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‘Dried and Dusted’, Rivers of Himachal seek rescue : Report

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Himdhara Environment Research and Action Collective compiled an extensive report titled “ State of the Rivers Report- Himachal Pradesh 2016” on the state of all five rivers and dire need to provide them protection from ecological destruction being carried out in the name of blind development.

Shimla: How much do you know about the rivers that owe their origin to Himalayan glaciers? How much do you know about the river basins in Himachal Pradesh? 

A person with an average level general knowledge can tell that the state has five major river basins Satluj, Ravi, Beas, Chenab, and Yamuna.

The Giri and Tons are  Yamuna’s tributaries originating in Himachal,  which form a part of the Ganga river basin flowing westward.

The other four rivers are major tributaries of the eastward flowing Indus River – one of the longest in world (2000 miles or 3200 kilometres) with a flow twice the size of the Nile.

The Indus becomes a much larger river once it is joined by what is known as the ‘Punjab’ (literally meaning 5 rivers – Satluj, Ravi, Beas, Chenab, and Jhelum).

But how much we know what is happening to these rivers as they are now dammed, stressed out, tampered with and tunneled due to human activity or development. We have not cared about the rivers while harnessing it as a resource for our developmental activities. 

These rivers are in a desperate need of rescue from clutches of ignorant humans. They need protection from a human activity known as “development”.  Development is inevitable but we can make it more sustainable. 

Along with fragmentation of the habitats, the diversion of the river flow to facilitate the hydropower projects, illegal and unscientific sand mining in excess, industrial pollution, unregulated construction etc. create a huge impact on the other life-forms that depend on these rivers, rare and endangered plants, and the livelihood of the local communities.

Himdhara Environment Research and Action Collective has compiled an extensive report titled “ State of the Rivers Report- Himachal Pradesh 2016” on the state of all five rivers and dire need to provide them protection from ecological destruction being carried out in the name of blind development.

The organization said it is a preliminary document for the India Rivers Week. It provides some basic information on Himachal’s rivers and the threats they face.

The report has assessed that the surrounding ecology and livelihood of a local population is today most threatened by 41 big hydro and dam projects and 91 small and micro HEPs.

Distribution of assessed and harnassed potential of Himachal's rivers

: Distribution of Assessed and Harnessed Potential in Himachal Pradesh’s river basins (Govt. of HP, 2015-16)

As per the report of the Cumulative Impacts (Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education, 2015), in case of Himachal a total of 11665.346 ha have been diverted for different development activities after 1980. Out of it, 62% of the forest land has been diverted for construction of hydro electric projects and transmission lines. 

Satluj basin has highest hydropower potential at 13,332 MW.

Already 9 large hydro projects are in operational stage with a total installed capacity of 5780 MW, which is more than 50% of total hydropower generation of the state.

The biggest hydropower projects of the country after Bhakra was the i.e. Nathpa Jhakri 1500 MW in the public sector and Karcham Wangtoo 1000 MW in the private sector built by Jaypee group which also constructed Baspa II of 300 MW.

Forest land diversion for development in Himachal pradesh

Forest Area diverted in Himachal Pradesh for non-forest purposes (Forest Department, 2015)

So from Karchham onwards the river has been reduced to a trickle as Satluj is diverted in a 17 km long tunnel. Further downstream is Nathpa Jhakri, followed by the 412 MW Rampur project which was commissioned recently. Next was the 750 MW Luhri dam which is now in the doldrums following local opposition. After this comes the 800 MW Kol Dam which located in Bilaspur district Kol Dam has an installed capacity of 800 MW and got commissioned in 2015.

Next was the 750 MW Luhri dam which is now in the doldrums following local opposition. After this comes the 800 MW Kol Dam, located in Bilaspur district.  Kol Dam has an installed capacity of 800 MW and got commissioned in 2015.

Threat projection for river satluj

Threat projection for river Satluj

The number of lakes in the Satluj basin rose from a mere 38 in 1994 to 390 in 2014 due to glacial melting, says a 2014 report of the HP State Centre on Climate Change, State Council for Science Technology & Environment. The lakes poses potential threat of flashfloods.  

Although the number of lakes has remained stagnant during the last two years, this region has some of the biggest lakes. There are 10 lakes with areas more than 10 hectares and 45 with an area between five to 10 hectares, the report said.

Threat projection for river ravi

Threat projection for river Ravi

According to the report, the Beas, Satluj, Yamuna and Ravi are the most threatened river basins.

Based on its report, Himdhara has urged the government to design an effective River Protection Plan. Chenab and Spiti should be allowed to flow freely like Tirthan.

In this report we have focused on highlighting the key information about Himachal’s rivers, pointing out the threats that these rivers are facing. We compare the health of these rivers based on the extent of threat that they face, 

said Himdhara activist.

The identified key threats include developments which are interfering with river flows, hampering riverine ecology and changing the nature of the river and dependencies around it, said the report.

Threat projection for river chenab

Threat projection for river Chenab

These include hydropower development, Sand Mining, Pollution due to tourism, urbanisation, industrialisation and climatic changes.

We have studied each of these developments for the five river basins and made a threat projection – Critical, moderate or low,

said a Himdhara activist.

The Chenab as of now and Upper Satluj, with Spiti as the main tributary along with parts of Beas, like the Tirthan are the only wild and free-flowing rivers in the State.

There are streams and rivers in small stretches that are pristine but small hydro projects are have been planned around most of them.

Threat projection for river beas

Threat projection for river Beas

Parts of the Tons and Giri tributaries, known for their Mahaseer fish, are under threat due to the dams.

The report recommends that the blue or wild rivers need to be protected from the threats and a plan of action needs to be prepared and executed for the same.

Threat projection for river yamuna

Threat projection for river Yamuna

At the same time, the areas where there is a moderate threat, extensive efforts are required from the regulatory agencies – the Forest Department, Pollution Control Board and the State Environment Department.

A thorough ‘State of the Rivers Report’ should assess the social, cultural, economic values of these rivers and how they have changed historically, carrying out a detailed study based on primary data as well as secondary research from a variety of sources,

said Himdhara activist.

Moreover, it is the communities which depend on these rivers, therefore, they could best describe the changes that have occurred over time. Any assessment would be incomplete without a people’s voice in it.

Most textbooks and articles largely highlight the magnitude of the Himalayan river systems and move on to speak about it anthropocentrically like the energy generation and irrigation potential, to harness them as a source to pursue the never-ending process of development. 

People rarely see them as riverine ecosystems that are already providing services and supporting the living beings.

Himdhara expects the report to generate interest and a debate amongst communities as well as policymakers and researchers about the urgency to protect the Himalayan rivers. 

Today, we speak of interlinking these rivers but fail to see the existing natural inter-linkages not just between the rivers but also among all life forms, the benefits of which are being drawn by humans.

The Himalayan rivers are older than or as young as the Himalayas themselves. And yet, despite being so powerful and revered,  all the life they support, these rivers are vulnerable.

This vulnerability is rarely spoken of. The slightest variation and changes in temperature, flow, course, and composition of the rivers impact their surroundings. 

 

Madan has studied English Literature and Journalism from HP University and lives in Shimla. He is an amateur photographer and has been writing on topics ranging from environmental, socio-economic, development programs, education, eco-tourism, eco-friendly lifestyle and to green technologies for over 9 years now. He has an inclination for all things green, wonderful and loves to live in solitude. When not writing, he can be seen wandering, trying to capture the world around him in his DSLR lens.

Environment

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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Himachal to Adopt ‘Borehole Resin Extraction’ Method to Minimize Damage to Pine Trees & Maximize Quality

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Pine Resin Trapping in Himachal Pradesh

Solan-In the past decade, intensive resin tapping by rill method has resulted in the drying of thousands of pine trees in Himachal Pradesh. It has also been observed, that the application of higher concentration of acid, used as a freshener, had adversely affected the growth of trees and even the tapped surface area is not healing.

Therefore, the HP State Forest Development Corporation will soon adopt the borehole technique of oleoresin extraction to minimize the damage caused to pine trees by resin tapping and simultaneously increase the quality of the collected resin.

It was informed by Himachal Pradesh Forest Minister Sh. Gobind Singh Thakur during the concluding session of the one-day training of officials from HP State Forest Development Corporation at the Dr YS Parmar University of Horticulture and Forestry (UHF) Nauni. The method has been developed by the scientists of the Forest Products Department of the university. 

Bore hole resin extraction

Borehole Resin Extraction’ Method

The Forest Minister said that the department would adopt the new technique in the coming time so that the twin motives of resin quality and its quantity along with ensuring the good health of the trees can be met. He said that the Forest Department will work in collaboration with the university so that the benefit of the various technologies developed by it can be put to the best use for the development of the state.

BD Suyal, MD State Forest Corporation said that technique is quite encouraging and the corporation will take up setting up 10-15,000 bores in every directorate to assess the results of the method. He added that in the second phase the contractors and the labourers will be also be trained on technique by the university. Earlier, Dr Kulwant Rai Sharma gave a detailed presentation and practical demonstration on the technique to the forest officials. He said that the adoption of the technology can prove to be boon for the forests and the resin industry. 

What is Borehole Method of Resin Extraction  

The new method involves drilling small holes (1 inch wide and 4 inches deep) with the help of simple tools into the tree to open its resin ducts. The holes are drilled with a slight slope towards the opening, so that oleoresin drains freely. Multiple boreholes are arrayed evenly around the tree’s circumference, or clustered in groups of two or three. Spouts are tightly fitted into the opening with polythene bags attached to it with the help of tie for resin collection.

resin trappig method in Himachal Pradesh

Borehole Resin Extraction’ Method

The new technique was developed in an attempt to overcome some of the limitations of other conventional methods. A key feature of the method is that a closed collection apparatus prevents premature solidification of resin acids, thereby maintaining oleoresin flow for an extended period of up to six months. Due to reduced oxidation and contamination, the end product is of higher quality with substantially higher turpentine. The average yield per tree is almost the same if numbers of boreholes on a tree are adjusted as per the maximum carrying capacity of the tree. The method also allows tapping of lower diameter trees depending upon their potential of production without having any impact on their health. The crown fire hazards incidents are also less because there is no hard resin accumulation on the main stem and spread of ground blaze can be easily avoided by removing the bags well in time.

The rosin and turpentine oil obtained from borehole method are of very good quality, which can fetch higher prices in the market. In addition to tackling the problems of tree health, labour requirements and costs for borehole tapping are significantly lower than conventional methods. The borehole wounds cause little damage to the tree bark and since these holes are near the ground level, only a healed scar can be seen in the converted woods. Therefore, there is no damage to the merchantable part of the tree.

Further, the Forest Minister also said that the university and the forest department will look to work together for establishing an eco-tourism model on the university campus. He added that the University Vice-Chancellor will be invited to all the important policy meetings of the state forest department to seek their expertise. The forest minister visited the demonstration block of borehole technique and also planted a tree at the university.

UHF Vice-Chancellor Dr Parvinder Kaushal called for continuous interaction between the university and the forest department. He emphasized on apprising the grass root level workers and train them on the new technique.

The event was attended by  BD Suyal, Managing Director, HP Forest Corporation; KK Kataik Director(South); Dr JN Sharma, Director Research, Dr Kulwant Rai Dean College of Forestry and other officials of the university. Around 30 officers of the rank of Divisional Managers and Assistant Managers from various parts of the state took part in the training.

 

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