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Himachal Watcher moves onto the next level, opens for advertisers, would pay the contributors

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Inspired from a huge response from the public, online readers and the regular request of our readers to continue and expand the range of what we have been doing, HW has been opened to advertisers.

The journey of Himachal Watcher began on Facebook about 2 years ago, and now it has an official domain, which is expanding day by day. A bunch of youngsters took the initiative to use the Internet as a platform to raise the public voice and their grievances, since then, many others joined us, some of which are now regular members of HW. HW did not just publish news; rather it went one-step ahead by submitting complaints and tracing the progress made to resolve the grievances by concerned government departments.

Most of the time, HW requires writing multiple times regarding same grievances repeatedly, but we do not hesitate, neither do we forget the issues we raised, as most of the public does. Not only the government, but any miscreant, regardless to his/her position and influence, has equally faced our criticism and complaints. The political parties and individual personalities have never been our concern. Our concern has always been the government, no matter who holds the power.

HW intended to provide the readers the technological advantages associated with Internet and let everyone being able to participate in a two-way communication like discussion through comments on a story. You can’t watch video in a newspaper, can’t talk to it or to the TV Channels. Media nowadays is just a one-way communication, full of vicarious content and mostly broadcasting what is popular instead of what is relevant.

We succeeded in perusing the lousy Himachal government departments to take action in some, but most of them are still pending. Now, HW is planning to move to next level by using the Judiciary to making these deaf departments hear the public grievances. RTI’s and PILs sound good enough for a beginning.

However, most of all, we would like to appreciate and thank the members and other contributors who contributed in our quest, sometimes by sending us complaints, images, video and articles regarding various issues in Himachal. As a matter of fact, there are only a few, who would find some time to write an article on a issue and mail to someone who would help in resolving it, and especially, when there is no monetary benefit involved. HW worked as a non-profit body from the very beginning to till date. We were not alone in this quest, there were others, who volunteered to contribute.

Why Open HW for Advertisers?

Now we realized that the members, who have been contributing regularly and wish to continue the journey with HW, should be given an opportunity to earn from it. We also realized that HW could also prove useful to those who are seeking freelance journalism. It would be stupid to keep the public devoid of the boon of Internet. Moreover, our regular readers regularly ask us to expand HW and make it more informative.

We feel that in order to continue HW, to maintain and expand the website, expenditures are inevitable. With the increasing number of readers, HW would need to pay for a better server and more space. The expanding would include expenditures on web design and web developing services. We dream to make HW a standard online regional publication, and that won’t be possible without funds.Therefore, we are going to make it commercial by opening it to the advertiser, both, local and global. We wish that our dedicated members along with other contributors would be getting honorarium for their contribution soon.

More than that, we expect that HW would expand its reach, influence, and credibility as a quality platform for the fee flow of information. HW won’t compromise with its main motto- to raise the public grievances. We hope, our readers would welcome our decision of opening HW for the advertisers, and, as always, HW seeks your valuable comments and feedback on it.

Himachal Watcher invites local advertisers

Himachal Watcher invites the local advertisers to utilize the advantages of Online Marketing, extend their reach to the consumers, and to keep up with the technologically advance business world, which is rapidly shifting to online. Himachal Watcher’s reader base is mostly regional and receives a good number of unique visitors daily from various parts of Himachal, and, we guess, it’s a sound & sufficient reason why the local advertiser from Himachal should go online.

Campus Watch

Want to Participate in Sports Tournament? Pay Rs 3700: Shimla’s Private School to Students

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Auckland School Shimla making student to pay for sports tournament

Shimla-The Auckland House School, Shimla, had charged Rs. 4200 per student for a three-day picnic tour to Sadhupul organized about 10 days ago. Now, for a sports tournament in Palampur of Kangra district, the school is asking the students representing it to pay Rs 3700. It sounds absolutely absurd that instead of taking responsibility for the expenditure of the students representing it in the sports tournament, the school is asking students to pay a heavy fee for it. The school is already charging hefty annual fees from the students, but still asking for more. This is nothing more than a new way to extort money from parents. All of these allegations were labelled by the Student-Parent Association on Wednesday.

The school, however, defended itself by saying that participation in these events is not mandatory and parents are not forced in any way. Only those students who opt to participate would have to pay the said fees.

As per the parents, a sports tournament of missionary schools is being organized under the banner of Diocese of Amritsar from June 13 to 16 in Palampur. However, instead of incurring the expenditure for sending students to participate in it, the school is charging Rs 3700 from the students.

The parents alleged that to pressurize the parents, the school sends consent letters to parents just a couple of days before these events. The students are exposed to mental pressure and parents are compelled to sign these consent letters at the last moment. The other private institutions are also following the same pattern.

The parents alleged that the school is not refraining from looting students despite notifications and guidelines issued by the Directorate of Higher Education respectively on March 18, April 8, and May 4. The Association has demanded that the Director of Higher Education should take appropriate action to check this unjustified action of charging hefty amounts on the names of various events.

It’s pertinent to mention that the Association has been staging protests for the last four months against hefty, unjustified fees. They have been alleging that these schools have taken a form of mafia and has turned education into a purely profit-making business. Their protests had compelled the Directorate to issue guidelines to private schools to cut unjustified charges from fees. The Directorate had also ordered an inspection of all private schools running in all districts of the state. It was assured that necessary action would be taken after the completion of the inspection. However, no action was taken following the inspections. The Association had even alleged that schools didn’t even cooperate in inspection and did not provide details they were asked to submit by the Directorate. Moreover, the Directorate did not make findings of the inspection report public.

Some parents had also alleged that their children were made to go through mental harassment by school teachers. The children of those parents who were participating or supporting the protest were targeted individually, made to stand in class, and embarrassed.

However, the government did not intervene in any manner and let the schools enjoy all the liberties they wanted to.

The parents have again demanded that the government should form a regulatory body to check the financial exploitation of the parents by private schools. The Association has warned the government of more fierce protests in case it fails to meet the demands.

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Environment

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

 

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Old Age Homes, Facilities for Elderly in Himachal Exist Only On Papers Despite Huge Grant-in-Aid From Centre

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Details of Old Age homes in Himachal PRadesh

Shimla-Himachal Pradesh ranks fourth in terms of the highest population of elderly and senior citizens in the country, say United Nations Population Fund (India) and the Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment, India. However, the current and previous state governments have neglected the mandate to deliver services of old age homes and other ancillary facilities. There is no dearth of schemes for elderly and financial grants from the Centre government, but still, the state governments never undertook proper studies of the census to assess the population of the elderly and their needs.  Despite having such a large population of elderly, the state has only one government old age home, which was constructed recently in Shimla. These revelations were made in a petition filed in the State High Court by Advocate Vandana Misra.

After hearing the petition, the State High Court has directed the state government to furnish the details of all the Government run or private old age homes as well as the information, in a tabulated form, of all the cases filed by the senior citizens before the Deputy Commissioners seeking one or the other relief under the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007. The case is listed for June 11, 2019. 

As per the 2011 census, Himachal has a population of seven lakh who are aged 60 years and above – 10.2% of the state’s total population. This percentage is higher than the national average of 8.6%.

The highest elderly population in the state was mapped in Hamirpur district at 12.8%, followed by Bilaspur at 11.09%, Kangra at 11.7%, and Una at 11.5%. Solan and Sirmaur have the lowest population of elderly persons at 8%.

 According to the information furnished in the petition, between 1991 and 2011, the overall population in the state increased by 37%. The population of senior citizens aged 60 plus increased by a huge margin of 67% and the elderly population of the 80 plus age group increased by a whopping percentage of 87%. This makes the elderly population in the state as the fastest growing age segment as compared to other age groups.

In the petition, the petitioner pointed out that the state government has not undertaken a proper study of the various reports with regard to the census carried out by the Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment in June 2016, as well as the study conducted by the UNFP in 2011. Due to these lacunae, they have failed to establish the requisite and proportional number of old age homes where they are most needed in terms of population demographics distributions across various districts. The districts of Hamirpur, Kangra, and Una desperately need old age homes, day care centres, elderly care centres, and physiotherapy units.

Despite a huge amount of grant-in-aid for running and maintenance of old age homes and formulation of schemes, the state government has not done much to establish an adequate number of old age homes and other senior citizen associations, the petitioner said.

There is only one old age home in district Shimla, which was recently set up at Basantpur under the Social Welfare Board, whereas two private senior citizen old age homes have been set up in District Mandi and one in Sirmaur.

As per the petition, the Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment in the Centre has formulated the Integrated Programme for Older Persons (IPOP) in 1992. The IPOP scheme of the Central Government provides for the following measures:

  1. Maintenance of old age homes
  2. Maintenance of Respite Care Homes,
  3. Running of Multi Service Centres for Older Persons
  4. Mobile Medicare Unit
  5. Day Care Centre for the care of old persons with Dementia
  6. Multi Faculty Care Centre for older windows
  7. Physiotherapy Clinics
  8. Regional Resources and Training Centers
  9. Helplines and Counseling for Older Persons
  10. Programs for Sensitization of Schools/College students
  11. Awareness projects for older persons
  12. volunteers bureau for older persons
  13. Formation of Vridha Sanghas/Senior Citizens Associations/Self Help Groups.

Based on the IPOP Scheme of the Centre government, the State Department of Social Justice & Empowerment, Himachal Pradesh, also formulated a similar scheme called Integrated Scheme for Older Persons in 2012. The objectives of the scheme were to improve the quality of life and maintain the dignity of older persons by providing basic amenities of life like shelter, food, medical care, entertainment opportunities and encouraging productive & active ageing through NGOs.

However, despite provisions of revised cost norms of financial assistance to existing projects and the addition of several innovative projects such as running of multi-service centre, mobile medicine units, day care centers for persons with dementia, multi-facility care centers for the old, formation of senior citizen associations etc., not much initiative has been shown by the state government to bring fruition to these innovative facilities.

These measures and facilities are existing only on papers and for which grant in aid has been liberally sanctioned by the Centre government. The state government is neglecting to deliver these facilities to the senior citizens of the state for whom these policies were made in the first place, the petition said.  

The petitioner has requested the court to take cognizance of the fact that an adequate number of old age homes and other ancillary services as outlined above have not been provided by the state government, which has only established one old age home under it in Shimla district.

Petitioner requested the court that HP Government and its concerned departments should be directed to:

  1. To set up an adequate number of old age homes, day care centres, helplines and counseling numbers in the state and more particularly taking into consideration the district of Hamirpur, Bilaspur, Kangra and Una, which has the highest proportion of senior citizens.
  2. To provide for services such as multi-services centre for older persons, mobile Medicare units, multi-facility care centres for older windows, the formation of senior citien associations/self help groups as has been mandated by the IPOP scheme.
  3. To provide proper and adequate facilities for food, shelter, clothing etc. in consonance with the parameters prescribed by the ISOP for effective running and maintenance of old age homes and day care centres.
  4. To disseminate information to the public by means of paper publications, flyers, radio, television advertisements to publicize the existence of old age benefit schemes as well as the existence of old age homes so that the senior citizen population is made aware of the existing old age homes of which they can avail services.
  5. To identify and collaborate with NGOs who might be interested and have expertise in establishing and collaborating with the state in the maintenance of old age homes, day care centres and other ancillary services.
  6. To carry out a comprehensive audit of the number and condition of Old Age homes being run by the state as well as private NGOs in the state and submit a report before the court.
  1. Any other activity, which is considered suitable to meet the objective of the scheme

Here it’s pertinent to mention that it’s a matter of paramount importance. Due to varying socio-economic situations, several senior citizens are left with no choice but live in old age homes.

The Petitioner filed a writ petition for infringement of fundamental rights under the Article 21, 41, and 46 of the Constitution of India, which extends provisions of welfare measures to weaker sections of society including senior citizens, who are entitled to a decent and dignified life, shelter, food and all other basic amenities.

Under this Article, it becomes the duty of the state to act as the guardian or parent of such persons under the mandate of “Loco Parentis’. The state is bound to provide for old age homes etc.

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