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Why India is the worst nation in terms of flouting labour laws

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A labourer painting the roof of a multi story Govt. building in Shimla, Himachal Pradesh without any safety provision like belts, harnesses, nets, fall arresters, life lines, safety hooks, or any similar equipment of a type that will effectively protect persons against fall and will effectively prevent slipping. It’s a routine scene in India. Most of the labourers are over-exploited by their contractors and labour laws are flouted openly, everyday.

However, Indian constitution provides guidelines for the safety of the labourers working under any contractor under The Factories Act, 1948

Section 32 C of the Act says:

When any person has to work at a height from where he is likely to fall, provision shall be made, so far as is reasonably practicable, by fencing or otherwise, to ensure the safety of the person so working.

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Academic Merit of “Doctors” Must Reckon Services Rendered for ‘Common Good’

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Bihar Patana High Court Judgment on Academic merit of doctors

Shimla-For securing  ‘Right to Health’ and medical facilities by ensuring an adequate number of doctors in the rural areas, an important order has been passed by the ‘Patna High Court’ in the current situation of a Pandemic. The Order is in line with judiciary’s endeavour to fulfil its obligation towards securing social justice for the poor and especially for the people living in rural parts of our country.

The Court has essentially said that to determine the academic merit of (Doctors) candidates, merely securing high marks in NEET is not enough. The academic merit of the candidate must also reckon the “services rendered for the common or public good.” Having served in rural and difficult areas of the State for one year or above, the incumbent having sacrificed his career by rendering services for providing healthcare facilities in rural areas deserves incentive marks.

A Division Bench comprising of Chief Justice Sanjay Karol ordered,

“The Chief Secretary, Government of Bihar shall, with the normalization of the of the current Pandemic COVID-19, ensure that vacancies in the rural/ remote/ difficult areas are filled up to the maximum extent possible, either by transfer or expediting the process of recruitment.”

The court took notice of the fact that in the state out of 11645 sanctioned posts of doctors, 8768 were lying vacant, out of which 5674 fell in the difficult/remote/rural areas. And despite the same, Government chose to not grant incentive of weightage in marks in NEET test, to the doctors posted in these areas. It went on to observe that the State Government is “neglecting” rural areas by taking these measures and catering to ‘vested interests’ by only posting the majority of the doctors in urban areas.

The Court directed the concerned authorities to redraw the merit list strictly by the law which in the instant case were ‘two notifications’ issued by the State. The said notifications granted benefit for service in rural areas but was not being implemented.

In the stand taken in court, the State had justified its decision of not granting the above benefit stating that “the merit would stand compromised and would adversely affect the in-service doctors posted at urban areas.”

However, the Division Bench disagreed, stating;

“Can a Welfare State even adopt such a stand more so in the absence of any plea or material to indicate absence of doctors or higher percentage of vacancy of the posts in the urban areas?”..

 …”Incentivizing posting of doctors/medical staff in the specified areas can only be in public interest and for public good and not the other way round. Under the Constitution all power must be exercised to subserve public interest, for public good and for a public cause. If only such benefits are accorded would the Doctors voluntary opt to serve the poor, the needy, the deprived and the marginalized ones living in the remotest corner of the State.”

The Division Bench opined that if the State Government has found that circumstances warranted the need for such incentives, “then the State could not and should not deny such incentive.”

“Undoubtedly discretion of according benefits, vests with the Government, but then, its exercise has to be based on some rational and not in an arbitrary and capricious manner. There is no logic of depriving the doctors posted in the rural areas of such benefits.”

The Court went on to pull up the Bihar Government for having admitted, through notifications issued in 2013 and 2014, that there were difficult/ remote areas in need of doctors on the one hand while denying to provide incentives to fill in these vacancies on the other.

“Strangely, if not collusively, it has taken a specious plea of interpreting such a Notification limited only to the identification of areas in terms of the Regulation and not taking a decision conferring benefits in terms thereof. Such a stand is both immoral and illegal.”

“The power to grant incentive is discretionary, but then having done so, State cannot be allowed to turn around and contend to the contrary, notwithstanding as to whether such benefit was neither claimed nor conferred upon any individual. Mere non-enforcement of a right by an individual or its non-conferment upon by the State would also not be a reason for the State to adopt such a dubious plea.”

The Court proceeded to dismiss the State’s appeals and issued the following directions:

  • All candidates who have participated in the selection process, including the writ petitioners and are otherwise eligible, would be entitled to the benefit of 2013 and 2014 Notifications issued by the Government of Bihar;
  • Provision in the prospectus to the contrary is held to be illegal and void
  • The Bihar Combined Entrance Competitive Examination Board shall redraw the merit list strictly in accordance with law by granting benefit of 2013 and 2014 Notifications after accounting for the certificates/proof of eligibility, for grant of incentives in terms of Regulation 9(IV) issued by the MCI.
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The Unsung Economic Emancipator of the Shimla Hills

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Shimla satyanad strokes contribution in himachal's economy

Shimla- May 14th, 2020 was marked as the 74th  death anniversary Satyanand Stokes- the man who brought the American Delicious variety of apples to Himachal Pradesh. 

It was in the winter of 1916, Satyanand Stokes, planted a new strain of apple variety known as Red Delicious at his Barubagh orchard in Thanedhar, 80 Kms northeast from Shimla. During his visit to his home town Philadelphia in 1915, he found out that a new strain of apples has been developed by the Stark Brothers in Louisiana.

Later that year while returning to India, he managed to smuggle few apple saplings, hidden in pillows, to India from Louisiana. That’s how the apple cultivation sprouted in Shimla Hills, which would in later years, transform the economy and destiny of these hills.

Samuel Evans Stokes was born in Philadelphia on 16th August 1882 in a family in the business of elevators– running in the name of “Stokes & Parrish Machine Co” (Later merged with Otis). 

    In 1904, he met a doctor couple- Mr. and Mrs. Carleton, who used to run a home for leper patients in Northern India- at Philadelphia, while they were raising funds for the building churches and were also looking for volunteers to work in a leper home in Northern India. Influenced by their work, he decided to join them in their work in India. 

At the age of 21 years, he landed on the shores of Bombay on 26 February in 1904 from Philadelphia and started working in Leprosy home in Sabato, Solan (what was then Punjab). As this was his first summer in India, the extremely hot conditions of Indian summer forced Mr. Carleton to send him to take rest at Church at Kotgarh, near Shimla. 

While recovering in Kotgarh, he explored the surrounding hills. Having fallen in love with the eternal beauty of these hills, he immediately decided to spend the rest of his life at Thanedhar; a small village in Himachal Pradesh, fondly labelled as the “Mistress of the Northern Hills” by Rudyard Kipling.

Satyanand Stokes was moved by the plight of the villagers, who were stricken in extreme poverty. Back then, the majority of the people around Thanedhar were shepherds; only a handful of them cultivated wheat and potatoes. He started experimenting on the varieties of pear, plum, and apple saplings at his orchard in Barubagh, Thanedhar. By 1928, the apples from his Barubagh orchard had taken over the surrounding hills propelling the area into a nascent stage of apple cultivation.

Initially, his American origin, unfamiliarity to local dialects, customs, and traditions acted as a barrier between him and villagers. As a result, he was treated as an outsider.  Stokes realized this early enough, he noted in his diary: “There seems to be an invisible barrier that stands in the way of any unaffected natural relationship.”

     To overcome these invisible barriers, he learned the Pahari–a dialect of Hindi language, spoken in this area– gave up his western attires and started donning the local ones. He also married a local woman named Agnes on September 12, 1912. 

Himachal PRadesh All About Satyanand Stokes

     His interaction with the Sadhus, who were on their way to Kailash Mansarovar induced him to read Bhagavad Gita and Upnishads in English; later on, he also learned to read the Sanskrit language. Moved and influenced by the principles of Arya Samaj and other religious texts, he embraced the Hindu religion in 1932. And his name was changed from Samuel Evans Stokes to Satyanand Stokes. 

Harmony Hall, his estate house was built on the ridge above Thanedhar in 1912. The two-story building is an architectural marvel of the sloping slate roof, wooden beams, and dresses stone and certainly with western influences such as chimneys and big windows.

Himachal Pradesh Satyanad strokes house in shimla

The Harmony Hall -Residence of Satyanand Stokes

Satyanand Stokes also built a pent roofed style temple next to Harmony Hall in 1937 which is known as Paramjyoti Mandir or the Temple of Eternal Light. The temple has a Havan Kund and carved inscription from Bhagavad Gita and Upnishads that aptly sums up his philosophy of life.

Shimla Paramjyoti Temple

Paramjyoti Mandir

    In the year 1924, he also started a Tara High School in memory of his son who died at a tender age of 8 years.  At this school, he used to educate the children of local farmers on religion, Hindi and English language, horticulture, self-defence, etc. A special emphasis was laid on the education of girls.  

Satyanad strokes role in introducing apple to shimla

Stokes also carved a niche for himself in the Indian freedom struggle, with his notable contributions. The Jallaiwala Bagh massacre in 1919 made a profound impact on him, prompting him to join the Indian National Congress; holding the unique distinction of being the only American member of the All India Congress Committee. In 1920, he represented Kotgarh at the Nagpur session of the All India Congress Committee.

In the following year, he was instrumental in signing the Congress manifesto of giving up government jobs and exhorting them to join the freedom struggler. 

He was charged with “sedition” during the protest against the Prince of Wales Edward VIII’s visit to India and was imprisoned in Lahore (now in Pakistan) jail. This made him the only American to be imprisoned by the British in the Indian struggle for Independence.

  His remarkable work was acknowledged by Mahatma Gandhi in Young India—a weekly paper-by publishing a front-page article titled “Reward of Adoption.”  

     Satyanand Stokes and Gandhi shared an interesting relationship: both disagreed on many things, but their difference of opinion never came in the way of their emotive love and reverence for each other.

“In spite of our intellectual difference, our hearts have always been and will be one”,

Gandhi once told Stokes affectionately.      

  A social evil of the Begar (forced labor) system of the British and local Rajas was prevalent in the Kotgarh Ilaqa. He found it nothing, but a means to exploit the poor people and fought to abolish the Begar system.   

Satyanand Stokes breathed his last on May 14, 1946, but not before he had entered the folklore of Shimla Hills. He dedicated his entire life selflessly to the social and economic upliftment of the people of Kotgarh Ilaqa.

His Holiness the Dalia Lama beautifully sums up his philosophy of life:

“The true expression of nonviolence is compassion. Some people seem to think that compassion is just a passive emotional response instead of a rational stimulus to action. But to experience genuine compassion is to develop a feeling of closeness to others combined with a sense of responsibility for their welfare.”

His selfless deeds acted as a springboard for the economic and social prosperity of the Shimla hills. It would only appropriate to call him “The Unsung Economic Emancipator of the Shimla Hills.”

A generation has benefited from his unmatched legacy, oblivious of reparation we all owe to him. To keep following his shown path of compassion, and work for the welfare of society would be a fitting reparation to him-if ever, there could be one.

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HP Health Dept Scam: There is More to It Than Just Alleged Bribery

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HP Health Scam Rajiv Bindal's role

Shimla-Following the alleged scam in the Himachal Pradesh Health Department, which has been linked to bribery in the procurement of PPE kits, the sudden resignation of the Bharatiya Janata Party chief Dr. Rajiv Bindal, and new twists and turns have left people baffled amid the pandemic. The fact that the Health Ministry is directly under Chief Minister Jairam Thakur makes it embarrassing for the party not only in the State but also at the national level.

The opposition has demanded resignation of the Chief Minister saying that if Rajeev Bindal who is claiming to be innocent resigned on moral grounds, then CM should do the same as the Health Ministry is directly under him.

The audio clip related to the alleged scam appeared on May 21 following which Director, Health Service, AK Gupta, was arrested and suspended. A person identified as Prithvi Singh has come out claiming that it was he who recorded the telephonic conversation with Gupta because his payment for delivery of medical equipment to the Health Department was put on hold.

Ambiguity in media reports and little or no release of information by the Vigilance Department investigating the case indicate the possibility of political influence and pressure from the party’s top leadership.

According to an Indian Express report, investigating officer DSP Kailash Sharma and public prosecutor Sandeep Attri told the court during the hearing of Gupta’s bail application that Prithvi Singh is a liaison for Bio Aid – a Derabassi-based firm. They told the court that Bio-Aid had supplied PPE kits worth over one crore to the HP Health Department.  The court was also told that Gupta allegedly demanded bribe but hadn’t received it.

“On this, the special judge (forest) Arvind Malhotra remarked that since bribery had not yet taken place, it could not happen now. “You cannot force him to take it”.

But other media reports, especially in Hindi daily Amar Ujala and News 18, have mentioned this amount to be only Rs. 45 lakh. The daily said that earlier it was believed that Prithvi Singh was working for a BJP leader involved in the scam, however, Prithvi was only trying to get his payment released. The daily suggested he was not working with or for any such leader.

News 18 also published a similar report in which the Channel claimed that Pritivi Singh said that he was compelled to offer bribe as he did not have any other way to get his payment released.

On the other hand, according to the Indian Express report, the court was told that Gupta was not directly a part of the procurement procedure as he was not a member of any of the two committees formed to invite tenders. It’s not all, both the defense lawyer and the prosecution told the court that audio-clip was recorded in mid-April, and tenders were invited twice before the recording of the clip. Also, the Defense lawyer told the court that Bio Aid firm was not in the list of qualifiers for these tenders. Bio-Aid made all supplies before tenders were floated.

The report also stated that the prosecution indicated that it might not go for extension of police remand for Gupta.

Meanwhile, Gupta’s wife alleged that she was threatened by Vigilance officials when she tried to meet her husband. She also said that Gupta wasn’t given access to a lawyer.

However, the answer to the question regarding the identity of the involved BJP leader and his role was nowhere mentioned. Another curious question is; why BJP Chief Bindal resigned? What he has to do with this alleged scam? Bindal said he resigned on “moral ground” as fingers were being raised towards the party. He also said that he did not want to influence the investigation, which makes no sense at all.

It’s notable that Bindal did not try to defend his party or seek proof of involvement of any BJP leader even once before tendering his resignation. National BJP chief JP Nadda at once accepted his resignation.

From these facts, it is being derived that the party had already made its mind or had asked Bindal to resign after the matter relating to the scam reached the high-command. Further, media has already moved on to the topic of “BJP searching for its new State chief”.

However, a report published by India Today said that Prithvi was an employee of a company owned by Bindal’s family members.

“A close aide and an employee of a diagnostic centre owned by his (Bindal’s) daughter and son-in-law, Prithvi, offered Rs 5 lakh bribe to the arrested health director Dr. AK Gupta,”

the report said.

The report also said that “Dr. AK Gupta was also close to Dr Rajeev Bindal, who had also sought a three-month extension to his service as he is retiring on May 31, 2020.”

Then, there are reports that suggest that Bindal, five-times MLA and former health minister, was being seen as a potential challenge to Jairam Thakur as CM candidate. The incident is also being seen as evidence of power tussle in BJP. Bindal was hoping to secure a seat in the State Cabinet after BJP came to power. But he was disappointed. It’s also speculated that when a berth in the Cabinet got vacated due to the elections of Food and Civil Supplies Minister Krishan Kapoor to the Lok Sabha from Kangra, Bindal was again disappointed.

The veteran Congress leader and former Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh suggested that the resignation of Bindal is nothing more than just a diversion to take the pressure off the Chief Minister as he was heading the health ministry.

Moreover, to put BJP in a questionable position, some of its leaders including the Veteran party leader and former chief minister Shanta Kumar came down heavily on their party.

“It is not only crime and shameful act but a sin. Imagine a MNREGA worker donating Rs 5,000 of her savings to the COVID fund in Himachal Pradesh and these people are trying to pocket the money. Highly shameful,”

Shanta Kumar said as a reaction to the alleged scam.

On the other hand, Congress is demanding a probe by a sitting judge of the State High Court to ensure a fair investigation.

Former Mayor of Shimla, Sanjay Chauhan, has also demanded a probe by a sitting judge of the State High Court for clean trial. He also asked the State Government to make expenditures made in the name of Corona pandemic in the State public.

He also targeted the State Government over the recent case relating to irregularities in the purchase of sanitizers for the State Secretariat.

“Over 20 days have passed since the order was given to the Vigilance to probe the scam relating to purchase of sanitizers for HP Government Secretariat, but no action has been taken so far,”

Sanjay said.

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