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Horrifying inside reality of Shimla MC’s Dog Shelter

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stray-dogs-shimla-bagh-village

Carcass of a dog in a pit inside the shelter

Evidences of the scary reality and cruel treatment which the impounded stray dogs go through, just to make the city more convenient for humans

All those, who keep a faith that stray dogs in Shimla are nothing more than a menace and, therefore, should be removed from city streets, must go through some facts about the scary treatment, which the impounded dogs receive at the dog shelter, violating every law pertaining to animal welfare. We thought, we should help the busy public of Shimla to get some evidences of it. A report (with images), which a local animal activists and the president of SPCA, prepared after consistently tracing a municipal dog shelter in Shimla and shared with HW, puts the findings as followed:

Way back on 21st October 2011 the dog shelter in Bagh (near the Barrier), run by the M.C. had over 50 dogs, huddled up in 2 enclosures while 8 others were lying completely empty. Those dogs had been impounded there recently hence, they were relatively healthy despite being underfed, neglected and overcrowded.

neglected and overcrowded.

On a subsequent visit on the 3rd of March 2012 there were only 16 dogs left, huddled up in one enclosure, all of whom were not only inflicted with mange/scabies but also seemed starved.

They seemed deprived of any food, medical treatment, living space, and had no protection from extreme weather conditions, which is not in compliance with the Prevention of Cruelty Against Animals Act .

The sanitary condition of the shelter was extremely appalling. Another dog’s carcass was in a garbage dumper right outside the shelter apart from the one inside the shed in an enclosure. These dog carcasses have been disposed off by the shelter staff in the garbage dumpers outside the shelter, which is not only against the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act but can also pose a health hazard to the people living nearby.

A-dogs-carcass-in-a-garbage-dumper-right-outside-the-shelter

A dog’s carcass in a garbage dumper right outside the shelter

dog-in-a-garbage-dumper-right-outside-the-shelter

Who is responsible?

• There is staff deployed for the welfare of these animals , which is invariably found missing from the shelter. The Municipal authorities say that they had advertised inviting N.G.Os to take over the functioning of the shelter but nobody responded , which is not a valid reason or excuse for the negligence and pain the captured dogs were being subjected to.

• Out of well over 50 dogs that were impounded only 16 were found alive in March, out of which only 8 could be saved, that too only because a Shelter from Kasauli took them in. As if this was not enough, on 7th of March, 2012 more dogs had been brought to be kept in the pound, 4 out of whom were suffering from scabies and were being allowed to mingle with other dogs .No attempt had been made at segregating the diseased dogs or keeping them in a separate enclosure. Another relevant detail here is that dogs had been caught under the Animal Birth Control program and had been operated upon in the M.C.’s ABC-AR center before being shifted to the impound, which is against the guidelines of the program, which clearly state that all the dogs should be released where they had been picked up from, after their recovery. Here, not even 16 dogs were kept properly, 5000 is out of question.

• Though substantial amount of public money has been spent in the construction of the pound, the structure seems very illogical; except for one enclosure all others have an obnoxious slope, which has resulted in injury and even death of dogs in the past, specially the younger ones, few of which have even died after falling off the slopes and never being able to climb up. It also poses mortal threat to the staff working therein.

• The steps had broken edges even before the structure had been handed over by the contractor (dogs had been kept there even before construction work was complete, with no proper sanitation arrangements). Moreover, the facility also lacks any accommodation for the staff, where they can sit during duty hours and in future can be used by a night watchman. This has probably been the reason for remarkable absence of the staff even during duty hours when the “pound” was functional.

MC Shimla’s impractical approach and wastage of funds

Recently, we have been reading in the newspapers that Shimla has to be made Stray Dog Free. Well, What exactly is meant by this phrase?

Going by the newspapers reports, Shimla has approximately 5000 dogs on its streets. However, M.C Shimla has a dog shelter at Bagh, near the old barrier with a capacity of housing only 500 dogs .That’s just 10% of the total dog population, that too only the healthy and friendly ones that are easily caught by the dog catchers, and the recent developments in the matter of stray dogs would eventually result in overcrowding of the shelter, if impounding is a measure to reach the objective.

The M.C. had invited tenders for the upkeep of the pound. The minimum bidder requests for Rs. 40/dog/day in addition to fixed expenses etc. At this rate Rs.73, 00,000 will be spent only on feeding 500 dogs, who could fend for themselves for free if they are not impounded, not to mention other expenses like medicines and salaries of the staff that will further escalate the cost. For the entire stray dog population it becomes Rs.7,30,00,000, that too only for feeding; construction of more “pounds”, staff salaries and maintenance etc apart. The M.C. clearly does not have that kind of money and their existing funds could be used in much more important causes.

Suggestion-for-stray-dogs

The Animal Welfare Board of India’s guidelines for undertaking ABC-AR should be strictly adhered to, right from the dog catching to their release, right from the vehicle required to the kind of food, water and shelter they are to be given.

Public’s part and responsibility in exposing these innocent animals to hell like treatment

People lodge complaints of “dog menace” for things as little as a dog sitting peacefully in their neighborhood. Complaints made on the basis of disease of an animal, signs of aggressive behavior or dog bite should be immediately attended to but not illogical ones made even if a dog happens to bark- this is not only inhuman and illogical but will eventually take a huge financial toll on the M.C. for taking care of these dogs; or alternatively, if things go as they did in the past, then on these poor animals that have to literally rot to death.

stray-dogs-bagh-village

This way not only will the M.C. avoid suffering a financial crunch, the public grievances regarding dog bites will be adequately addressed; As only the aggressive or sick dogs will be kept in the dog pound- no longer a threat to the people but also so many innocent and friendly dogs will be saved from facing the horrific fate as evident in the pictures. Children in schools should be sensitized in this regard not only by their parents but also through programs organized by the M.C. telling them not to approach any animal of whose disposition they are not aware of. Even, a survey conducted by the W.H.O. also states that Animal Birth Control-Anti Rabies (ABC-AR) is the best long term method to control their population, not to mention that it is most logical and humane too.

The public should also mind its responsibility in asking for such a scary fate for these innocent animals. The public and media force the authorities to move the dogs, cull them or do whatever with them, but just remove them, so that the place could become more convenient for us. However, these animals also have rights, they are as much alive as any of us, and they claim the earth no less than the human race. They can feel the pain, but they can’t speak, therefore, be their voice and please keep the following points in mind whenever you hear of stray dogs as menace:

DOG-IS-MANS-BEST-FRIEND

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Cracks on Shimla Ridge: Patchwork is Admin’s Solution to Looming Danger

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Fresh cracks on shimla ridge 2

Shimla-Cracks on the historic Shimla Ridge Maidan appeared again this monsoon. The Shimla Municipal Corporation, as usual, has filled these fresh cracks with cement and charcoal, which is no solution to this critical issue. The Northern slope of the Maidan had sunk at least thrice during the last four years. In 2010, the sinking of this portion had wiped out the entire Tibetan market located on this slope.

This time, as confirmed by the Shimla Municipal Corporation, the soil has indeed moved downward from the Ridge by at least two to three feet. Every time cracks appear a temporary job is done to cover them instead of coming up with a permanent, concrete plan.

Fresh cracks on shimla ridge

Heritage properties, which are also tourist attractions, like Gaiety Theatre, Christ Church – a neogothic structure built in 1857-and a Tudorbethan style library and statues of some prominent personalities are located on the Ridge Maidan. A huge underground water tank is also located at the Maidan. This place has become a part of the Shimla city’s identity. The daily footfall of tourists during peak seasons ranges between 4000 to 5000 thousand. On special occasions, this number could double or even triple.

However, the appearance of cracks is a routine matter in the eyes of the administration. The most common explanation given by the administration and the SMC is that the Northern slope is built on muck that was dumped when the Maidan was built by British. The state’s chief architect NK Negi has termed sinking of this slope during monsoon as a common phenomenon.  

As a matter of fact, now, illegal felling of trees and unplanned construction on this slope has burdened it beyond its capacity. Water seepage is one of the main causes that this slope is sinking.

The slumber of the administration could invite a disaster that would not only damage the heritage properties but also kill people as the Maidan remains crowded most the time. 

In 2012, the SMC had conducted a survey and found that there were cracks of about 4-12 m widths on the Maidan. Moreover, about 3 feet surcharge load of concrete laid out on the Maidan in the successive decades has made this Maidan more vulnerable in its load-bearing capacity. 

The SMC had told the government to stop using the Maidan for large public gatherings like oath-taking ceremonies or political programs. However, these trends continued unabated.

Other than that, the Maidan is used for the celebration of Independence Day, Republic Day, and Statehood Day.

Later, during its cleaning in February 2018, it was found that underground tank had also developed cracks. Following it, in August 2018, fresh cracks were again spotted in this zone.

At that the SMC had told media that experts from IIT Roorkee and SJVNL would be roped in to find the best possible way to save the Ridge from sinking.

However, nothing was done since then. Even the proposal laid out by previous SMC to create a green belt on this slope and build a shopping complex to prevent caving in of this part of the Maidan is biting the dust.

Instead, the Chief Minister Jairam Thakur has announced that a statue of late Atal Bihari Vajpayee, former PM, would be installed on the Maidan nearby this sinking zone.

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Apple Industry in Himachal Facing a Headwind From an Unlikely Facet

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Apple Season Traffic in Shimla 3

Shimla-Amidst manifest slowdown in the economy, 1.30 lakhs apple growers in Himachal Pradesh are facing a headwind. The problem these apple growers are confronting with may have more to do with town and country planning, rather than esoteric economics principles or concepts.

As the apple season picked up momentum in Shimla district-a major apple belt- the vehicles carrying the produce to the mandis are facing a gridlock. The 55 Km road stretch from Narkanda to Bhatakkafur has become a focal point; last week the stretch encountered a terrible traffic jam and it took 5-6 hours to commute this stretch. This has kept the apple growers on a tenterhook as the traffic jam has precluded their apple produce to reach the fruit mandi in time.

Apple Season Traffic in Shimla 2

More importantly, the more frequent such inordinate delay, the lesser chances that their produce will fetch handsome returns. The predicament has left these growers disgruntled with the administration for want of better traffic management.

This prompted the administration to swing into action with a slew of measures: the vehicles having a token will only be allowed to enter Bhattakufer mandi, such tokens will be made available at Charabra and Koti; a complete  ban on the parking of vehicles along the roadside from Hassan Valley to Bhattakufar and  on Shoghi Taradevi road; the vehicles after unloading the apples at Bhattakufar mandi will have to commute back via Mashobra-Bekhalti road.

Albeit, it’s unlikely these steps will solve the fundamental issues responsible for their woes: the absence of a market yard to cater to the present demand, and relentless increase in the unplanned shops of fruit agents on the roadside.

The decades old fruit mandi at Bhattakufar has failed to withstand the present-day demand as its infrastructure has outlived its utility. 

For long, apple growers associations have been demanding a new commodious market yard equipped with ultra-modern facilities; but it never came. Had the market yard come, it would have not only decongested the traffic on the Hindustan Tibet Road but, also would have catered to the present-day requirements. The apple industry has seen radical changes over the last decade: it’s now technology-driven that brings produce to the market in a glut, creating a bottleneck in the market. 

Seizing this opportunity, a legion of fruit merchant has mushroomed along the Hindustan Tibet Road over the past decade. Initially, much to the delight of apple growers as apple market became competitive fetching growers better return for their products than ever.  But now, these shops have become a bane of commuter and hurting everyone.  

Apple Season Traffic in Shimla

Most of these shops are housed either in the temporary structures or in under-construction buildings. Moreover, these shops are without ample parking space, therefore, loading and unloading are done on the roadside creating congestion on the road and ultimately leading to traffic jams. Also, the situation has transformed into an unnerving concern of road safety.

Apple Season Traffic in Shimla 4

Just travel beyond Theog towards Narkanda, you will find an illustration portraying what chaos such fruit shops have created. Simply, a deracination of Town and Country planning concepts. This haphazard proliferation of fruit shops along the roadside must be stopped, and such construction should be brought under the ambit of the law.

Now with the change of guard in the state, and new government going big and aggressive on attracting private investments. A clamour for a fruit market yard with ultra-modern amenities is apt and congruous with present-day requirements. Going forward, all we need to ensure is that clamour is loud enough and reach the ears that matter. 

Meanwhile, we must keep waiting as it’s unlikely the traffic jams on the Narkanda-Bhatakuffar stretch on Hindustan Tibet Road will go any sooner. And best of worst may be yet to come. Who knows!

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The Curse of NGT Judgment – Undoing of Urban Planning

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Impact of NGT Orders on Shimla City's Development

Shimla– An old ‘common law’ proverb from the British era says “A man’s house is his castle, et domus sua cuique est tutissimum refugium [and each man’s home is his safest refuge]”. This principle, which needs to be strengthened in a free country, is sadly in shambles and perhaps held more truth in the colonial times than it holds now. The level of insecurity a man has with respect to the ownership or for making improvements in his living space/house or building is increasing day by day because of unreasoned judgments of Courts or illogical executive dictates.

In these series of articles (1,2 & 3), the impact of various laws and judgments which have essentially worked for depriving the common citizens in State of H.P, of their ‘Right to Property” will be critically examined.

This article is aimed at academically discussing and pointing out the perversitie and manifest errors in the ‘NGT Judgement’ which was passed on November 16, 2017. The judgment banned all construction activities in the green and core areas and also within 3 meters from national highways. It also restricted the number of stories to two-and-a-half in other areas where construction was permitted to up to 4 to 5 stories.

THE UNHEARD VICTIMS

The Order adversely affects many different categories of people. For instance, a person who has a sanctioned plan in accordance with TCP Law/By-Laws/Rules, who had saved his ‘life savings’ for the construction of his house, is now stuck in limbo, having done nothing wrong. If a man had the approval and sanctioned plan of  ‘four and a half story’ building, which was permitted under TCP law, he is now told that he cannot construct the house in accordance with that initial sanction.

Another man who has his sole plot/property in the core area is prevented from doing anything with it, though he may have buildings on either side of his plot. The significance of the initial sanction and the mandate of the Town and Country Planning Act is bypassed by the Hon’ble Tribunal which is not even competent to decide the matter under such Laws (TCP Act/ MC Act). To add insult to injury, such persons are not even heard or paid compensation before they are so monumentally impacted by the decision.

The Constitution makers bestowed right on every citizen of the country to acquire, hold and dispose of property and  also provided ample safeguards against deprivation of the property by confining such deprivation only on payment of compensation to the expropriated owner. As such, the judgment is against the spirit of Article 300-A of the Indian Constitution.

IMPACTING DEVELOPMENT BY ABSURD AND BLANKET DIRECTION

1. Around 52 ‘Shimla Smart City Projects’, which aim at improving the infrastructural base of the city, are directly impacted by this judgment and are stalled. Such a wide impact of this blanket direction neither can be conceived nor can be expected to be implemented if the city has to grow. Further, such powers were never envisaged under the NGT Act which creates the Hon’ble Tribunal.

2. Another blanket and absurd direction is where the judgment prohibits new construction of any kind, i.e. residential, institutional and commercial in any part of the core area as defined under the various notifications issued under the Interim Development Plan as well by the State Government.

According to the standing laws of the State, the reconstruction in the green areas is permissible on old lines and construction in the core area with the permission of the State Government is also permissible, as per the existing laws (Notification/Statutes). If someone’s house is falling or has become structurally unsafe he should obviously be allowed to reconstruct on old lines, but this is also prevented as a consequence of these directions.    The tribunal has not quashed the relevant notifications which deal with this issue and has said something completely contrary to the existing laws. Now the situation is that we have two sets of laws, which are completely opposite to each other. The Tribunal doesn’t have the power to quash these laws nor interpret them.

3. The most Absurd direction is where the judgment says that beyond core, green and the areas falling within the authorities of the Shimla Planning Area, the constructions may be permitted strictly but not beyond two stories plus attic floor.

According to the law of the land, the construction in the core areas is being regulated by the provisions of the Interim Development Plan for Shimla as amended vide notification dated  28th June’ 2016, which clearly provides that the construction in the core area of Shimla is not story-based but is based upon the  maximum floor area ratio and maximum height of the building which is 1.50 to 1.75 & 21 meters respectively. Similarly, in the non-core areas of Shimla, the maximum floor area ratio is 1.75 & the maximum height of the building is 21 meters. Since the provisions of the Interim Development Plan for Shimla are still in operation, the same are now in conflict with the directions imparted by the Hon’ble Tribunal.

Traumatizing & Patent Illegality of the Judgement

There are numerous errors in the said judgment of the Hon’ble Tribunal, some are legal errors and others are factual errors. The judgment not only enters into a field which is outside its purview, but it also gives a shortsighted vision of its own in the matters of planning and development without comprehending the complexity of the factual problems which exists on the ground.

Though there are many flaws in the judgment, in this first article of the series, some of them have been enumerated as follows:

Firstly, the judgment dated 16.11.2017 has been passed in violation of the principles of natural justice and without giving an opportunity of being heard to those persons who stand adversely affected. The principles of natural justice concern procedural fairness and ensure a fair decision is reached by an objective decision-maker. Maintaining procedural fairness protects the rights of individuals and enhances public confidence in the process. Right of being heard is a right given to those parties who will be adversely affected by the decision. This right is a backbone for a ‘Fair Trial’. Such an important aspect of the judicial proceeding is missing in this case. Numerous persons whose property rights have been taken away have not been heard until now. The judgment should fall on this ground alone.

Secondly, the Tribunal is not even competent, or in other words, has the necessary jurisdiction to hear or decide matters relating to TCP Act or Municipal Corporation Act. The Tribunal is specifically established for matters which relate to ‘Environment’ and laws/Acts which deal with the protection of the same for e.g Environment Protection Act, Water Act, Air Act, etc. The tribunal certainly cannot br expected to interpret TCP Act and MC Act or bypass the mandate of Article 300 A and deprive persons of their houses or stop future government projects which are necessary for effectively implementing State policies.

Thirdly A peculiar problem which has arisen right now is that ‘Town and Country Planning Act’ provisions are not struck down and NGT judgment, which is saying something completely opposite, also stands. It is a rule of thumb that when the Courts have to disagree with a statuary provision for being unconstitutional etc., they will either quash it or read it down. NGT has done none of it, nor it could have done anything in this respect since these two acts are outside its jurisdiction. These acts fall within the jurisdiction of the Hon’ble High Court or the Hon’ble Apex Court.

When the law of the land has not been quashed or struck down, it obviously means that it is still the law of the land and has to be implemented. The judgment seems to be more on the lines of guidelines rather being a dictate or laying down an authoritative pronouncement.

Another fundamental flaw in the judgment is that the Tribunal has traveled way beyond the petition/application and what was prayed by the Applicant who approached it. The Courts, as a rule of practice, are limited to the pleadings which are filed before it, in this case, the Hon’ble Tribunal has gone far beyond the petition which it was deciding. The phrase ‘knight roaming in a shining armor’ is apt for this judgment. Here, the Court has set out to make right all the problems and evils of the State and has done future planning both for urban and rural areas and for the lakhs of inhabitants of such areas.

An important principle which has been forgotten in these blanket directions is ‘Actus curiae neminem gravabit’. The act of the Court shall prejudice no man. (Cumber v. Wane, i Sm. L. C. i ith ed. p. 338.)’.  The number of people who have been condemned unheard is astoundingly large. The livelihood of thousands is at stake, the development of the urban and rural areas of the State is at stake. These people are not criminals, these development plans are not out of the ordinary rather are a necessity for a growing city. The development plans have rightly been drawn by the competent authority under a well-established law. If the law is ‘common sense’ then this sense demands that these directions need a relook. If a law makes lakhs of people in the State as law breakers than there is something wrong with the law itself.

Right to Shelter, Challenges of Providing Housing to the Growing Population

It must be remembered that if everyone is compelled to make two and a half stories or not construct on vacant plots, it would lead to scarcity of housing or it would lead to cutting down of more trees as more land/surface area would be required to construct such houses. To sustain the growing population 4 to 5 storied buildings which if found structurally safe and not impacting the environment were perfectly reasonable and rightly allowed by the TCP/MC laws.

Right to shelter is a fundamental right and right of people to move from rural to urban areas is also a basic right. Both these rights stand defeated if these directions are not quashed. Housing will just become more and more expensive and out of the reach of poor and middle-class families. Old structures won’t be reconstructed, no new constructions will be raised, and no new Government projects can come up. The view of main Shimla town apart from Mall Road, which looks like a ghetto, will always remain like a ghetto.

In case of an earthquake, the chances of survival of the ‘High Court building’ (7 stories) and the ‘Cecil Hotel’ building (9 stories) are way more than the two-storied buildings of  Shimla’s lower bazaar /middle bazaar.  The point is that Morden technology and latest techniques of construction allow us to provide structurally safer buildings than what we had in the past. Further, they can also sustain more population in less surface area of land and fulfill a huge public purpose by doing so. The height of buildings as provided in municipal and TCP laws in accordance with floor to height ratio were reasonably arrived at by the competent authority. The Courts certainly are not equipped nor are expected to venture into this area which is outside their powers and tell us ‘how many stories can be built’, it is certainly the domain of the executive as they have experts with them and also have a better grasp of the ground reality (At least in theory).

The cost of such broad-ranging directions and ideas is very high – particularly on Shimla Town and its housing, making the cost of living and doing business costly and hurting the local enterprises, and thereby, shifting the planned outcomes into a different direction with respect to economic opportunities. The focus of the planning approach has to shift from ‘development restricting’ approach toward ‘development enabling’ approach and it requires finalization of the Developmental plan for the city. It is extremely surprising that Shimla City does not have a final development plan in place to date (this will be discussed elaborately in future articles).

There are numerous other directions and issues relating to the final development plan and some arbitrary TCP Rules such an “non inhabitable attics, no single window clearances and the power of the babus to extort money in passing of plans etc  which will be critically examined in the next article.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the Himachal Watcher.

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