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Rohtang Tunnel access road facing increased avalanche threats as Himachal’s average temp on rise: Study

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Shimla: A research carried out in Himachal Pradesh within the framework of the Indian Himalayas Climate Adaptation Program (IHCAP), a partnership led jointly by the Indian and Swiss authorities with strong scientific input from University of Geneva (UNIGE), Switzerland, has a bad news for the Hill State.

The impacts of global warming are felt especially in mountainous regions, where the rise in temperatures is above average, affecting both glacierized landscapes and water resources.

The repercussions of these changes are manifold and varied, from retreating glaciers to an increase in the frequency and intensity of snow avalanches.

A team of researchers from the UNIGE, Switzerland, has employed endrochronology– the reconstruction of past disasters as recorded in growth series of trees– to disentangle the role of global warming in the triggering avalanches.

The results of this study are published in the Proceedings of the National Academic of Science – PNAS.

Read Detailed Study

Avalanches are a natural phenomenon and occur repeatedly in mountain areas; nonetheless, rising temperatures are altering their triggering. This can lead to disasters and serious consequences in mountain areas where they can severely affect the socio-economic development and the destruction of traffic infrastructure, and buildings.

This is the case in Himachal Pradesh, where increasing residential numbers and tourism are exerting pressure on land use. Along the road to Leh, 500 km north of New Delhi, the Indian government has drilled one of the largest tunnels of the Indian sub-continent.

study of glacier melting in himcahla pradesh

Avalanche slope in the Western Himalayas used for the reconstruction of changes in avalanche frequency. Red dots indicate the locations of sampled trees. Potential release areas are indicated with semitransparent white surfaces and have been detected using the approach suggested by Bühler et al. (26). The access road to the new Rothang tunnel crosses the lower part of the slope.

With the ongoing climate warming, snow avalanches are increasingly threatening the access road to the tunnel. This is why UNIGE researchers conducted their fieldwork at the spot from 2013 to 2015, in a valley located at between 3,000 and 4,000 m.

Trees: silent witnesses to the upsurge in the number of avalanches

The aim of the research group was to evaluate – and add to – the information currently available about avalanches with two goals:

(i) To identify the nature of the changes in avalanche activity currently taking place; and

(ii) To assess future needs for tackling these changes.

In the absence of data comparable to the information collected in European surveys, for which records often exist for the past few centuries, the UNIGE researchers focused on trees: they examined stumps (when the tree had been removed) or cored trees that were still standing to reconstruct past snow avalanches at the study site.

The scientists were able to date individual events by analysing the growth rings and wounds left on the trees by avalanches. The research included nearly 150 trees.

Since we knew the position of each affected tree, we were able to reconstruct the dynamics, lateral extent and runout distance of every avalanche,

explains Juan Antonio Ballesteros-Cánovas, a senior lecturer at UNIGE’s Institute for Environmental Sciences (ISE).

 

This technique meant we could go back to 1855 and record 38 avalanches over this period in the valley, the largest survey conducted to date in the Himalayas.

he added.

The models used for testing the impact of climate change combine the risks of avalanche with local climate data. They were adjusted to include the likely effect on topographical features resulting from earlier avalanches.

Since they destroy the plant cover, they are an aggravating risk factor. The results brooked no argument: from the second half of the twentieth century, there has been an increase in the number of avalanches, both in terms of frequency and intensity. The frequency has risen from one event per decade to almost one event every year.

The impact of temperature on the cryosphere

Avalanches are bigger, travel greater distances and are triggered earlier in the year. These changes can be attributed clearly to rising temperatures, which have reached 0.2 to 0.4 degrees annually in some parts of the Himalayas.

And rising air temperature are also affecting the cryosphere: glaciers are receding and permafrost is melting, losing its role as a sediment stabiliser.

 In addition, the structure of the snowpack is changing: it is being transformed by increasingly warmer air temperatures and/or altered by rain-on-snow events.

Snow is now also falling earlier in the season and is being destabilised before spring, at a time when it is thicker, leading to an increase in the number and intensity of avalanches.

Since the snow is wet, avalanches are descending slowly but over greater distances than in the past.

 

Environment

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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Environment

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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