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HP forest land encroachment row: Questionable behavior of Govt. and HC

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SHIMLA- On April 6, 2015, Himachal Pradesh High Court passed interim orders to uproot apple trees cultivated on encroached forest land in order to recover the land. The court also directed to disconnect water and electricity connection to encroachers along with demolition of illegal structures on forest land. It’s a wonderful decision to order recovery of encroached land within six months. After all, no one should be allowed to encroach forest land.

Following the directions, the forest department begins to axe trees on encroached land. The department started with small orchards less than five bigha. Green apple trees, laden with this season’s harvest were fell down under government’s watch. However, the government did not interfere until unrest rose among apple growers, agrarian society, environmentalists and CPI(M), which was the only political party that came in support of small-scale, poor apple growers. Many growers have been growing apples on these lands for over three decade. The government and the people, both were responsible for promotion of encroachment culture. However, at the end, when the payback time arrived, only cultivators faced the losses.

HP forest land encroachment

This decision also affected the price of apple crops in the market. Panicked growers started to pluck unripe apples. It resulted in untimely flood of apple in market, reducing the cost of even higher grade apples. So, other growers also faced the consequences due to the decision taken without deep knowledge of Himachal’s apple grower community.

On 26 July, HP government filed a review petition seeking amendments in the interim orders passed by the HC. On 27 July, the HC ordered a stay on cutting of apple trees, but declined the plea to amend interim orders passed earlier.

The new orders directed the chief secretary and the principal secretary to take responsibility of plucking the apples, conduct their sale and use the money for plantation of vegetation that belongs to forest.

A division bench consisting of Chief Justice Mansoor Ahmad Mir and Justice Tarlok Singh Chauhan, in its eight page order said,

It appears that the state has not sought modification of the orders but has shown its bona fides to protect the apple trees, the fruits and the crop, which is/are standing on the encroached forest land and to protect the environment as cutting of a large number of trees, may cause deforestation. Before we pass any direction, we deem it proper to record herein that it appears that the officials of the state have remained in deep slumber for a pretty long time. For the coming seasons, if any crop grows on its own, i.e. by natural process, that be destroyed.

While it’s surprising that the Himachal HC failed to consider all relevant aspects and perspectives earlier, the HP government waited for destruction of apple crop of smaller cultivators. There are a few questions that need to be answered to justify such negligent and tricky behavior of the government.

Himachal Apple Growers

If the justification includes anything about public unrest or ecological damage, then it’s really ridiculous to know that Virbhadra Singh, who is leading the government sixth time since formation of the state, and who is himself an agriculturist, failed to foresee it.

First of all, there is no doubt that government itself encouraged encroachment for decades and later failed to find appropriate solution when scolded by the HC.

Secondly, after orders passed by HC on April 6, why it took nearly four months for the HP government to file a petition when it was well aware of the negative consequences of this decision on apple industry and ecology of the state?

Third, as alleged by apple growers as well CPI (M), why the government begin with encroached lands smaller than 5-bigha when it should have targeted the big fish first.

The high court has ordered fencing of marked land and allowed the government to harvest and sell this year’s apple crop. It also asked the government to ensure that no further cultivation is allowed on encroached land.

As a matter of fact, an apple tree can deliver good harvest for decades. However, the HC has allowed the government to harvest and sell only this year’s crop. Does it means that trees will be axed after harvesting the crop?

So, what difference it would make if trees are spared for one year. Moreover, the plantation campaigns have always met miserable failures because it takes many decades for cedar or deodar plants to only survive. New plantation will not fulfill the gap created by thousand of axed apple trees.

May be, forest vegetation can be planted alongside apple trees. Let apple trees live their full life span without maintenance. Once, the trees are dead, ensure check on further plantation of any crop on forest land.

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 7 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 world around him in his DSLR lens.

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Ruling Govt taking cover of Congress misdeeds to justify Karnataka episode

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https://himachalwatcher.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/Karnatak-governor-decision.jpg

Shimla: Congress party in Himachal Pradesh today staged a protest against the capricious decision of the Governor of Karnataka, Vajubhai Vala, to invite Bhartiya Janata Party to form Government despite the written statement of Congress and Janata Dal (Secular) alliance claiming a clear majority. It has created a constitutional controversy.

If that was not enough, Yeddyurappa swore as the Chief Minister without proving a majority and had even announced waiver of all farm loans of up to Rs 100,000. Governor even appointed the BJP’s K G Bopaiah as pro-tem speaker.

This action of Governor has shattered the belief of those who honoured the constitution and political ethics.

A valid point that the Congress has raised here is that the ruling government did not play by the same rule in Manipur elections. In the 2017 elections, Congress won 28 seats in the 60 member House, BJP had managed to win 21 seats. However, governor Najma Heptulla invited the BJP leaders to form the government and denied Congress a chance to form the ministry.

What’s the biggest security a common man has in a democracy like India? It’s the constitution. This single weapon can set the entire country back on track if the people knew how to use it.

Anyway, politicians are taking care of it for you now. The ruling government has just over-rode the constitution, which is going unnoticed because the majority of the public has no idea about the business going on at the top level of governance.

In the present case, the Supreme Court of India intervened and overruled Governor Vajubhai and asked B S Yeddyurappa to prove his majority in the assembly at 4 pm on Saturday. Otherwise, the Governor had given BJP 15 days for horse trading. The Supreme Court only followed the constitution. The court has also proved the decision was unconstitutional.

It is not that opposition parties have always played fair, but the ruling party is taking unfairness to the next level.

There are only three ways in which BJP can form a government in Karnataka: by convincing elected lawmakers of Congress or JD (S) to resign or make them disappear today before floor test or create defection through horse-trading. Sadly, the Governor listened to the high-command and opted to be part of this game.

Another ironical fact is that BJP is trying to counter the resistance to its game plan by referring to Congress’s decades-old controversial decisions like the emergency imposed in 1975 and taking down BJP governments in four states including Himachal using tactics of defection. This is what the Spokesperson of BJP in Himachal, Shashi Datt Sharma said in a press statement on Friday.

The BJP followers are saying that the party is taking revenge from Congress.

Sharma alleged that Congress has always used politics of repression and at the same time the party is adopting the same tactic.

Why is the ruling government criticising as well adopting the same tactics at the same time? Why take the shield of bad deeds of past governments to justify own misdoings? What would be the difference between two parties then? Why is the public ok with it?

This trend of over-riding the constitution will take a toll on the public. No one is supposed to be above the constitution in India. However, this seems no more a rule of the political game.

One should wonder who will protect honest RTI activists, journalists, judges, or anyone resisting against government’s dictatorship when the constitution mo more has their back.

But, for now, no one is even close to understanding why they should be scared about it.

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Findings of magisterial probe into Nurpur Tragedy exposes HPPWD’s blunder

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Probe report of Nurpur school bus accident

Kangra: The Additional District Magistrate (ADM) has completed the magisterial probe ordered into the school bus accident in Nurpur on April 9, 2018, and submitted the report to the Deputy Commissioner.   

The Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur-led State Government had ordered the inquiry after unrest broke out among the people following the tragedy, which caused loss of 28 people including 24 children.  While 23 had died on the spot, one succumbed to injuries a few days later at a hospital. 

While Hindi and English Dailies told an altogether different story related to the report of the magisterial probe, a Government spokesperson today made some of the original findings public.   

Findings of the magisterial probe into Nurpur School Bus Mishap

1.   The driver was never challaned/charged even once for the offence of over speeding, drunken driving and rash driving. 
2.   The accident did not seem to happen due to any mechanical failure.
3.   The site of the accident was a black spot with loose soil and damaged edges abutting a landslide zone with cliff and did not have any crash barriers and the road formed sort of craters.
4.   The bus should have been on the left-hand side but due to the absence of eyewitnesses, it couldn’t be ascertained how and why the bus went to the right side of the road.
5.   As per a survivor, a 10-year-old, who was sitting on the right side window seat, divulged that a motorcyclist came from opposite direction after which the bus rolled down
6.   Since there was no eyewitness of the accident,  it is believed that just to save the motorcyclist, the driver, in a reflex action,  had negotiated the bus to the right-hand side, misjudging the space on the right-hand side road. He could not have been able to control the bus which had reluctantly rolled down. 
7.   The accident has occurred under unverifiable circumstances. The road was straight, not sloping up or down 
8.   The driver was never seen driving bus in a rash manner and reported to be a mature person
9.   The road on this point is in very poor condition, uneven and forming fatal craters. The edges of the road on this spot are badly broken supported/reinforced with no crash barriers/parapet.

 

What caused misreporting?

Surprisingly, the Dailies reported that the inquiry found a human error on the part of the driver Madan Lal (67).  These reports further said the driver was looking back as children were making noise or suggested that the driver might have dosed-off on a duty, which is not hectic in nature and includes boarding-off children after every 10 minutes.

The road was tip-top and was not in poor condition, these reports said.  It is not clear who fed the media this story.

However, the findings of the report have made it clear that the Public Works Department shares the responsibility for the massacre.

That’s why the government has haphazardly tarred the patch of over one kilometre and constructed new parapets on the spot from where the bus had skid-off the road.

Now, the PWD is also installing crash barriers too.

magisterial probe report in Nurpur Bus accident

Photos: Amar Ujala

Take a look at the two pictures. One of them was taken on the day of the accident and the second one clicked recently and published in the Hindi Daily Amar Ujala in its May 9, 2018, edition. The picture speaks itself. 

At the same time, the parents, based on the said media reports, questioned the findings and demanded a separate, most preferably a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation.

The shattered parents of the 24 children including some who had joined the school a day ago killed in the perhaps one of the most tragic and heart-breaking road accident in Himachal Pradesh.

Most of the kids aged between five years to 10 years and some families lost more than one child, which was the worst part of it. It is too early for children of this age to die a horrible death, which cannot be called an accident in a literal sense.

The mass cremation of small pyres weighed heavy on everyone who keeps a heart.

However, it is to be seen whether the State Government would take a action this time or will opt to save the skin of responsible bureaucrats and just move on like the governments have been doing in previous cases. 

If the Government would not deliver justice to the victims of this massacre by taking action this time, there would be more such tragedies.

In fact, the reason the people keep dying in road accidents or due to jaundice outbreaks is that no action is ever taken against the responsible government officials, especially the bureaucrats.

In case the Government chose to patronize the sinful officials, the public must not remain silent this time.  

We believe the mass cremation of small pyres is too heavy to be overlooked for anyone who keeps a heart.   

Top Photos: Amar Ujala

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Amid Shimla city’s water-crisis, MC alleged of putting people on hold for Hotels, VIP areas under central zone

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Shimla city's water crisis

Shimla: Amid Shimla Municipal Corporation’s poor response to acute water crises in the city, the allegations have appeared that the VIP areas and hotels under the central zone are being given priority in the distribution of water. The tanks in VIP areas and hotels were full while the commoners were put on hold for them.

Opposed to equal distribution of the available supply, on Tuesday, as per the May 09, 2018, edition of a Hindi Daily and other media reports, the SMC supplied water to localities under central zone like the Mall Road, Ridge, Lower Bazaar, Ram Bazaar, Middle Bazaar, and some areas of Sanjauli. The reports alleged that these areas house majority of hotels, VIP residents, and officials.

Even BJP’s own Ward Councilors are now feeling agitated over the poor management of the SMC under the command of new Mayor. The people are questioning whether the Mayor and Deputy Mayor possess enough knowledge about managing a city with 1.70 lakh population?  

However, these Councilors are not able to muster enough courage to criticize their own party.  

The manifesto of the Bhartiya Janata Party for the SMC elections in 2017 had promised betterment in the water supply. It was one of the most important agenda before the elections.  

However, the situation has become so ugly that public toilets in the city were locked as there was no water for cleaning.  The government, as well as private offices, are also bearing the brunt of SMC’s miss-management.

For last two weeks, the people have no option but to buy water even for drinking. The SMC is receiving over 50 calls per day seeking supply through water-tankers.

The peak tourist season has begun on a bad note for Shimla. The hospitality industry is also surviving on either SMC’s alleged favouritism or through private tankers.

Betterment of Water-Supply in BJP’s Manifesto for SMC Elections  

The party had promised in the manifesto that the leakage in the main pipelines of the water supply schemes would be fixed to improve water supply. Natural resources would be cleaned and used to supplement the main water supply. The BJP has promised to cut water-bills and that the water would be lifted from Kol Dam to fulfil the demand of water in the city.

Unfortunately, a large amount of water is either wasted due to leakage in pipelines that awaits repair and water-tanks in the city including those of residential, commercial and government buildings. The water-tanks of the SMC can still be seen overflowing.

The State High Court has also noted that either water is waste in leakage in supply pipelines or being stolen through illegal connections. 

The supply to the city has dropped down to 23 – 27 MLD per day against the demand of about 45 MLD per day.  About 10 MLD is wasted due to the leakage.  In times of water-crisis, there is no effort to encourage people to not overlook leakages in their tanks or pipelines.

Rainwater harvesting is not even in the SMC books. 

The SMC has faced water crises earlier too, however,  but nothing was learnt to deal with water-shortage in future. Moreover, the formation of Shimla Jal Prabandhan Nigam Limited (SJPNL) will take its time.     

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