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Shame for Mandi district admin, leaves mentally ill destitute to live in inhuman conditions

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The SDM Sundernagar did nothing even after 55 days of complaint, almost two months. In two months, the SDM couldn’t provide even temporary shelter and food for just two people? Two living people are suffering every second they spent on road, alone without anyone available to take their responsibility. They can’t speak of their pain and suffering. One can show wounds to others or a doctor can easily diagnose a physical health issue, but mental illness is the worst of all.

MANDI – A reader has sent us a demonstration of insensitivity, lack of empathy, and lack of concern towards responsibilities given to HPS and IAS officers. It reflects on how state of Himachal Pradesh and its previous and present governments perceived the issue of mental health. It’s a matter of shame for the State of Himachal Pradesh and Government of India to display such inhuman attitude towards those who needs them most.

Himachal’s government and its people are neither concerned nor aware about the biggest irony of human life – mental illness and mental disorders.

For a moment consider your-self as the Sub-Divisional Magistrate or SSP of Sundarnagar in Mandi district, Himachal Pradesh. Now, someone brought to your notice that there are two mentally ill and destitute persons wandering on Sundarnagar roads. They are living in inhuman conditions as they are suffering from some serious mental disorder. The complainant request to take action to provide relief to these unfortunate, suffering souls as soon as possible. Each and every day that they spent on roads, eating from garbage, sleeping on roadsides with no roof over their head, adds to their suffering. What would you do?

Leave apart the concept that Right to Life under Article -21 of Indian constitution that directs state authority to take appropriate action for rehabilitation and treatment of mentally challenged or those suffering from mental disorders, and defines it the responsibility of the state to ensure shelter to destitute who are not able to take care of themselves due to mental illness.

As a human what would you do? The SDM Sundernagar did nothing even after 55 days of complaint, almost two months. The SDM and the DC were sent a proper complaint with photographs of the mentally ill destitute person for easy identification.

On May 12, the SDM and SSP were directed by the DC to take appropriate and necessary action to ensure rehabilitation of these people. But, non of them moved a muscle. The complainant again retaliated aggressively for inactivity of the SDM and wrote to him again. But as a last ray of hope, he turned to media. He sent the same grievance to other dailies too. We are not sure if it was published anywhere.

Gallery:

Take a look at the official documents containing the original complaints, direction of the DC to SDM, and RTI filed by Thakur Karam Pratap Singh, CEO, Vasudha, a Himachal based social welfare organization

In two months, the SDM couldn’t provide even temporary shelter and food for just two people? This is the concern for a grievance that asks for immediate action? Two living people are suffering every second they spent on road, alone without anyone available to take their responsibility. They can’t speak of their pain and suffering. One can show wounds to others or a doctor can easily diagnose a physical health issue, but mental illness is the worst of all. Here, the normal operational capabilities of human brain are damaged. A person suffering from mental disorder is helpless. They wander with naked feet seeking food. They don’t even beg. They don’t know to how to beg or of any such concept. They don’t know where to approach for help. They don’t have words to speak of their pain.

Mentally ill destitute in Sundarnagar 2

These HAS officers are said to be highly qualified for such high rank government positions. They take tough examinations and qualify personal interviews in order to get there. But we see, they are worst than the kind illiterates.

Unfortunately, the Chief Minsiter of Himachal Pradesh, Virbhadra Singh, shares, more of less, the same attitude when comes to recognizing and attending mental health issues. We doubt, if they know the difference between mental health, mental well-being and mental disorders. Anyway, now, let’s take at Centre governments useless and populist announcements.

In Octobor, 2014, Health minister Harsh Vardhan launched India’s first-ever National Mental Health Policy with a promise of delivering universal psychiatric care to a massive population suffering from various kind of mental illness or disorders.

The Mental Health Action Plan 365 very clearly defined the roles of the central government, state governments, and local bodies along with civil society organizations in the upcoming year. The government also promised a mental health bill in Parliament.

This policy wasn’t motivated by will, empathy and concern for mentally ill, destitute population living in poverty. It was because, WHO survey sited that India has the highest number of suicides in the world. An article in the NY Times regarding the WHO statistics said:

According to the World Health Organization, of 804,000 suicides recorded worldwide in 2012, 258,000 were in India. Indian youths between 15 and 29 years old kill themselves at a rate of 35.5 deaths per 100,000 — the highest in the world — and suicide has surpassed maternal mortality as the leading cause of death of young Indian women.

While government claims curbing substance use, it failed to understand the relation between substance abuse and mental health troubles like depression, bipolar disorder, stress and other issues. Presently, school students and adolescence in Himachal are more vulnerable to substance use because of unending stress mounting on them due to rising competition in professional fields. Still, majority of parents believe that their children are failure if they could not become either doctor, engineer or HPS or IAS. We hope, you read about recent suicide cases in Himachal where students hanged themselves under extreme mental stress.

In India, depression accounts for more than 258,000 of the 804,000 suicide deaths worldwide in 2012.
The WHO report had also highlighted the condition of home for destitute and institutions provided for the rehabilitation of mentally ill people. The article further said;

A report from Human Rights Watch released in December exposed the horrific conditions in institutions where too many Indian women with mental and intellectual disabilities are confined, many against their will, and where some are subject to physical and sexual abuse and electric-shock therapy.

If that’s not enough to get your attention, then WHO report also informed that in India, there is only one psychiatrist for every 343,000 people. That’s the ratio of the availability of skilled mental health professionals for present population of India. That means negligible health support. Rather, it’s a matter of shame for India.

Take a look at the expenditure made on mental health in the graph given below:

Indian Mental Health challenge

India spends just 0.06 % of total health budget on mental health. It absurd to know that the suicide rate in India is highest in the world. The total expenditure on health as a percentage of gross domestic product is 4.16 % and the per capita government expenditure on health (PPP) is $22.0.

In 2013, Mental Health Bill was introduced and new policy was launched. The government claimed it as a landmark in delivering mental health care worldwide. But their claims are sandwiched between official files while the funds are already allotted.

In 1982, India’s National Mental Health Programme (NMHP) was implemented. Since then, the governments are fooling people and mocking at the worsening state of mental health in India.

You see, in India, even mentally and physically healthy, highly educated and well to do people never care to find out where all those gigantic amounts of public money disappear year after year since Independence. Obviously, who is going to speak for these destitute and mentally unwell creatures?

An article on Wall Street Journal throws light on the stigma and lack of awareness about mental health in India. Considering the report of Ms. Ramanathan, a US based medical student, it said:

Quality research methods are not part of Indian medical school education — it’s still a system of rote learning. The research, on the social determinants of depressive-anxiety disorders among women, entailed asking questions about marital history, violence, safety and autonomy. The female resident, although qualified as a psychiatrist, didn’t seem to think counseling was a requirement for women whose husbands physically or verbally abused them. The psychiatrist adopted a “these things happen here,” attitude.

The conditions in rural areas are far worst. The people here in India know nothing about the causes of or differences between depression and tension. Stress and Anxiety is considered mere nervousness. At maximum, patients are taken to ‘Tantriks’ for cure because people still believe it to be a paranormal phenomenon.

Himachal is just another State of India that is literally unaware of what the term mental health actually defines. The absence of mental disorder doesn’t mean that a person is mentally healthy. According to S.S. Chauhan, author of Advanced Educational Psychology:

Mental health is a condition which permits maximum development of physical, social, intellectual and emotional status of the individual so that he/she can contribute to maximum for the welfare of the society and realize ideas and aims in life.

It’s time that government must start pay attention to this critical issue – rehabilitation and treatment of destitute people with mental illness. There are a number of destitute and mentally unwell people who are helpless and are struggling to survive in inhuman conditions.

Already, there is a PIL pending with HP High Court regarding the treatment and rehabilitation of mentally ill destitute. The PIL was filed by Mr. Subhash Kumar, a resident of Shimla, in 2011. Taking note of it, the High Court had directed the Superintendent of Police at every district to rake responsibility if such cases are brought to their notice. However, final judgement is still pending, and so is relief from suffering to the victims.

However, nothing has changed except that police chases away these destitute people out of their area on complaint. We appreciate the efforts that Vasuda is making to get justice for these suffering souls.

Madan has studied English Literature and Journalism from HP University and lives in Shimla. He is an amateur photographer and has been writing on topics ranging from environmental, socio-economic, development programs, education, eco-tourism, eco-friendly lifestyle and to green technologies for over 9 years now. He has an inclination for all things green, wonderful and loves to live in solitude. When not writing, he can be seen wandering, trying to capture the world around him in his DSLR lens.

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Amid Surge in COVID-19 Cases in Himachal, Speculation of Complete Lockdown Gains Momentum

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Himachal Pradesh Lockdown from August 1st speculations

Shimla-The number of COVID-19 cases is rising at an alarming rate in Himachal Pradesh as for the past five consecutive days, the state had been reporting nearly 100 cases per day. With Monday’s 95 new cases, the tally  for the state jumped to 2270. The number of active cases has crossed the 1000 mark to reach 1025 on Monday. So far, 1216 patients have recovered while 12 of them succumbed to COVID-19 infection.

Among Monday’s cases, Sirmaur district reported the highest 31 cases from Govindgarh (mohalla) locality in Nahan. Complete lockdown of two days was imposed in this area but the spurt in cases continues. Fifteen new cases were reported from Baddi and Parwanoo in Solan district while remaining cases were reported from Bilaspur (11), Mandi (10), Kangra (16), Shimla (5), Una (2), Hamirpur (1), and Chamba (3).

In Shimla, five family members of a policeman, who had tested positive a couple of days ago, also tested positive.

HP Health Department’s COVID-19 Bulletin July 27, 2020 (9PM)

himachal pradesh demand of lockdown amid surge in covid-19

Some leaders of the ruling party (BJP) continue to invite criticism for behaving irresponsibly. The government itself is not learning any lesson from the situation in Govindgarh- a hot spot where the outbreak was triggered due to a marriage ceremony.

On Monday, the opposition Congress filed a police complaint against three persons including a BJP leader for violating rules by roaming around and meeting a large number of people instead of placing themselves under home-quarantine. The opposition said that samples of these persons were taken after they showed symptoms of the COVID-19 infection. Still, these persons kept roaming around after giving samples. The opposition has also alleged a discrimination was seen in initiating legal action for violations of social distancing norms. In Spiti, hundreds of tribal women were booked for staging protest against Minister Ram Lal Markanda for not adhering to the resolution passed by the locals regarding mandatory quarantine for all including the residents of the district. Cases have been filed against the opposition Congress too for violating these norms during recent protests. 

Earlier, a leader from Mandi had introduced the coronavirus in Chief Minister’s office and the State secretariat and infected about two dozen of his contacts including the Advocate General and his family. The leader reportedly visited the IGMC, Shimla, State High Court and other offices.

Now, another ex-MLA from Nadaun and the Vice-Chairman, HRTC, was reported to have met several party workers and even attending an event as the chief guest. Vijay Agnihotri reportedly continued shopping, roaming around, and meeting people after giving a sample. Reportedly, he also attended a marriage ceremony. The district administration would now have a task to trace all his contacts.

At the sametime, the Congress was also seen disregarding the social distancing norms during their recent protests against the hike in bus fare.

Laxity in Organization of and Checking Gathering in Govt Events

While the state government has issued guidelines for attending funerals and marriages, there is hardly any seriousness when it comes to organizing government or the party events. The ‘havan’ organized in Shimla where hundreds of people had gathered and several party leaders including Chief Minister Jairam Thakur had visited it. The event had invited criticism as the Chief Minister and workers of BJP Mahila Morcha were seen disregarding every social distancing norm. 

An employee of HP University also tested positive recently. A few days prior to the confirmation of this case, an event was organized at the varsity on the occasion of the Foundation Day a large number of people including media persons were present.  

Amid such a sharp increase in cases, instead of being so lax, the government is supposed to prohibit any such gathering or at least issue guidelines regarding the maximum number of persons allowed to attend such events/functions.

Solan district where the total COVID-19 cases have reached 553 has begun to witness a shortage of health staff.  The BBN area is the worst hit and has reported about 80 percent of the total cases in Solan. According to a media report, there are only 10 doctors at the CHC at Nalagarh and six at the Civil hospital, Baddi. There are only 28 nurses.

Amid this panic, the public, especially from Shimla district has been suggesting the imposition of a lockdown and questioning the government over still keeping the border open for tourists. To make thing even worse, there are instances where people violated quarantine rules after their samples were taken or were not monitored properly. In Mandi district’s Bagsaid market, a person had opened his meat shop giving a sample. It was after the arrival of his report that the shop was closed. 

Further, the online opinion poll of the State Government inviting public opinion over the imposition of a complete lockdown in the state has led to speculations of a possible lockdown from August 1st.  The matter regarding a lockdown is expected to be taken up in the Cabinet meeting to be held on July 30. The public is confused and preparing to stock up ration/essentials or planning to leave for villages. Several readers have also been writing to Himachal Watcher to inquire about the possibility of imposition of a complete lockdown.  

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First Open for Tourism, Then Train Staff, HP Govt Goes Topsy Turvy

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Himachal pradesh CM jairam thakur on hotel staff training

Shimla- In the last week, the Himachal state government has taken decisions that could have a long-lasting impact on citizens without consulting or even informing all stakeholders.

First, it came out with guidelines for tourism that did not have any inputs from the tourism industry. Second, it decided to open the state for tourism without consulting hotel and travel industry or keeping village pradhans in the loop.Six days after the decision to allow tourist activity and opening State borders for tourists, the state government of HP has decided to train people employed with the industry.

“Online training for the Hospitality sector would also be held in wake of COVID-19. About 10,000 candidates would be provided one-day training on hygiene and sanitation procedures. Three weeks training on basic essential of a tourist guide communication skill etc. would be provided to about four hundred candidates,”

said Chief Minister Jairam Thakur in a review meeting with Tourism Industry officials on 8th July. It’s surprising that the Government did not find the time to either have this ‘1 day training’ program ready or train the staff of hotels and restaurants before throwing open state borders for tourists. The government gave no time to the hotel industry to understand, prepare and implement directions given in the issued SOPs.

Major Hotel Associations have already decided to keep hotels closed at least till September and  Village Pradhans have also refused to allow tourists into their jurisdiction. The Chief Minister said that the State Government is following the lead of states such as Uttarakhand, Rajasthan, Goa, Kerala etc. where the Governments have decided to open the State for tourists.

To enter Himachal Pradesh, tourists have to meet three conditions, a valid booking for at least five days, a COVID-19 test report from an Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) certified laboratory not older than 72 hours and their vehicle should have a sanitisation certificate.

About 600 tourists have already entered Kangra district. Police arrested a couple in Kangra district who managed to enter the State by furnishing a fake COVID-19 negative report.

“A case was registered at Damtal police station against a couple who entered HP from Bhadroya barrier based on fake COVID Negative test report. Legal action is being initiated against them for cheating, fraud & forgery. They are currently lodged in an institutional quarantine facility at Parour,”

SP, Kangra, Vimukt Ranjan, said confirming the report. In another case in Kullu, five tourists, who managed to enter the State and reach Bajaura barrier in Kullu, were detained for not carrying required documents. A total of 12 tourists have been allowed in to Kullu district after they met the three conditions needed for tourists.

According to Kullu district police, about 70 tourists from Punjab, Haryana, Chandigarh, Rajasthan, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh etc. were sent back for not fulfilling conditions prescribed by the State Government. Tourists who should be sent back for a lack of required documents and fulfilling conditions given in the SOPs issued by the State Government are able to cross barriers at borders, like Parwanoo and Swarghat.

Police manning barricades are also frontline staff who are at risk.

We have provided police who are manning the barricades with N95 masks, raincoats that will serve a double purpose for rain and COVID protection and long gloves, policemen over the age of 50 years and those with existing conditions are not deployed at barricades,

said DSP, Kullu, Priyank Gupta.

While the majority of the hospitality industry players, (which is worst hit by the loss of business), is against opening the State for tourism, there are some, especially those who have leased hotels and taken loans who want to open for tourism. However, until the state government takes steps to add healthcare facilities and make more dedicated COVID hospital wards especially in rural areas, large scale tourism could endanger locals.

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Environment

Govt Legitimizing and Legalizing Environmental Violations for Business by Amending EIA Rules: Activists  

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Himachal pradesh EIA Notification 2020 Amendments news

Shimla-While in statements, the politicians in power at the Centre and State Governments have been expressing concerns over environmental issues and ensuring the people that they are committed to protect and preserve the environment, the reality is contrary to it. The most recent evidence is the proposed 2020 draft amendments to the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification. With these amendments, the process of environmental assessment before granting permission to execute commercial projects, like hydropower projects in Himachal Pradesh, would be reduced to merely a formality.

Environmental activists and people’s organisations from across Himachal have written to the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) to scrap the 2020 draft amendments to the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification proposed by it.

These activists and environmental protection groups are of the opinion that the EIA Notification, first issued in 1994 under the Environment Protection Act 1986, is a critical mechanism that regulates clearances granted to all kinds of development projects and economic activities in the country. It is one of the environmental decision-making processes that makes it mandatory for project developers to not just study the socio-economic, ecological and other impacts of a proposed project but also place them in front of the affected communities for their opinions and objections, thus, ensuring the process of a free, fair and informed consent. However, this notification has been amended and read down several times in the last two decades, in favour of ‘easing the norms’ for business. The latest draft continues to move in the direction of rendering the EIA process a mere formality. 

The submission made by HP groups states,

“In the context of the already vulnerable and sensitive Himalayan region, flouting of various provisions of even the present EIA notification has heavily impacted the local ecology and livelihoods of the people. The new amendments will only legitimize and legalize these violations and this will mean irreparable damage to the Himalayan ecosystem”. 

The key objections raised are around exemptions of a variety of projects from the mandatory  Public Consultation’ process as well as the dismantling of this process itself.

“The reduction of the time prior to public hearing from 30 to 20 days is also highly objectionable. In the given 30 day period itself, the information about Public hearings does not reach all the affected areas which are often spread out widely in case of mountains with some project-affected communities residing in remote and inaccessible terrains. Here accessing information takes a long time and reducing this time to 20 days will completely exclude such people from raising their grievances and suggestions in the public consultation. This is a clear attempt to block their participation in the environmental decision-making process”

said R.S Negi of Him Lok Jagriti Manch, Kinnaur. 

 

“It is shocking that the amendments include allowing post-facto clearance, which means that the project proponent can start work and before they have obtained environmental clearance. If the basic precautionary principle on which the EIA notifications is grounded is itself not followed it can lead to a disastrous situation for the ecology and local people. In this situation who is going to be responsible for the losses? If the project proponent is not in a position to pay for losses, will the MoEF&CC take the responsibility of losses? This provision will encourage project developers to bypass the process of environmental decision making. We absolutely oppose this amendment”,

said Prakash Bhandari of Himdhara Collective.  

The 2020 draft also dilutes the guidelines for monitoring and compliance of Environment conditions.

“Already the system of monitoring is weak, the conditions lose, the pollution control board and companies non-accountable, thus, leading to widespread destruction of local ecology and impacting health, lives, and livelihoods of project-affected communities. In the case of hydropower projects, for instance, the illegal and unmonitored dumping of muck along river beds, in forests and on common lands, has damaged pastures, disrupted the flow of the rivers, and caused massive disasters when floods occur. The proposed changes will give a free reign to those profiting from extractive and polluting projects,” 

according to Kulbhushan Upmanyu of Himalaya Bachao Samiti. 

It is ironic that on one hand, the global COVID crisis has thrown up several studies showing that pandemics like COVID emerge from ecological degradation and forest loss, and on the government is pushing for policy changes which will accentuate the environmental crisis that the country is already reeling under.  

“If the MoEF&CC wants to change the environmental laws, it should carry out countrywide regional consultations”,

added Uma Mahajan of Himachal Van Adhikar Manch.

The country, especially ecologically diverse yet climate-vulnerable regions like the Himalayas need a robust and strong environmental regulatory and governance regime that makes project proponents accountable and keeps the affected communities and ecological concerns at the centre of the EIA and environmental decision-making process. 

Notably, MoEF&CC had called for citizen’s comments before May 11 but this deadline was extended upto  June 30 and now August 11 as environmentalists and concerned groups expressed outrage that calling for public inputs on this critical law amidst the COVID led lockdown was unjustified. The MoEF&CC has in this period received thousands of objections highlighting the new draft as anti-people and environment.

The demand is to scrap these proposed amendments for the sake of the environment. 

Submission Made to Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change by Activists and Organizations

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