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Environment

Response to Shimla STPI cleanliness drive depicts poor psycho-social conditioning

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The civic body is required to conduct extensive surveys to assess the causes of littering behaviour, study the psycho-social aspects associated with lack of awareness that encourages littering.

Shimla: On last Saturday, the Software Technology Park of India, located at the SDA Complex in Kasumpti, Shimla, made a call for the cleaning of the building premises, which houses 12 information technology and software companies. It was part of the Swacchta Pakhwada organized by the government from time to time. 

Some of the employees of Flexinet Technologies Pvt. Ltd, who are also the Community Members of Himachal Watcher, were also present. So, it was an excellent moment to observe the nature and effect of psycho-social conditioning of all persons employed with various offices and their respective bosses/company owners.

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The total number of employees in all offices including the STPI staff exceeds 250.  Majority of the employees are educated including males and females aged between 20 -40 years. These employees included natives from almost all districts of Himachal.

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The available data and conditions make it a perfect sample for a sort of survey that could be conducted with a qualitative method. In fact, let us consider that the number of participants was (n = 250). It was a random sample.

Location

The location chosen was the STPI block (24). There are total 12 companies/offices in the block, namely 31 Parallel, Covenant Info Solution,  NIELIT,  Kaith Group of Technologies, Himachal Pradesh Kaushal Vikas Nigam, Saraswati Dot Com, Himachal Media Pvt, Flexinet Technologies Solutions, Netgen IT Solution, Zasaya, and Snowmicro.

Conditions

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The area around the premises was badly littered around by the same employees. The bottles of whisky and beer, plastic packaging of online stores and snacks, packets of cigarette etc., were littered all over the place. If that was not enough, some offices had disposed of window glasses, marble tiles, and debris of concrete generated after renovations.

The most recent renovation was conducted by the office of Kaushal Vikas Nigam, housed at the second floor of the block. Prior to that, 31 Parallel, a BPO, had undertaken some renovation work.

To the demise of nature-lovers, all this construction waste including broken glasses was disposed of near the building instead of proper disposal.

The parking lot was full of potholes.

The cleaning was an arduous and risky affair due to the glass pieces disposed of with waste, broken bottles, and a steep slope.

 Literature Review

Shimla city is the capital of Himachal Pradesh and was known for its greenery, pure breathable air, and a serenity that its hills used to offer. Currently, Shimla city is heading towards an ugly future as the district administration and Municipal Corporation are in deep slumber. The Shimla’s civic body is the first one in India to implement the door-to-door garbage collection facility. A special body ‘Shimla Heritage, Environment and Beautification (SHEB) Society exists for the purpose of sanitation and solid waste management. Unfortunately, the civic body and SHEB Society are busy in a tug of war over the long-pending demands of the SHEB workers for regularisation. The sanitation work is mismanaged to such an extent that the SMC has allowed its workers to burn daily garbage all over Shimla – a grieve and deliberate violation of the Air (Prevention and Control) Act, 1981.

Sub-section (5) of Section 19 of the Air Pollution Act empowers the State Government after consultation with the state Board to prohibit the burning of any material (not being fuel) in any air pollution control area or part thereof, which may cause or likely to cause air pollution.    

In April 2015, a bench headed by NGT Chairperson Justice Swatanter Kumar, in a judgment, had clearly stated:

It is on the record before us that burning of garbage and other materials is not only source of air pollution but forms 29.4 per cent of air pollution with reference to PM10. The burning of material also causes serious respiratory problems and are even carcinogenic….There shall be complete prohibition on burning of any kind of garbage, leaves, waste, plastic, rubber or any such other materials in open areas.

The bench had further directed,

We direct that for every incident of burning of such material, the person who is actually found burning or responsible for burning would be liable to pay compensation in terms of Section 15 of the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010 under the principle of polluter pays.

The SMC is supposed to ensure proper disposal of garbage but, here in Shimla, the body is itself burning garbage daily. Except for the core or VIP areas, sanitation in the urban Shimla is only worsening with the passage of time.  

The jungles and slopes of Shimla are being buried beneath garbage and illegally dumped muck.  As far as the matter of over-construction is concerned, most of us, we are sure, would be aware of the situation.

The people, even the highly educated, don’t mind littering. It implies that our education system is not focusing on moral education and environmental awareness and its protection.

Moreover, the words such as a ‘vision’ or ‘planning’ are alien to our bureaucrats.

Methodology

Without any safety guidelines or accessories like gloves and masks, these participants were given a common verbal stimulus in the form of a call for the drive to clean their own work environment where they spend most of the time daily.

Results

At about 1:30 PM out of those hundreds of employees, not more than 30 were present on the spot. It implies, only 30 subjects responded to the stimulus including only two girls. Almost 50 percent of these 30 came ahead only after seeing the remaining 15 already engaged in cleaning.

SDA Complex cleaning

The STPI staff filled some of the potholes while some others were only partly covered.   

It is no co-incident that the boss/employer of these girls was also present with them, which motivated them.

Most respondents belonged to the 31 Parallel followed by Flexinet. Only two offices did not take part in the drive.  

Observations

This group did a fantastic job. Watching each other working diligently kept them motivated.

Out of approximately 100 females, only two girls were visible taking part in this small cleaning drive. Both of the girls are employed with the Flexinet. Interestingly, one of the girls, who had resigned a few days ago to pursue her studies, came back especially to join her ex-colleagues in the drive.

While the bunch of concerned people cleaned the premise, all girls chose to be onlookers, gossiping with sarcastic giggles. One of the girls was even seen taking a selfie.

It is a matter of contemplation as to why 98 percent of girls felt reluctant to join the doers’ camp.

As expected, only the owner and bosses of the Flexinet and Zasaya got their hands dirty to collect the kaleidoscopic garbage without any protective measures.

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However, the best part of this activity was that those who had chosen to be one of the doers did it with commitment.

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The most poignant fact that requires attention is the poor psychological and social conditioning of this small sample, which is the main reason why even educated citizens ignore all messages or rules regarding littering. They don’t find it embarrassing to litter but show reluctance when it comes to cleaning.  

STPI Cleaning

Most common aspect observed during the activity was yet again the reluctance of majority to come ahead or to join people in causes like cleanliness drives. We wonder how any logical person can ignore the satisfaction, which the group of doers found at the end of the day over a cup of tea with samosa’s (refreshment).

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In a couple of hours, the doers wrapped up the task, segregated the glass waste from other solid waste, and collected it at a single spot.

Shimla Cleaning Campaign

The Municipal Corporation of Shimla later collected the garbage for proper disposal (if any). SMC sanitation workers can be seen burning garbage in open daily. So, there is still no guarantee about the proper disposal of this solid waste collected during the cleaning.

Conclusion

Even though the majority did not participate, the group of doers was hoping to leave a message to them.

It is for sure that those who did participate in the cleaning would think before abandoning a disposable cup or cigarette packets in open.

Though we are skeptic of it, the STPI staff has assured that at least two dustbins would be placed inside the premise soon.  

As a vitriolic reality, however, litterbugs again set to work and a fresh lot of garbage begins to appear from the very next day. No message was taken from the cleaning drive. The onlookers failed the doers yet again.

We hope that group of doers won’t let these litterbugs spoil the place again. On being caught red-handed, these bugs will be given appropriate demonstration through sensible arguments, by debating the logic and reason.

Further, the civic body is required to conduct extensive surveys to assess the causes of littering behaviour and study the psycho-social aspects associated with lack of awareness that encourages littering.

Due to poor social conditioning related to disposal of garbage in open, most of us do not develop aesthetic sense. Because no one objected to littering, an individual doesn’t consider it a malpractice. We can say that they don’t feel guilty for littering and do not develop a sense to correct things as we grew up regularly witnessing this malpractice by people of all ages despite being educated. 

The State government need to encourage researchers including students in the local institutes to take up the task of conducting studies to find out causes for littering behaviour and other aspects related to the environmental protection. 

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

After 15 Years of Passing of Forest Rights Act, Implementation in Himachal Still in Doldrums, Jeopardizing Ecological Conservation

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Forest rights fight in himachal pradesh

Shimla-‘Planting a tree to celebrate World Environment Day has been reduced to a symbolic tradition. But is this enough for the conservation of our ecology? The efficacy and use of plantation drives are being questioned all across the world today. These drives, especially when conducted by the government tend to be a wastage of resources due to poor survival rates, said environmental and community groups in Himachal Pradesh in a joint statement released recently on World Environment Day.

Further, trees are just one part of our ecosystem which comprises soil, grasslands, scrubs, wetlands, wildlife and even human beings, the statement said.  

In India, especially in the Himalayas communities have co-existed with nature since times immemorial – dependent on it for day-to-day life and livelihoods, the groups said. Because of this connection between forests and local livelihoods and culture-communities across the landscape fought to protect the ecosystems they inhabit from destruction – be it the Chipko movement in Uttarakhand 50 years ago or the recent struggles in the tribal district of Kinnaur to highlight the ill-effects of dams and hydropower projects – indigenous and forest-dependent people have protected forest resources, they said.

“It is unfortunate then that these historical custodians of forests were labelled ‘encroachers’ and ‘thieves’ as their livelihoods were displaced from forests sometimes to build dams, highways and cities and at other times in the name of conservation were restricted from using the forests citing forest laws,” the statement said.

The groups said this has happened in Himachal too, where communities like pastoralists and farmers are slowly getting alienated from the forests. This jeopardizes their capacity to protect the forests too – whether from natural calamities like fires or indiscriminate felling. 

Forest revival and afforestation programs, it is understood the world over, are only successful when local communities are made in charge and are given full access to use the forest and make decisions about its management.

“We have examples of community forest management like Gramya Jungles of Orissa and Van Panchayats of Uttarakhand. This became part of the Forest Policy in 1988 which is why programs like Joint Forest Management were planned for participatory governance of forests. However, in these too the forest department retained their control and communities were used as labour to plant trees,” the groups highlighted.

Based on these experiences and the repeated evictions of forest-dependent people from their rightful use it became apparent that there was a need for a law that recognised the community’s right to both use and protect/ govern the forest, they said.

It was after years of struggle that the Forest Rights Act 2006 was passed by the parliament of India. The Act recognises individual and community rights over any kind of forest lands for those dependent on these for their bonafide livelihood needs before 13th December 2005. The act also recognises development rights and community management rights. Himachal, where 2/3rd of the landscape is legally classified as ‘forest’ – there is a tremendous need and potential to implement this law to secure the land and livelihood rights of people on forest lands be they for fuelwood, fodder, pastures as well as farming and shelter. 

The statement said today it has been 15 years since the passing of FRA but in Himachal, its implementation is in the doldrums.

“While 20 lakh forest rights claims have been accepted all across the country in Himachal only 164 claims have been recognised whereas 2700 are pending with the administration at various levels. The key reasons for the poor implementation include – lack of political will, misinformation about the act amongst the line officials, distrust of the people leading to non-filing of claims and inadequate awareness amongst common people,” the statement said.

It further said that, ironically, the state government has shown great enthusiasm in using this act to grant forest land for village development activities, the rest of the rights namely individual and community forest use and management rights are languishing due to state negligence and actively blocking the granting of these rights. 

The groups further highlighted that in the last 5 years, community voices from Kangra, Chamba, Kinnaur, Lahaul-Spiti, Sirmaur and Mandi have been raising the demand for the implementation of this law in the state.  It was after this that the state government was forced to announce that it would implement the Forest Rights Act in a mission mode in the state in 2018. The tribal department also worked on training and making educational material on the act. However, these are yet to be properly distributed at the village level.

The joint statement further added that in March 2020 post the pandemic led lockdown the FRA implementation process received a setback. Even as gram sabha meetings and FRC processes came to a grinding halt the economy too got hit. During this time, it became evident more than ever that it is the land and forest-based livelihoods that are available to rural communities to fall back on for survival. 

“Whereas the Government should be focused on strengthening land and nature-based livelihoods for the local communities. However, the focus of the state remains on pushing destructive commercial ventures in ecologically fragile areas and valuable farmlands of the state,” the groups said.  

The coronavirus has taught the world what the climate crisis had already indicated – that we will continue to be victims of such crisis as long as the ecological destruction continues unabated, the statement said.

“This calls for a change in the model of ‘development’ which prioritises the basic needs and services rather than run blindly after economic growth which is meant to profit companies and contractors”, the groups said.

The statement also said that it is the communities who will now have to believe in their own capacity to manage lives and resources and also call the government to account if our natural resources have to be protected for future generations. 

Signatories

  • Ajay Kumar, Sanjay Kumar, Advocate Dinesh, Bhoomiheen Bhoomi Adhikar Manch, Himachal
  • Birbal Chaurhan, Shamlat Sangharsh Samiti, Sirmaur
  • Gulab Singh and Dhaniram Shamra, Sirmaur Van Adhikar Manch
  • Joginder Walia Balh Ghaati Kisaan Sangharsh Samiti, Mandi
  • Jiya Negi, Van Adhikar Samiti, Kinnaur
  • Kulbhushan Upmanyu, Himalaya Bachao Samiti, Chamba
  • Lal Hussain, Ghumantu Pashupalak Mahasabha, Chamba
  • Meera Devi, Nekram,Shyam Singh Chauhan, Paryavaran evam Gram Vikas Samiti, Karsog, Mandi
  • Himshi Singh and Prakash Bhandari, Himdhara Environment Research and Action Collective
  • Prem Katoch and Kesang Thakur, Save Lahaul Spiti, Lahaul
  • Tenzin Takpa and Sonam Targey, Spiti Civil Society, Spiti  

Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay

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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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