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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

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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Environment

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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Environment

Himachal to Adopt ‘Borehole Resin Extraction’ Method to Minimize Damage to Pine Trees & Maximize Quality

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Pine Resin Trapping in Himachal Pradesh

Solan-In the past decade, intensive resin tapping by rill method has resulted in the drying of thousands of pine trees in Himachal Pradesh. It has also been observed, that the application of higher concentration of acid, used as a freshener, had adversely affected the growth of trees and even the tapped surface area is not healing.

Therefore, the HP State Forest Development Corporation will soon adopt the borehole technique of oleoresin extraction to minimize the damage caused to pine trees by resin tapping and simultaneously increase the quality of the collected resin.

It was informed by Himachal Pradesh Forest Minister Sh. Gobind Singh Thakur during the concluding session of the one-day training of officials from HP State Forest Development Corporation at the Dr YS Parmar University of Horticulture and Forestry (UHF) Nauni. The method has been developed by the scientists of the Forest Products Department of the university. 

Bore hole resin extraction

Borehole Resin Extraction’ Method

The Forest Minister said that the department would adopt the new technique in the coming time so that the twin motives of resin quality and its quantity along with ensuring the good health of the trees can be met. He said that the Forest Department will work in collaboration with the university so that the benefit of the various technologies developed by it can be put to the best use for the development of the state.

BD Suyal, MD State Forest Corporation said that technique is quite encouraging and the corporation will take up setting up 10-15,000 bores in every directorate to assess the results of the method. He added that in the second phase the contractors and the labourers will be also be trained on technique by the university. Earlier, Dr Kulwant Rai Sharma gave a detailed presentation and practical demonstration on the technique to the forest officials. He said that the adoption of the technology can prove to be boon for the forests and the resin industry. 

What is Borehole Method of Resin Extraction  

The new method involves drilling small holes (1 inch wide and 4 inches deep) with the help of simple tools into the tree to open its resin ducts. The holes are drilled with a slight slope towards the opening, so that oleoresin drains freely. Multiple boreholes are arrayed evenly around the tree’s circumference, or clustered in groups of two or three. Spouts are tightly fitted into the opening with polythene bags attached to it with the help of tie for resin collection.

resin trappig method in Himachal Pradesh

Borehole Resin Extraction’ Method

The new technique was developed in an attempt to overcome some of the limitations of other conventional methods. A key feature of the method is that a closed collection apparatus prevents premature solidification of resin acids, thereby maintaining oleoresin flow for an extended period of up to six months. Due to reduced oxidation and contamination, the end product is of higher quality with substantially higher turpentine. The average yield per tree is almost the same if numbers of boreholes on a tree are adjusted as per the maximum carrying capacity of the tree. The method also allows tapping of lower diameter trees depending upon their potential of production without having any impact on their health. The crown fire hazards incidents are also less because there is no hard resin accumulation on the main stem and spread of ground blaze can be easily avoided by removing the bags well in time.

The rosin and turpentine oil obtained from borehole method are of very good quality, which can fetch higher prices in the market. In addition to tackling the problems of tree health, labour requirements and costs for borehole tapping are significantly lower than conventional methods. The borehole wounds cause little damage to the tree bark and since these holes are near the ground level, only a healed scar can be seen in the converted woods. Therefore, there is no damage to the merchantable part of the tree.

Further, the Forest Minister also said that the university and the forest department will look to work together for establishing an eco-tourism model on the university campus. He added that the University Vice-Chancellor will be invited to all the important policy meetings of the state forest department to seek their expertise. The forest minister visited the demonstration block of borehole technique and also planted a tree at the university.

UHF Vice-Chancellor Dr Parvinder Kaushal called for continuous interaction between the university and the forest department. He emphasized on apprising the grass root level workers and train them on the new technique.

The event was attended by  BD Suyal, Managing Director, HP Forest Corporation; KK Kataik Director(South); Dr JN Sharma, Director Research, Dr Kulwant Rai Dean College of Forestry and other officials of the university. Around 30 officers of the rank of Divisional Managers and Assistant Managers from various parts of the state took part in the training.

 

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