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Environment

Draft National Forest Policy 2018: An invitation to wrath of privatization on forestland

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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.

Environment

After NGT orders, Govt forms Special Task Force to check pollution in Ghaggar tributaries

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stf for ghaggar river pollution

Shimla: Bound by the orders passed by the National Green Tribunal on August 7, 2018, the Himachal Pradesh Government has constituted Special Task Forces (STFs) at the state and district levels to check discharge of effluents in into the tributaries of river Ghaggar.

The National Green Tribunal, in its order, had directed the chief secretaries of Haryana, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Chandigarh to form STFs to deal with the pollution in the said river within a month.

It’s pertinent to mention that the neighbouring States have been blaming unlawful discharges of effluents from the industries established in Kala Amb into Markanda river. The pollution in the tributaries is reaching alarming levels. The court had to take Suo motu cognizance in the matter and pass orders to the state governments.

The NGT had also given directions regarding the officials to be included into these STFs. The will of the government in this entire process was completely missing.

The District level STF will identify the persons responsible for discharging of industrial and municipal effluents causing water pollution in river Ghaggar and its tributaries and will submit a monthly action taken the report to the State level STF, the government informed.

It said the State level STF will furnish a quarterly report or an action taken report to the Central Pollution Control Board. These reports will be uploaded on the websites of the State PCB as well as the Department of Environment, Science and Technology.

The state-level special task will include the Chief Secretary, Additional Chief Secretary (Environment, Science and Technology), Additional Chief Secretary (Urban Development), Member Secretary, H.P. state pollution control board as the Member Secretary of the State Level STF.

The officers in the district Level Special Task Force for Solan and Sirmour will include concerned Deputy Commissioners, the nominee of the concerned district and Session Judge, concerned Superintendent of Police, executive officer of the local bodies of concerned district, Regional officer, State Pollution Control Board of the concerned district.

Ghaggar river originates from the Shivalik Hills and passes through Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan before entering Pakistan.

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Environment

Satluj environmental impact report still not complete, but Himachal continues granting clearance to more hydropower projects

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Luhri hydropower project in rampur

Shimla: As per the Scientific American – the leading and one of the oldest science and technology magazine of the United States of America, the country has decommissioned as well as removed at least 1,000 dams so far, and several others are under the process of decommissioning. The removal of dams is costing the US a gigantic amount of money, but still, it is taking the pain to do the needful.

The reason was simple – the adverse and irreversible environmental damages of these dams. The Hydropower Reform Coalition (HRC), a joint platform comprising of 150 environmental groups, had been advocating the removal of the dams due to their impacts on the environment including the aquatic life.

On the other hand, in the State of Himachal Pradesh, blessed with five perennial rivers including the longest Sutlej, in addition to already operational projects, the government is trying to sell over 700 projects by inviting private investors.

The government argues that hydropower projects have given the state economy a boost along with creating employment opportunities. After agriculture and tourism, hydropower is the biggest contributor towards the state economy. Moreover, hydropower is ecofriendly.

However, the government does not want to stop here and is targeting to harness 100 per cent of the total power generating capacity. During Congress government, it was officially stated that a hydropower potential of 27436 MW was identified in the state. The state was harnessing only 10351 MW.

During the tenure of the Congress government, Himachal had commissioned about 31 hydropower projects of 2067 MW capacity and had earned a revenue of Rs. 3345 crore from the sale of free and equity power.

The new Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur, after coming into power, had said that the hydropower projects were facing difficulties in getting clearances. He had announced that all such hurdles would be removed under the new government. There were no words about the impact on the environment at all.

The environmental protection has never been a matter of concern for both Congress and Bhartiya Janata Party governments in the state. The leaders are completely visionless in this regard, which is why the environmental impacts of the hydroporjects remain absent from the list of major poll agendas.  

The latest project in making is the new venture of Satluj Jal Vidyut Nigam Limited (SJVNL); the Luhri Stage -I hydropower project (219 MW) on the last free-flowing stretch of the River Sutlej.

The environmental activists and groups are up in arms against the construction of more dams for the projects. The feedback from previous projects has shown that these projects did have an adverse effect. The project is proposed downstream of the 420 MW Rampur Project in Shimla and Kullu Districts.

Environmental group reaches the Expert Committee of Ministry of Environment

Raising objections to the granting of clearances to dams on the last free-flowing stretch of the Satluj River, the Himdhara Collective, an environmental group, recently sent a submission to the Expert Committee of Ministry of Environment demanding Cumulative Impact Assessment for individual projects on the Satluj river basin.

The committee, in its meeting to be held on August 28, 2018, is to consider the grant of Environment Clearance for SJVNL’s Luhri project. It’s the same project that was dropped after the SJVN faced resistance from the locals. Earlier, there was a proposal to construct a 750 MW project with a 35 km long tunnel in this stretch.

It was due to the objections of the local community that the massive tunnel will disturb the geology of the region, already prone to landslides that the project was dropped,

the submission said.

Instead, the HP government has now allocated three dams, namely, Luhri Stage I and Luhri stage II (163MW) and Sunni (355MW) in the same stretch. The key objection raised in the submission is that the committee instead of studying the overall impact of the three projects put together was looking at each project in a singular way.

70% of land granted for the project is forest area

The total land requirement for the three proposed projects is 654.02 hectares, which is twice the size of the land required for the earlier proposed 750 MW project. Considering 70% of the required land falls in the category of ‘forest’, this would lead to more deforestation in the Satluj River basin which has already faced severe forest diversion, erosion and slope de-stabilisation.

The move to build bumper to bumper dams on a single river basin is destructive and this is the reason why we have been saying that the Ministry of Environment should look at the cumulative impacts of the dams rather than for individual projects,

the environmental group stated in the submission.

The Govt denies reply to RTI seeking information on the CEIA Report

In 2013, on clear directions from the Ministry of Environment, the HP Directorate of Energy had commissioned Cumulative Environment Impact Assessment (CEIA) studies for all the major river basins of Himachal Pradesh. The process for Satluj river basin was initiated first in 2013. A series of public consultations were held in Pooh, Rekong Peo, Rampur where local communities and environmentalists had filed detailed objections.

The group said the DoE had even appointed an independent Panel of Environmental and Social Experts, which had submitted a damning report to the HP Government in 2015, raising that the state government was apathetic to the adverse impacts these projects had on the lives of local communities. However, since then, there has been complete silence on the CEIA study of Satluj river basin.

In 2017 we filed an RTI to the DoE seeking the final report, but the matter was transferred to the Union Ministry of Environment who did not respond despite appeal in the Central Information Commission. The matter is now pending in the Central Information Commission,

Himdhara members said in the submission.

For the last three years, the Expert Committee of the ministry has been according to clearances to hydro projects on the Satluj without even as much as mentioning the Cumulative Impact study that it itself had made mandatory to be conducted.

The CEIA should have a bearing on the decision to be taken in the Luhri I, II and Sunni HEP, else the exercise (CEIA of Satluj river basin) itself will be rendered meaningless given that, in the middle zone of the Satluj river basin this is the last and the only stretch of the free-flowing Satluj river.

the group said.

The group has demanded that the CEIA of Satluj river basin should be first finalized, and till then, all projects on the Satluj river basin must be put on hold. The issue of dam building in the Himalayas has also now become a major concern amongst mountain communities and environmentalists given the threat of disasters like cloudbursts floods and earthquakes to the lives and economy of the region.

However, the SJVNL terms these arguments as a non-sense saying there would be no tunnelling for the project. The company, like the centre and state governments, has as nothing to say about the CEIA report. Why is the government not finalizing the report and making it public if there is nothing wrong with the construction of the new projects?

Read Complete Submission

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Environment

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

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dumpyard of Baddi MC

“We have filed close to 100 RTI applications with different departments on this issue. We have no other way to make our voice heard.”

Solan: While the Centre and State Government of Himachal Pradesh are claiming improvement on every front including waste management under Swacch Bharat campaign, as another infamous achievement, the State Government has turned the site of a proposed waste treatment plant for the Baddi town of Solan district into an illegal dump yard.

Due to the increased pollution and hazards due to the illegal dumping of Municipal Waste and the dysfunctional common effluent treatment plant (CETP) in their area, the residents of villages under two Panchayats, Malpur and Sandho, are compelled to form a front ”Paryavaran Sangharsh Samiti to take the fight for the right for clean air and water to the door-steps of authorities.

The BBNDA was supposed to build a 9.7 crore ‘Integrated Solid Waste Management Facility’ on this spot where today they have created a foul-smelling open dump. This is totally illegal,

Sukhdev Singh, a resident of Malpur and Vice Chairperson of the Samiti said.

Baddi waaste management facility

Members of the Samiti of local residents

The BBNDA had in 2015 received an environment clearance for an ‘integrated solid waste management’ project provided 36 conditions were satisfied. (Read More Details in the Annexures Uploaded after the story)

The components of the project, expected to cost about Rs 9.7 crore, included a receiving facility, a compost plant, a recycling plant, a secured landfill, and a leachate collection unit

The aggrieved residents allege that none of this exists on the ground. Since 2016, the Municipal Council of Baddi started throwing waste on the site where this project was to be set up.

The illegal dumping came to the notice of the Environment Ministry ’s regional office during their half-yearly compliance monitoring visit about a year ago

The scientist, Dr Bhavna Singh, who visited the site had reported the violations and recommended an immediate suspension of dumping given non-compliance. However, the Pollution Control Board took no action on this front and the dumping continues to this day.

On July 19, 2018, we approached the Sub-Divisional Magistrate, Deputy Commissioner of Solan, Secretary, Urban Development, the Pollution Control Board and the Ministry of Environment about this gross negligence and have demanded that this illegal dumping be stopped and the site be immediately cleared,

said Rafiq, Deputy Secretary of the Samiti, also a member of the Gujjar Community.

The unscientific garbage dumping is posing a serious threat to not only the environment around but also to the 32 members of Gujjar families settled right in front of the dump yard. The Gujjar community is a scheduled tribe that practices their traditional livelihood of cattle rearing and are dependent on the public lands for purpose of grazing.

Baddi MC Dumping site

In addition, the dumping site is a breeding ground for flies, mosquitoes, rats, etc. and has caused an alarming increase in the incident of illnesses even to people who live in the neighbouring villages.

We are also writing to the Scheduled Tribe Commission and will go to the court if there is no action by the authorities,

added Rafiq.

Members of the Samiti in the last month have initiated a mass RTI campaign asking authorities for information about the dump and the actions taken by them.

We have filed close to 100 RTI applications with different departments on this issue. We have no other way to make our voice heard,

added Dharampal, secretary of the Paryavaran Sangharsh Samiti.

Meanwhile, the BBNDA has gone into damage control mode and has made announcements about fogging the area regularly to prevent smell and flies.

These are superficial steps and they do not change the fact that for the last two years the authorities have been sleeping when actually they had ample time to construct a proper waste management plant if they wanted to. Our demand is clear that the waste can no longer be dumped here. The area needs to be cleared of all the dumped waste

, said Charan Das, a resident of Sandholi and Chairperson of the Samiti.

Annexure I – Environmental Clearance

Annexure II – Indemnification of Project and Project Proponent

Annexure III Monitoring Report by Dr.Bhawna-Singh

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