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Ravaging forest Fires in Himachal kill 7 including on-duty forest official

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Forest fire kills forest officer in Himachal pradesh

Shimla: The rising temperature and the ongoing dry spell in Himachal Pradesh have fueled massive forest fires in various districts like Shimla, Mandi, Chamba, Kullu, and Kangra. These fires not only gutted forest wealth worth hundreds of crores spread over thousands of hectares of land but also devoured seven people.

Five of these deaths were reported on Tuesday while two people had died earlier a couple of days ago. The State Government or the Forest Department are yet to release any statement regarding the incidents.

Yesterday, Deputy Ranger Ashok Kumar (50), a resident of Pukhri, was killed while he was leading a rescue team to douse a fire in the Dalhousie division. As per the report, he fell down into a deep gorge after he slipped. He died within a few minutes due to severe burns, said the initial reports. The pictures of his burnt body are doing rounds of social media.

His body was handed over to his family after the post-mortem. However, the post-mortem report of the body was still awaited.

In another incident, Satvinder Singh (24) and Surinder Kumar (35) died after receiving burn injuries from the forest fire in Patti village of Kangra.

An elderly woman was also killed on Tuesday after her village settlements caught fire in Joginder Mandal.

Reganu Devi, a resident of Kullu, also died at the Indira Gandhi Medical College & Hospital in Shimla. She was referred to Shimla with over 80 percent burn injuries she had sustained due to a forest fire in Kullu.

However, so far, the government had not made any decision regarding the assistance of helicopter services to deal with the forest fires.

HP Meteorological Department has predicted statewide rains on May 31st and June 1st, which is the only hope against a large number of active forest fires.

It is pertinent to mention that several districts are reeling under water paucity and the fire tenders are not able to fully assist the forest officials in dousing fires.

The forests dominated by pine trees are more vulnerability to fires. The pine trees shed their leaves during this season of the year. The leaves dry up within a few hours.

A thick layer of leaves covers forest land. While in some cases villagers set these fires to uncovered the ground to facilitate the growth of grass for livestock, in other instances, carelessness and miscreants are responsible.

Environment

Dust storms hit air quality of Himachal, no health advisory issued from Govt

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haze in Himachal Pradesh

Shimla: Himachal Pradesh along with other North India states like Haryana and Delhi-NCR is affected by the dust storms due to strong-anti cyclonic winds, blowing from Rajasthan.

All major towns remained covered in a blanket of haze for the second day on Friday. The air quality has dropped in the capital Shimla. The amount of suspended particulate matter was reported to above 300 µg/m³ from 80-85 µg/m³ on normal days.

As per the Meteorological Department, the haze is worsened by higher humidity levels.

The tourist activity may also be effected in tourist towns like Shimla during the peak season as flights from airports in Himachal were also grounded for the second day due to the low visibility. The heli-taxi service from Shimla to Chandigarh was also suspended.

The State Pollution Control Board or the State Government has not issued any health advisory to the public so far. Some media reports said the PCB was not even aware of the exact levels of suspended particulate matter during past two days.

The haze could cause several problems from respiratory to allergic reactions including wheezing, cough, chest discomfort and shortness of breath.

For people suffering from asthma, it could prove to be fatal.

The reports suggested that a number of asthma patients visiting the Indira Gandhi Medical Hosptial saw a rise during last two days.

Children and elderly persons, who have smaller lung-reserve, can also face breathing problems. Therefore, remaining indoor to avoid long exposure to haze is advisable for vulnerable individuals.

It is a mixture of dust particles, gases, and other pollutants already floating in the breathable air.

The dust particles become a platform for deadly PM 10 and PM 2.5 particulate matter to cling on.

Previous studies have also confirmed the presence of chemcical pollutants in the haze of the Delhi-NCR.

Moreover, dust is a respiratory irritant even if it is not accompanied by toxic particles.

During such conditions, wearing a simple mask is advisable to minimize the damage.

Other than the health issues, the dust is settling on everything from clothes to edibles.

The Met Department had predicted rain with thunderstorm and gusty winds in all part of Himachal on Saturday and Sunday. The rain could bring relief from both humidity and dust storm.

The situation is alarming in the Delhi-NCR. So far, the dust storms have reportedly killed about 15 people in Uttar Pradesh. It may worsen as the storm is predicted to last for next two days.

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Environment

HP Govt’s failure in implementing FRA Act turning habitants into encroachers

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Kinnaur protest against eviction from forest land

The right to claim titles in “Forest” areas occupied prior to December 13, 2005, is clearly provided in the FRA for the individuals regarded as “encroachers” under the previous legal framework.

Shimla: About 1500 people participated in a rally and public meeting held on June 7, 2018, at Reckong Peo, Kinnaur, to raise their voice against on-going eviction drive that is terming a large number of occupants of forestland as illegal encroachers in complete violation of the Forest Rights Act, 2006.

The people protested against HP Government’s poor implementation of the FRA, in their district as well as in the entire state.

The rally and public meeting were organized jointly by the Him Lok Jagriti Manch, Zilla Van Adhikar Mancha, a Kinnaur-based platform, Himachal Van Adhikar Manch, Himdhara Collective, and Himalaya Niti Abhiyan.

Activist Manshi Asher with villagers

A memorandum was submitted to the Deputy Commissioner with a demand to immediately start processing the claims under FRA from Kinnaur district.

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The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers Act, or Recognition of Forest Rights Act – commonly known as the Forest Rights Act (FRA)- was passed by Parliament in 2006 to address historical injustices and exclusion meted out to a large community of forest dwellers in India. Rights over forestlands were taken away since notification of forests under colonial Indian Forest Act (1927).

While in Himachal, there was a Forest Settlement in the 1970s that settled people’s access to forestlands, for the community, these remained privileges that could be taken away any time, the activists of organizing groups said.

Since then, a process of alienation of forest-dwelling communities has intensified in the name of development, wildlife conservation, forest management, and development, shrinking survival spaces of the forest-dependent people each time, they said.
It is only logical to assume that this piece of legislation is extremely relevant for Himachal Pradesh, where 67 percent of the total land area is under the jurisdiction of the Forest Department, the activists said.

In the initial phase, the State government had implemented the Act only in the Schedule – V (Tribal regions) areas of the State. As a result of this, the process of implementation in the State faced a long delay.

In 2013, after a High Court order and repeated instructions from the Centre, the government decided to implement the Act in non-tribal areas also. Despite the formation of more than 17503 Forest Right Committees (FRCs), which would file the claims, the process is not taking off in most areas.

Local administration and government officials have a partial understanding of the act and several misgivings. As a result of it, the process is just not moving forward.
The activists informed that it is extremely unfortunate that despite the formation of FRCs in 99.82% of revenue villages, only 53 individuals and 7 community titles have been issued under the Act in Himachal in past five years.

At the same time, the rest of the country, around 17.31 lakhs individual titles and 62.92 thousands of community titles have been issued over more than 137.50 lakhs acres of forestland.
Forest Rights act in kinnaur

Further, on April 6, 2015, the Himachal Pradesh High Court ordered the removal of encroachments on “forest land” in the state within six months. It has triggered an eviction drive by the Forest Department.

This includes serving notices for removal of encroachments, disconnecting electricity and water supply provided to all “illegal” structures raised over encroached land and legal action in case of non-compliance.

In upper Shimla, the Forest Department went to the extent of felling apple trees from orchards on “forest land.” In Kinnaur, 98 such notices have been served to so-called “encroachers”.

Fearing further action, the people of Kinnaur, earlier on July 25, 2015, organised a huge rally at District headquarters, Rekong Peo, questioning the manner in which the Forest Department is implementing the orders of the High Court.

The activists emphasized on the importance of understanding the right to claim titles in “Forest” areas occupied prior to December 13, 2005, is clearly provided in the FRA for the individuals regarded as “encroachers” under the previous legal framework.

The provisions of this Act are applicable for Scheduled Tribes and other forest-dwelling communities, which mean almost the entire state. This is a special Act that supersedes all other previous acts related to forests like the Indian Forest Act 1927 or the Forest Conservation Act 1980.

It is a matter of concern that the state government failed to bring the issue of this non-implementation of the FRA Act to the attention of the High Court, the activists said.

As per the Section 5(4) of Chapter III of the FRA,

No member of a forest dwelling Scheduled Tribe or other traditional forest dwellers shall be evicted or removed from forest land under his occupation till the recognition and verification procedure is complete.

According to the 2011 Census, of the total workforce in Himachal, around 62 percents are cultivators and agricultural labourers. This means that a majority of the population dependent completely on farming and forests (livestock rearing) as a livelihood is not a beneficiary in the state budget allocations, the activists said.

Further, the falling number of jobs in the private sector has added to the crises between communities, which could ultimately lead to distress migration, visible in states like Uttarakhand, they said expressing concern.

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Campus Watch

Undertake research on ways to reduce dependence on plastic, say Nauni varsity scientists  

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Nauni Varsity environment day celebration

Solan: The scientists and students of the Environment Science Department at Dr. YS Parmar University of Horticulture and Forestry, Nauni celebrated the World Environment Day with the students of Government Senior Secondary School, Kothi Deora. The students, staff, villagers and Dangri Gram Panchayat representatives took part in the celebrations.

UHF Nauni Events

Speaking at the occasion, Dr. SK Bhardwaj, Head Department of Environment Science said that the theme of this year’s celebrations was ‘Beating Plastic Pollution’.

 The scientists and research scholars Apoorva Sharma, Shivani, Lal Rinzuali and health specialist Dr. Ajay Singh took part in the event and apprised the students about the various kinds of pollution and their impact.

Nauni Varsity Students

Addressing the gathering, Apoorva explained the need to curtail the use of plastic products, as they were one of the main pollutants.

She urged everyone to look for environmentally friendly alternatives and undertake research on the ways to reduce the dependence on plastic. Another speaker, Shivani highlighted the pollution of water sources and the importance of water for humans.

She called for collective efforts to conserve water by building small tanks and by proper disposal of soapless water from kitchens and bathrooms in the soil.

School Principal Dr. Narender Sharma also shared effective techniques of environmental conservation with the students. The eco club of the school also administered the oath for the protection and conservation of the environment.

In addition, the Dangri Panchayat also organized a Workshop on Air Quality and TB at its premises. The university scientists set up Respirable Dust Sampler machine, which will help to ascertain the air quality of the area within the next one month.

The panchayat has already taken steps to fight pollution and has distributed plants like a spider plant, snake plant, aloe vera etc., which were provided to them by the university. 

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