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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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Inflation, Increased Cost of Food Items, Ration, Crumbling Health Infrastructure, and 100 Gram Sugar: Govt’s Diwali Gift to People

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hp govt's gift on diwali 2020

Shimla-The Himachal Pradesh Government has collected over Rs. 86 crores in the name of the COVID-19 relief fund, but only Rs 25 crore was spent. It was stated by Sanjay Chauhan, former Mayor of Shimla and a senior CPI (M) leader. It’s a shocker considering negligible relief measures and the state of health infrastructure crumbling amid a pandemic. The unpreparedness of the state government to deal with community spread of coronavirus is coming to light as its COVID-19 hospitals have begun to run out of beds in isolation wards. Two major medical facilities -Indira Gandhi Medical College & Hospital and DDU Hospital in Shimla- are packed to their full capacity. 

What’s not shocking is that Chief Minister did hail the Prime Minister, exactly as he was told, claiming that the nation is out of COVID-19 crisis. It suggests that the Chief Minister is little aware of the surge in cases and over 400 COVID-19 deaths, of which 93 were reported during the last 12 days of November month. Yesterday, the state has reported over 700 cases with six deaths, which is alarming.

“Prime Minister Narendra Modi deserves all praise for his dynamic leadership as he is successfully steering the Country amid all troubles and difficulties. He has successfully brought the Nation out of Covid-19 crisis,” 

said Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur, while addressing a public meeting at Sihunta under Bhatiyat Assembly Constituency on Wednesday. 

Talking about the real situation and relief measures, the state Government became a laughingstock and was being trolled on social media after it announced 100 gram sugar and 500-gram rice per person to all ration cardholders as a Diwali gift. If that was not enough, according to a media report, this quota has still not reached the depots. There is a possibility that it would reach the cardholders only after Diwali.

The reason behind this backlash is not only that 100-gram sugar is too trivial to be called a gift or relief, especially amid a pandemic when common people, especially those falling in middle and lower-income groups, are faced with unemployment and economic crisis.

While the people were hoping for relief from their elected government, inflation was on the rise. Currently, prices of food items including vegetables and other essential commodities have also witnessed a huge increase. Further, cut in subsidy on electricity, hike in bus fare, increase in property tax, rise in diesel and petrol prices etc. have put additional burden on the commoners. 

Then there were other issues like relaxation in garbage collection fee for the period of lockdown. Sadly, the public did not get any relief even in garbage bills despite staging protests. 

Meanwhile, Ministers made news for spending tax money on buying luxury vehicles and VIP numbers. 

Oppositions, Congress and CPI (M) have also targeted the government over its failure to provide any considerable relief to the people when it’s most needed. As per oppositions, the current government has no control over the market or inflation.

Chauhan also raised the issue of thousands of vacant posts of doctors, para-medical staff, nurses etc. at medical facilities across the state. He said that of the total 1000 posts of lab technicians, 700 were still vacant. He said that the government did not prepare for a community spread despite having a time of eight months during the lockdowns. It was due to this lackadaisical attitude of the government that currently IGMC and DDU hospitals have run out of space in isolation wards, he said.

He also said that, in an all-party meeting convened on March 21, CPI(M) had given the government 12 recommendations to effectively deal with the situation. The party had suggested that thousands of vacant posts should be filled at the earliest, all government buildings construction of which were completed should be prepared to accommodate COVID-19 patients. Similarly, at least four blocks of the under-construction building of IGMC should also be equipped with facilities to accommodate patients, the party had suggested. 

On November 8, 2020, the state unit of Mahila Congress staged a protest over a huge increase in prices of food items. They wore garlands of potatoes and onions and marched from the party headquarter to the Office of Deputy Commissioner, Shimla. Women alleged that the people have received no relief despite such a huge crisis. Instead, the current government is encouraging hoarding of essentials.

The opposition also said that the government has increased the rate of cereals provided through the public distribution system. This increase is Rs 5 for cereals and Rs. 9 for mustard oil. Vegetable prices have gone beyond Rs 50 during the festival season. It also said that the registration fees of vehicles have also been increased.

Sanjay Chauhan is of the view that to provide relief, the government should deposit at least Rs 7500 in the accounts of consumers and provide them with 10 kg ration per person for free.

He also said that recently the government has hiked the charges for electricity and installation of meters. The government has now withdrawn its notification restricting schools to charge only tuition fee and allowed them to charge full fees, including those pending for the period of lockdown, he said. This decision has come as a huge financial burden for parents and is causing mental harassment. 

The policies of the current government are only benefiting corporates, while other sections like labourers/daily wagers, small scale industries and businesses, shopkeepers, farmers are faced with financial crisis and unemployment due to lockdowns imposed in view of corona pandemic, Chauhan said. 

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Exam Fees in Govt Schools Hiked Amid Pandemic, Private Schools Allowed to Charge Full Fees Relaxed During Lockdowns

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himachal pradesh - private school fees during lockdowns

Shimla-Amid the pandemic and economic slowdown, the public had hoped for relief from the government; unfortunately, they are only receiving more financial burdens in form of hikes in bus fares, cut in electricity subsidy etc. Now, the Himachal Pradesh Board of School Education (HPBOSE) has decided to implement hike in examination fees on the students of government schools.

A student of class 10 will now pay Rs 600 as examination fee instead of the previous Rs 500. For the students of class 12, this fee has been hiked to Rs 850. Read complete notification below:

Another bad news for parents came after the government, citing orders of the State High Court, allowed private schools to charge all fees which were deferred during the lockdowns. Moreover, in its previous notification, the Directorate of Higher Education had only mentioned deferring the fee, and not waiving it of. This decision has led to distress among parents because pending fees of some of the schools would go in lakhs.

Also Read: Himachal: Private Schools Only Asked to Defer Fees During Lockdown, Not to Waive Off, Thanks to Helpless Edu Minister

Private schools are not funded by the government and they depend entirely on fees to meet their expenditures, the government said.  The state government had directed the schools to not cut salaries of teachers or fire them during lockdowns. However, despite the pandemic, the state government did not consider compensating these institutes. Similarly, bus fares were also hiked instead of compensating transporters.

Earlier, the state government had yielded to the pressure from parents to relax all fees except tuition fees as the educational institutes were closed and no facilities were availed by the students.

Further, it’s pertinent to mention that the Ministers of the state government are making headlines for allegedly wasting money on buying luxuries with the public tax money. Recently, Education Minister Govind Singh Thakur remained in news for buying a luxury vehicle amid pandemic even though he already had a Fortuner. Prior to that, the IPH Department has been in news for buying not only an SUV for a XEN but also purchasing a VIP number for Rs. 1 lakh.

At the same time, huge wastage of money was seen during the commissioning of the Rohtang Tunnel on publicity to claim the credit. Large hoardings with the faces of CM Jairam Thakur and PM Narender Modi can still be seen throughout the state publicizing commissioning of the Tunnel. Money was spent on installing LEDs across the state to live telecast the event. There is distress among the people over the debate that, amid pandemic, this money could have been used to provide the public with some relief, but instead, the government seems to be insensitive enough to put personal interest first.

Earlier, the government had hiked vehicle registration fee and cut electricity subsidy to generate resources. The vehicle registration fee was increased to 7-10% of the existing 2.5-4% in June.

Feature Photo: [email protected]

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Himachal Pradesh: A Report on ‘Plight of Migrant Workers’ during the Lockdown & Need for Protection of their Rights

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Himachal pradesh - a report on migrant labourers during lockdown

Shimla-Poor people like migrant labourers and workers are nothing more than insects for the governments in India. The attitude of the government and its treatment of the poor workers, who had migrated to other states in search of livelihood, during the lockdown is a very clear evidence of it. What is more pathetic is the fact that that their plight remained invisible to the remaining public as mainstreamed media was being paid more by their political masters for diverting public attention from real issues to rubbish, spicy news. Our society is rotten to such an extent that public also preferred the rubbish served by the media over the bitter truth. Except for a small section of people including social activists, volunteers and non-profit-organizations actually worked to provide some relief like ration to the poor. Spare some time to go through a report on the plight of the migrant workers prepared by the Himachal Pradesh Workers Solidarity (HPWS) – a voluntary solidarity platform.

The first day of Lok Sabha’s monsoon session earlier this week saw MPs raising questions about the condition of Migrant Workers during the lockdown. The response of the Labour Minister that no data on migrant deaths for the period was available has drawn much flak. Additionally, no data on return of migrant workers was available for many states including Himachal Pradesh.

The issue of invisibilisation of migrant workers in a state like Himachal Pradesh has now been raised in a report, highlighting the impacts of the ongoing crisis on this community which contributes significantly to the state economy. Himachal Pradesh Workers Solidarity (HPWS) – a voluntary solidarity platform formed in April 2020, in its report, describes the havoc that a sudden, un- facilitated and unplanned national lockdown announced in response to the COVID19 pandemic six months ago had on the interstate migrant workers stranded in Himachal. HPWS ran a helpline during the period, provided assistance in accessing ration and other relief, travel to home states, through administrative coordination, registrations, and information dissemination etc.

Himachal, in the context of migration, is different from neighbouring Uttarakhand, where the rate of migration out of state is higher, whereas in Himachal the rate of in-migration is slightly higher than out-migration.

Gagandeep, a journalist based in Karsog and part of HPWS, elaborates,

“Post the decade of 1980 -90, expansion of industrial activities in the Shivalik hill region, multi-level infrastructure and development projects, growing local interests in horticulture, and cash crop farming alongside tourism-dependent economy made Himachal an emerging centre for in-migration.”

Today, workers from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Nepal, Uttarakhand, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, and Kashmir constitute a large chunk of the migrant population in Himachal. Most of them are from Scheduled Caste, OBC, STs and minority communities. Difficult work areas and geography, insecure and unsafe living conditions, along with payment and other labour law violations, makes the situation even more difficult for them in mountain state like Himachal.

While the 2011 Census suggests that Himachal had approximately 3.10 lakhs migrant workers, this figure seems to be severely under-estimated due to lack of registration (under the Inter-State Workmen Act 1979), non-maintenance of data by State Labour Department and non-publication of all statistics of Census. The lack of data further worsened the pandemic crisis and impacted relief facilitation.

In response to the issues, the focus of the State was limited to distributing ration but ration alone was not enough for survival and sustenance. Ritika Thakur, another member of HPWS elaborates,

“Having some cash in hand was an urgent need to access gas cylinders, milk, medicines and other essential things like phone recharge, so that workers can at least call for support. Most of the people who contacted HPWS”, she adds, “had not been paid their wages and their savings had died out in payment of room rents and ration as loans and debts kept on piling up.”

Many migrant labourers complained about the interrogatory, apathetic and discriminatory attitude of the officials when they were called for ration support. Seeing no transport facility forthcoming, many workers were forced to walk back home on foot. When caught at borders they were put into quarantine centres forced to return or were left with no choice but to escape on foot.

“The online registration mechanism was completely inaccessible for workers and for weeks there was no response to registrations”,

according to Sukhdev Vishwapremi, a social activist and member of HPWS.

The first ‘shramik train’ ran as late as May 22, 2020.

“The government, meanwhile, allowed private bus operators to run on exorbitant prices,”

he adds.

Many workers were pushed to take loans or sell property/artefacts to be able to return home through these buses while 5000 HRTC buses remained standing in bus stands.

“The fact that the Central government shifted the burden of facilitating transport on the states without any significant co-ordination and clarity made matters worse, aided by lack of coordination and communication between nodal officers, both between Himachal and other states and within Himachal”,

Vishwapremi emphasized further.

According to the information shared by an officer from Himachal Pradesh Government (SDMA), 94,819 migrants had gone out from Himachal to various states of the country by June 23, 2020. As per the information received from SDMA under RTI, 14 shramik trains ferried around 13,183 people out of the state.

Himshi Singh from HPWS reminds, “more than 80% of the migrants took the road on their own expense in which the government merely provided e-passes for private transportation, and the number of people who walked on foot is not yet known.”

Adding further she remarks,

“It’s tragic that in the midst of this crisis, FIRs were registered against reporters who did stories on migrant worker’s condition and on the other hand no action was taken against fake news or media who communalised the issue leading to violence on minority communities like the migrant workers from Kashmir”.

The report highlights how Himachal was one of the 12 states who made major dilutions in labour laws in favour of companies and ‘ease of doing business’.

Almost five months have passed living with this epidemic and even as the success and failure of the lockdown are debated- the economy is falling in doldrums and our governments seem inconsistent and directionless. As per the estimate by ILO, 400 million informal workers in India will fall to critical levels of poverty than ever before- a situation that demands urgent cognizance, state accountability and a responsible approach.

In this regard, HPWS in this report has made the following recommendations for the State:

  1. Release in the public domain all the information about relief/support provided to migrant workers
  2. A joint task force be set to bring out a comprehensive report on the conditions and needs of migrant labourers in the state within 6 months
  3. Provide universal Access to Ration, Economic and other Relief Facilities
  4. Housing facilities for Migrant workers who have been living in Himachal and hostel facilities for seasonal labour
  5. Housing facilities for Migrant workers who have been living in Himachal and hostel facilities for  seasonal labour
  6. Compliance of SC/HC orders-setting up helpdesk/grievance redressal centres at Panchayat, Block, Tehsil  and District levels and conducting employment and skill-based survey of the migrant workers who have returned from other states
  7. Dilution in labour laws be withdrawn and all changes scrapped and strengthening the time-bound  ‘Grievance Redressal’ system and Labour Courts Mandate the registration of all migrant labourers working in the state under ISWMA 1979

HPWS will be submitting the report to various state and central agencies for further advocacy and hopes that the HP Government will take adequate measures to protect the interests of the migrant worker communities in the state.

Read Complete Report

Feature Photo: Sumit Mahar, Volunteer HPWS

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