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Corruption alleged in HP Panchayati Raj exposure visit contract allocation

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SHIMLA – HW received a scanned copy of a complaint filed with the Director of Panchayati, Himachal Pradesh. It was followed by a copy of the RTI filed seeking information regarding the schedule and expenditure on Kerala exposure visits organized by the Panchayati Raj Department every year.

In complainant alleged that the department did not follow the standard procedure before awarding the contract. The directions under HPFR 2009 Rules directs the department to invite bids through proper advertisement of tender to allocate the contract to eligible private agency. The tender in this case was awarded to a private contractor by the DPO, that deprived other candidates from fair opportunity. The complaint said,

It is brought to your kind notice that DPO Shimla had finalized the exposure visit during the month of July – 2015 to give exposure about the Panchayati Raj activities to the representative of Panchayat Member/BDC and Zila Parishad members and their staff. Sir the work relating to traveling & boarding/loading likely to be incurred on the exposure visit has been out sourced to a private agency by the DPO, Shimla without inviting bids through advertised tender system. As provided under Himachal Pradesh Financial Rules 2009 the activity/exposure visit costing upto Rs. 10,000/- & above are required to be finalized after inviting bids through competitive firm through advertised tender. However, the prescribed procedure has not been followed in this case. Since the same is illegal thus the exposure visit finalized by the DPO is required to be cancelled by inviting bids from other competitions through advertised tender published, at least, in two leading news papers.
It is, therefore, requested that necessary action in the matter may kindly be taken on priority basis so as to avoid any litigation/irregularity as well as to safeguard the interest of the competitive firms(s)

The complainant has also filed an RTI seeking the following information:

Corruption-alleged-in-HP-Panchayati-Raj-exposure-visit-contract-allocation

The contractor or the trip organizer is then responsible for the transportation and lodging of the delegation throughout the exposure visit. The delegation can consist of 25 – 40 members. The total cost of the expenditure is huge. Lakhs of rupees are are spent to facilitate the delegate.

The exposure visit is meant to provide knowledge regarding panchayat activities in Kerala that has decentralized

The complainant alleged that the DPO allocated the contract after inviting quotations from some pre-selected candidates without any advertisement.

The allegations are also hints towards manipulations in the standard procedure to favor a particular candidate, who in return might have bribed some officials to obtain the contract.

The complainant told us that he had approached the Director, Panchayati Raj with a written complaint. Surprisingly, the Director had no information regarding any scheduled exposure visit, according to the complainant.

What is an exposure visit?

The exposure visit is meant to provide knowledge regarding panchayat activities in Kerala and it socio-economic features, local self government structure, decentralization and local government system, participatory planning and development experience, gender mainstreaming, poverty reduction etc. The visits are paid to the functionaries of the some selected villages to obtain first-hand knowledge regarding the working mechanism in panchayats.

In reality, such visits are nothing more than perfect opportunities to spend a holiday at the cost of public tax money.

After reviewing the copies of complaint and the RTI, HW editor called at provided contact number of the office of District Panchayat Officer, Shimla to verify the allegations. HW was told that the DPO isn’t at her office. He called the next day and again we received the same reply.

However, the official who attended the call told us that there is no such procedure under which bids are invited through advertisement of tenders.

The DPO further added that previous contract for exposure visits were also awarded by the same way without any advertisement of tender. When HW insisted for an official statement regarding the same, the official told us that the DPO will be able to provide us sufficient and accurate information regarding the matter. We were told that the DPO is on holiday.

We dialed the DPO’s contact number provided on the official website.

HW member tried to verify two relevant facts like,

Is there any direction in the Panchayati Raj to allocated contracts above 10, 000 through proper invitation for tenders and its advertisement?

The second piece of information requested was related to the exposure visit scheduled for the month of July 2015.

However, the DPO didn’t find the topic comfortable to discuss and didn’t provide any direct answer initially. However, after repeated query regarding the same, she denied having any such direction under Panchayati Raj or HPFR 2009. We further informed her regarding the copy of the written complaint filed with the Director and the RTI filed by the complainant.

After 15 minutes, the DPO again called the HW member, who was covering this public grievance, and threatened to file a complaint with the high command of whatever newspaper he was employed with.

Apka high command Jalandhar main hain hai na, main call karti hun wanha apke head ko,

she said.

Well, we didn’t know either that HW had some high command in Jalandhar. Thanks for the information.

The DPO also threatened to file charges of misbehave with an officer on duty if she was further asked any questions regarding the mentioned exposure visit or any of her official activities.

The DPO,

Exposure visit ka contract kisko aur kaise dete hain ye app mujhe batayenge? App kaun hote hain mujhse ye poochne wale ki contract hote hain ya nai?

We were wondering that it took 15 minutes for the DPO Shimla to realize the misbehave issue and all that. May be, the DPO was trying to figure out details of HW. The anxiety and irritation was apparent in the DPO’s voice. That suggests that there is some crust in the complaint lodged.

First of all, respected DPO Shimla, HW isn’t a newspaper of media house. There is no high command that could be used to harass reporters like it’s done to most of the journalists or reporters from regional dallies. Here, at HW, the public, our members and readers make the high command.

We speak on the behalf of public. We represent public and public has every right to ask questions from any government official employed for its service. Perhaps, such government officials have forgot that they are meant to serve the public, not rule them.

Moreover, no tricks or threats will work on HW members. Unfortunately, we are quite poor at flattering too.

A lot of journalists, RTI and social activists are murdered brutally in India every year. Some of them are burned and buried. Almost every day, we read about someone burnt alive, others axed in public.

We are quite aware how the police and state machinery is used to harass those seeking replies from or trying to expose corruption among high rank government officials and politicians.

HW won’t mind facing the same while fighting against corruption or in effort to raise public grievances and distress.

Coming back to the grievance, we would request the Director Panchayati Raj Department to look into the matter and take note of the irregularities in the allocation of the contract. We are also forwarding the copy of this complaint to higher authorities.

Original Copies of the RTI and written complaint filed with the Director

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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Environment

New Shimla Youth Carry Out Forest Cleaning Drive, Request Residents to Maintain Cleanliness

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yatan youth club new shimla

Shimla-Littering and waste disposal in forests in Himachal Pradesh is becoming a grieve environmental issue. Not only the tourists, but locals too contributing towards filling the forest with solid waste. The worst affected are the forests in tourist towns. The district administrations, the pollution control board, and the Municipal Corporations and Councils have no plan of action to deal with this problem. As usual, they are in deep slumber. They are only interested in getting photographed with brooms and masks, sweeping floors of some park, which is already clean.

There is only one Solid Waste Treatment Plant in the State, and that’s, too, has been turned into a dumping yard. A week ago, the heaps of waste were on fire, causing air pollution.

Unfortunately, a section of educated youth is responsible for littering. However, at the same time, a section of the same youth is making efforts to rectify the situation and create awareness in the society regarding cleanliness.

The latest example is the forest area near Kanlu Temple in Sector 4 of New Shimla.

The Yatan Youth Club of New Shimla carried out a cleaning campaign and found that not only domestic solid waste is being dumped into the forest but also the construction waste. The members of the club are carrying out this campaign in multiple rounds as it is not possible to collect entire waste in one day.

New Shimla Youth Club Cleaning Campaign
In the first round, the members collected a large amount of beer and plastic bottles, which were thrown into the forest by ignorant locals.

New Shimla Youth Club Cleaning Campaign 2

In the second round, they found plastic bags, baby diapers, sanitary napkins etc dumped into the forest, which are not only an environmental hazard but also a sanitation issue. Diapers and sanitary napkins, especially in monsoons, attracts flies and mosquitoes alongwith emitting a foul smell.

The members of the Club took the pain of taking out this waste from the forest as well, which is highly appreciable.

“Though the door-to-door garbage collection service is available in the locality during morning hours, the locals throw garbage generated during the day into the forest at evening,”

the members of the Youth Club told Himachal Watcher.

“Waste generated from maintenance or construction activity in the locality is also dumped into the forest, which is extremely harmful to the environment,”

the members added.

New Shimla Youth Club Cleaning Campaign 3

Forest After Cleanliness Drive

The Youth Club, through their campaign, has requested the locals to at least keep their surrounding clean and refrain from dumping waste into forests. The locals should take responsibility for their locality instead of indulging in littering, the members said.

At the same time, the Youth Club has sent out a message to youth in other localities to come ahead and take similar initiatives if they really want to bring a change.

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HW Community

Kullu Bus Accident: Death Toll Reaches 44, About 35 Injured, Several Critical

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Deaths in Kullu Bus Accident in 2019


SKullu-
The bus accident in Banjar sub-division of Kullu district has entered the list of biggest tragedies in Himachal Pradesh. Per the last information received, the death toll has reached 44, and over 30 injured are undergoing treatment at Banjar Civil Hospital, Kullu Hospital, and Hosptial in Mandi’s Nerchowk.

Several injured are in critical condition and have been referred to PGI, Chandigarh. The district administration fears a possible rise in the death toll considering the critical condition of the injured.

All deceased are said to hail from about 20 villages in Kullu and Mandi.

The accident has again exposed the State government’s hollow promises to take measures to reduce road accidents. There is still no check on vehicle maintenance and overloading, leave alone appropriately placing crash barriers on cliff-side of the roads.
Causes of Kullu Bus Accident in 2019

This 42-seater bus was carrying over 75 passengers, there were passengers on the roof as well, eye-witnesses confirm. The bus had left for Gada Gushaini from Banjar on Thursday evening at about 3:45 PM. The bus had not covered more than two kms when it plunged into a 500 feet deep gorge near ‘Bheot mod’ and landed in a Khada fter scraping the mountain face.
Banjar Bus Accident in Pictures

As per a Hindi Daily, the driver was untrained and was perhaps driving a bus for the first time.

Locals, who travelled in this bus daily, told another Hindi Daily that the bus was in poor condition and often developed technical snags. According to the Daily, the driver experienced a problem in shifting gears when the bus approached the ‘Bheot mod’ and began to move backwards uncontrolled before skidding off the road.

The Superintendent of Police, Kullu, Shalini Agnihotri said, the exact cause of the accident could only be ascertained after a proper probe.

Chief Minister Jairam Thakur, who visited the hospital to meet the injured said,

The road at the spot was not in bad condition. Prima facie it looks like a case of overloading. A meeting was held today to ensure that such incidents don’t happen in future

The driver is reported to have jumped off the bus. A Daily said the driver survived and fled the spot. However, official confirmation was awaited. Hearing the sound of the accident, the locals from nearby Bhumar village rushed to the spot. As per eyewitnesses, the bodies were scattered all over the steep mountain.

Moreover, the condition of crash-barriers install was quite poor. The single-row crash barriers were not installed properly and held no chance of stopping the bus from skidding off the road.

Pictures of Kullu Bus Accident in 2019
The bus was shredded into pieces and its parts were mangled all over the hill and the stream at the bottom of the gorge. The locals had a tough-time descending the steep hill. With the help of ropes, the bodies and injured were extricated and brought up to the road. Further, the locals formed human chains to carry the injured across gushing water of the stream.

Death toll in kullu bus accident

The accident is not the first of its kind. There have been several such accidents in the past in Himachal Pradesh. On April 9, 2018, 27 people including 24 children were killed in a school bus accident in Nurpur in Kangra district. In April 2017, 45 people had died when an overloaded bus had plunged into a gorge near Nerwa in Shimla district. In 2016, 17 had died when a bus fell into Beas river in Mandi district, 25 in Rampur in 2017, 31 in July 2015 when a bus fell into the Parvati in Kullu. Before that, May 2013, 42 people were killed as a private bus plunged into Beas river.

In 2019 alone, 430 people have died in 1,168 road accidents in Himachal Pradesh by May 31. Between 2009 and 2018, over 11,000 people had died in nearly 31,000 different road accidents in the state.

Every time an accident happens, probes are ordered and government issues statements taking vows to fix black spots and implement violation of traffic rules like overloading and rash driving strictly. Further, assurances are provided to take strict action against all government officials and those responsible for the accident. After a few months, the usual business continues as the government officials go back into deep slumber. No action is ever taken against government officials responsible for negligence.

It’s no different this time too, the chief minister has ordered a Magisterial probe while the state transport minister Govind Singh Thakur has made similar promises. How and what actions will be taken remains to be seen.

It’s seen over the year that no audits are conducted to assess the need for additional bus services. The rural areas face a huge problem due to the lack of sufficient bus services, which is also responsible for overloading. There are limited buses and people are left with no choice but to board on overloaded buses to reach their destinations.

Previous Video

The Regional Transport Office also has a role in such accidents because poorly maintained buses are passed easily. The Public Works Department has all the time to build a corrupt nexus with private contractors, but not to care to install much-needed crash barriers. The district administration and police hardly find time to run regular inspections to see if there is a paucity of bus services or buses are being overloaded.

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Campus Watch

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

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Auckland School Shimla making student to pay for sports tournament

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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