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Shocking video/photos expose Govt Officer’s lies about illegal slate mining in Dharamshala

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Illegal mining in Dharamshala

Shimla: Advocate Deven Khanna, the local commissioner appointed by the Himachal Pradesh High Court in a petition relating to violation of environmental and other construction guidelines and the illegal felling of trees within the area of Municipal Corporation, Dharamshala including Bhagsunag, Mclodgunj, and Dharmkot in Dharamshala, busted the alleged lies of the Mining Officer regarding the alleged illegal mining activity in the Khanyara region.  

This illegal mining was costing the state crores of rupees per month in terms of revenue in addition to environmental damages. 

The pictures and video posted below show an area which is victim to a completely illegal mining. The visuals speak for the destruction this region has witnessed due to a nexus of the government officials and mining mafia. 

Deven had visited the sites between April 14 to 22nd of April 22, 2018, and had photographed Khaniyara region and exposed the alleged white lie of the Mining Officer.

Himachal Watcher was able to obtain these photos and a video of effect region from official and non-official sources.

On the basis of this visual evidence, the bench of Acting Chief Justice Sanjay Karol and Justice Ajay Mohan Goel on April 25, 2018, had observed:

Prima facie, we are of the considered view that the explanation furnished by Harvinder Singh, Mining Officer who is present in Court with regard to the illegal mining carried out in Khanyara Panchayat is false. According to him, neither any illegal mining is being carried out at Khanyara nor has he ever received any complaint.

While the photos and video exposed the ground reality, the mining officer had filed replies in the court regarding blasting and illegal mining activities in Khanyara area claiming that no such business is going on in the said region. He further added that the mining activity was completely under control. Apparently, the officer was caught trying to allegedly protect the mafia. 

For now, the said official was transferred following it. The court had asked the state government to take action against the said official, which was still pending.

As per the tradition of the governments, their employees rarely get penalized for even grieve matters like submitting a false statement to the court regarding a very crucial environmental issue.  

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The mining officer had stated that frequent site visits were conducted in the Khaniyara area to check the Slate Mining activities. He said a Mining Inspector has been specifically deputed in this area to keep a strict vigil.

In addition to the routine visits, surprise inspections were also being conducted by the officers of the department and during the sites visits, no case of the blasting has been observed or reported or no complaint of the blasting has been received, the mining officer told the court.

Khanyara illegal mining photos 4

The illegal mining of slates in this area has been controlled to a larger extent and no case of the illegal extraction has been reported for the last one year,

the statement of the officer said. 

Upon the visit of the said locations, it was discovered that illegal mining was still rampant at Khaniyara Road, the information was verified by officers of the MC and local people. The site was visited and it was discovered that blasting and careless dumping of the mine debris had caused irreparable damage to the downslope vegetation, choked the streams and accelerated surface erosion, said Deven’s report rubbishing all these false claims.

Khanyara illegal mining photos

So serious was the environmental damage that a major portion of the mountain had a bombed-out desolate look. The patches were seen on the mountains due to the rampant mining for slate deposits which had spelt ecological disaster, the report said. Apart from threatening human settlements in the foothills, the activity had also eaten up large chunks of the forest, the report further said.

Khanyara illegal mining photos 7

It was pointed out in the report that the mining had cut into the forest area labourers were working under hazardous conditions because of the excessive use of dynamite in total violation of the Mines Safety Act.

Khanyara illegal mining photos 13

Deven’s report had further stated that mining in these areas is haphazard and the procedure adopted for mining is totally unscientific without using any standard mine plan maps or contour map or any standard method of national or international agencies.

Khanyara illegal mining photos 3

The slates are extracted either manually by using crowbars, chisels or by using local explosive for blasting. Unscientific excavation and use of high power explosives have resulted in cracking and loosening of the overlying rock formation, the report said.

The villages below the mining sites often experience flying rocks and rock fall which results in a number of causalities. Further, most of the area is under the protected forest demarcated by the Department of Forest, Himachal Pradesh and has been exploited in an unauthorized and illegal manner.

No reclamation measures such as the construction of check dams or retaining wall to check the erosional activity or other safety measures related to blasting are being adopted,

said the report. 

Slate mining has blotted the serene beauty of the forests of the area. Mining activities in these areas have caused the degradation of vegetation and soil cover, destruction of agricultural land and the encroachment of forest land, further leading to the deterioration of water resources, increase in erosional activities, silting of streams (Figure XVII), and massive landslides,

the report said.

The claims of the government regarding check on illegal mining, unlawful construction, and environmental conservation appears to be false or misleading considering the above report.

While in press statements, the government never misses the opportunity to add “Govt is committed to protect and conserve the environment,” the official machinery seems to be trying to protect the violators and for that, they are not reluctant to even file false replies in the court.

Khanyara illegal mining photos 12

The court has expressed its disappointment with the government officials multiple times while hearing the current petition that was filed by in 2015 by a whistle-blower Ghazala Abdullah. 

The original petition had requested the attention of the court towards environmental destruction for illegal construction. By 2018, the scopes of the petition were widened to accommodate more issues pertaining to similar matters.

Several crucial violations and facts appeared during the hearing of the petition, which would be covered in separate articles on Himachal Watcher. The next hearing in the petition is scheduled for July 30. 

Khanyara illegal mining photos 8

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Further, Deven in his extensive report had included following crucial suggestion to fix the environmental damages caused by illegal mining:

  1. Mined debris or the slate waste over the slope should be removed in order to bring back the regolith cover.
  2. The area should be seeded with quick growing grass and preference should be given to local species and mixed culture. Although the best plant known and used worldwide to stop the erosion is Vetiver. It not only holds soil on the mountain side but it creates its own terraces by collecting leaves, debris and eroded soil from above it. In addition to vetiver, a perennial grass known as Nash (vetiveria zizanioide) can also be grown.
  3. The mining area can also be restored by hydroseeding. This technique involves the spraying of soils, organic matter, grass seeds, adhesives and water in a fixed proportion which is kept in a slurry tank. The application of mixture is done at a pressure on a slope. Such technique is successfully adopted in the reclamation of limestone and rock phosphate mines in Dehradun and Mussoorie region (35).
  4. Mining should be avoided where there is a steep slope i.e. the slope angle is more than 45°. Check dams and gabion structure should be constructed to check the flow of soil, waste and debris along the hill slope.
  5. The problem of mining debris can be solved by utilizing it in making concrete blocks as it is eco-friendly and economically viable too and will also serve as a source of employment for the local population.
  6. Another important use of slate waste lies in the manufacturing of pipe, sheets and roofing plus flooring products as substitutes for asbestos in the asbestos The advantage of slate as an alternative to asbestos is that asbestos is a fibrous material and cause cancer. Hence, the use of slate can be accepted in the asbestos industry.

 

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.

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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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Himachal First State to Complete Assessment of Snow Leopard and its Wild Prey

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Snow Leopard Population Assessment in Himachal Pradesh

Shimla-The assessment of snow leopard population in Himachal Pradesh has been completed by the state wildlife wing in collaboration with Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF) Bangalore following the protocol aligning with the SPAI (Snow Leopard Population Assessment in India) protocols of the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change. Himachal Pradesh has become the first state to complete assessment of snow leopard and its wild prey.

The state has an estimated population of up to 73 snow leopards.

It is the first scientifically robust estimate of snow leopards and its prey for the State. Since snow leopard is the state animal, the study assumes great significance for Himachal Pradesh.
The exercise revealed that snow leopard density ranged from 0.08 to 0.37 individuals per 100 sq.km., with the trans-Himalayan regions of Spiti, Pin valley and upper Kinnaur recording the highest densities, both of the predator and its prey, mainly ibex and blue sheep.

This study covered the entire potential snow leopard habitat of Himachal Pradesh: an area of 26,112 sq.km., utilising a stratified sampling design. Camera trapping surveys were conducted at 10 sites to representatively sample all the strata i.e. high, low and unknown. The camera trap deployment over the mountainous terrains was led by a team of eight local youth of Kibber village and more than 70 frontline staff of HPFD were trained in this technique as part of the project. Snow leopards were detected at all the 10 sites (Bhaga, Chandra, Bharmour, Kullu, Miyar, Pin, Baspa, Tabo, Hangrang & Spiti) suggesting that snow leopards are found in the entire snow leopard habitat in Himachal Pradesh either as resident individuals of a population or as dispersing individuals navigating through these connecting habitats.

Another revelation from the study is that a bulk of snow leopard occurrence is outside protected areas, reiterating the fact that local communities are the strongest allies for conservation in snow leopard landscapes.

The NCF and wildlife wing collaborated in the effort and it took three years to complete the assessment. MoEFCC had launched the First National Protocol on Snow Leopard Population Assessment in India, on the occasion of International Snow Leopard Day. You can read the complete protocol here.

Snow leopard is the icon of high mountains of Asia. In India, they inhabit the higher Himalayan and TransHimalayan landscape in an altitudinal range between approximately 3,000 m to 5,400 m above MSL, spanning c. 100,000 km2 in the five states of Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh. This area contributes to about 5% of the global snow leopard range.

Snow leopards occur over a vast, relatively remote and difficult to access mountainous area. Together with their elusive nature, this makes a complete population census of snow leopards an unfeasible goal. Even their distribution remains unclear. For example, recent surveys show that they do not occur in 25 % of the area that was thought to be their range in the state of Himachal Pradesh Their density is expected to be variable in space, dependent on several factors such as habitat suitability, prey availability, disturbance and connectivity. Variation in density across space also poses the risk of biased sampling, and, indeed, most of the snow leopard population assessments conducted so far across the world are biased towards the best habitats.

Feature Photo: Pexels/Charles Miller

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