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Lawyer steps back in high-profile Priyanka Vadra ‘land purchase case’, RTI activist requests HC to appoint Amicus Curiae

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SHIMLA- Fabrications of laws and governmental mechanism to favor high-profile VVIPs and their relatives, as depicted in Bollywood films, aren’t altogether fictitious after all. The inspiration comes from routine socio-economic realities prevailing in India. In a similar case, the justice seems to be at stake in controversial Priyanka Vadra Land Purchase deal as the Right to Information Activist (RTI) Dev Ashish Bhattacharya, at a critical stage of arguments, is deserted by his lawyer who was earlier advocating him in High Court of Himachal Pradesh.

The lawyer had requested to not mention the reason why he can’t fight this case any further. The lawyers to which the activist approached were reluctant in taking up the case  against the privileged VVIP party – daughter of Congress President Sonia Gandhi and wife of Robert Vadra.  Serious controversies relating to property deals surround Mr. Vadra as well.

Video: All About Priyanka Vadra ‘Shimla Land Purchase Case (in Chronological Order)

Correction: Priyanka had purchased three-and-half Bigha of land, not 4.45

Moreover, the court and the government appear to be in a hurry to dispose off the case as soon as possible. The HC had recently warned the activist that if he could not produce a counsel in the hearing scheduled for 22 December, 2016, the court will pass its judgment ex-parity.

Now, the RTI Activist, in a letter to the Chief Justice of HP High Court, has requested to appoint a senior and learned advocated as Amicus Curiae so that the arguments could be brought to a justified conclusion.

Since my learned counsels have left due to personal reasons and all other counsels whom I know have refused to stand for this case due to the reasons which cannot be made open for want of decency, therefore, you good self is requested to appoint a senior and seasoned Sr. Advocate as Amicus Curiae to help the court in adjudicating the issue of law which arose out of this case

, requested the activist in letter to the Chief Justice.

The activist further pleaded that the case involves a vital point of Public Interest. There are questions that must be answered.  Whether the file- notings and details relating to the approval granted to purchase land under section 118 of H.P. Land And Tenancy Act 1972 to any party may be disclosed or not under RTI Act 2005? 
This case also involves a point of law that must be adjudicated: whether the life of any SPG protectee may be threatened if the file notings and details of the processes of public activity involving the approval granted to purchase of land in Himachal Pradesh by invoking Section 118 are released?

If Information about SPG Protectees Can Be Released in Delhi, Then Why Not In Himachal?

Another logical argument that the activist raised is: why details in similar case involving SPG protectees can be obtained in another state but denied in Himachal?

If information is released in public domain under the provision of the RTI Act to one person, then can the same information be denied to another person?

The activist had pleaded in the court that similar nature of the information pertaining to the allotment of houses to the SPG protectees in Delhi was released under the RTI Act.

Then why the same nature of information is denied in Priyanka Vadra case through RTI in Himachal Pradesh?

,

asks the activist.

Hence, he added, the issue is of great Public interest and needs to be argued in the court by a senior and seasoned counsel. The justice is at stake and it would be a constitutional crisis if the case is left without proper adjudication.

I am sure that your goodself shall not allow this constitution crisis to continue any further which rendered me defenseless against the battery of Lawyers because the counsels at Shimla are showing their reluctance to take up my case

, said the activist in the letter.

On the basis of these facts, Mr. Bhattacharya has requested the court to appoint a Sr. Advocate as Amicus Curiae to place the arguments on his behalf.

Reportedly, in 2007, Priyanka had bought three-and-half Bigha land in Charabra in capital Shimla near Presidential retreat for Rs. 47 lakh. The State Government had accepted that some provisions were relaxed to allow Vadra to buy land in Himachal because under Section 118 of Land and Tenancy Act 1972, no person other than a resident of Himachal can buy land in the State except for agricultural purpose.

According to a report published in the Statesman, Mr Virbhadra Singh said that there is no irregularity in giving permission to Mrs Vadra to buy property near Shimla. He said the government “has the power to give such permission and we had followed the due procedure”.

According to reports, in 2009, the then State govt had also admitted that it was a difficult task to permit Priyanka Vadra (a non-Himachali and non-agriculturist) to allow purchase of land in Himachal as Section 118 doesn’t allow it. The report also mention that administration introduced some flexibility to accomplish it.

Also, the report further said, the then revenue minister, Sat Mahajan, had reportedly driven to Delhi to hand over the papers personally to Mrs Vadra.

The construction of her luxury cottage had begun about 8 years ago during which the cottage design went through several changes including demolition multiple times. A controversy about alleged felling of trees around the plot for construction of Priaynka Vadra’s “dream cottage” arose as well. Only a couple of BJP leaders registered their protest regarding this deal.  Former Chief Minister of Himachal, Shanta Kumar was one of them. 

In 2014, the RTI activist Dev Ashish Bhattacharya filed an application under RTI Action 2005 seeking release of details of this land-purchase deal. Apparently, there is a big question as to what relaxations were given in provisions to enable Mrs. Vadra to purchase land and built a cottage near Presidential retreat in Charabra, Shimla.

However, the activist was denied information by the district administration saying the family is an SPG protectee and revealing details of her property may threaten her safety.

It is noticeable that the location of purchased land was covered by mainstream media and pictures of the under-construction cottage were also published in dailies.

The activist approached the State Information Commissioner with his first appeal. The SIC found his arguments valid and directed the district administration to release information requested in the RTI within 10 days.

However, the matter was taken to the High Court and Priyanka also requested the state government to keep her details concealed, not to be released in public domain. Thus, the support extended by the state government including previous BJP government is comprehensible. 

Considering the above mentioned details and attitude of the government, it is a matter of worry that constitutional provisions are not equally followed indiscriminately, which is a blasphemy in terms of the guidelines given in Indian constitution. In current system, influential families have privileges that constitution doesn’t provide for.

Moreover, why the Vadra family is hesitating in releasing details of the deal if everything was done in accordance with provisions? The decision of the court will mean more than just a judgment. It is to be seen whether Law is equal for all or not. 

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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