey, mainly ibex and blue sheep.

This study covered the entire potential snow leopard habitat of Himachal Pradesh: an area of 26,112 sq.km., utilising a stratified sampling design. Camera trapping surveys were conducted at 10 sites to representatively sample all the strata i.e. high, low and unknown. The camera trap deployment over the mountainous terrains was led by a team of eight local youth of Kibber village and more than 70 frontline staff of HPFD were trained in this technique as part of the project. Snow leopards were detected at all the 10 sites (Bhaga, Chandra, Bharmour, Kullu, Miyar, Pin, Baspa, Tabo, Hangrang & Spiti) suggesting that snow leopards are found in the entire snow leopard habitat in Himachal Pradesh either as resident individuals of a population or as dispersing individuals navigating through these connecting habitats.

Another revelation from the study is that a bulk of snow leopard occurrence is outside protected areas, reiterating the fact that local communities are the strongest allies for conservation in snow leopard landscapes.

The NCF and wildlife wing collaborated in the effort and it took three years to complete the assessment. MoEFCC had launched the First National Protocol on Snow Leopard Population Assessment in India, on the occasion of International Snow Leopard Day. You can read the complete protocol here.

Snow leopard is the icon of high mountains of Asia. In India, they inhabit the higher Himalayan and TransHimalayan landscape in an altitudinal range between approximately 3,000 m to 5,400 m above MSL, spanning c. 100,000 km2 in the five states of Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh. This area contributes to about 5% of the global snow leopard range.

Snow leopards occur over a vast, relatively remote and difficult to access mountainous area. Together with their elusive nature, this makes a complete population census of snow leopards an unfeasible goal. Even their distribution remains unclear. For example, recent surveys show that they do not occur in 25 % of the area that was thought to be their range in the state of Himachal Pradesh Their density is expected to be variable in space, dependent on several factors such as habitat suitability, prey availability, disturbance and connectivity. Variation in density across space also poses the risk of biased sampling, and, indeed, most of the snow leopard population assessments conducted so far across the world are biased towards the best habitats.

Feature Photo: Pexels/Charles Miller

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