Solan- The State Government of Himachal Pradesh is a disaster if its management and disposal of solid waste are considered. The State Pollution Control Board, local civil bodies, health department and every authority responsible for environmental protection and sanitation are in deep slumber, from which even the Hon’ble High Court is not able to wake them up. Not only these state agencies show disregard to environmental laws, court orders, but also show extreme insensitivity towards the lives of the people who are affected by unscientific dumping of solid waste and pollution of rivers.
The biggest example came to light when Kenduwal village in Baddi of Solan district approached the court with their plea to save them from the Baddi Municipal Council and Baddi-Barotiwala-Nalagarh Development Authority. They literally buried a family in the garbage by creating an illegal dumping site near their habitat. The BBNDA was supposed to construct a waste treatment plant in 2012, but instead they just created a dumping site that became a breeding ground for flies, mosquitoes, rats, etc. and it caused an alarming increase in the incident of illnesses even to people who live in the neighbouring villages like Sheetalpur, Malpur, Bhudd, and MalkhuMajra. Nearly 1200 residents had filed a complaint to the SDM, Baddi and submitted that the Baddi Municipal Council had been dumping waste near their village without developing the site.
The worst affected family, living just 30 meters from the landfill, had approached various authorities with their grievance but was not attended at all. One reason could be attributed to the fact that this family belonged to the minority community (Gujjars). After the advocate for the petitioner’s family, Deven Khanna, fought a long legal battle against the state, the family has now received some hope by getting interim relief.
On May 21, 2019, the High Court of Himachal Pradesh, while hearing the petition of the family, directed the Baddi-Barotiwala-Nalagarh Development Authority (BBNDA) to consider relocating it.
In their application submitted to the court, the family had sought adequate compensation and rehabilitation/relocation. The petitioner had told the court that even after various orders from this Hon’ble Court, the responsible authorities were continuously disregarding the Solid Waste Management Rules and also the Orders of this Hon’ble Court. As a result of it, the house of the affected family was turned into a garbage dump.
Here’s a ‘Make (plastic rivers) in India’ story from #Baddi #himachal on #IndependenceDay In solidarity with all living entities who continue struggling for freedom from oppression & subjugation@Jairam_Ramesh @pbhushan1@HimachalW@OmairTAhmad @_YogendraYadav@kavita_krishnan pic.twitter.com/scEStX6M1w
— Manshi Asher (@ManshiAsher) August 15, 2018
The petition also said that the authorities never took any consent from the adjoining houses before creating the dumping site, nor proposed relocation to the inhabitants. The petitioner with his family and cattle has been forced to live in life-threatening circumstances, the application said.
It’s pertinent to mention that despite the court orders to stop dumping waste on the said site, the authority allegedly took to threatening the petitioner’s family instead of acting on the orders.
“Petitioner is being threatened in various ways, while the mandatory compliances under the statute are continuously being flouted by the Respondents,”
the family had prayed in the application to the court.
Eventually, in its order passed on May 21, 2019, the court directed the authorities to consider relocation of the petitioner’s family.
In previous hearings, the court found out that the MC and BBNDA had obtained clearance for construction an Integrated Solid Waste Management Plant at this site in 2015, but never actually constructed it. Instead, it kept dumping entire waste in open.
The dumping ground violated several rules related to the creation of landfills. According to the Schedule (I) (a), Clause (VII) (VIII) of the Solid Waste Management Rules, 2016:
- The Landfill site shall be 100 mt away from river, 200 mt from a pond, 200 mt from highway, habitations, public parks and water-supply wells and 20 km away from airports or Airbase.
- The Landfill site shall not be permitted within these flood plains as recorded for the last 100 years, Zone of coastal regulation, wetland, critical habitat areas, sensitive eco-fragile areas.
- This landfill was created in violation of all these rules as it is located on a floodplain of Sirsa river and just 30 meters away from human habitat.
Further, this dumping site also violated the directions passed by the National Green Tribunal in its recent judgment (O.A No. 673/2018).
The directions of the Tribunal clearly mentions maintaining the environmental flow of the river, checking constructions on floodplains, setting up of regulating or stopping the industrial activity of polluting nature, checking mining activities and disposal of bio-medical and other wastes, etc.
After the court’s interventions, on February 25, 2019, the Chief Executive Officer, BBNDA, Baddi, District Solan, H.P. had filed an affidavit-cum-status report. In this affidavit, the Chief Executive Officer had said that they would be able to establish the complete processing facility at the designated site Kenduwal within 12 months i.e. before 8th February 2020. The affidavit further said that the work of 100% collection and transportation of Municipal Solid Waste from within the entire project area comprising 41 Gram Panchayats as well as Municipal Council, Baddi, Municipal Council, Nalagarh and Municipal Council, Parwanoo will be started by May 8, 2019.
In this order, the court had said,
“Though, as per the affidavit, BBNDA has placed 109 dumpers, 12 garbage collection tanks, 3 dumper placers, 5 tractor trolleys, and 60 labourers, yet the fact of the matter is that the entire untreated Municipal Solid Waste is not being picked up and substantial part thereof is being dumped in open.”
“We, therefore, direct the BBNDA to submit a time-bound plan for lifting the entire Municipal Solid Waste lying in open area and for that purpose if need be, let the proposal be sent to the State Government for its intervention to provide additional machinery and manpower under the Corporate Social Responsibility,”
the court order further stated.
Later, in another status report-cum-affidavit filed in the court on April 8, 2019, the Chief Executive Officer had told the court that the following steps would be taken in compliance with the orders passed by the court:
- Additional 33 dumpers (garbage containers) in the 33 left out Gram Panchayat will be placed by the concessionaire by 15/04/2019.
- The detailed project report will be submitted by the concessionaire upto 20/04/2019.
- The operational plan for collection and transportation of Municipal Solid Waste will be submitted by the concessionaire up to 25/04/2019.
- The electronic weighbridge will be installed by the concessionaire at the designated site Kenduwal upto 30/04/2019.
- The CCTV cameras will be installed by the concessionaire at the designated site Kenduwal upto 30/04/2019.
- The work of 100% collection and transportation of Municipal Solid Waste from within the entire project area by deploying about 180 number of employees will be started by the concessionaire by 08/05/2019.
Currently, some of the solid waste was still being dumped on the same site while remaining was being sent to a treatment plant in Chandigarh. The work of construction of a waste treatment plant is also underway.
Further, in his elaborated petition filed in 2018, the advocate for the petitioners had urged the court to consider the lack of solid waste management and treatment facility in the entire state, which leads to environmental degradation on a large scale. In their petition, petitioners through Advocate Deven Khanna had requested the court to pass following directions:
General direction to the local bodies to strictly impose a heavy fine on the violators of the law.
- Ordering absolute Strictness with regards to throwing garbage in water bodies (rivers, nallahs). He suggested that the fine collected should be used for the restoration of the damaged places.
- Officers in charge should be made personally liable if flagrant violations are found in their jurisdictions
- Secretary, Town Planning should be directed to ensure that the Master Plan of every city in the State has the provision for setting up of solid waste processing and disposal facilities
- Secretary, Urban Development of the State of Himachal and Secretary Panchayats/Rural Development should be directed to prepare the State policy and strategy on solid waste management for the entire State in consultation with the stakeholders.
- District Magistrates in the State in coordination with the Secretary, Urban Development, should be directed to ensure identification and allocation of suitable land
- Pollution Control Board should be directed to ensure due compliance of the Solid Waste Management Rules, 2016 as per Rule 16 of the Rules.
- Direction should be passed to the local authorities i.e. Municipalities, Municipal Corporations, and Panchayat Raj Institutions not to dump the garbage in the river streams/rivulets and forest areas forthwith.
- All the Municipalities, Municipal Corporations, Panchayats and other statutory authorities, throughout the State, should be directed to regularly publish the names of concerned Superintendents of Sanitation, Medical Officers and Sanitary Officers and such equivalent officers who are responsible for cleaning the State who can be approached for any complaint/grievance by the citizens of 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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