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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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Draft National Forest Policy 2018: An invitation to wrath of privatization on forestland

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New Forest Policy of India

Shimla: The Draft National Forest Policy 2018, which is intended to replace the National Forest Policy, 1988, is being perceived as an attempt to privatise the forests on the name of increasing productivity through Public-Private-Partnership model.

Over 150 organizations and environmental activists from all over India including Himachal Pradesh have written to the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) raising objections to the serious flaws in it.

The government came out with this draft last month, for which they had invited comments and suggestions from concerned citizens before April 14.

After this proposal, the tribal, forest rights groups, and conservationists have rejected the policy on various grounds.  The strongest ground is the thrust on ‘production forestry’ and allowing entry of private companies in forestry projects for commercial plantations. 

Another big reason to worry is the authority the new Policy gives to Government to dilute the rights of the tribal people or those dependent on forest resources for their livelihood. The Forest Rights Act 2006 says the resources of a forest belong to its community.

Currently, there are provisions, which empower these forest communities to have a say when it comes to establishing commercial projects in their area. 

The environmental experts are of the opinion that the new policy is snatching this power from the community. It will minimize the resistance from locals while the government and private firms decide the fate of their forests.

Himachal Van Adhikar Manch is one of these 150 signatories of the submission made to the MoEFCC. 

The Manch condemned the draft and said it is facilitating the entry of the private sector in forestry.

Private sector works for profit and profit alone. The only way to protect forests is to make these habitants the incharge and strengthen sustainable forest-based livelihoods,

added the Manch convener, Akshay Jasrotia, added.

While there is a need to review the old policy of 1988, this draft undoes some very important principles that the previous policy had put in place for the protection of forests, strengthening of forest-dependent communities, and their role in this regard, the Manch said.

It is astonishing that this draft policy lacks perspective and recognition that was included in the Forest Rights Act 2006 to address the historical injustice inflicted on the Adivasis and other forest dwellers through the colonization of the forest.

The Act attempts to restore the forests back to its original custodians, caretakers and dependents, the Adivasis and other forest-dwelling people, and put in place democratic mechanisms to govern the forests’ said the memorandum.

However, the draft policy does not recognise such aspects. 

The policy comes close to the heels of another legislation called Compensatory Afforestation Fund Act, which has created an institutional mechanism for the utilisation of funds realised in lieu of forest land diversion for non-forest or developmental projects.

The objective of the Fund Act is to mitigate the impact of diversion of such forestland for dams, mines, industries etc.

However, the Act does not put in any safeguard to ensure that the community has a say in the process of utilisation of the funds for activities on forest land. It is in striking contrast to the provision for forest-dwelling communities in the FRA Act. 

In Himachal, where close to 70% of the geographical area is technically under forest land, the implementation of the FRA has been poor as it is. Forestland dependent people are being evicted by being labelled encroachers,

said Manshi Asher, a member of  Himdhara Collective,  and also a signatory to the submissions made to the MoEFCC.

Moves like the CAMPA and 2018-forest policy will further alienate people from forests and lead to conflicts. The forest department and private corporations will be taking on plantation drives in forests on which the locals are already dependent

, Manshi added. 

Is India’s Forest Cover Really Increasing?

As per the draft National Forest Policy, 2018, there has been an increase in forest and tree cover over the last decades and a “reduction in the diversion of forest land for other land uses despite compelling demands from the increasing population, industrialization, and rapid economic growth”.

 However, the State of the Forest Report 2017 says the forest cover has changed in the country and that there is an increase of one percent.

There is no separate data for plantations and forests, which makes it difficult to understand the actual extent of deforestation of natural forests, as well as the hidden diversion of forestland to industries. 

Many experts have pointed out that the reported increase in forest and tree cover does not necessarily include natural forests but manmade industrial /commercial monoculture plantations. 

In fact, the current diversion of forestlands to various “development” schemes is fast changing the landscape and degrading natural forests.

 According to an analysis by the Delhi-based environment group, Environment Impact Assessment Resource and Response Centre, the Indian government has, on an average, diverted 122 sq km of forests for development projects every year between 2014 and 2017.

This is equivalent to a forestland of the size of 63 football grounds being cleared every day for three years. In other words, in one day, India loses around 135 hectares of natural forestland due to development schemes.

Natural forests serve as a gene pool resource and help to maintain ecological balance. These forests need to be protected.

However, the draft National Forest Policy 2018, despite stating this objective, appears not to be in favor of conservation and regeneration of forests but for capture of forests by private, corporate entities through PPPs, production forestry, increasing productivity of plantations, production of quality timber and ignores fuel-wood and fodder for communities dependent on it

, Akshay Jasrotia added.

The Draft clearly facilitates the forest-industry interface. You can read detailed submission made to the MoEFCC here.

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Shimla city’s first grid-connected solar plant to save Rs. 97 lakhs on bill

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Solar power plants in Shimla city

Shimla: Shimla city today received its first grid-connected Solar Power Plant. The 34 KW plant is installed on the rooftop of the Himachal Pradesh Department of Environment, Science, and Technology.

This plant has been installed at a cost of Rs 19.23 lakh. In next 25 years, the plant is expected to save about Rs 97 lakhs on the electricity bill.  It was estimated that the plant will recover its installation and other expenditure within four to five years. Thereafter, it will generate revenue for the State.

The plant feature 112 solar panels of 1315 watt capacity per panel. The State Electricity Board has installed a bi-directional meter in the office premises to ensure energy inflow and outflow from solar plant to main electric grid.  

The information was provided by the Additional Chief Secretary and Principal Secretary to the Chief Minister, Manisha Nanda.

The Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur inaugurated the plant. Director Department of Environment, Science and Technology, D.C. Rana and other senior officers of the department were also present on the occasion.

The solar energy is not only environment-friendly but also cost-effective. Such power plants would be set up not only in government establishments but also on private houses as well, the Chief Minister said.

Adopting renewable energy technology such as solar plants in office premises will not only save energy but also help in environmental conservation.

If each one of us adopts solar-based energy technologies, we all can contribute towards energy saving and to a great extent meet the energy demand of the world,

he said.

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PCB installs 12 electronic screens in Himachal, will display air quality

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HP PCB Electronic displays

Shimla: The State Government of Himachal Pradesh has launched 12 electronic display screens of the State Pollution Control Board,

The State PCB will provide complete detail of PM.10, Nitrogen Oxides and Sulfur Dioxide amounts in the air in the respective area.

These Screens have been installed at Shimla and Dharamshala towns and one each at Baddi, Damtal, Kala Amb, Manali, Parwanoo, Poanta Sahib, Sundernagar and Una at cost of Rs. 35 lakh, the government said.

In addition to this, these screens will also display details regarding environmental issues such as water and noise pollution, civil and bio-medical waste management, water management and temperature of the concerned cities.

The purpose, the government said, is to create environmental awareness and monitor, maintain a salubrious environment of the state.

Additional Chief Secretary Manisha Nanda, Member Secretary State Pollution Control Board Dr R.K. Pruthi and other officers of the Board were present during the launch by the Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur.

There is, indeed, a dire need of creating awareness and taking preventive steps against the environmental pollution. Pollution is on rising in towns of Himachal. The Municipal Councils of respective districts do not have waste treatment plants and still use landfill sites.

The civic body of the capital Shimla is itself indulged in burning garbage in open. The construction has worsened the dust pollution while deforestation is taking place on a massive scale for the developmental projects like four lanes.

Feature Photo: Representational Purpose Only

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