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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.

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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Environment

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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