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Till we meet again: Shimla Water Crisis

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All About Shimla Water Crisis

The Honourable Supreme Court in its conclusion to the case Narmada Bachao Andolan Vs Union of India and others on October 18, 2000 states:

Water is the basic need for the survival of human beings and is part of the right of life and human rights as enshrined in Article 21 of the Constitution of India and can be served only by providing a source of water where there is none.

At the time of writing this article, the water crisis in Shimla is effectively over but the fault lines have already been drawn. The crisis placed the beautiful town of Shimla in the global spotlight for all the ugly reasons and highlighted the fissures in this fragile place.

Every source of media whether Indian or Western underscored the problem and compared it to the Cape Town Water crisis. A few went a step further and used the words such as “Day Zero” or “Water Wars” in respect of Shimla without exactly understanding the gravity of the situation and the message the words carry.

Day Zero is when in any town or city the authorities shut off the water supply except hospitals and other vital institution with the majority of residents lining up at water check-points for their daily supply.

Water wars need no introduction except that it takes place between the haves and the have-nots.

All this was done without giving a thought to one’s social responsibility as a citizen or a source of information no matter authentic or apocryphal.

Shimla & Cape Town

Shimla is no Cape Town; it will have to walk several hundred miles to become something even remotely close to it. Cape Town had suffered three years of unprecedented drought, which depleted its water reservoirs supplying water to the city. Due to this, the city had advised its residents to prepare themselves for the purported Day Zero, the year being 2018.

However, before that Cape Town had already embarked on the path for conservation in the year 2007 and had prepared Water Conservation and Water Demand Management Strategy (WC/WDM).

If there existed any prescience in a city in a third world country, then it was Cape Town. Before the introduction of the programme, the water consumption in the city was growing at the rate of 4.7% per annum.

But through its excellent management strategies and innovation Cape Town was able to reduce water consumption growth at a rate of less than 2% per annum. It resulted in a reduction of water wastage by 20% and total water savings of 30% approx.).

For its sustained efforts and successful conservation, Cape Town won first prize for Adaption & Implementation in C40 Cities Award 2015 beating 91 cities including Copenhagen and Paris.

The city did not encourage the tourists to stay away- rather it launched “Save Like a Local Campaign” requesting tourists to keep their water usage to under 87 liters per day, the same restrictions placed on residents. In Cape Town, the Mayor can anytime come knocking at your door to check the water management.

In this city only, the top 100 water user streets were publicised. Water tariffs were structured to cater to poor households. And our intentions are to see ourselves at par with this city, a city that even in times of distress has maintained its dignity.

South Eastern Queensland

Entire Australia suffered drought in the 2000s due to climatic disturbances with South East Queensland being the major casualty. During the beginning of the drought, the per person usage of the Queenslanders was 300 liters per person per day for washing, eating, drinking, and gardening.

Come the year 2015, it was reduced to 169 liters per person per day. Even before the worst phase of drought began in the year 2007, the outdoor water-related restrictions were already in place since 2005.

It was then, that the Queensland Water Commission launched the Target 140 campaign. The campaign emphasized voluntary residential indoor water saving practices, behaviors and attitudes.

The campaign was a success since it achieved a permanent behavioral and attitudinal change. Over a sustained period of eight months of the campaign, the average daily water consumption dropped from 179 liters to 126 liters per person per day.
This change effectively resulted in savings of 20,680 million liters of water.

Shimla

Life is always full of options, and one such option is “Fight or Flight” and we the people of Shimla choose the flight option when we requested tourists to skip Shimla this summer.

This might have worked for now with tourists staying away from Shimla but this may not work every time. And it will be not long before we realize that such exhortations will strip Shimla of its Soul first and silver later.

We the people of Shimla take pride by seeing ourselves in one of the richest and educated towns in the country. But it is high time, we realize that the next summer is only 300 days away and this crisis is not to be wasted.

We need to learn, how other cities of the world managed to come out of such crises and set examples for the whole world to see. It needs to be ensured that the crisis is not given a rerun the next summer but it will involve drudgery (being primal) on the part of everyone living in Shimla or loving Shimla.

Initially, on the macro level, we need to focus on both the supply side as well as the demand side. First, we should begin with the cheaper solutions i.e. the demand side solutions. The stakeholders in this being residents, hotels, tourists and it can be done by a change in our attitudes. Our behavior and attitudes should reflect the water saving practices which over a period of time become the norm for us.

Incentivising water saving would be the step to go forward on the similar lines of Carbon credits, how about Blue credits. Next would be the supply side solutions, i.e. the costly ones, augmenting the resources catering to Shimla, be it the upcoming Government Schemes or the existing supply schemes.

The city under all circumstances should be prepared for the worst day if it so ever comes.
On a micro level, the dead water or zero revenue water should be reduced, which would effectively mean overhauling the supply systems, so that there are no leakages.

Equipping our buildings with rainwater harvesting systems and similarly incentivising this practice would also go a long way in recharging the groundwater.

Meanwhile, improving the city drainage system would mean that outpouring does not end up in the city sewers. Replacement of the old and antiquated water meters, so that the profligate users are identified and brought to justice.

Taking of Shimla from grey to green by increasing its greenery would ensure that we do not give into concrete. The publishing of Water Report every year, before the onset of summer, outlining water availability in the upcoming months, would ensure that all the stakeholders are made aware in advance of the upcoming water situation.

And all this would begin with a realization of our rights, of our authority and an adage, which goes by Of the People, By the People, For the People, always in the back of our mind.

Water scarcity is here to stay and if there is any chance, it is going to go northwards only.

By Maneet, Shimla

Disclaimer: Himachal Watcher may not share the same views and opinions as expressed by the author in this article. 

Environment

Govt Legitimizing and Legalizing Environmental Violations for Business by Amending EIA Rules: Activists  

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Himachal pradesh EIA Notification 2020 Amendments news

Shimla-While in statements, the politicians in power at the Centre and State Governments have been expressing concerns over environmental issues and ensuring the people that they are committed to protect and preserve the environment, the reality is contrary to it. The most recent evidence is the proposed 2020 draft amendments to the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification. With these amendments, the process of environmental assessment before granting permission to execute commercial projects, like hydropower projects in Himachal Pradesh, would be reduced to merely a formality.

Environmental activists and people’s organisations from across Himachal have written to the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) to scrap the 2020 draft amendments to the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification proposed by it.

These activists and environmental protection groups are of the opinion that the EIA Notification, first issued in 1994 under the Environment Protection Act 1986, is a critical mechanism that regulates clearances granted to all kinds of development projects and economic activities in the country. It is one of the environmental decision-making processes that makes it mandatory for project developers to not just study the socio-economic, ecological and other impacts of a proposed project but also place them in front of the affected communities for their opinions and objections, thus, ensuring the process of a free, fair and informed consent. However, this notification has been amended and read down several times in the last two decades, in favour of ‘easing the norms’ for business. The latest draft continues to move in the direction of rendering the EIA process a mere formality. 

The submission made by HP groups states,

“In the context of the already vulnerable and sensitive Himalayan region, flouting of various provisions of even the present EIA notification has heavily impacted the local ecology and livelihoods of the people. The new amendments will only legitimize and legalize these violations and this will mean irreparable damage to the Himalayan ecosystem”. 

The key objections raised are around exemptions of a variety of projects from the mandatory  Public Consultation’ process as well as the dismantling of this process itself.

“The reduction of the time prior to public hearing from 30 to 20 days is also highly objectionable. In the given 30 day period itself, the information about Public hearings does not reach all the affected areas which are often spread out widely in case of mountains with some project-affected communities residing in remote and inaccessible terrains. Here accessing information takes a long time and reducing this time to 20 days will completely exclude such people from raising their grievances and suggestions in the public consultation. This is a clear attempt to block their participation in the environmental decision-making process”

said R.S Negi of Him Lok Jagriti Manch, Kinnaur. 

 

“It is shocking that the amendments include allowing post-facto clearance, which means that the project proponent can start work and before they have obtained environmental clearance. If the basic precautionary principle on which the EIA notifications is grounded is itself not followed it can lead to a disastrous situation for the ecology and local people. In this situation who is going to be responsible for the losses? If the project proponent is not in a position to pay for losses, will the MoEF&CC take the responsibility of losses? This provision will encourage project developers to bypass the process of environmental decision making. We absolutely oppose this amendment”,

said Prakash Bhandari of Himdhara Collective.  

The 2020 draft also dilutes the guidelines for monitoring and compliance of Environment conditions.

“Already the system of monitoring is weak, the conditions lose, the pollution control board and companies non-accountable, thus, leading to widespread destruction of local ecology and impacting health, lives, and livelihoods of project-affected communities. In the case of hydropower projects, for instance, the illegal and unmonitored dumping of muck along river beds, in forests and on common lands, has damaged pastures, disrupted the flow of the rivers, and caused massive disasters when floods occur. The proposed changes will give a free reign to those profiting from extractive and polluting projects,” 

according to Kulbhushan Upmanyu of Himalaya Bachao Samiti. 

It is ironic that on one hand, the global COVID crisis has thrown up several studies showing that pandemics like COVID emerge from ecological degradation and forest loss, and on the government is pushing for policy changes which will accentuate the environmental crisis that the country is already reeling under.  

“If the MoEF&CC wants to change the environmental laws, it should carry out countrywide regional consultations”,

added Uma Mahajan of Himachal Van Adhikar Manch.

The country, especially ecologically diverse yet climate-vulnerable regions like the Himalayas need a robust and strong environmental regulatory and governance regime that makes project proponents accountable and keeps the affected communities and ecological concerns at the centre of the EIA and environmental decision-making process. 

Notably, MoEF&CC had called for citizen’s comments before May 11 but this deadline was extended upto  June 30 and now August 11 as environmentalists and concerned groups expressed outrage that calling for public inputs on this critical law amidst the COVID led lockdown was unjustified. The MoEF&CC has in this period received thousands of objections highlighting the new draft as anti-people and environment.

The demand is to scrap these proposed amendments for the sake of the environment. 

Submission Made to Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change by Activists and Organizations

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SC’s Forest Diversion Regulation a Blockade on Forest Rights Act Implementation in Himachal: Himdhara

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Supreme Court On Forest Diversion in Himachal Pradesh 2

ShimlaHimdhara Collective, a Himachal-based environment research and action group, has released a report on the implications of the regulation imposed by the Supreme Court on forest diversion under the Forest Rights Act 2006 in Himachal, through a series of orders passed last year. This brought to a screeching halt the implementation of Section 3(2) of the FRA which grants powers to gram sabhas and Divisional Forest Officers to divert upto 1 hectare of forest land for 13 types of village welfare activities like roads, schools, community centres, PDS shops etc. 

The court orders were based on the conclusions drawn by a Supreme Court Monitoring Committee, headed by a retired PCCF, V.P Mohan, that the diversions were leading to green felling and deforestation in the state. Initially, a stay was imposed on all green felling in the state (in a matter of forest diversions under FCA 1980 and FRA 2006) on 11th March 2019. This stay was partially relaxed but the Supreme court sought all FRA proposals to be brought before it for further diversion.

The report titled ‘Missing the forest for Trees’, assesses the ground reality behind the conclusions drawn by the Supreme Court Monitoring Committee based on which these diversions have been restricted.

“We have found that the Supreme court’s orders need to be reviewed because the alarm raised by the V.P Mohan committee with regard to FRA was a false one”,

stated authors of the report which is based on analysis of RTI information as well as field research.

RTI data sought from the Forest department for all cases under section 3(2) of the Forest Rights Act 2006 from 2014 to 2019 (up to January 2019), was analysed to reveal that 17237 trees were felled in an area of 887.56 hectares for 1959 activities in 41 of the 45 forest divisions of the state.

Roads, followed by schools and community centres dominate the type of activities carried out. Of the total land diverted 91% is for roads. It was found that almost 64% of these diversions showed ‘nil’ trees felled. The average number of trees felled per hectare is very low (19.52) and it may be induced that most activities have been carried out in areas with open forest or no trees.

Rohru (Shimla), Nachan(Mandi), Kinnaur and Chopal were some of the divisions which had a large number of diversions, again mostly for roads.

Case studies we carried out in Mandi and Kangra district showed the desperate need for amenities like village link roads and schools. In Himachal, there remain about 41% villages that have no road connectivity which affects access to health, education and market centres.

On the other hand, large development activities like four lane highways, hydropower projects and transmission lines, have had a much larger ecological footprint in terms of tree loss in the state compared to the very minute, incomparable diversions under FRA.

The report also finds that as far as green cover is concerned in the period corresponding to the high number of forest diversions under FRA (2015-2019), the forest survey of India’s statistics show a 333 sq.km increase in the forest cover.

Why development rights under FRA important for Himachal?

1.No Land available with revenue departments and panchayats for ‘welfare activities’ thus forest land only option

The report concludes that given the fact that 2/3rd of the geographical area of the state is recorded ‘forest area’ where strict forest laws have restricted non-forest use, the FRA provides relief for communities to access basic welfare facilities, which should be seen as their fundamental right and therefore should not be hindered.

2.Cumbersome, costly and lengthy process under FCA 1980

Before FRA it was the Forest Conservation Act, 1980 which governed forest diversion even for small local development activities. This required not only permission from the Central Government (MoEFCC Regional or Delhi Office) but also warranted that user agencies deposit funds (Net Present Value of trees) to carry out Compensatory Afforestation. The whole diversion process under FCA was cumbersome, lengthy and costly, and thus a major hurdle in providing the rural areas, especially remote areas, access to basic welfare development facilities.

 “The section 3(2) of the FRA provides relief for both governmental departments and local communities as it overrides the FCA and puts in place a simple and decentralized process for diversion”states the report.

3.FRA is meant to correct the problems that were posed by strict central forest laws

The Forest Rights Act was passed by the parliament of India in 2006 recognising that across the country there are lakhs of communities dependent on land which is legally categorised as ‘forest land’ and are unable to exercise their basic livelihood and development rights due to extremely strict forest laws. Under this act’s Section 3(1), forest-dependent communities can file claims for their individual and community rights exercised before the cut-off date of 13th December 2005.

“As it is Himachal has been sluggish with FRA implementation and only 136 titles have been issued under section 3(1). But atleast the government was proactive with the implementation of section 3(2). With the Supreme court orders regulating this provision, there seems to be an impression amongst the implementing agencies and officials that there is an over-all blockade on FRA in the state”

added members of the collective.

The report has recommended that the state government and nodal agency for the Act – the Central Ministry of Tribal Affairs, put forth the case in favour of section 3(2) of the FRA strongly in front of the Supreme Court and also move swiftly to ensure implementation of all provisions of this law in Himachal.  

 

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HP Govt Exempts Use of Plastic Straws Attached with Beverages for 6 Months

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Plastic straws in himachla pradesh

Shimla: The use of integrated plastic straws attached with tetra pack of beverages are exempted temporarily for a period of six months in Himachal Pradesh, informed a spokesperson of the state government on January 31, 2020.

He informed that the exemption would be a subject to the implementation of Action Plan submitted by M/s Tetra Pack India Pvt. Ltd., AARC under Extended Producer Responsibility.

During the relaxation period, the manufacturers and producers are to come out with an alternative to plastic straw, which is bio-degradable, he informed. A notification in this regard has been issued recently.

He said that other provisions of the notification issued by Department of Environment, Science and Technology of HP on September 20, 2019, which imposes complete ban on plastic cutlery such as spoons, bowls, katories, stirring sticks, forks, knives, straws made of plastic, would remain banned.

He said that this notification will come into force with immediate effect.

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