Credit for zero-emission e-buses in Himachal goes to NGT, not the minister
The actual credit clearly goes to the the National Green Tribunal that cracked the whip on the government for doing nothing for the environmental protection.
Shimla: Himachal Pradesh became the first state to commission 100 percent battery-powered electric buses in public transport sector when Transport Minister GS Bali flagged off the first bus on September 22.
However, it was on Thursday, November 14, that two of the newly commissioned electric buses on Manali-Rohtang Pass stretch begun ferrying passengers on a regular basis. The HRTC is charging Rs. 600 per seat for two-way trip starting from Manali to the Rohtang snowline.
India doesn’t have even a single manufacture in the field of electric public transport. Hence, the electric buses are manufactured in a tie-up with Chinese firm BYD Auto Industry Co Ltd. Each bus costs 1.70 crore and Himachal has bought 25 of them and plans to buy 25 more. The Central funding is covering 90 percent of the expenditure.
The bus model is called Goldstone eBuzz K7 that runs on a Lithium Iron Phosphate battery. This bus offers a 200 kms ride in a single charge. It requires a charging station and hours of time for recharging.
It is a commendable feat to run electric buses at an altitude of 3,978 m (13,050 ft).
It is natural that Mr. Bali would claim credit for it. He said it were the vision and efforts of the government to protect the environment which made it possible.
The actual credit clearly goes to the the National Green Tribunal that cracked the whip on the government for doing nothing for the environmental protection. It is this lash that the government fears, not the environmental degradation.
It was a compulsion for the government as the NGT had left no option for the government except choosing between CNG or electric buses.
This episode had begun in 2014 when the NGT took cognizance of the rise in receding rate of glacier in vicinity of Rohtang Pass due to increase in air pollution.
The Tribunal had asked the government about its strategy and measures to protect the glaciers from rising emissions. The NGT was enraged over the silence of the government.
There is no element of surprise in the fact that the government has always been extremely lenient towards environmental violations. The government or the minister hardly had any vision or will to conceive and implement zero-emission strategy.
Talking of vision, the cab drivers of the Him-Anchal Taxi Union of Manali, on Friday, Nov 17, did not let the newly commissioned electric bus go beyond Gulaba as a protest against this initiative.
They argued that the government is following separate norms for private cabs and HRTC buses. While entry of cabs was prohibited, the electric buses were still carrying tourists, they said.
They said the restriction on ‘fossil fuel vehicles’ and commissioning of electric buses have hit their livelihood.
It is the lack of a vision that has brought the State and its people to a contradictory situation where cab driver facing loss.
A single electric bus can carry 30 passengers excluding the driver. The HRTC has planned more buses on this route from the next season.
The electric mode of public transport is a better deal for tourists as compared to hefty amount charged by the local cabs. The income of the HRTC will definitely grow and the roads will be less crowded when the public transport is available on a cheaper rate.
Currently, the NGT has allowed only 1200 vehicles (800 petrol and 400 dieses) per day. Rohtang has a heavy footfall of tourists with thousands of them pouring in everyday. Clearly, along with environmental protection, this deal has other benefits too.
The government, however, failed to compensate its effects on the livelihood of the locals. The NGT caught the government off guard because it hardly bothered to aware the taxi unions about the rising vehicular emission and its negative impact on the very beauty that attracts tourists.
Moreover, if our visionary leaders could use their vision a decade ago, this initiative could have been implemented gradually along with working on a solution for the locals employed in hospitality industry.
Isn’t it expected from our elected ministers to contemplate over the possible solutions?
Earlier, the electric buses or CNG were not feasible, but the lash of the Tribunal made it completely feasible.
The cab drivers should have been offered CNG kits on subsidized rates along with gradually working on the infrastructural needs too.
The Central government paid 90 percent of the cost for the electric buses, so the state government could have pitched it as a solution long ago.
Other arguments to support the fact that environmental protection was never on the mind of our leaders include rampart illegal mining, illegal tree felling, dumping and illegal construction.
The best example would be the death of the forest guard under mysterious circumstances in the forests of the Karsog division in Mandi district and the revelations made by him about the nexus of the forest department and the forest mafia. The local police a shoddy investigation work, therefore, the State High Court ordered a inquiry by the Central Investigation Bureau.
Instead, the government has switched to the denial mode after facing protest from the locals who lost livelihood due to the ban imposed by the NGT on entry of vehicles into Rohtang.
The Municipal Commission of Shimla is regularly burning daily solid waste in open despite learning about the emergency in New Delhi due to heavy smog.
The new Mayor is not even in the scene right now. Most of the time, she was seen holding her party flag. The city has been abandoned by SMC.
Politics and wealth are the only two thing that matters here.
Nobody cared about the illegal and unscientific construction even in the capital city. Today, the urban part of our beloved queen of the hills – Shimla is in a miserable and helpless condition.
While such evils like encroachment and illegal construction should have been nipped in the bud, the State government formed a retention policy to legalise them.
The State High Court had rebuked the government for such an undemocratic and discriminate attitude towards the honest people. The court had told government that such steps are no less than a state of non-governance.
Last week, the NGT came to the rescue of Himachal and ordered restriction on construction within 3 kms of National Highways and green areas. (We would discuss the NGT’s detailed judgement in a separate article.)
Further, from the prevailing threat on Shimla-Chandigarh four-lane, the results of an unscientific excavation should be clearly visible to anyone who cares to ponder over it. During this monsoon, debris and loose rocks kept rolling down due to which two lanes had to be closed for the traffic. Some of the spots have now become landslide prone.
A week ago, residents of the Devdhar village in Kharal valley of Kullu district alleged that the walls of their houses have developed cracks due to a haphazard excavation for the four-laning.
The sale of pollution certificates is not hidden from anyone. We still have visibly polluting HRTC and privates buses on roads.
The dust arising from haphazard construction sites and poorly maintained roads is complementing air pollution. Did anyone ever heard the administration talking about the dust pollution or visual pollution?
During the election to the State Legislative Assembly, the High Court had issued special directions to the candidates to refrain from defacing public property for their campaign. No one listened to the court. Furious over this contempt, the court ordered action against all the candidates contesting from Shimla (U), Shimla (R) and Kasumpti constituency for defacing public property with their campaigning material.
If the environmental protections is not in the minds of these candidates, then they are not qualified to represent the people.
Even the illiterate tribal people know more about maintaining harmony with the nature and share the resources with all living beings instead of looting them all for their greed.