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‘Astro-stays’ bring tourists and solar power to Himalayan villages

An Indian social business that leads Himalayan treks to set up solar micro-grids in remote mountain villages plans to expand its clean-energy work to other countries facing similar challenges, after winning a United Nations climate award.

Global Himalayan Expedition (GHE) has brought solar electricity to more than 130 Indian villages, benefiting about 60,000 people, while setting up home-stays for tourists that have generated more than $100,000 in income for villagers.

By providing clean energy and livelihoods, the company has helped preserve fragile eco-systems and bridged the gender gap by training local women to become entrepreneurs, said Jaideep Bansal, GHE’s chief operating officer.

“Without access to basic facilities and better income opportunities, the villagers are likely to migrate to towns in search of jobs, accelerating cultural and social erosion in these areas,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“We are able to leverage tourism as a force for holistic development of remote mountain communities,” he said.

The Indian government deems all villages nationwide to be electrified because at least 10% of households and public places have electricity. But power cuts are rampant, forcing residents to use diesel generators and kerosene lamps with noxious fumes.

Fast-dropping costs for solar power, combined with plenty of sun have made mini-grids and micro-grids an affordable option.

GHE identifies villages that lack access to reliable electric power, sometimes trekking up to six days to reach them.

More than 1,300 travellers have so far paid up to $3,500 each to join the hikes, with about a quarter of the charge going towards setting up the solar grid, Bansal said.

The tourists work alongside engineers to install the micro-grids and fixtures, including street lights and LED lights, fans and mobile charging points in homes, he added.

The project has provided solar capacity totalling 360 kilowatts, avoiding about 35,000 tonnes of carbon emissions, according to a U.N. estimate.

GHE trains local youths and women to become electricians, and helps women set up home-stays and “astro-stays” that offer stargazing at night on solar-powered telescopes.

“Empowering women entrepreneurs through astronomy has helped reduce the gap in gender equality. It has also engendered greater interest in STEM subjects in women and children,” Bansal said, referring to science, technology, engineering and maths.

GHE’s model of tourism with environmental and social benefits is “easily replicable because of the simplicity in approach”, said the U.N. climate secretariat, announcing the winners of its 2020 global climate action awards this week.

The model is particularly relevant as sales of off-grid solar products fell sharply in the first half of the year with incomes hit because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The COVID-19 crisis has derailed GHE’s expeditions this year. But it plans to expand tours to Madagascar, Sumatra and Nepal next year, and is partnering on other community-based tourism initiatives in Indonesia, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia and Kenya.

“We are looking at remote regions with similar development problems as the Indian Himalayas, where the concept of impact tourism and sustainable development can be applied,” Bansal said.

The idea, he added, is to create “low-carbon destinations” for travellers with clean technology and community participation.

Patanjali riding on Ramdev’s image, not products: Adi Godrej

MUMBAI: Patanjali is doing well by leveraging its founder Ramdev’s image and selling “simple products like ghee and honey”, but is still small in the value-added segment, Godrej Group Chairman Adi Godrej said today.

“They seem to be leveraging Baba Ramdev’s image in yoga and ayurveda quite well, but most of their sales are in simple products like ghee and honey. Their sales in value-added products are still relatively small,” Godrej said during an interactive session organised by industry lobby IMC here.

He said

Godrej Consumer Products

competes with Patanjali only in the toilet soap segment and the Uttarakhand-based company’s presence in that category is still relatively small.

There has been a lot of concern in the FMCG industry after Patanjali’s revenues crossed Rs 5,000 crore, on the back of an increased focus on health following the ban on Maggi noodles.

Some brokerages like IIFL have projected Rs 20,000 crore revenue for Patanjali by 2020, warning established FMCG players of stiff competition.

However, another brokerage

JM Financial

has opined that Patanjali’s brands are still an urban phenomenon among the low income groups and that it is yet to make its presence felt in the hinterlands, which still go with the established brands.

Meanwhile, Godrej also spoke out against the ban on diesel vehicles, saying we should instead work on technology to reduce pollution and arrest global warming.

“I feel we must pay a lot of attention to technology for containing climate change impacts. Improve technology, rather than just say ‘not doing this’ or ‘not doing that’,” he added.

Godrej further said that a lot of our problems are coming from climate change incidents like flash floods in the Himalayas and we need to use technology better for keeping it under check.

Godrej also pitched for a second term for Reserve Bank Governor Raghuram Rajan, saying “he has done a good job and is well respected globally and I do hope he will get a second term.”

The septuagenarian industrialist said GDP growth will touch the double-digits mark in 2017-18 on good monsoons, as projected for the next four years under the La Nina factor, and also once the much-delayed GST becomes a reality.

Hoping that the GST Bill is passed in the monsoon session of Parliament, Godrej said it will help increase growth by at least 2 percentage points.

Godrej said his group has a ’10×10′ target, wherein it is aspiring to grow revenues by 10 times every 10 years or at a compounded annual growth rate of 26 per cent.

He said acquisitions are key for achieving this target which reflects in the over dozen transactions done by the group internationally in the last five years.

While going in for an acquisition, the group has three preferences, including the geography the target company operates in (Asia, South America and Africa), and category (haircare, household insecticides or personal hygiene), he said.

Rather than focussing on the conventional profit after tax metric, the group looks at the EVA or economic value-added, which is arrived at after deducting cost of both debt and equity capital from net profit, he added.

He said the demand for realty, which is sagging at present, will also be boosted by the passage of the GST Bill. He also welcomed the draft development plan mooted by the city’s civic body for seeking to address the key concerns surrounding the FSI.

Flutter of joy in Delhi park as rare birds back

NEW DELHI: Scientists at Aravali Biopersity Park have recently documented the persity of avian species here, soon to be published in a birding journal. The list is long; it also has several species that are rarely seen in Delhi. Scientists claim that manmade forests in the park with their own micro-climates may have led to revival of these species. Some birders are pleasantly surprised with the list.

According to M Shah Hussain, scientist-in-charge at the park, the number of species has gone up from 60-70 in 2005 to 190 now. “There could be many reasons for this rise. One of them is that we have insects for insectivorous birds and lots of fruiting trees for frugivores. The park now has micro-habitats like grasslands, there is some moist vegetation in the depressions which earlier used to be mining pits and there are many native trees,” Hussain said. Before 2005, the area had almost a monoculture of Prospis juliflora (vilayati keekar), an invasive weed.

Park authorities claim that not just birds that had long disappeared from Delhi are being seen again, some belonging to other climate zones like moist deciduous forests have also been spotted here. Indian Pitta for instance, a bird usually found in Western Ghats and Himalayas was seen here recently. “Passage migrants” like red-throated flycatcher, orange-headed thrush, canary flycatcher, and some warblers migrate annually from the Himalayas in winters and white-eyed buzzard, common hawk cuckoo, pied-crested cuckoo, and blue-cheeked bee-eater visit the park in summers.

Among birds that have surprised birders and scientists at the park is the oriental pied hornbill that is usually seen in moist deciduous and evergreen forests of southeast Asia. “I don’t think the oriental pied hornbill has been seen in Delhi any time recently. If the park authorities have really spotted it, it’s surprising. I think it’s a lovely park and their list of sightings is impressive. But the park is not open to birders or general public. I think they should let in interested people. The fact that the park is secure and undisturbed by other urban pressures is great for the birds,” said author and birder Bikram Grewal.

Hussain said, “It’s not easy to open the park for public because we need certain infrastructure. We do get students regularly. We have also proposed guided nature trails so that people understand how the area has been revived.”

The list of birds is likely to be published in a couple of months.

Climate change may cause 26% habitat loss for snow trout in Himalayan rivers: Study

DHARAMSHALA: Snow trout, the iconic cold water fish species found in Himalayan rivers, would lose their habitat by 16 per cent in the next 30 years and by over 26 per cent by 2070, a new climate change study by the government’s Wildlife Institute of India has found.

The study — ‘Is There Always Space at The Top’– was published in the ‘Ecological Indicators’, a journal of high international repute based at the Netherlands, on September 6.

The study indicates that most of the lower altitude streams across the Himalayas would be rendered unsuitable for the existence of snow trout with the rise in temperatures.

An ensemble of 72 statistical models across the Himalayas, the study — authored by Wildlife Institute of India (WII) scientists Aashna Sharma, Vineet Kumar Dubey, Jeyaraj Antony Johnson, Yogesh Kumar Rawal and Kuppusamy Sivakumar – reveals the vulnerable snow trout would be squeezed into the high-altitude rivers in the Himalayas.

“Our empirical findings strongly suggest that snow trout, a prime cold water fish of Himalayan rivers, would suffer a habitat loss in the future and the high-altitude areas would act as only saviours, provided suitable habitat connectivity is offered,” senior scientist Kuppusamy Sivakumar told PTI.

The study says mountain systems across the globe are conspicuously sensitive to on-going climate alterations and the condition is much more detrimental in the Himalaya, where the rate of warming, and thus the glacier meltdown, is much higher than elsewhere.

“The Himalayan coldwater species are concerning most vulnerable to these changes because of their limited thermal range,” it says.

Funded by the Department of Science & Technology (DST), the study is a part of the government’s National Mission for Sustaining the Himalayan Ecosystem (NMSHE), which was launched to research the impact of climate change on the Himalayan ecosystem.

The study iterates that if the countries across the globe continue their greenhouse emissions as usual (mentioning it as the ‘business-as-usual scenario’), “the species (snow trout) would lose a net habitat of 16.29% till the year 2050 which would further increase to 26.56% in the year 2070.”

“As it stands, the snow trout faces serious threats due to river valley modifications, destructive fishing practices and exotic salmonid introductions,” it says.

“Due to ongoing threats, its population size has been reduced drastically in Himalayan waters, hence listed as vulnerable in the IUCN Red List,” it adds.

The fish species has great commercial and recreational value and its sole presence in the high-altitude cold waters makes it a flagship species to conserve the Himalayan rivers, the study underlines.

“Already exposed to numerous anthropogenic stressors, the fate of snow trout population and many co-occurring genera can be considered explicitly at a higher risk in the Himalaya,” it adds.

The also flagged the “rampant” damming of the rivers across the Himalayas, saying the presence of dams would definitely obstruct the fish mode of movements to safer havens, ultimately risking their very survival.

“Our results highlight that snow trout would expand their range upwards into the high-altitude streams with a concurrent predominant range contraction in most of their lagging edges, ultimately creating a high-altitude squeeze,” the study says.

The study recommends some solutions such as persuasive “conservation efforts beyond political boundaries by combined decisions of the policymakers of Himalayan countries”.

It also include reducing “unsustainable harnessing of rivers for hydropower development projects and energy efficiency by improving green energy potential”.

They also underscore a need to focus more on climate change science in India, more so in the Himalayas, which, the team says is “predicted to be warming at a rate much higher than the global average rate of about 0.4 °C”.

The team detailed that never has such an extensive and rigorous ensemble methodology been used to understand the climate change impacts on any freshwater species in India.

They said there was a dire need for inter-governmental policy measures — involving India, Nepal and Bhutan — to sustain the biopersity of these rivers.

Himachal to prepare baseline data of high altitude eco-system under SECURE

The ministry of environment, forests and climate change has sanctioned a project, Securing Livelihoods, Conservation, Sustainable Use and Restoration of High Range Himalayan Ecosystem (SECURE) which will be implemented primarily in the critically endangered big cat species, snow leopard’s territory across four states, Uttarakhand, Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pardesh and Sikkim in the country. This project also support conservation of snow leopard, its prey and a vast amount of biopersity. This will also contribute to sustainable livelihoods and community participation living in high altitude areas. Besides this, it will also promote sustainable land and forest management in the alpine pastures in high range Indian Himalayan ecosystems.

Dr Savita, principal chief conservator of forest (wildlife) of Himachal Pradesh told TOI, “Himachal has been tasked to work upon 11 research studies with regard to various components of this project. These components include improving the conservation of high range eco systems, addressing livelihood issues, creating mass awareness, capacity building, people’s involvement in the project and documentation and knowledge management. We are starting with preparing baseline data for high altitude eco-system which will also focus on livelihood of the communities in such terrain.”

Specific regions have been selected in the four states for better results for snow leopard conservation under SECURE. An area from Gangotri National Park to Govind National Park and Govind Wildlife Sanctuary has been selected for the project in Uttarakhand. Lahaul has been earmarked in Himachal Pardesh, Northern Sikkim for Sikkim and Changpang Plateau in Leh under the program. The implementing partners for the project are UNDP, ministry of environment and forest and climate change and the concerned four states.

Himachal has more than 100 snow leopards in pockets like Lahaul, Kilaung, Spiti and part of Kinnaur at the height of above 12000ft.

According to experts, the dependence of local communities on livestock where their cattle are grazing on grassland extensively has many ramifications. This is leaving little food for herbivores who in face of competition from livestock are outnumbered. So the big predators turn toward cattle and other livestock for prey, which increases the human wildlife conflict and hence the retaliatory killings happen.

Dr Savita said that strengthening alternative avenues of livelihood for local communities is emerging as a major challenge in the program. In this, the plans will be drawn out to propel the communities to take to eco-tourism, start homestays and enterprise based on non-timbre forest products such as cultivation of aromatic and medicinal plants.

According to sources, several related aspects will also be covered under this project. For instance, increase the protected areas to safeguard key biopersity areas and enhance connectivity between forests and biological corridors and future impact of climate change.

Himalayas warming faster, facing severe climate change impact: Study

NEW DELHI: A scientific study published on Wednesday revealed that the Himalayas, one of world’s richest biopersity zones, is warming faster than other parts of the globe.

The research, conducted by Boston-based University of Massachusetts and Bangalore-based


Trust for Research in Ecology and Environment (ATREE) points that the average mean temperature during a 25-year period (1982-2006) in the Himalayas has increased by 1.50 degree Celsius.

The researchers claimed that the rise in temperature in the Himalayas is three times greater than the increase in global average of temperature during the same period.

“Our study reaffirmed that the Himalayas are indeed experiencing rapid climate and associated changes in various eco-regions,” said Uttam Babu Shrestha, principal author of the paper.

He said local people have been noticing changes in the growing patterns of plants. “Our study confirms such changes.”

According to the study, the average start of the growing season seems to have advanced by around 5 days in the Himalayas in the 25-year period from 1982 to 2006.

“Much of the recent discussions on climate change in the Himalayas have been dominated by the extent of glacial melting. But changes in two most critical parameters of climate – temperature and precipitation – have not been yet fully analyzed,” said Kamaljit S Bawa, ATREE president and professor at University of Massachusetts, Boston.

According to the researchers, such rapid warming in the Himalayas will affect wildlife, biopersity and livelihood of Himalayan communities in the near future.

( Originally published on May 17, 2012 )

‘Environment degradation enhancing poverty in northeast’

SHILLONG: Environmental degradation is a major factor in perpetuating poverty, particularly among the rural poor in the bio-rich northeastern region of the country, experts have pointed out.

Experts on matters relating to the environment and ecology point out that environmental degradation has adverse effects on soil fertility, quality and quality of water, forests, wildlife and fisheries and makes air all the more impure.

“The dependence of rural poor, particularly the tribal societies, on natural resources is self-evident. Women, being directly involved in collecting items of food from nature, are more vulnerable to the adverse impacts of degradation of natural resources,” says a research scholar associated with studying the relationship between the environment and people in general.

In fact, of the two biopersity ‘hotspots’ in India, the Eastern Himalayas, comprising the northeast is in greater danger than the Western Ghats, experts have long cautioned.

“Northeast India is the bio-geographical gateway to India’s richest biopersity zone and is unique for its genetic resources. However, the rapid growth in population is creating a number of environmental problems because of uncontrolled urbanization, industrialization and massive intensification of agriculture and destruction of forests,” an environment observer underscores.

“Major environmental issues are degradation of forests, decline in forest cover and degradation of agricultural land, resource depletion (water, mineral, forest, sand, rocks etc), loss of biopersity and resilience in ecosystems thereby creating livelihood insecurity for the poor,” he says.

The official estimates say, the country’s population will increase to about 1.26 billion by the year 2016. The projected population indicates that India will be the first most populous country in the world followed by China in 2050.

Experts point out that India having 18 per cent of the world’s population and covering 2.4 per cent of the world’s total area is leaving a negative impact on its natural resources. Water shortage, soil exhaustion and erosion, deforestation, air and water pollution afflict many areas.

One of the primary causes of environmental degradation is attributed to rapid growth of population, which affects the environment and its natural resources. Experts say the existence or absence of favorable natural resources can facilitate or retard the process of socio-economic development. “Population growth and economic development are contributing to many serious environmental calamities, including deforestation, habitat destruction and loss of biopersity. Changing consumption pattern has led to rising demand for energy,” the experts emphasize.

The final outcomes of this are air pollution, global warming, climate change, water scarcity and rise in the level of toxicity of water. Forest cover is declining because of harvesting for fuel wood and the expansion of agricultural land. These trends, combined with increasing industrial and motor vehicle pollution output, have led to temperature increases, shifting precipitation patterns, and declining intervals of drought recurrence in many areas.

Civil conflicts involving natural resources – most notably forests and arable land – have occurred in eastern and northeastern states.

Research on population genetics and phylogenetics (study of evolutionary relation among groups of organisms) should be given priority and concerted efforts launched to protect the prime habitats of endemic and endangered primate species, the experts opine.

Hindu Kush Himalaya Assessment: ICIMOD report

Ten major rivers of Hindu Kush Himalaya are a lifeline for nearly 2 billion people in eight countries. But there are widespread variations in total volume and per capita water withdrawal, contribution of surface & groundwater to total withdrawals, and percentage of water withdrawals from total renewable freshwater resources, says Hindu Kush Himalaya Assessment, a new report by ICIMOD.

PM K P Sharma Oli claims Yoga originated in Nepal, not in India

Nepal‘s Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli has stoked yet another controversy by claiming that Yoga originated in his country, not in India, a view not shared by a leading expert here.

Speaking at a function organised to observe the International Yoga Day on June 21 at the Prime Minister’s residence in Baluwatar, Oli said that India was not even born as a separate country when Yoga originated in “this part of the world”.

“Yoga originated from this part of the globe. It originated from Uttarakhand, in particular, Nepal was the place of origin of Yoga,” he said.

Some 15,000 years ago, Shambhunath or


propounded the practices of Yoga. Later on, Maharshi Patanjali developed the philosophy of Yoga in a more refined and systematic manner, he said.

“Yoga doesn’t belong to any particular religion or religious sect,” Oli said.

“Shiva started the practice of Yoga on the longest day on the Earth, which lies on June 21 as per the Gregorian calendar. Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi proposed to observe International Yoga Day on the same day, for which we all should be pleased,” Oli said.

“In fact, Yoga originated from Uttarakhand and at that time Uttarakhand was not in present-day India,” he claimed.

“India was not even born as an independent country at that time,” he added.

“Not only Yoga but also Samkhya philosophy propounded by Kapil Muni originated from our land,” he added.

Samkhya is one of the six astika schools of the Indian philosophy. It forms the theoretical foundation of Yoga.

“Charak Rishi, who developed Ayurveda, was also born in this land,” pointed out Oli.

A leading Yoga expert of Nepal, Yogacharya G N Saraswati, however, said that Prime Minister Oli’s claim doesn’t represent the complete truth.

Yoga originated from the Himalayas in the Bharatvarsha, which includes India, Nepal, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tibet, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh etc, he pointed out.

Yoga originated from the Himalayas and developed by the Rishis, who lived and meditated in the Himalayas, Saraswoti observed.

“One should not speak about historical truths without proper study, just for the sake of popularity,” he pointed out.

Oli stirred up a controversy last year by claiming that Lord Rama was born in the Madi area, or Ayodhyapuri, in Nepal’s Chitwan district, and not in India’s Ayodhya.

He had also ordered the construction of massive temples of Lord Rama, Sita, Lakshmana and others there.

“Ayodhyapuri was in Nepal. Balmiki Ashram was also in Nepal near Ayodhyapuri. Sita died in Devghat which is in Nepal, close to Ayodhyapuri and Balmiki Ashram,” he had claimed.

Soon after Oli’s claim, the Nepal Foreign Ministry was forced to issue a statement saying the remarks of the Prime Minister were “not linked to any political subject” and had no intention at all to “hurt” the feeling and sentiment of anyone.

“As there have been several myths and references about Shri Ram and the places associated with him, the Prime Minister was simply highlighting the importance of further studies and research of the vast cultural geography the Ramayana represents to obtain facts about Shri Ram, Ramayana and the various places linked to this rich civilization,” the ministry had said.