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PCB report on garbage discharge into Ashwani Khud points out Shimla’s poor SWM

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Ashwani Khud Inquiry report

Shimla: The seven-member committee constituted to probe the matter pertaining to a video that showed an enormous amount of plastic/solid waste floating in Ashwani Khud – the main drinking water supply source to Solan – could not ascertain the origin or culprit responsible for it.

The committee headed by the Environmental Engineer of the Himachal Pradesh Pollution Control Board (HPPCB), Surender Shandil, was formed after the National Green Tribunal took suo motto cognizance of the disturbing video clip shot by a local youth Abhay Sharma and uploaded on social media by the Healing Himalayas – a non-profit organization.

The video had gone viral on the social media and reached the national media. The video was retweeted over 1,000 times.

Abhay is self-employed and is also a member of the NGO, who took up the issue despite fearing that the administration might come after his business following the consequences of the blowing whistle. Abhay decided to fight for the cause and came ahead to rubbish government’s claims that the video was fake.

This whistleblower indeed made a difference. This video clipped had shocked everyone who saw it. It won’t be wrong to say that he sounded an alarm for all the Himalayan water sources/rivers.

Following it, the Tribunal had asked the Board to file a report regarding it within a week.

While district administration of Shimla and most of the government agencies had washed their hands off by simply terming the video clip as a fake, the team first verified that the video was indeed real. The video was recorded in Neri village and the panel has recorded the statements of the locals too.

In fact, the people were not able to believe that it could happen in a State like Himachal. They prayed the video to be fake but to their demise, it was not.

The locals have confirmed that it has become a routine to see solid waste floating in the Khud, but the situation was way far intense this time.

The PCB’s Engineer told Himachal Watcher that the inquiry was completed, and  its report would be submitted to the Tribunal. Though the report is not made public yet, Mr Shandil suggested that there is a high probability that the waste could have entered the stream from a large number of nullahs in the catchment area located in Shimla district.

The catchment area of the Khud is so large and there are so many nullahs within it that it was hard to spot a specific source. It has been raining heavily and there could be several reasons for the flooding of waste in it,

Mr. Shandil told HW.

He further suggested that during their visits to the catchment area, they did see garbage being washed away by rainwater and entering the nullahs.

The report would be finalized by today evening and submitted to the Tribunal,

he added.

The panel has also suggested that the waste could have emanated from the dumping ground in Slogra in Solan.

Earlier, the panel was suggesting that the garbage could have been dumped into the stream from a spot like Sadhupul through dumpers. 

However, there was no word regarding the discharge of the sewerage that was reported by Abhay. Abhay had told HW that the video could only show the solid waste floating on the water and could not give an idea of the smell of sewage that the water of the Khud was carrying with itself in addition to the garbage.

HW had posted additional video clips recorded on the same day by different individuals. One of the clips shows the water had turned dark in colour, which Abhay said, was due to sewage. 

Sewage in Ashwani Khud

The probe in the deadly jaundice outbreak in 2015, in which about three dozen people were killed, had revealed that the contractor of the Sewage Treatment Plant in Malyna, Shimla, was releasing a large amount of untreated sewage into Ashwani Khud, which was the cause of the outbreak. 

The Shimla Municipal Corporation had suspended the supply from Ashwani Khud following this deliberate genocide.

However, during the water scarcity in May-June this year, the SMC had resumed the supply from the Khud despite the fact that water samples were failing quality tests.

It is to be seen whether the PCB has also included sewage discharge in its inquiry report or not.

Further, as per the whistle-blower, the garbage flooded the Khud only when it rained heavy in Shimla. 

HW had also posted a video showing two nullahs located below the Krishna Nagar colony in Lalpani of Shimla city, which were entirely covered with solid waste. A number of nullahs including the one near the lift on Cart-Road could be seen filled with garbage, which flows down to the Khud with rainwater.

Other than that, the former Mayor of Shimla, Sanjay Chauhan, had also pointed out the nullahs in the catchment area where a large amount of solid waste collected from panchayats is dumped.

However, the Deputy Commissioner of Shimla, Amit Kashyap had told HW that there is no such problem in the areas of Shimla falling under various panchayats. The waste management was perfectly fine in both the rural as well as in the city, he had claimed.
The PCB’s report, if the initial information is to be believed, largely suggests that poor or no solid waste management in Shimla’s catchment could be blamed for it.

The Ashwani Khad episode has raised concerns about the ill attitude of the locals, tourists, and the government towards the growing problem of managing solid waste in the State.

Littering by tourists along National Highway 21 also produce a large amount of garbage which ends up in nullahs. The civic body or the local administrations hardly have any strategies in hand to deal with littering and unlawful dumping of garbage. 

At the same time, the matter also questions awareness and the inaction of State PCB regarding poor solid waste management and improper dumping in the State.  

 

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

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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