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.
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.
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:
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.
PIL Filed in HP High Court Re-Ignites Quest for Recognizing Pahari (Himachali) as Hill State’s Official Language
Shimla- November 10, 2021, Himachal Pradesh High Court on Monday passed an order concerning a public interest litigation (PIL) seeking to recognize Pahari (Himachali) as an official language of the state. The petition also sought effective steps on the part of the government to preserve and promote the Pahari language in the State as its culture and language give it a distinct identity.
The Public Interest Litigation was filed by Arsh Dhanotia with a prayer that the state be directed to declare Pahari (Himachali) as one of the official languages in the State of Himachal Pradesh in any script and also promote further research towards a long-term formal Pahari (Himachali) nuclear language structure and nuclear Tankri script.
Bhawani Pratap Singh Kutlahria, the advocate for the petitioner, argued in the court that the State Government be directed to promote Pahari (Himachali) and other local languages as the medium of instruction in primary and middle-level schools as per the New Education Policy, 2020. On behalf of the petitioner, he also prayed the court to direct the state government to include Pahari (Himachali) language as a separate category for the 2021 Census and simultaneously undertake an awareness campaign to create awareness amongst the masses, especially the youth of the State who speak Pahari (Himachali), to get it marked as their mother tongue in the upcoming Census.
A bench of Chief Justice Mohammad Rafiq and Justice Sabina while disposing off the PIL stated,
“The direction as has been prayed for, cannot be issued to the State Government until and unless it is established on record that the Pahari (Himachali) language has its own script and that a common Pahari dialect is spoken throughout the State of Himachal Pradesh. We, however, set the petitioner at liberty to approach the Department of Language Art & Culture to the Government of Himachal Pradesh with his demand for undertaking research to promote a common Pahari (Himachali) nuclear language structure and nuclear Tankri script. If the petitioner approaches the respondents-State through its Additional Chief Secretary (Language Art & Culture) to the Government of Himachal Pradesh) for the prayer made in the Civil Writ Public Interest Litigation, it would be for the said authority to consider the same in accordance with the law.”
Additionally, the petition had emphasised that Sanskrit, which is the second official language of the state, had only 936 speakers according to the 2011 census and Pahari (Himachali) dialect chain which is spoken by more than 40 lakh people was being neglected and has not been made an official language even after having so many speakers.
The petition also highlighted works of Former Chief Minister Late YS Parmar and Former Education Minister Late Narain Chand Parashar towards the promotion of the Pahari (Himachali) language.
What’s Pahari (Himachali) Language, How Many Districts It Covers
It is to be noted that according to the petitioner, Pahari (Himachali) is a combined term used for the Western Pahari dialect chain spoken in Himachal Pradesh and majorly includes Kangri, Mandeali, Chambeali, Kulvi, Mahasu Pahari and Sirmauri. According to him ever since the creation of Himachal Pradesh, there has been a demand for recognition of Pahari (Himachali) under the Eighth Schedule of the Indian Constitution and it is also officially listed with 37 more languages as a language which is in significant demand to be included in the scheduled languages category.
In his plea, he also stated that the Himachal Pradesh Vidhan Sabha in 1970 and 2010 have also passed resolutions concerning the promotion and development of Pahari (Himachali).
Himachal’s Snow Covered Area Has Decreased, Poses Big Threat to State Economy’s Lifelines: Report
Shimla-The area under snow cover in Himachal Pradesh has declined by 18.5% according to a recent report published by State Centre on Climate Change (SCCC) and Space Application Center (ISRO) Ahmedabad. The report revealed this decreasing trend for the five major river basins in the State.
As the report points out, the high altitude regions of Himachal Pradesh receive precipitation mainly in the form of snow during the winter season. One-third of the geographical area of the state is covered by a thick blanket of snow during the winter season. Rivers like Chenab, Beas, Parvati, Baspa, Spiti, Ravi, Sutlej and its tributaries flowing through Himachal are dependent on snowfall in winter. These rivers mainly feed into the Indus water system and a decline at this rate rings a death knell for water and also food security for millions of people from Himachal to Kashmir, the plains of Punjab, the food bowl of the country.
Using images and data received from satellites, the report states, that the winter precipitation was mapped in all the basins from October 2020 to May 2021 (a period of two years). The findings indicate that there has been an average decrease of 8.92 percent in Chenab basin, 18.54 percent in Beas basin, 23.16 percent in Ravi basin, 23.49 percent in Sutlej basin compared to last year. The ice covered area of Chenab basin was 7154.11 sq km in 2019-20, which has come down to 6515.91 sq km in 2020-21. Similarly, Beas basin was reduced from 2457.68 to 2002.03 square kilometer, Ravi basin from 2108.13 square kilometer to 1619.82 square kilometer and Sutlej from 11823.1 square kilometer to 9045 square kilometers. Overall, the snow covered area was reduced from 23542 square kilometer to 19183 square kilometer in the entire Himachal.
Sutlej Basin covers 45 per cent of the total geographical area of Himachal and it is the longest river of the state. It flows for around 320 kms here, passing through Lahaul and Spiti, Kinnaur, Shimla, Kullu, Mandi, Solan and Bilaspur districts, along its course. The above study shows that the maximum reduction in snow cover has occurred in the Sutlej basin. An area of 4359 square kilometers under snow cover has decreased for the whole state, of which more than half of the Sutlej Basin.
Just two years ago another study had indicated that more than half of glaciers in Sutlej Basin are set to vanish by 2050. Yet another study also showed that the Sutlej basin has the highest 562 number of glacial lakes. These lakes stand the risk of sudden outbursts, which then causes flash floods downstream as the valley has already experienced. So, while the crisis that is unfolding, be it deglaciation, lake formation or reduction in area under snow cover, it seems that the Sutlej river basin is more vulnerable to these changes.
Prakash Bhandari, an environmental researcher and activist and member of Himdhara Collective expressing his concern states that the situation in the Sutlej river basin is certainly indicative of a serious climate emergency and it is critical to look into the drivers of this both local and global.
“The Sutlej basin catchment is the largest and so the changes visible here are more significant. Many factors have worked together to create this crisis which should be studied closely. There is no doubt that global warming is contributing to these changes. But the local conditions also play a role in reducing or increasing its impact”, he says.
The upper reaches of the Sutlej Valley, especially areas like Kinnaur are geologically fragile, with sharp gradients and loose soil strata. Vegetation is in a very small area so the proneness to erosion. We have seen the catastrophic impacts of flashfloods and landslides over the last decade and a half, where crores worth of property has been damaged. This year saw a spate of landslides where lives were lost. “In such a sensitive and also strategically important area, changes in the landscape will have far reaching and irreversible impacts. More construction activities will lead to more deforestation, more erosion”.
Construction of dams has been rampant in the Sutlej valley, a phenomena that started post independence and continues today. If all of the planned dams are built the Sutlej will be cho-a-cloc with more then 150, large and small projects. At the bottom of the valley in Bilaspur is the Bhakra Dam, built almost 6 decades ago, which has a size of 168 sq km and a storage capacity of 9.340 cubic km. Is. This is followed by the Kol Dam which extends for 42 km up to Sunni, which has a total storage capacity of 90 million cubic metres. Nathpa Jhakri Project which is 27.394 kms. is long. When a dam is built, a huge amount of water is stored. The debris of many villages, trees etc. also gets absorbed inside the dam. When water is stagnant, it receives heat from the Sun to form mist in the surrounding area by evaporation and simultaneously generates methane gas. The experience of the lake formed by the Kol dam at Tattapani in Mandi district shows that the area is experiencing heavy haze which was not there earlier.
“In the 30s and 40s, Shikari Devi and Kamrunag used to have snow on the peaks for about 6 months, which now could barely stop for only 2 months. The air route distance of Shikari Devi and Kamrunag is only 26 to 30 kms from Tattapani lake. At the same time, their distance is not much from the cement factories of Darlaghat, Sundernagar”, the elders in the area say. “Today, fog is prevalent and this has also made the area warmer”.
Due to the warming of the weather due to the clouds formed from the mist, the snow has started melting quickly. Apart from this the local crop patterns are affected. Post the 1990s, the Sutlej became a site for run of the river hydroelectric projects using extensive underground tunneling. This involves massive use of explosives for blasting through the mountains. Of the 23,000 MW worth of projects to be constructed in Himachal more than 10,000, a third are from this valley alone. Kinnaur continues to be a hydel powerhouse with 10 run of the river projects in progress and 30 more to be set up including two mega projects of 1500 MW and 1000 MW each. This paints a scary picture.
Interactive Sutlej River-Basin Map indicate Hydropower Station location
It is not just the hydro-electric dams but unplanned tourism and other development activities like mining, cement plants, road expansion and mindless construction across the high Himalayan regions have also add to the shift in local weather patterns, land use changes and thus the ecological crisis. But the reason why we should put the limelight on hydropower is that this is being pushed as “Green Energy”, in the name of climate change mitigation. As opposed to other forms of generating power, hydropower projects are said to cause lesser carbon emissions, which is why there has been a global push to shift to renewable resources. But the climate emergency in the Himalayas has put a question mark on ‘water’ as a renewable resource.
The question then arises that with all this data indicating a steady decline in river discharge and snow cover have our planners and policy makers not considered what will happen to these projects? Will they be able to generate the power they propose to? The people of Himalaya have to wake up to this wastage of public resources. Scarce funds should be diverted to better planning for securing local livelihoods by protecting the forest ecosystems and water sources for the future.
Feature Images: unsplash/@raimondklavins
Himachal: Warnings of Delta Plus Virulence Fall on Deaf Ears, No Restriction on Visitors from Affected States
Shimla-Yesterday, the Centre government directed the state governments to take immediate measure in wake of the spread of more infectious Delta Plus variant. As the Delta Plus variant is posing a threat of the third wave, the states were told to take steps like preventing crowds, increase testing, more focus on surveillance, contact tracing and put boosting vaccine coverage on a priority basis. Following it, Himachal Pradesh Government might have announced an alert over Delta plus variant, but there wasn’t any follow up on instructions passed by scientists and health experts to take strict restrictive measures ahead of the impending third wave.
To make it worse, high rank officials and political leaders were seen flouting Covid-19 SOPs on several occasion, which sent wrong messages to the masses. The pictures and videos showing flouting of Covid appropriate behavior by Chief Minister Jairam Thakur and Directorial General of Police, Sanjay Kundu, alongwith other staff for Anupam Kher is the most recent to mention. A group photograph and video of the same were widely circulated on social media and invited huge criticism from the people.
So far, the state has not reported any case of the Delta Plus variant. But the neighboring states – Punjab, Haryana, and Jammu & Kashmir – reported their first cases yesterday. This puts the boarding areas, like in Una district, at a higher risk. Chief Secretary to HP Government, Anil Khachi, yesterday said samples have been sent for genome sequencing.
Despite repeated warnings of Delta plus variant (B.1.617.2.1.), Himachal Pradesh has thrown its borders open to all and lifted all restrictions for inter-state travel in just one go. From June 23 onwards, the state government removed the condition for registering on the e-pass portal for visitors intending to enter the state. In the Cabinet meeting held on June 22, 201, the government first decided that e-pass restrictions would be removed from July 1, but later it changed the decision and instead implemented it immediately.
This haphazard decision is said to have come under huge pressure from the hospitality industry – the worst-hit sector, leading to financial crisis and mass unemployment among its stakeholders. Related associations had been approaching Chief Minister Jairam Thakur with their pleas to provide relief, but mostly faced disappointment. The stakeholders say the state government didn’t provide any significant relief, which is making the survival of the industry difficult.
Also, stakeholder of the industry, especially hoteliers, had been demanding the removal of restrictions and conditions on the entry of tourists to Himachal so that they could fetch the remaining peak tourist season.
With its inability to offer relief, the HP Government took the chance to waive off restrictions in a haste.
At the same time, the state government has decided to conduct offline examinations for the undergraduate classes starting from July. A section of the students had been condemning the HP government for scheduling exams without vaccinating students. Some student bodies had been asking the government as to why online classes were possible but not online exams.
The state government also waived off restrictions on timings for the opening of markets/shops.
As scientists and health experts warn of the virulence of the new variant and with neighboring states already on alert after reporting cases of the new variant, the HP government hasn’t even mentioned any intention to at least put a check on the visitor from the states where cases of Delta Plus are being reported. Carrying an RT-PCR negative report for visitors from such states/cities would have been a wiser step.
Officially, the state is on alert, but no measures have been announced to check the entry and spread of the variant into the state. The state government does speak of preparing for the anticipated third wave, but there is hardly any long-term preventive strategy. The Covid appropriate behavior is hard to adopt when markets and tourist places are crowded with visitors.
Why Delta Plus is a Big Concern
The World Health Organization (WHO) has labelled the Delta variant as ‘Variant of Concern’.
The Centre and scientific/medical institutes in India also agree with that Delta Plus as a variant of concern and could be the cause of impending third wave. Last Tuesday, based on the findings of INSACOG, the Union Health Ministry had alerted and advised Maharashtra, Kerala and Madhya Pradesh regarding the Delta Plus variant of COVID19.
INSACOG had warned that the Delta Plus variant has increased transmissibility, stronger binding to receptors of lung cells, potential reduction in monoclonal antibody response.
“Delta variant is more resistant to medication, treatment and vaccination. Therefore, people who have been vaccinated can still be affected by this variant and can go on to get a clinical illness, Archana Dhawan Bajaj, director, Nurture IVF, told a national English Daily.
“Neutralising antibodies against this variant post-vaccination seem to be nearly five times lower in people who have already been vaccinated than the other variants,” she said.
Further, Dr Raman Gangakhedkar, ex-Head Scientist of Epidemiology and communicable diseases, ICMR, has also expressed concern over the reports that Delta Plus has reported pathophysiologic change and affecting different organs. Dr Raman says that it could transfer from cell to cell and would more likely produce neurological symptoms as a common manifestation.
So far India has reported 51 cases of the Delta Plus variant.
Delta Plus variant is a variant of Delta with an additional mutation -B.1.617.2.1.