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.
It hardly rained in Himalayas and outcome is this. Who to blame us or them ? This is Ashwani khad and water supply source of Shimla & Solan. Very close to it is Solan cities solid waste dumpyard ( salogra) @RandeepHooda @jairamthakurbjp @ErikSolheim @deespeak @AUThackeray pic.twitter.com/FSZ3TJi2mB
— healing himalayas (@healinghimalaya) July 15, 2018
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,
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.
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.
Govt Legitimizing and Legalizing Environmental Violations for Business by Amending EIA Rules: Activists
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
SC’s Forest Diversion Regulation a Blockade on Forest Rights Act Implementation in Himachal: Himdhara
Shimla–Himdhara 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.
HP Govt Exempts Use of Plastic Straws Attached with Beverages for 6 Months
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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