Need for environmental policing in Himachal



SHIMLA: Of late Himachal has become abuzz with environmental activism as concerned voices are being heard from all parts of the state. There are already a number of organised action groups fighting for protection of environment and interests of local stakeholders. And now even the judiciary has taken bold steps to ensure that the ecology of the state is not vandalised.

Acting on a public interest litigation (PIL), the state High Court had recently passed an order banning private construction in Kasauli area without its permission. On Thursday, the honourable court took to task the state pollution board for taking the court directives lightly regarding growing pollution in the Baddi-Barotiwala industrial area. The Board had earlier submitted a report that all was well in the area. This development has once again raised doubts about the future of the state’s ecology and the roll being played by agencies responsible for keeping a vigil on environmental pollution and degradation. Increasing industrialisation and the coming up of mega projects, including hydro-electric projects and cement plants, have made the situation even more serious.

Though individual departments have been manning their territories, but the effort seems to be too detached, as has been the case with the Pollution Control Board in Baddi-Barotiwala. And then there is also a problem of coordination between departments. Recently there was a case involving a building in Solan that got an electricity connection without getting NOC from the Town and Country Department, with each department having no clue how it happened.

Environmental damage is more or less irreversible so we would certainly not get a second chance to set things right. With claims and counter-claims being made by all and sundry having stakes in concerned projects, the true picture seldom appears. Also, the technicalities involved in execution of mega projects like hydro-electric ones as per environmental norms are so complex that the executers of the projects generally tend to overlook at least some aspects. The ethical aspect also plays an important role in carrying out the day-to-day working of these big projects. For example there has been a deadlock between the government and power producers regarding releasing a minimum of 15% water as run-off into the river downstream of the projects. Another prominent case to be mentioned is that of flooding near the Baspa hydro project in Kinnaur with locals alleging that the authorities opened water gates without prior warnings.

There has always been controversy in case of mining activity in the state, mostly arising out of failure of the government to force ban on mining wherever ordered, or even the extent of mining allowed.

The scope for monitoring is so wide that nothing less than a separate wing for environment policing would server the purpose. The government can either have an inter-departmental task force or a separate cadre to do the job. But the wok is not just about keeping vigil on activities at sites, but also involves proper study and documentation of ground realities for scientific analysis and remedial measures to be taken. The sooner it is done, the better it would be for our own survival.

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