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Confession of Mayor and Dy. Mayor of Shimla town on New Year Eve

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They blamed the Himachal Pradesh Government for not supporting them and termed it as a ‘hostile government’.

SHIMLA- Among addresses and wishes from Himachal’s minister, politicians, and public figures, the statement of the Mayor and the Deputy Mayor of Shimla is worth a mention as the duo explains why they could not deliver what they had promised in the polls.

Communist Party of India (M) was given a rare chance by people of the town when Congress and Bhartiya Janata Party failed to deliver. People were fed up with two parties and experimented with an alternative at small scale democracy model – Shimla Municipal Corporation polls 2012. So, their statement is reflection of their political will power and flexibility that appears to have crept into their ideological attitude while the CPI(M) wrestled in the political battlefield.

There are plenty of critical issues such as failure to control monkey and dog population, traffic and parking chaos, and environmental issues in the city to which there is no reference in the statement. There is mention of steps taken for beautification of the town, but no words on issues like increasing dust and visual pollution in the city. Moreover, their beautification plan remained confined within a small radius around the Shimla Mall

abvp-balugang-chowk

Visual Pollution/ School Building of Boileauganj Primary School

On his Blog, Tikendar Panwar, as a joint statement with Sanjay Chauhan issued to the citizens of Shimla on the occasion of the New Year, blamed the Himachal Pradesh Government for not supporting them and termed it as a ‘hostile government’. The friction between the Congress Govt. and CPI(M) is not hidden from anyone but the duo didn’t appear to have staged much protest regarding it earlier.

Both believe that improvement has been recorded in Shimla city during their tenure of 4.5 years and that they have been working hard for best quality potable water and good sewerage utility to the people of Shimla. Cable cars rolling in the city, wi-fi hot spots have been provided, and change in the street lighting system is also taking place, they claimed.  

They regret that they could have done much better if the government had supported them in their proposals and policies.

Best explanation was being in extreme minority in the SMC house.

We are just 12% in house, still we have tried to carry everyone in the MC together,

they said.

Regarding development, they blamed overturn by the successive state governments who reduced the budgetary allocation for the city.

From 45% of the expenditure the budgetary allocation has reduced to near 20% of the expenditure. The municipal finances were generated and many pilferages were checked. It is because of this reason that an unprecedented amount could be spent on developmental activities,

said the statement.

Also Read: Shimla MC dumping entire waste in landfill without processing as Chandigarh not accepting Shimla’s garbage

The duo claimed that 80% of the roads have been metalled and that SMC gets only 2 months time during summers for this job.

Battery operated vehicles were to run by now but because of the hostile state government we had to take the matter in the High Court,

said the statement.

The claim appears to be unjustified as quality of tarring only degraded and plenty of examples can be served to support this argument. For instance, take a look the following video:

Quality of tarring work in Summerhill ward- Shimla MC’s another souvenir

About the water-crisis and the jaundice outbreak in Shimla that had claimed more than two dozens of lives last year, the duo said

We managed the water crisis without privatizing water, supplied water without hiring tankers. There was then this problem of water borne diseases being spread especially in Ashwani khad catchment area. The water was lifted by IPH and distributed by MC Shimla. We have stopped lifting water from there. Now the water supplied is A+ quality.

However, public has been registering regular protest over rationing of water and irregular supply. After almost an year of deadly jaundice outbreak due to contamination of drinking water supply with sewage due to alleged corruption of the contractor and administration, Shimla continue to face irregular and insufficient water supply. A huge amount continued to be wasted due to heavy leakages in supply pipelines that were repaired ages ago.  

Also Read: Jaundice grips Solan, 32 cases in just 2 days, toll reaches 610 since January

The further explained that because of the bye laws SMC was unable to provide metered water.  They claimed that the bylaws are now amended and  SMC should be able to provide metered water to each household.

Bishop-cotton-school

The Shimla City is clean and better, they believe, and claimed that Shimla is hailed as one of the cleanest cities of India. However, on factual grounds, the capital city did not get a solid waste treatment plant during their tenure except proposals of high-tech facilities or to generate electricity from the plant.

shimla-garbage-burning-mc-shimlaAs reported by Himachal Watcher on various occasions, garbage burning is widespread all over Shimla and the Corporation’s sanitation workers can be seen setting collected garbage on fire, leading to rapid air pollution.

Also Read: Another blunder by Shimla MC to which Pollution Control Board has turned a blind eye

The treatment plant in Bharyal near Tutu was turned into open landfill, which was set on fire on multiple occasions and caused huge trouble to residents of the nearby villages and Totu. The garbage smoldered for weeks and a blanket of smoke had covered Shimla. The contractor of the plant had reportedly run away with his machinery after setting the plant on fire. The plant was hardly working since its commissioning in 2012 when Himachal Watcher had pointed towards possible irregularities. 

Also Read: Shimla MC workers set fire to garbage piles, fills entire STPI premise and offices with smoke

There is no improvement in the status of littering too. A solid public awareness campaign was and is still need of the time to make citizens co-operate in keeping Shimla clean. Not much was done to take steps to discourage tourists from littering. 

However, the Mayor and the Dy. Mayor claims,

On solid waste and sanitation we can claim to be one amongst the best in the country. When we joined we were collecting 35 tonnes of waste which now touches 80 tonnes. Similarly the door to door waste collection has reached 85 to 90 percent from 70%.

As Shimla didn’t has its own waste treatment plant, for which the SMC blames the State Govt., huge amount of revenue was spent on daily transportion to Chandigarh, which had initially denied taking extra load on treatment plant. 

Regarding the condition of public toilet facility in the city, they claimed improvement and introduction of new E toilets in the city. More that Rs. 2 crores is being spent to refurbish these toilets, they said in the statement.
The statement also claimed that over Rs 100 crore is being spent to overhaul pumps, replace pipelines, augment supply and to make the Sewage Treatment Plants functional.

For the poor, 100 houses were constructed in Dhalli and 300 more will soon be constructed in Krishna Nagar, claimed the statement.

As it appears, the two budding politicians could not go far to gain support and make the government co-operate. No major protest was registered against the State government on the part of Mayor and Dy. Mayor during their tenure. In case of jaundice outbreak in Shimla, the Mayor had lodged an FIR only after large number of cases triggered unrest in public.

Overall, there are no big transformations and city is heading toward an ugly future with unplanned and even unauthorized, over-construction. The government is further offering incentive to the owners of these structures by passing Town and Country Planning Amendment Bill to regularize them.

Certainly, CPI(M) had the opportunity to make political impression in Shimla. In the statement,  the two have also invited people to provide feedback and assess them.  

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Amid Surge in COVID-19 Cases in Himachal, Speculation of Complete Lockdown Gains Momentum

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Himachal Pradesh Lockdown from August 1st speculations

Shimla-The number of COVID-19 cases is rising at an alarming rate in Himachal Pradesh as for the past five consecutive days, the state had been reporting nearly 100 cases per day. With Monday’s 95 new cases, the tally  for the state jumped to 2270. The number of active cases has crossed the 1000 mark to reach 1025 on Monday. So far, 1216 patients have recovered while 12 of them succumbed to COVID-19 infection.

Among Monday’s cases, Sirmaur district reported the highest 31 cases from Govindgarh (mohalla) locality in Nahan. Complete lockdown of two days was imposed in this area but the spurt in cases continues. Fifteen new cases were reported from Baddi and Parwanoo in Solan district while remaining cases were reported from Bilaspur (11), Mandi (10), Kangra (16), Shimla (5), Una (2), Hamirpur (1), and Chamba (3).

In Shimla, five family members of a policeman, who had tested positive a couple of days ago, also tested positive.

HP Health Department’s COVID-19 Bulletin July 27, 2020 (9PM)

himachal pradesh demand of lockdown amid surge in covid-19

Some leaders of the ruling party (BJP) continue to invite criticism for behaving irresponsibly. The government itself is not learning any lesson from the situation in Govindgarh- a hot spot where the outbreak was triggered due to a marriage ceremony.

On Monday, the opposition Congress filed a police complaint against three persons including a BJP leader for violating rules by roaming around and meeting a large number of people instead of placing themselves under home-quarantine. The opposition said that samples of these persons were taken after they showed symptoms of the COVID-19 infection. Still, these persons kept roaming around after giving samples. The opposition has also alleged a discrimination was seen in initiating legal action for violations of social distancing norms. In Spiti, hundreds of tribal women were booked for staging protest against Minister Ram Lal Markanda for not adhering to the resolution passed by the locals regarding mandatory quarantine for all including the residents of the district. Cases have been filed against the opposition Congress too for violating these norms during recent protests. 

Earlier, a leader from Mandi had introduced the coronavirus in Chief Minister’s office and the State secretariat and infected about two dozen of his contacts including the Advocate General and his family. The leader reportedly visited the IGMC, Shimla, State High Court and other offices.

Now, another ex-MLA from Nadaun and the Vice-Chairman, HRTC, was reported to have met several party workers and even attending an event as the chief guest. Vijay Agnihotri reportedly continued shopping, roaming around, and meeting people after giving a sample. Reportedly, he also attended a marriage ceremony. The district administration would now have a task to trace all his contacts.

At the sametime, the Congress was also seen disregarding the social distancing norms during their recent protests against the hike in bus fare.

Laxity in Organization of and Checking Gathering in Govt Events

While the state government has issued guidelines for attending funerals and marriages, there is hardly any seriousness when it comes to organizing government or the party events. The ‘havan’ organized in Shimla where hundreds of people had gathered and several party leaders including Chief Minister Jairam Thakur had visited it. The event had invited criticism as the Chief Minister and workers of BJP Mahila Morcha were seen disregarding every social distancing norm. 

An employee of HP University also tested positive recently. A few days prior to the confirmation of this case, an event was organized at the varsity on the occasion of the Foundation Day a large number of people including media persons were present.  

Amid such a sharp increase in cases, instead of being so lax, the government is supposed to prohibit any such gathering or at least issue guidelines regarding the maximum number of persons allowed to attend such events/functions.

Solan district where the total COVID-19 cases have reached 553 has begun to witness a shortage of health staff.  The BBN area is the worst hit and has reported about 80 percent of the total cases in Solan. According to a media report, there are only 10 doctors at the CHC at Nalagarh and six at the Civil hospital, Baddi. There are only 28 nurses.

Amid this panic, the public, especially from Shimla district has been suggesting the imposition of a lockdown and questioning the government over still keeping the border open for tourists. To make thing even worse, there are instances where people violated quarantine rules after their samples were taken or were not monitored properly. In Mandi district’s Bagsaid market, a person had opened his meat shop giving a sample. It was after the arrival of his report that the shop was closed. 

Further, the online opinion poll of the State Government inviting public opinion over the imposition of a complete lockdown in the state has led to speculations of a possible lockdown from August 1st.  The matter regarding a lockdown is expected to be taken up in the Cabinet meeting to be held on July 30. The public is confused and preparing to stock up ration/essentials or planning to leave for villages. Several readers have also been writing to Himachal Watcher to inquire about the possibility of imposition of a complete lockdown.  

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First Open for Tourism, Then Train Staff, HP Govt Goes Topsy Turvy

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Himachal pradesh CM jairam thakur on hotel staff training

Shimla- In the last week, the Himachal state government has taken decisions that could have a long-lasting impact on citizens without consulting or even informing all stakeholders.

First, it came out with guidelines for tourism that did not have any inputs from the tourism industry. Second, it decided to open the state for tourism without consulting hotel and travel industry or keeping village pradhans in the loop.Six days after the decision to allow tourist activity and opening State borders for tourists, the state government of HP has decided to train people employed with the industry.

“Online training for the Hospitality sector would also be held in wake of COVID-19. About 10,000 candidates would be provided one-day training on hygiene and sanitation procedures. Three weeks training on basic essential of a tourist guide communication skill etc. would be provided to about four hundred candidates,”

said Chief Minister Jairam Thakur in a review meeting with Tourism Industry officials on 8th July. It’s surprising that the Government did not find the time to either have this ‘1 day training’ program ready or train the staff of hotels and restaurants before throwing open state borders for tourists. The government gave no time to the hotel industry to understand, prepare and implement directions given in the issued SOPs.

Major Hotel Associations have already decided to keep hotels closed at least till September and  Village Pradhans have also refused to allow tourists into their jurisdiction. The Chief Minister said that the State Government is following the lead of states such as Uttarakhand, Rajasthan, Goa, Kerala etc. where the Governments have decided to open the State for tourists.

To enter Himachal Pradesh, tourists have to meet three conditions, a valid booking for at least five days, a COVID-19 test report from an Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) certified laboratory not older than 72 hours and their vehicle should have a sanitisation certificate.

About 600 tourists have already entered Kangra district. Police arrested a couple in Kangra district who managed to enter the State by furnishing a fake COVID-19 negative report.

“A case was registered at Damtal police station against a couple who entered HP from Bhadroya barrier based on fake COVID Negative test report. Legal action is being initiated against them for cheating, fraud & forgery. They are currently lodged in an institutional quarantine facility at Parour,”

SP, Kangra, Vimukt Ranjan, said confirming the report. In another case in Kullu, five tourists, who managed to enter the State and reach Bajaura barrier in Kullu, were detained for not carrying required documents. A total of 12 tourists have been allowed in to Kullu district after they met the three conditions needed for tourists.

According to Kullu district police, about 70 tourists from Punjab, Haryana, Chandigarh, Rajasthan, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh etc. were sent back for not fulfilling conditions prescribed by the State Government. Tourists who should be sent back for a lack of required documents and fulfilling conditions given in the SOPs issued by the State Government are able to cross barriers at borders, like Parwanoo and Swarghat.

Police manning barricades are also frontline staff who are at risk.

We have provided police who are manning the barricades with N95 masks, raincoats that will serve a double purpose for rain and COVID protection and long gloves, policemen over the age of 50 years and those with existing conditions are not deployed at barricades,

said DSP, Kullu, Priyank Gupta.

While the majority of the hospitality industry players, (which is worst hit by the loss of business), is against opening the State for tourism, there are some, especially those who have leased hotels and taken loans who want to open for tourism. However, until the state government takes steps to add healthcare facilities and make more dedicated COVID hospital wards especially in rural areas, large scale tourism could endanger locals.

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Environment

Govt Legitimizing and Legalizing Environmental Violations for Business by Amending EIA Rules: Activists  

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Himachal pradesh EIA Notification 2020 Amendments news

Shimla-While in statements, the politicians in power at the Centre and State Governments have been expressing concerns over environmental issues and ensuring the people that they are committed to protect and preserve the environment, the reality is contrary to it. The most recent evidence is the proposed 2020 draft amendments to the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification. With these amendments, the process of environmental assessment before granting permission to execute commercial projects, like hydropower projects in Himachal Pradesh, would be reduced to merely a formality.

Environmental activists and people’s organisations from across Himachal have written to the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) to scrap the 2020 draft amendments to the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification proposed by it.

These activists and environmental protection groups are of the opinion that the EIA Notification, first issued in 1994 under the Environment Protection Act 1986, is a critical mechanism that regulates clearances granted to all kinds of development projects and economic activities in the country. It is one of the environmental decision-making processes that makes it mandatory for project developers to not just study the socio-economic, ecological and other impacts of a proposed project but also place them in front of the affected communities for their opinions and objections, thus, ensuring the process of a free, fair and informed consent. However, this notification has been amended and read down several times in the last two decades, in favour of ‘easing the norms’ for business. The latest draft continues to move in the direction of rendering the EIA process a mere formality. 

The submission made by HP groups states,

“In the context of the already vulnerable and sensitive Himalayan region, flouting of various provisions of even the present EIA notification has heavily impacted the local ecology and livelihoods of the people. The new amendments will only legitimize and legalize these violations and this will mean irreparable damage to the Himalayan ecosystem”. 

The key objections raised are around exemptions of a variety of projects from the mandatory  Public Consultation’ process as well as the dismantling of this process itself.

“The reduction of the time prior to public hearing from 30 to 20 days is also highly objectionable. In the given 30 day period itself, the information about Public hearings does not reach all the affected areas which are often spread out widely in case of mountains with some project-affected communities residing in remote and inaccessible terrains. Here accessing information takes a long time and reducing this time to 20 days will completely exclude such people from raising their grievances and suggestions in the public consultation. This is a clear attempt to block their participation in the environmental decision-making process”

said R.S Negi of Him Lok Jagriti Manch, Kinnaur. 

 

“It is shocking that the amendments include allowing post-facto clearance, which means that the project proponent can start work and before they have obtained environmental clearance. If the basic precautionary principle on which the EIA notifications is grounded is itself not followed it can lead to a disastrous situation for the ecology and local people. In this situation who is going to be responsible for the losses? If the project proponent is not in a position to pay for losses, will the MoEF&CC take the responsibility of losses? This provision will encourage project developers to bypass the process of environmental decision making. We absolutely oppose this amendment”,

said Prakash Bhandari of Himdhara Collective.  

The 2020 draft also dilutes the guidelines for monitoring and compliance of Environment conditions.

“Already the system of monitoring is weak, the conditions lose, the pollution control board and companies non-accountable, thus, leading to widespread destruction of local ecology and impacting health, lives, and livelihoods of project-affected communities. In the case of hydropower projects, for instance, the illegal and unmonitored dumping of muck along river beds, in forests and on common lands, has damaged pastures, disrupted the flow of the rivers, and caused massive disasters when floods occur. The proposed changes will give a free reign to those profiting from extractive and polluting projects,” 

according to Kulbhushan Upmanyu of Himalaya Bachao Samiti. 

It is ironic that on one hand, the global COVID crisis has thrown up several studies showing that pandemics like COVID emerge from ecological degradation and forest loss, and on the government is pushing for policy changes which will accentuate the environmental crisis that the country is already reeling under.  

“If the MoEF&CC wants to change the environmental laws, it should carry out countrywide regional consultations”,

added Uma Mahajan of Himachal Van Adhikar Manch.

The country, especially ecologically diverse yet climate-vulnerable regions like the Himalayas need a robust and strong environmental regulatory and governance regime that makes project proponents accountable and keeps the affected communities and ecological concerns at the centre of the EIA and environmental decision-making process. 

Notably, MoEF&CC had called for citizen’s comments before May 11 but this deadline was extended upto  June 30 and now August 11 as environmentalists and concerned groups expressed outrage that calling for public inputs on this critical law amidst the COVID led lockdown was unjustified. The MoEF&CC has in this period received thousands of objections highlighting the new draft as anti-people and environment.

The demand is to scrap these proposed amendments for the sake of the environment. 

Submission Made to Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change by Activists and Organizations

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