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Hydropower Projects in Himachal Not ‘Eco-Friendly, Govt Keeps People in Dark Through Biased Environment Impact Assessment Reports

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Himachal's Hydropower Projects Are not eco-friendly

Shimla- The Himachal Pradesh Government, as witnessed on several occasions, favours hydropower companies over the environmental impacts and affected people. It believes that these projects would boost the economic growth of the state and that there are hardly any environmental hazards linked to the construction of excess hydropower projects. There is a long list of pending projects that the government wants to get constructed.

In its environmental assessment reports,  the government preach that hydropower is eco-friendly. However, as a bitter reality, it does not appear to be true. There are severe environmental hazards linked to the construction of these projects, which the government is not ready to admit. As a result of this deliberate neglection, the villagers, rivers, local water sources, farming lands, local wildlife etc. are suffering. Houses of people were destroyed due to seepage of water from tunnels of hydropower projects and they are forced to evacuate. Let’s take a look at a new report compiled by an environmental group explaining why hydropower projects in the Himalayas are not eco-friendly.  

In the month of the ‘World Environment Day’, Himdhara Environment Research and Action Collective released their report titled “The Hidden Cost of Hydropower” to highlight the risks associated with hydropower construction, especially in Himalayan regions like Himachal Pradesh.  Over the last few years, increasing evidence has emerged that hydropower production may not be so ‘clean and green’ after all. This document compiles primary and secondary pieces of evidence of the impacts triggered by underground construction for the run of the river (ROR) hydropower projects highlighting the issues of environmental hazards and risks involved.

Echoing the fragility of the Himalayan region due to geological instability and climate change-related disasters like flash floods and cloud bursts, the report highlights the role of construction activities that accentuate this fragility.

 “A report of the state’s own disaster management cell says that around 10 Mega hydropower stations are located in the medium and high-risk landslide area,”

states the document.

  The report explains that the magnitude of the underground component of the civil work in hydropower projects involving blasting and dynamiting exacerbate existing vulnerabilities. These impacts are yet to be adequately studied and understood.

Visuals and testimonies of affected people from project sites in Kinnaur, Kullu and Chamba falling in the Satluj, Beas and Ravi basin collected over the years have been used to show the impacts. Case studies like that of the Parbati II, Karccham Wangtoo, Kashang and Bajoli Holi projects illustrate how landslides, drying up of springs, damages to houses, farms and forests have made difficult the lives and livelihoods of the people in the project area.

Landslide in Jhakri village of shimla due to hydropower project

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The report finds that the existing studies available on these impacts are inadequate or biased in favour of the hydropower producers, with economics as the main concern. Environment Impact Assessment reports of hydro-power projects gloss over the geological & seismic vulnerability of the project sites, with an explanation that the ‘hurdles’, ‘surprises’ and ‘incompetencies’ of the mountain geology would be handled at a later stage, if and when they occur. ‘Scientific’ linkages become difficult to establish later, and during EIAs, the concentration is to only rush through the studies to get ‘clearances’.

“They say there is no scientific evidence that the landslides are because of project activities and so we cannot claim compensation in case of cracks in the houses or damage to fields”,

according to Ramanand Negi of Urni Village located in the affected area of the Karchham Wangtoo project and now sitting on a huge landslide. 

The report also refers to the Audit reports of the Comptroller Auditor General to show how the costs of these ‘surprises’ are borne by the affected people or transferred to the public exchequer. The costs that producers have been forced to bear have led to financial losses, bad loans, and cumulatively a slump in the hydropower sector over the last few years. 

According to the report,

“The contribution of hydropower sector today to the country’s total electricity production has halved from 25% to 13% in the last decade. Where this state of hydropower industries was an opportunity to review hydropower policy and the sector’s viability, the report of Parliamentary standing committee on energy that reviewed the performance of hydro projects in 2018 turned a blind eye to environmental impacts and safety norms”.

 

Based on the committee’s recommendations the Ministry of Power issued an order in March 2019 recognizing hydropower projects with a capacity of more than 25 MW as ‘renewable’ source of energy, thus eligible for further subsidies. Himdhara’s report, however, brings out that hydro projects do not deserve the ‘green’ tag and the government should stop further subsiding the sector, especially large projects.

Water Sources drying due to hydropower projects

Water sources drying in himachal due to hydro projects

 

The report also identifies the institutional failures of the Central Water Commission, the Central Electricity Authority that are supposed to assess the Detailed Project Reports and give techno-economic clearances, monitor the progress, and reasons for the delay in projects.

This list also includes the Ministry of Environment that has blindly granted environment and forest clearances overlooking the above impacts and non-compliance; the State Directorate of Energy and State Disaster Management Authority, who have failed to fulfil their regulatory roles and ensure that there is no negligence.

The environmental group demanded that an independent scientific review of the immediate or long-term implications of construction work for hydropower development in the Himalayas should be commissioned. Citizens’ engagement, public consent mechanisms need to be strengthened, and a grievance redressal process needs to be put in place.

 

Loos of wildlife in himachal due to hydropower projects

 

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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