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Now HP Govt. misleading CCPD on disability issue after blatantly violating High Court orders

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No computer lab with internet facility for blind children, no library for deaf students, no digital books for blind students, no computer teacher and no mobility instructor for blind children, no provision of psychological counselling of disabled children

SHIMLA- Himachal Pradesh Government is presenting a misleading picture of disability sector before the Chief Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities (CCPD) of the union government. But the fact is that the basic provisions of the Disability Act and High Court’s orders are blatantly being violated; and the disabled are left with no option but to demonstrate in the streets or to file PIL in the High Court. The CCPD is here to take stock of the situation.

In a memorandum submitted to CCPD by Umang Foundation, an organization working for the disabled in Himachal on September 27, 2016, noted activist and chairman of Umang Foundation Ajai Srivastava alleged that the government is not implementing even the High Court’s judgements on disability.

Chief Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities (Government of India) is on visit to Himachal Pradesh from September 27 to to 29, 2016. He would interact with the differently abled persons and various NGOs working for them at 1.30 P.M in Conference Room, Armsdale Building H.P. Secretariat on September 28. Interested persons and NGOs were invited to meet the Chief Commissioner at the given venue.

Read: Despite HC orders, Himachal’s blind & deaf students denied hostel, library facility at special school Dhalli: NGO 

The memorandum says, “On Ajai Srivastava’s PIL, the High Court had directed the government and State Universities on 4th June, 2015, to provide free education to the disabled students in all courses up to university level. The state universities have given complete fee waiver to the disabled students but the government has neither filed an appeal against the judgment nor bothered to implement it in schools and colleges. ” The government is denying three percent reservation to the disabled in jobs. In the last three years disability quota was rarely mentioned in job advertisements.

ReadHP High Court’s landmark judgment brings huge relief to children with disabilities

The government has not implemented the CCPD’s examination guidelines for the blind persons despite High Court’s order on his PIL. Special school for blind and deaf girls at Sundernagar and special school for boys at Dhalli, Shimla are poorly managed and lack basic amenities.

In both the schools, there is no computer lab with internet facility for blind children, no library for deaf students, no digital books for blind students, no computer teacher and no mobility instructor for blind children. There is no provision of psychological counselling of disabled children in special schools. Many children are suffering from psychological problems and are in dire need of counselling.

Read: Extremity of HP Govt.’s corruption – Swallows share of deaf & blind students

Not only these schools, four designated ‘inclusive senior secondary schools’ at Portmore Shimla, Nahan, Nagrota Bagwan (Kangra) and Joginder Nagar(Mandi) have enrolled disabled students without proper facilities. Like other inclusive schools, the blind girl students at local Portmore school have never been given a chance to learn and work on computer which is their basic necessity for them, Srivastava said.

In violation of the Disability Act, the office of State Disability Commissioner has been put in complete defunct mode which was meant to give easy and speedy justice to the disabled.

The government has given additional charge of disability commissioner to a special secretary for name sake only who does nothing as commissioner. Nothing has been done to provide in-service training to the blind employees.

The government has completely failed on the accessibility front also. No initiative has been taken to create barrier free environment in the State. Leave apart other government offices; the office of director welfare is not accessible.

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Quandary in KCC Bank Recruitment – Himachal’s Unemployed Youth Grinds Between Corruption & Politics

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KCC Bank Recruitments 2017

Shimla- If you search hashtag #KCCB on Twitter, you are likely to find thousands of Tweets where the youth of Himachal Pradesh is requesting the current Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) government led by the Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur to deliver justice. In every Tweet, the CM can be seen tagged. Since the government chooses to remain tight-lipped, the helpless youth is now cursing not only the CM but also the Prime Minister Narendra Modi for befooling them. 

Shimla– If you search hashtag #KCCB on Twitter, you are likely to find thousands of Tweets where the youth of Himachal Pradesh is requesting the current Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) government led by the Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur to deliver justice. In every Tweet, the CM can be seen tagged. Since the government chooses to remain tightlipped, the helpless youth is now cursing not only the CM but also the Prime Minister Narendra Modi for befooling them. 

After being versed with entire matter, you will be astonished to find, how far the politicians and corrupt officials can go in playing with the future of the youth and their money.

State’s educated but unemployed youth had been trying to attract the attention of the ruling government towards the mental agony and despair they are going through for the past 18 months due to ugly vendettas of political parties and blatant corruption in the Kangra Central Cooperative(KCC) Bank.

You’ll find a lot of newspaper cuttings, pictures of protests, and memes showing how the politicians and the Bank not just toyed with the sentiments of lakhs of unemployed youth but also extorted crores of rupees from them. 

At the same time, the youth are alleging the Bank officials of lying through their teeth with no remorse at all. Read on to understand the entire issues.

Back in 2017, the KCC Bank advertised recruitment to fill up 216 vacant seats of assistant manager (Grade III), Junior Computer Programmer (Grade III), Clerk (Grade 1V General public, trained secretary, employees of cooperative society quota) and computer operators. Over 1. 26 lakh candidates applied for the recruitment conducted through the HP Board of School Education (HPBOSE). However, while applying, they had no idea that their own government would make a mockery of their unemployed status.

The then Chairman of the Bank, Jagdeesh Sephiya or the ruling Congress government did pay heed to the fact that the recruitment process actually violated the guidelines issued by the Reserve Bank of India and the Registrar Co-operative Society. It’s important to note, Sephiya is a Congress leader and a close aide of former chief minister Virbhadra Singh.

According to the applicants, the bank collected between 5-7 crores, conducted a written examination in June 2017 and held interviews of the 750 candidates in September. Before the declaration of the merit list, the Model Code of Conduct came into force ahead of elections to the State Legislative Assembly.

After elections, one of the first decisions of the new government of Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) was to not carry forward any recruitments made during the period of six months before the elections. The KCCB recruitment process was one of them. Since then, the 750 candidates who had appeared in the personal interview wait desperately for the bank to declare the result.

The BJP governmenthas alleged of nepotism in the recruitment while the members of KCC Board of the Directors allege grieve irregularities in granting loans and manipulation of data related to the Non-Performing Assets, which deem the entire application and recruitment process unlawful.

An inquiry by the then MD of the Bank, PC Akela, into some loans had confirmed a violation of norms by few KCC bank branches including one near Government College, Una. A chargesheet was also issued to the managers of these banks, if the ex-MD is to be believed.

Similarly, Rs 1.30 crore cash credit limit (CCL) extended by the bank to Chunni Lal, brother of Anand Chauhan, LIC agent – an accused in corruption cases registered against the former Chief Minister by the CBI, also came under the scanner.

The then Director of the bank, Keshav Korla, who is also associated with BJP and was in a race to become new MD, labelled serious allegations against the then MD and filed a petition in the State High Court, challenging the recruitment process.

It was alleged that the bank was not eligible to hire since its NPA was higher than 12 percent. According to bank officials, its NPA was about 15 percent. However, Korla alleged that the actual NPA was over 20 percent and that the bank has manipulated the statistics to fool the RBI.

The absurdity of the political drama witnessed a new low when Korla, in August 2017, alleged that he was slapped by Jaswant Singh Rana, another member of the BoD, over an argumentconcerningthese irregularities in the bank.

The new government then ordered a vigilance probe into the alleged irregularities in the grant of loans and manipulation of data related to the NPA. A nod was also given to lodge FIRs against three Chairmen and MDS. However, the vigilance probe was slowed down and no one was held accountable ;perhaps a regular outcome of such probes.

Also, it was found that the HPBOSE had destroyed all records of the recruitment except the personal interviews.

On July 19, 2018, the BJP government dissolved the BoD and the bank worked without the Board for about eight months. The government took its turn to reward its blue-eyed leaders and officials. In July itself, the government re-shuffled the MD of the Bank for as many as three times and made the respectable post a joke.

In November 2018, Rajiv Bhardwaj, a BJP leader from Kangra district and Shanta Kumar’s loyalist, was appointed as the new Chairman of the Bank along with the nomination of two other leaders as members.

Despite appeals from and protest of 750 candidates, by December 28, 2018,the new BoDpassed a resolution to cancelthe recruitment.Following this decision to cancel the recruitment, the court also closed the petition.

Now, the applicants tuned protestants allege that the bank officials including the new Chairman are lying to the candidates that they had no information regarding the cancellation of the recruitment. In fact, the court has mentioned it specifically that the petition was disposed of after the BoD submitted a written reply stating that it has cancelled the recruitments. The Chairman has held the court responsible for the cancellation of the recruitment. The Bank is treating these youth like primary kids, nothing more.

The reason given for cancellation was that the recruitments were conducted through HPBOSE. The BoD said it was against the Registrar Co-operative Societyguidelines, which instruct that banks can only recruit through IBPS, State Staff Selection Board or State Public Service Commission.  Secondly, the RBI guidelines, the BoD further stated that banks with an NPA higher than 12 percentare not eligible to conduct recruitments.

The candidates, who had no role in this mess created by the previous and new governments, facedmental harassment awaiting their results during all this time. They met several leaders and even the new Chief Minister, requesting him to declare the results. The Chief Minister, during an event in Bilaspur, had assured them that they would not face injustice, which they eventually did.

These youth are questioning how other banks with higher NPAs are able to conduct recruitments and why this rule is being implemented in their case only.

They staged protests and reached media several times since the formation of the new government.

They received occasional hopes from the government, which were ultimately dashed to the ground. These candidates are still not in any mood to give up protesting over their demand.

The BoD members, some of which are nominated, have their affiliations to their respective patron political parties. All the members strive to appease their party through nepotism in recruitments, issuance of insecure loans to politically influential or any mean they can find.

In fact, one of the biggest reason for rising NPA of the Bank is that the previous as well as the current governmentshave been ignoring persons with banking background for the top positions and instead electing those having a political background. This political influence leads to grant of insecure loans to selected candidates or near and dear to leaders of the respective ruling government. These political persons do it to please their masters.

The biggest irony is that despite being such a sensitive issue, no one is held responsible.

Someone must be held responsible for initiating the process of recruitment when the Bank was not eligible to do so officially and legally. Someone must be held responsible for making the Bank BoD a political battleground where anyone hardly has any experience related to banking. Someone needs to lay some eligibility criteria for the selection of the BoD, members and the position of the Chairman.

As far as nepotism is concerned, none of the parties leaves a stone unturned to influence the recruitment process, which is no hidden secret.

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A Harrowing Challenge of Drug Menace in Himachal Pradesh

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Shimla- The drug menace, predominant among the younger generation, has been haunting the state of Himachal Pradesh for a while now. Inadvertently, an incipient problem of drug use has transformed into a full-blown problem. Over the past few months, minatory incidents such as the arrest of people in possession of contraband drugs became quotidian, and several mysterious deaths of students left the parents in despondency. The faces of the parents are masked with discernable worry and panic, albeit their stony silence on the issue, fails them in downplaying the issue.

If education is driving our children to indulge in drugs, in that case, it’s better not to send them to school/colleges and keep them illiterate,

said a man remorsefully, after reading news about the arrest of a college goer in possession of “Chitta”. The statement reflects the manifest distress and uneasiness among parents.

How dismal the situation is, can be fathomed from the fact that in the year 2018, so far, 151 cases have been registered under the Narcotics Act, and 204 people have been put behind the bars in connection to drug peddling. In addition, 94 kg of Charas, 3 kg of opium, 116 kg of poppy husk, 0.496 kg of ganja, 480 grams of heroin and 39135 tablets/capsules were seized in the state from April to June 2018, as per the report of the state Government submitted before the Hon’ble High Court in the month of August.

In response, the state cabinet under the Chief Minister, on 30 November 2018, decided an amendment in the Narcotics Drugs and Psychotropic Substances(Himachal Pradesh Amendment Bill) 2018, which will be moved in the upcoming winter assembly session in Dharamshala, in order to make the offense non-bailable. The opposition has welcomed the move-not surprising, as they had been making a clarion call for change in law for some time now.

Ergo, the Drug trafficking or smuggling of narcotics in the state of Himachal will become a non-bailable offense once the Narcotics Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (Himachal Pradesh Amendment Bill), 2018 is passed by the assembly in the upcoming session.

The drug menace is not only unpalatable but if it is not quelled timely, it could become inveterate, jeopardizing the prosperity and stymieing the progress of the region. Clearly, the government was left with very few options, apart from making the crime non-bailable but this step might take care of the demand side of this complex issue. In doing this, the policymakers may be overlooking the overriding concerns on the supply side: as the amendments in the law may end up punishing the drug consumers only, whereas the supplier or the producers/manufacturer (in case of Chitta) of contraband drugs may never be nabbed. And the danger is– considering the inordinate delay and pendency of cases in our courts-the miscreants, especially the youth, may never get the second chance to redeem themselves.

After all, we all make mistakes in life, but, the key is to learn from our mistakes and not repeat them.

Hitherto, we have failed to underscore the crucial factors that festered drug use and it’s peddling. Be it the permeable border, high disposable income, lack of employment opportunities, temptation to make easy money or lack of awareness about the heinous repercussion of drug menace- high-risk behaviour, HIV/Aids/Hepatitis-C, violence, child abuse, risky sexual behaviour, the stigma of social exclusion, incarceration and list is endless. There are issues which require a far greater attention of the policymakers and the government.

First and foremost, we need to identify the conduit of these contraband drug and target it indiscriminately. The various studies show that once the European countries stopped the entry of drugs from “Balkan Route-the conduit of the drug trade to Europe” their problem of drug menace was half solved. Our state should follow the same approach.

With the advent of social media, the tricks of the drug trade have also changed; most of the drug sales nowadays are done on “Dark Net”. The state needs to ensure that our intelligence and police are abreast with all the latest technological advancement to nab the big fish of the drug trade. Only then this legislation will bring the desired results, or else our effort to curb the menace may belie the desired results.

Unsolicitedly, we all should provide, whatever little information we have about the drug buccaneers and miscreants in this trade to the police. The silence of the society on social evils don’t help in overcoming them but only fester them to the worse. Embrace meliorism!

We need to fight this menace from all quarters by spreading awareness about the pitfall of drug use. From parents, teachers, students, association, legislators, police, to NGOs, each one of us has a role in this battle against drugs. We, as a society, need to understand that it’s the higher socioeconomic groups that have a greater propensity to drug use, but it’s the society as a whole that pays the price.

The society, as a whole, needs to be emphatic to those who have fallen in the trap of drug use. The state also will have to ensure drug addicts are administered proper treatment-be it in prisons or in rehabilitation centers. Such an attitude for one and all will help drug addicts in overcoming the drug problem and social stigmatization.

The state also needs to usherradical reforms in sectors like education. At present, numerous youth get disillusioned when they get rejected for a job or don’t find a job. In frustration, they feel disheartened by the system and take up drugs. Whereas the real problem is, a majority of them lack the skill set and are often unemployable. The skill set is correlated with quality of education imparted to the students. The reform in the education system should commensurate with the requirement of the modern day age. It’s sad that we have commodified the education system, which further exacerbates the problems of the society, instead of remediating it.

Our policymakers need to introspect whether they have been able to formulate the policies that promote job creation and environment that thrives on an idea of innovation and technology.In absence of both these, youth is like to become susceptible to drugs to find solace. The policymakers need to avoid this trap and make sure the policies cultivate an environment on which our society can prosper for the best, not for the worst.

A bit of lateral thinking will also help. We need to create more options for our youth to have fun and frolic. Let’s understand, if we can offer an environment full of alternative activities to our youth, it will prevent the youth from falling prey to drugs. More parks, health clubs, library, reading rooms (sadly reading habits are declining in society worldwide), playgrounds will certainly help. Our pedagogy and parents can help immensely in this, by encouraging the youth to develop different interest and hobbies. Remember the old adage: An idle brain is a devil’s workshop.

Interestingly, most of the towns in the state or villages for that matter have a painful story related to the drug menace to tell- some certainly veracious, some may be apocryphal. The imminent challenge is to overturn the predicament. In the future, the tales from the state should be about drug survivor who fought his way back to health, not about the one who languished all his life in the hope of emancipation.

We are blessed with a young population but the asset has to be preserved by creating an environment that gets the best out the youth. If we err in doing so, the same asset can easily turn into liability and spell doomsday for the state. It would be a tragedy if we allow our youth to embrace the darkness.

Let’s get our act together; it’s high time! Let’s build a bulwark in the path of slow death by presenting new avenues of life to the youth. They deserve this much, if not better.

Author: Sunny Grack

About Author: Sunny Grack is a former banker. Interested in matters on economy, globalisation ,financial market and public policy; an Economic and Management graduate. He lives in Shimla.

Disclaimer: Himachal Watcher may not necessarily share the same opinion as expressed by the author.

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Report bursts myth about ‘big encroachers’ in Himachal’s tribal areas

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Shimla-Himdhara Environment Research and Action Collective in collaboration with Zila Van AdhikarSamiti, Kinnaur, released its report titled, ‘Who Gains from the Forest Rights Act, 2006?’. The study conducted in the tribal district of Kinnaur, assessed 1351 Individual Forest Right (IFR) claims of 22 Forest Rights Committees (FRC) in the district where 132 FRCs have been formed.

The study found that 96.5% of these IFR claims were for less than 10 bighas of land and only 6 claims out of 1351 claims being of more than 20 bighas.

Jiyalal Negi, president of Zila Van AdhikaarSamiti, Kinnaur said,

The data shows that people are making genuine claims of land under their occupation mainly for their survival and not for grabbing land as is the notion that the administration holds.

The study looked at the landholding data of 417 claimants of the total 1351 showing that 67% of these have existing private land holdings under 10 bighas.

Negi further added that close to 26% of the claimants are in the category of Scheduled Castes, whereas they form only 17.53% of the total population.

The report also revealed that the average size of land claimed under FRA by the SC community is slightly more than the average land claimed by ST community. Prakash Bhandari from Himdhara Environment Collective emphasized,

If the IFR claims of 417 SC claimants studied are recognized, then the average land holding size would increase from 8.86 bigha to 11.47 bigha,

showing that a fair and just implementation of this Act could play a critical role in reducing land ownership inequities in the region.

The Forest Rights Act, 2006 was legislated to support the survival of tribal and other communities living in areas where dependence on ‘forest lands’ is high. The act recognizes the individual as well as community uses of forestland dependent communities.

The study by Himdhara Collective was carried out to challenge certain arguments posed by the administration in Kinnaur as well as some other areas, questioning the individual claimants on the grounds that they belong to already landed communities and would be grabbing more land.

With such arguments dominating political and bureaucratic discussions, the implementation of the Act has remained poor, where only 129 individual claims have been approved across the state

, said SonamTargay and Rigzin, representatives from Lahaul-Spiti.

The representatives from both districts recommended that it is high time that the pending files with State and District level Committees be expedited. They also emphasized on the urgent need of training that should be conducted for both the administration and political representatives to remove misconceptions about this very important act.

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