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Satluj environmental impact report still not complete, but Himachal continues granting clearance to more hydropower projects

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Luhri hydropower project in rampur

Shimla: As per the Scientific American – the leading and one of the oldest science and technology magazine of the United States of America, the country has decommissioned as well as removed at least 1,000 dams so far, and several others are under the process of decommissioning. The removal of dams is costing the US a gigantic amount of money, but still, it is taking the pain to do the needful.

The reason was simple – the adverse and irreversible environmental damages of these dams. The Hydropower Reform Coalition (HRC), a joint platform comprising of 150 environmental groups, had been advocating the removal of the dams due to their impacts on the environment including the aquatic life.

On the other hand, in the State of Himachal Pradesh, blessed with five perennial rivers including the longest Sutlej, in addition to already operational projects, the government is trying to sell over 700 projects by inviting private investors.

The government argues that hydropower projects have given the state economy a boost along with creating employment opportunities. After agriculture and tourism, hydropower is the biggest contributor towards the state economy. Moreover, hydropower is ecofriendly.

However, the government does not want to stop here and is targeting to harness 100 per cent of the total power generating capacity. During Congress government, it was officially stated that a hydropower potential of 27436 MW was identified in the state. The state was harnessing only 10351 MW.

During the tenure of the Congress government, Himachal had commissioned about 31 hydropower projects of 2067 MW capacity and had earned a revenue of Rs. 3345 crore from the sale of free and equity power.

The new Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur, after coming into power, had said that the hydropower projects were facing difficulties in getting clearances. He had announced that all such hurdles would be removed under the new government. There were no words about the impact on the environment at all.

The environmental protection has never been a matter of concern for both Congress and Bhartiya Janata Party governments in the state. The leaders are completely visionless in this regard, which is why the environmental impacts of the hydroporjects remain absent from the list of major poll agendas.  

The latest project in making is the new venture of Satluj Jal Vidyut Nigam Limited (SJVNL); the Luhri Stage -I hydropower project (219 MW) on the last free-flowing stretch of the River Sutlej.

The environmental activists and groups are up in arms against the construction of more dams for the projects. The feedback from previous projects has shown that these projects did have an adverse effect. The project is proposed downstream of the 420 MW Rampur Project in Shimla and Kullu Districts.

Environmental group reaches the Expert Committee of Ministry of Environment

Raising objections to the granting of clearances to dams on the last free-flowing stretch of the Satluj River, the Himdhara Collective, an environmental group, recently sent a submission to the Expert Committee of Ministry of Environment demanding Cumulative Impact Assessment for individual projects on the Satluj river basin.

The committee, in its meeting to be held on August 28, 2018, is to consider the grant of Environment Clearance for SJVNL’s Luhri project. It’s the same project that was dropped after the SJVN faced resistance from the locals. Earlier, there was a proposal to construct a 750 MW project with a 35 km long tunnel in this stretch.

It was due to the objections of the local community that the massive tunnel will disturb the geology of the region, already prone to landslides that the project was dropped,

the submission said.

Instead, the HP government has now allocated three dams, namely, Luhri Stage I and Luhri stage II (163MW) and Sunni (355MW) in the same stretch. The key objection raised in the submission is that the committee instead of studying the overall impact of the three projects put together was looking at each project in a singular way.

70% of land granted for the project is forest area

The total land requirement for the three proposed projects is 654.02 hectares, which is twice the size of the land required for the earlier proposed 750 MW project. Considering 70% of the required land falls in the category of ‘forest’, this would lead to more deforestation in the Satluj River basin which has already faced severe forest diversion, erosion and slope de-stabilisation.

The move to build bumper to bumper dams on a single river basin is destructive and this is the reason why we have been saying that the Ministry of Environment should look at the cumulative impacts of the dams rather than for individual projects,

the environmental group stated in the submission.

The Govt denies reply to RTI seeking information on the CEIA Report

In 2013, on clear directions from the Ministry of Environment, the HP Directorate of Energy had commissioned Cumulative Environment Impact Assessment (CEIA) studies for all the major river basins of Himachal Pradesh. The process for Satluj river basin was initiated first in 2013. A series of public consultations were held in Pooh, Rekong Peo, Rampur where local communities and environmentalists had filed detailed objections.

The group said the DoE had even appointed an independent Panel of Environmental and Social Experts, which had submitted a damning report to the HP Government in 2015, raising that the state government was apathetic to the adverse impacts these projects had on the lives of local communities. However, since then, there has been complete silence on the CEIA study of Satluj river basin.

In 2017 we filed an RTI to the DoE seeking the final report, but the matter was transferred to the Union Ministry of Environment who did not respond despite appeal in the Central Information Commission. The matter is now pending in the Central Information Commission,

Himdhara members said in the submission.

For the last three years, the Expert Committee of the ministry has been according to clearances to hydro projects on the Satluj without even as much as mentioning the Cumulative Impact study that it itself had made mandatory to be conducted.

The CEIA should have a bearing on the decision to be taken in the Luhri I, II and Sunni HEP, else the exercise (CEIA of Satluj river basin) itself will be rendered meaningless given that, in the middle zone of the Satluj river basin this is the last and the only stretch of the free-flowing Satluj river.

the group said.

The group has demanded that the CEIA of Satluj river basin should be first finalized, and till then, all projects on the Satluj river basin must be put on hold. The issue of dam building in the Himalayas has also now become a major concern amongst mountain communities and environmentalists given the threat of disasters like cloudbursts floods and earthquakes to the lives and economy of the region.

However, the SJVNL terms these arguments as a non-sense saying there would be no tunnelling for the project. The company, like the centre and state governments, has as nothing to say about the CEIA report. Why is the government not finalizing the report and making it public if there is nothing wrong with the construction of the new projects?

Read Complete Submission

Environment

Freshwater Pollutants To Become Major Cause of Deaths by 2050, warns UN Study

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Millions to die in india due to pollution by 2050

The most comprehensive and rigorous assessment on the state of the environment completed by the UN in the last five years was published today. The report, which was produced by 250 scientists and experts from more than 70 countries, says that either we drastically scale up environmental protections, or cities and regions in Asia, the Middle East and Africa could see millions of premature deaths by mid-century.

Pollutants in our freshwater systems will see anti-microbial resistance become a major cause of death by 2050 and endocrine disruptors impact male and female fertility, as well as child neurodevelopment”

the study warned.

The science is clear. The health and prosperity of humanity are directly tied to the state of our environment. This report is an outlook for humanity. We are at a crossroads. Do we continue on our current path, which will lead to a bleak future for humankind, or do we pivot to a more sustainable development pathway? That is the choice our political leaders must make, now,

said Joyce Msuya, Acting Executive Director of UN Environment.

Innovative Policy Options

The projection of a future healthy planet with healthy people is based on a new way of thinking where the ‘grow now, clean up after’ model is changed to a near-zero-waste economy by 2050. According to the Outlook, green investment of 2 per cent of countries’ GDP would deliver long-term growth as high as we presently projected but with fewer impacts from climate change, water scarcity and loss of ecosystems.

At present, the world is not on track to meet the SDGs by 2030 or 2050. Urgent action is required now as any delay in climate action increases the cost of achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement, or reversing our progress and at some point, will make them impossible.

The report advises adopting less-meat intensive diets, and reducing food waste in both developed and developing countries, would reduce the need to increase food production by 50% to feed the projected 9-10 billion people on the planet in 2050. At present, 33 per cent of global edible food is wasted, and 56 per cent of waste happens in industrialized countries, the report states.

While urbanization is happening at an unprecedented level globally, the report says it can present an opportunity to increase citizens’ well-being while decreasing their environmental footprint through improved governance, land-use planning and green infrastructure. Furthermore, strategic investment in rural areas would reduce pressure for people to migrate.

The report calls for action to curb the flow of the 8 million tons of plastic pollution going into oceans each year. While the issue has received increased attention in recent years, there is still no global agreement to tackle marine litter.

The scientists note advancements in collecting environmental statistics, particularly geospatial data, and highlight there is huge potential for advancing knowledge using big data and stronger data collection collaborations between public and private partners.

Policy interventions that address entire systems – such as energy, food, and waste – rather than individual issues, such as water pollution, can be much more effective, according to the authors.  For example, a stable climate and clean air are interlinked; the climate mitigation actions for achieving the Paris Agreement targets would cost about US$ 22 trillion, but the combined health benefits from reduced air pollution could amount to an additional US$ 54 trillion.

The report shows that policies and technologies already exist to fashion new development pathways that will avoid these risks and lead to health and prosperity for all people,

said Joyeeta Gupta and Paul Ekins, co-chairs of the GEO-6 process.

What is currently lacking is the political will to implement policies and technologies at a sufficient speed and scale,

they added.

The sixth Global Environmental Outlook has been released while environmental ministers from around the world are in Nairobi to participate in the world’s highest-level environmental forum. Negotiations at the Fourth UN Environment Assembly are expected to tackle critical issues such as stopping food waste, promoting the spread of electric mobility, and tackling the crisis of plastic pollution in our oceans, among many other pressing challenges.

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Environment

Total 332 Bird Species Located in Himachal Pradesh

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Bird Species Count in Himachal Pradesh

Shimla-As per the Great Backyard Bird Count (7th Indian edition), the number of bird species in Himachal Pradesh was 332 in 2018, a spokesman of State Forest Department informed on February 21, 2019.  

PCCF (WL) Dr. Savita said that among the Indian States, Himachal Pradesh shared the topmost position with Uttrakhand where the highest number of species was recorded.  

Birding locations included wildlife sanctuaries, national parks, conservation reserves, villages and urban areas. She said that more than 150 bird species were recorded in Mandi, Shimla, Kangra and Sirmaur districts.

The Great Backyard Bird Count is a citizen science initiative intended to encourage both amateur and professional bird-watchers to contribute towards the understanding bird and their biology in a better way.

The Department said that amateur birders from across the state contributed in the count in addition to 287 checklists that were uploaded into e-Bird by 55 participants.

 Participation in the event involved a minimum of 15 minutes bird watching during which all the bird species seen were counted and listed.  It involved bird watching sessions with school teachers and students, birding involving local villagers and panchayat representatives and training of frontline staff of the forest department in bird identification.

The Department said a detailed report is in preparation and will be circulated by the first week of March

This initiative was coordinated by Joint Secretary (Forests) Sat Pal Dhiman, Chief Conservator Forest (HQR) Nagesh Guleria, Chief Conservator Forest (WL) South Sushil Kapta, DFO (Hqr) N.P.S. Dhaulta along with other senior officers of the department.

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Watch: IIT Mandi Researchers Use ‘Pollutant Diesel Emissions’ For Water Treatment

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IIT mandi uses diesel soot sponge for water treatment

Mandi- Researchers at Indian Institute of Technology Mandi have used the soot emitted by diesel engines to mop up oil and other organic pollutants from water. Their work has been recently published in the journal – Environmental Science and Pollution Research.

Although diesel engines are known to be superior to other internal combustion engines in terms of lower fuel consumption and better energy release efficiencies, they are associated with significant amounts of particulate emissions.

 The particulates largely comprise soot, which is formed in the fuel rich regions of the burning diesel jets. Increasing environmental concerns and stringent emission standards require the development of both conventional and unconventional means for reducing soot.

 Studies in this area have focused on improving the engine design and incorporating special filters and treatment units at the exhaust end of the vehicle.

Dr. Rahul Vaish, Associate Professor, School of Engineering at IIT Mandi and his research students Vishvendra Pratap Singh and Moolchand Sharma have looked at this problem from a different perspective.

They rationalized that while it is impossible to bring down soot emissions to zero, it is possible to find a use for the soot produced.

 Carbon species such as carbon nanotubes, graphene, and candle soot have shown their potential in many fields,

says Dr. Vaish,

so why not automobile soot?

It is known that carbon species can absorb various organic pollutants in water. Carbon nanotubes, filter paper, mesh films, and graphene have been used for removing oil from water. Given that the typical carbon content of soot is between 90 and 98%, the team explored the possibility of using this pollutant as an adsorbent of oil and organic contaminants in water.

 There is a rapid increase in oil and chemical leakages from oil tankers or ships and industrial accidents with expansion in oil production and transportation in the last few decades,

the authors write in their recently published paper, justifying the need for new materials to mop up oil and prevent catastrophic environmental outcomes.

 In an earlier study, Dr. Vaish used candle soot to successfully remove two cationic dyes, rhodamine B and methylene blue from water, thereby showing the possibility of organic from water thereby showing the possibility of organic chemical removal by soot. Extending this earlier work, the research team incorporated diesel exhaust soot into polymer sponges to study their capability to adsorb oil and other organic materials from water. This hydrophobic sponge showed high absorption capacity for various oils, without the need for complex pretreatments.

The researchers found that the highest oil absorption capacity was 39 g/g for engine oil. An interesting observation was that the sponges were recyclable and retained 95% efficiency even after 10 cycles.

The diesel soot impregnated sponge could also absorb pollutants like methylene blue, ciprofloxacin, and detergent from the water. This has practical implications.

Apart from oil spills, organic pollutants such as traces of dyes and detergent coming from industries and households are a major contributor to water pollution,

says Dr. Vaish.

The soot impregnated sponge can help in developing cost-effective remediation processes for common domestic and industrial pollutants. Such a development would additionally serve to repurpose automobile waste.

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