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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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Watch: IIT Mandi Researchers Use ‘Pollutant Diesel Emissions’ For Water Treatment

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IIT mandi uses diesel soot sponge for water treatment

Mandi- Researchers at Indian Institute of Technology Mandi have used the soot emitted by diesel engines to mop up oil and other organic pollutants from water. Their work has been recently published in the journal – Environmental Science and Pollution Research.

Although diesel engines are known to be superior to other internal combustion engines in terms of lower fuel consumption and better energy release efficiencies, they are associated with significant amounts of particulate emissions.

 The particulates largely comprise soot, which is formed in the fuel rich regions of the burning diesel jets. Increasing environmental concerns and stringent emission standards require the development of both conventional and unconventional means for reducing soot.

 Studies in this area have focused on improving the engine design and incorporating special filters and treatment units at the exhaust end of the vehicle.

Dr. Rahul Vaish, Associate Professor, School of Engineering at IIT Mandi and his research students Vishvendra Pratap Singh and Moolchand Sharma have looked at this problem from a different perspective.

They rationalized that while it is impossible to bring down soot emissions to zero, it is possible to find a use for the soot produced.

 Carbon species such as carbon nanotubes, graphene, and candle soot have shown their potential in many fields,

says Dr. Vaish,

so why not automobile soot?

It is known that carbon species can absorb various organic pollutants in water. Carbon nanotubes, filter paper, mesh films, and graphene have been used for removing oil from water. Given that the typical carbon content of soot is between 90 and 98%, the team explored the possibility of using this pollutant as an adsorbent of oil and organic contaminants in water.

 There is a rapid increase in oil and chemical leakages from oil tankers or ships and industrial accidents with expansion in oil production and transportation in the last few decades,

the authors write in their recently published paper, justifying the need for new materials to mop up oil and prevent catastrophic environmental outcomes.

 In an earlier study, Dr. Vaish used candle soot to successfully remove two cationic dyes, rhodamine B and methylene blue from water, thereby showing the possibility of organic from water thereby showing the possibility of organic chemical removal by soot. Extending this earlier work, the research team incorporated diesel exhaust soot into polymer sponges to study their capability to adsorb oil and other organic materials from water. This hydrophobic sponge showed high absorption capacity for various oils, without the need for complex pretreatments.

The researchers found that the highest oil absorption capacity was 39 g/g for engine oil. An interesting observation was that the sponges were recyclable and retained 95% efficiency even after 10 cycles.

The diesel soot impregnated sponge could also absorb pollutants like methylene blue, ciprofloxacin, and detergent from the water. This has practical implications.

Apart from oil spills, organic pollutants such as traces of dyes and detergent coming from industries and households are a major contributor to water pollution,

says Dr. Vaish.

The soot impregnated sponge can help in developing cost-effective remediation processes for common domestic and industrial pollutants. Such a development would additionally serve to repurpose automobile waste.

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Watch: Baddi’s Kenduwal dumping yard exposes hypocrisy over Swachh Bharat

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Baddi solid waste management plant

Solan: The government agencies in Himachal Pradesh are quite infamous for disrespecting court orders, especially those relating to environmental protection. This time, we have a case where the local civic body first created an illegal dumping yard on a site selected and cleared for an integrated waste management facility and now covering it with soil and mud after the matter reached the State High Court.

In fact, the government does only what the court orders it to do after activists or the common people file petitions. There is a very clear hypocrisy going on over the Swachh Bharat campaign, which is often used to gain political mileage.

So far, the government has given no sign about being serious when it says, “The government is committed to protect and preserve the environment and ecology of the State.”

The ground-level situation of Solid Waste Management (SWM) in Himachal Pradesh can be best used to demonstrate this hypocrisy by both the current and succeeding governments and the public itself. There is no limit to the callousness of the government agencies at both local as well as the state levels.

Baddi MC waste

If we take up a particular case, then Baddi-Barotiwala-Nalagarh area in Solan district is perhaps in the worst state. The Municipal Council of Baddi and BBN Development Authority (BBNDA) are responsible for the collection and scientific disposal of waste generated in the area. Both agencies had joined hands with a proposal of managing waste disposal in the BBN area.

The MC and BBNDA were supposed to establish a facility where collected waste could be disposed of scientifically. They had obtained the clearance for the same on August 13, 2015, and were allotted 42 bighas and 13 Biswas of land in Kenduwal.

However, as expected, the facility never came into existence. Instead, the MC and BBNDA began dumping MC waste at the selected site and turned it into a big open dumping yard. Within a couple of years, the life of the locals residing very near to this illegally created dumping site became a hell as every day they faced foul smell, flies, mosquitoes.

The nearest house is located merely at a distance of 30 meters while the Sirsa river floodplain is not far at about 100 meters from the dumping site. The locals, supported by an environmental group Himdhara Collective, approached the local civic body and the district administration several times with their grievance. None of the two disappointed the locals and, as usual, didn’t move a muscle.

About 1200 villagers wrote to the President of India after they were disappointed by their own government. 

The State Pollution Control Board confined itself to issuing repeated notices to the local bodies to solve the grievance of the locals. While the MC and BBNDA didn’t care about these notices, the HP PCB did not proceed to take proper action.

Very recently, the matter reached the State High Court pleading for justice.

In the interregnum, we direct that no garbage shall be dumped into the land owned by the present petitioner or dumped at any other site, save and except, in accordance with law. We further direct the Senior Environmental Engineer of respondent No.3 to visit the site and after inspecting the same, submit his report with regard to the compliance of the statutory provisions,

a bench of then Acting Chief Justice Sanjay Karol and Justice Ajay Mohan Goyal had said in its order passsed on October 4, 2018.

However, both responsible bodies violated these orders as well and continued to dump garbage at the same site. The villagers captured videos of the same and wrote an application to the Superintendent of Police, Solan. The SP was informed regarding the violations of the court orders.

Letter to the SP Solan by Kenduwal petitioner

Letter written by villagers to SP Solan

The Court directed the Senior Environmental Engineer of the HP PCB to file a status report regarding this matter within four weeks

As per the report of the Chief Engineer dated October 15, 2018, the MC, Baddi and BBND hardly collect 30-40 percent of total solid waste generated, which is about 50 tons per day in this case. The collected waste is dumped at Kenduwal while remaining can be found scattered near the BBN area.

HP PCB has repeatedly directed the Municipal Council and BBNDA to dispose of the waste in a scientific manner in accordance with the provision of SWR,

2016, the report submitted to the court said.

The Municipal Solid waste is being collected unsegregated and transported to MSW site at Kenduwal where it is being dumped unscientifically. Most of the time it remains exposed in an open atmosphere and sometimes covered with soil layer, which is a breeding place for flies, mosquitoes, rats etc. The nearest human habitation is a house located at about 30 meters from the boundary of the dumping site, whereas the flood plain of river Sirsa is about 100 meters away from the site,

the report said.

The court concluded that despite having a clearance for the proposed facility to dispose of this waste scientifically, the MC and BBNDA failed to perform their duties.

We have gone through the contents of the report and are satisfied that prima facie, Municipal Council, Baddi, as well as Baddi-Barotiwala-Nalagarh Development Authority (BBNDA), have failed to perform their duties towards collection of solid waste and its dumping in a scientific manner at the MSW disposal site at Kenduwal, for which requisite clearance has been already granted by the Ministry of Environment and Forests,

a Bench of Chief Justice Surya Kant and Justice Ajay Mohan Goel directed the MC and BBNDA.

The court also directed the local agencies to take immediate action on the report of the Senior Environmental Engineer.

We direct both the aforesaid Agencies to immediately act upon the report of the Senior Environmental Engineer and submit their respective compliance reports within four weeks. Any delay or defiance will be viewed seriously,

the court directed the MC and BBNDA.

However, the entire waste at the dumping site is being buried under mud and soil.

MC Baddi/BBDNA may be asked to transport the waste as per the past practice of disposing the waste to the Jaypee Plant in Sector 25 of Chandigarh or to Mars Envirotech Ltd. Lalroo (Dera Basssi), Punjab or setting up of ward level compositing/shredding machines till the erection, commissioning and time-bound setting up of Solid Waste Management facility at Kenduwal Baddi, for the cluster of Baddi-Barotiwala-Nalagarh area,

the report submitted to the court said.

According to the 2011 Census, the total pollutions of the Baddi MC and BBNDA area were 29911 and 29293 respectively while the total amount of waste generated per day was 25.50 tons and 20.30 tons respectively. The number of migrant labourers or workers from other states was not included in this Census. The populations in both the areas have increased by 2018, which implies growth in a waste generation too. But the responsible government bodies, as well as the district administration, are completely blank when it comes to the chapter on waste management. The Solid Waste Rules, 2016, do exist but only in papers.

The report of the PCB Environmental Engineer aptly proves it.

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Baddi MC and BBNDA first create illegal dumping site, now trying to cover it with mud

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Baddi MC Dumping Site

Solan: The State Government had been bragging about environmental conservation in announcements and speeches. In papers, the status of waste management has improved during the first year of the new Government. The Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur says his government is committed to promoting Swachh Bharat campaign as it is the flagship initiative of the current government.

However, on the ground level, the insensitivity and indifference of the government towards environmental protection is only growing. More startling is the way in which the State Pollution Control Board (PCB) and district administrations respond to public complaints regarding illegal dumping of waste.

Rather, the government bodies are violating laws to create illegal dumping sites.

Related Story: Baddi MC turns site of Rs 9.7 crores proposed Waste Management Facility into illegal dumpyard

For the last two years the Municipal Council, Baddi, and BBNDA have openly been dumping municipal waste of Baddi town in Kenduwal village which has become a potential health hazard and nuisance for the residents of nearby villages. Since the last four months, the villagers, distraught by the illegal dump, have been petitioning several authorities to stop the dumping.

Now, the BBNDA, instead of cleaning up and ensuring scientific disposal of the garbage, is covering the illegal dump yard with mud and soil. JCB machines are simply grabbing mud/soil from nearby and throwing it on the dumped waste with an intention to bury it.

Last week we met with the BBNDA officials and asked them to stop putting the garbage there. Not only are they continuing to dump the garbage but also put piles of mud to cover the stinking heaps of garbage during the last five days. We are being told that the area will now be turned into a shed and our problem will be solved

said Ghulam Nabi a resident of Kenduwal in front of whose home the piles of garbage has come up.

It needs to be noted that the BBNDA had proposed an Rs.9.7 crore Integrated Solid Waste Management facility in the area in 2012 and obtained a clearance for the same in 2015. But for the last three years, it made no move to set up the plant and was dumping in violation of the Solid Waste Management guidelines 2016 as well as the environment clearance conditions.

Related Story: Families living in inhuman, hazardous conditions due to Baddi MC’s dumping ground

On August 12 and 13, the Sirsa River flooded and the dumping site, which is adjacent to the river became waterlogged making the rotting garbage stink badly. The boundary wall was then broken to release the water from the dumping site and the contaminated water eventually made its way into the Sirsa River.

Now they are just burying the garbage and the leachate will contaminate the groundwater too

, said Ramanathan of Himdhara Collective a watchdog group that monitors environmental issues in Himachal.

The State PCB has sent about five notices to the Baddi MC, which were not entertained at all. Despite that, the PCB never proceeded to take action and continue to supply notices.

Through an RTI application we have learned that the Regional Office of PCB in Baddi has served five show cause notices to the Municipal Council in this regards but no further actions were taken,

he added

The BBNDA, in a statement in a newspaper on September 19, has claimed that it has finally identified the firm from Ludhiana for setting up the Solid Waste Management facility.

If they have identified a company to set up the disposal plant why did they cover up the garbage, rather than letting the company take care of it. This is not a solution and neither is it in compliance with the guidelines of solid waste management,

said Ramanathan.

While BBNDA has gone into damage control mode, it still seems least concerned about the laws or the demands of the people.

Our demand is clear, we want this nuisance removed and a proper waste management plant should be set up in an appropriate location. Not near the river or in front of people’s homes,

added Nabi

The Solid Waste Management Rules have clear criteria regarding the selection of a site for waste management plants and landfills, which cannot be on floodplains or near habitations.

Municipal Solid waste has become a serious nuisance across the state of Himachal and a National Green Tribunal appointed committee has recently asked all states to formulate their waste management plans in compliance with SWM rules within a month,

said Manshi Asher of Himdhara Collective.

Long-term solution of solid waste requires an integrated approach involving resident welfare associations of municipal areas, waste pickers and municipal bodies. Decentralised segregation and disposal at source would help to reduce the quantum of waste,

Asher added.

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