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How Congress-ruled Himachal’s capital city Shimla literally plunged into week-long darkness

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shimla-snowfall-after-effects

SHIMLA- A spell of about two-three feet snowfall in various districts including Shimla, Kullu, Kinnaur, Chamba and Mandi have highlighted status of governance in the state of Himachal Pradesh. While blackout or interruption in restoration of power supply in remote regions can be understood, shockingly, the capital city Shimla also plunged into a week-long blackout that still continues in some of its localities. The blackout and water scarcity continued for minimum five days in several localities of the city including New Shimla, Chakkar, Totu Lakkar Bazaar, US Club, Chhota Shimla, Sanjauli, Bharari, Dhalli etc.

All statements of the administration and even 24-hours of deadline given by the Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh to restore power supply to the city within 24 hours went futile. The situation led to emergency-like situation as people , who are dependent of electric appliances for room and water heating, shivered in sub-zero temperatures (-3.4 Degree Celsius). As per official reports, three people including a new-born have died so far and patients are major hospitals also suffered due to the blackout.
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Prior to snowfall, on Met department prediction, the administration had ensured that the city and the State are well prepared to deal with even heavy snowfall. Reportedly, VIP areas were given preference when it came to clearing link roads and restore power-supply, which has led to outrage among people who could manage to stay connected to social media.

Tourists were looted by hospitality industry during this phase and large number of bookings in hotels was also cancelled. Large number of tourist returned with a bitter experience in Shimla due to blackout and water-shortage.


Water-Crisis with No Backup for Water-Pumping Stations

Over half of the city was facing water-shortage as four water-pumping schemes, namely Giri, Churat, Chayed, Koti-Barandi, stopped working as power-supply was interrupted. Shortage of water added to woes created by the blackout. It’s highly condemnable that the administration never made arrangements of backup for water-pumping stations. The SMC and Electricity board continue to blame each other for this situation. The bitterness of cold is worsen by water-scarcity.
shimla-snowfall-2017

What Led to Interruption in Power Supply to Shimla City?

As per the administration, over 130 trees were uprooted in various parts of the city. The overhead power-supply lines were taken down along with several electricity poles including the main supply line. Over 650 transformers were damaged in entire Shimla and over 100 of them still awaits repair. As a matter of fact, rate of tree falling was quite high and the reason can be attributed to widespread digging and excavation for over-construction and even illegal construction all over the city. Tree roots are damaged or exposed, deteriorating their strength to withstand single-day spell of snowfall.

Also, the situation points out that neither the State Electricity Board, neither the district administration have ever bothered to assess number of such trees which are vulnerable. There was no strategy to bypass this risk looming over the city’s power-supply lines.

HPSEB Short of about 7,000 Employees, Staff ill Equipped
It appears that the administration and even the Chief Minister weren’t aware that the electricity board is short of field-workers or line-mans. The board is short of about 7,000 employees and major part of vacant posts includes third and fourth class employees. The shortage prevailed over past two-decades but the government didn’t pay attention to it. From over 40, 000 employees in 1990s, the current strength have dropped to about 20,000. The power-supply lines are stewed at several locations and the electricity board fall short of field workers. The board also complained that it lacks young employees who could efficiently carry out works like lifting power-lines and climbing on poles.

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Moreover, the employees complaint that they are ill equipped to carry out repair work, which is a matter of embarrassment for the ruling Congress- government

So, despite board’s efforts, it still struggles to restore power-supply to the city and to other regions of Himachal even after six days of snowfall.

Rest, the VIPs, mostly the ministers, interfere and use their influence to issue orders to give preference to some localities or colonies instead of letting them work impartially during such a critical situation.
The opposition has also criticized the current government for offering unnecessary extension to retired employees while the administration is short of field workers.

Moreover, it is well observed fact that the government doesn’t wake up until situation take worst form it can. For instance, after deadly jaundice outbreak killed over a dozen of people and landed thousands in hospitals, it was revealed that sewage treatment plants are not working and people are being supplied contaminated water. After skeleton of Yug Gupta was recovered from a SMC water-supply tank, it was revealed that these tanks are not cleaned for years. When the garbage treatment plant turned into stinking landfill and was set on fire by the contractor, it was known that the plant was never working in reality. It appears, most of the departments are running on ‘Jugaad’in Himachal Pradesh.

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 9 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 the world around him in his DSLR lens.

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HP Health Deptt Scam: BJP Chief Bindal Resigned on “Moral Grounds” or Asked to Resign by High Command?

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Why Rajive bindal resiged

Shimla-In a time when the corona pandemic is haunting India as well as the entire world and a huge amount of budget is being allocated for health infrastructure, services, and equipment like PPE kits, ventilators etc., officials and politicians in India are as usual ensuring their cut in corruption. Are all the donations that people are making towards the PM/CM Relief Funds to fight COVID-19 safe in the hands of the current Government? No surprise that a cut from the 20 lakh crores, which the Prime Minister claims has been released as a relief for the people, would end up in the pockets of bureaucrats, politicians, and middlemen.

An example of this is Himachal Pradesh’s Health Department and politicians. Just after a week of an audio clip of an alleged deal between the Director, Health Services, Dr. Ajay Gupta and an employee and close aid of a politician appeared; Dr. Rajiv Bindal has resigned from the position of State BJP Chief. His resignation was also accepted almost immediately. He claimed that he resigned on “moral grounds” as he was hurt after the party’s name was associated with the alleged scam. He claimed that the party and the Government are clean and have no role in this alleged scam. It’s hard to digest that BJP Chief resigned even though no particular name of any political leader has been confirmed officially. The pubic and oppositions are sensing something fishy in this act of the BJP party chief.

The resignation came right after the mater reached the Office of the Prime Minister. Some sources say Bindal didn’t resign but was asked to resign on the behest of PM Office anticipating a political upheaval not only in the State but at the national level.  Five times MLA Bindal has served as health minister, remained the Speaker of State Legislative Assembly, and then given the charge to lead the party in Himachal.

Oppositions and public are demanding a CBI probe into all purchases made during the period of lockdown. Senior BJP leader and former Chief Minister Shanta Kumar also expressed anguish over the ongoing corruption in the health department, especially when the nation is going through turbulent times due to the pandemic.

प्रैस विज्ञप्तिभारतीय जनता पार्टी के वरिष्ठ नेता एवं हिमाचल प्रदेश के भूतपूर्व मुख्यमंत्री एवं पूर्व सांसद, शांता…

Posted by Shanta Kumar on Saturday, 23 May 2020

It’s pertinent to mention that it’s not the first such scam, irregularities were earlier reported in the purchase of sanitizers. According to the allegations, hand sanitizers were bought at a price higher than the actual price. Moreover, last year, a letter from a BJP’s leader had created a stir in which serious allegations were labelled against the minister and officials of the health department.

What Happened Earlier

Director, Health Services, Dr. Ajay Gupta was suspended after a 43-second-long audio clip leaked in the media on May 21, 2020. In the audio, two persons can be heard talking about bank accounts and transactions of Rs. 5 lakh. The charges are that the Director was allegedly asking for a bribe in purchase-related to health equipment in wake of the pandemic.

Additional Chief Secretary RD Dhiman had to hand over the case to the Vigilance department soon after the audio clip appeared.  Ordering immediate probe is something that BJP is presenting as proof of State Government and Chief Minister Jairam Thakur’s innocence.

The Director confessed that he was one of these two persons heard speaking in this clip. Later, late that night, the Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau arrested Gupta.

Then, he got admitted to the Indira Gandhi Medical Hospital complaining of poor health due to his diabetic condition. He was discharged on Monday, May 25. After his discharge from the hospital, he was produced in a court from where he was remanded to five days of police custody.

His house was raided by a Special Investigating Unit headed by IPS Shalini Agnihotri and jewelry worth Rs. 4 lakh and Rs. 28 thousand cash was ceased. Several documents, mobile phones etc. have also been ceased.

On May 25, the Vigilance team informed that the Director holds over a dozen accounts in various banks. As many as 20 ATMs and Credit cards were also ceased in the raid on his office and residence.

Then, media reports said that the entire scam is linked to some influential leader of Bharatiya Janata Party. According to a Hindi Daily, the person to whom the Director was speaking is an employee of a firm that the alleged politician is affiliated to. This firm was allotted the tender for the purchase of equipment related to COVID-19. The Daily said the Director had negotiated the deal for a bribe of Rs. 5 lakh.

The politician involved was reportedly making attempts to get an extension for the Director who was to retire on May 31. After the audio clip went viral, the politicians tried to hush it up but could not do so as the Vigilance had already arrested the director.

Not only the Director but the committee constituted for taking decisions on purchases for the Health Department has come under the scanner.

Since Gupta’s arrest, the Vigilance Department has not released any information regarding the person on the other side of the phone. No other arrest has been made so far. However, it was reported that a close aid to the politician involved was being questioned regarding the scam.

However, the public fears, investigation of this scam is likely to be botched up as influential politicians and bureaucrats are said to be linked with it. In the name of investigation, the Director or a couple of other officials would be held responsible. Still, the investigation might not reach its conclusion for years, as it happens when influential politicians of a party are involved in scams.

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Response of Judiciary to India’s Migrant Crisis During Lockdown

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Mingrant labourers crisis in India and indian judiciary

Shimla-Judiciary has a duty to make the Government accountable for the conditions that migrant workers are facing today. In a series of articles, we will be going through the response of Indian Judiciary to the present Migrant Crisis. In the first of these series, we go through two important directions of the Patna High Court to the Government, which can help in elevating the condition of the Migrant Workers who are the victims of the present lockdown.

Patna High Court this month acknowledged the seriousness of this crisis and passed two important Orders which are marked by empathy for the plight of the present victims.

In one of the order, it has sought a reply from the Bihar government on a petition alleging ‘poor condition of quarantine centres’ in the state where migrant workers have been mandated to stay for three weeks upon their return from other parts of the country. In the other order, it has urged the State Government to reconsider its policy of not engaging with members of civil society in handling the COVID-19 crisis.

Order regarding the poor condition of quarantine centres

(C.W.P No.5656 of 2020)

A Division Bench headed by Hon’ble Chief Justice Sanjay Karol directed the state government to file its reply, noting with concern that Bihar has the “highest population density” in the country and “any mismanagement” at the quarantine centers could lead to a substantial increase in the spread of COVID-19 in the state.

Order Stated:

“From the record, it can be inferred that perhaps in the State of Bihar, more than 2450 quarantine centres stand established by the Disaster Management Department, in anticipation of housing 2.5 lakhs persons, termed as migrants, who are desirous of returning home. Perhaps the figure may be more. Such quarantine centres are to be established and managed as per the guidelines for quarantine facilities framed by the Government of India. There has to be proper segregation of the areas, prominently labelled as low risk, moderate risk and high risk areas. The entry and exit points of the said centres are required to be secured properly, with proper facilities of sanitation etc. Any mis-management in proper handling of such centres may result into the spread and/or increase of the disease in Bihar.

..The relevance, significance and importance of ensuring proper sanitization, cleanliness and orderliness at the Centres is highly imperative, more so looking into the economic condition, demography and population of Bihar. Today, 1/10th of the population of India lives in Bihar with highest density of population ratio. Hence the need, all the more, for monitoring the centres directly by senior level officer(s) at the level of the Government and with a greater vigil.

..In the response, it be categorically stated, in a tabulated form, district-wise, (a) the number of quarantine centres established in the State of  Bihar; (b) number of persons (migrants) housed therein; (c) number of persons who have been allowed to return to their respective places of destination after expiry of the mandatory period of quarantine;  (d) total number of persons (migrants), who are further expected to enter the State of Bihar; (e) the capacity of centres to house such persons; (f) whether provision for security, sanitation and food exists at each one of such centre or not; (g) whether such facility stands outsourced or is being provided  or sought to be provided directly by the employees of the State; (h) whether there is a provision for providing medical aid/facilities; and (i) mechanism for lodging complaints and its redressal.”

Direction for engaging members of civil society in the fight against Corona Virus.

(C.W.P No.5609 of 2020)

A division bench headed by Justice Sanjay Karol in another order observed that “in a democratic society, the Civil Society cannot be ignored”, Order Stated:

“Well, at this stage, we need not say anything further, save and except, that the role of Civil Society, be it in the form of individuals/ CSOs/NGOs, in helping the orphans; elderly persons; and specially challenged persons, cannot be undermined. Public and private participation to overcome natural disasters and adversities is not alien to the culture and heritage of this great nation. Also Practices and teachings of Lord Buddha and Lord Mahavira are well entrenched in the State of Bihar. One cannot forget the importance and significance of the Directives Principles of State Policy, Part IV, (Article 39) and Part IV-A Fundamental duties, more specifically, (Article 51-A (h)) of the Constitution of India, while dealing with the problems arising out of the Pandemic Corona Virus (COVID-19).

We are also of the view that for centralized monitoring of the problems faced by the sectors mentioned above and the relief provided/action taken, technology be used. Perhaps, a Website, to be operated at the level of the Government of Bihar can be opened up where any member of the Society (organized or un-organized) wanting to help the Government or the citizenry, in whatever manner, be it in the form of material or human resources, can register their request and the same dealt with promptly by a duly authorized competent and a responsible officer. We only hope that the Chief Secretary, Government of Bihar shall have part of this order implemented latest by day-after-tomorrow, 29.04.2020.”

List of verified NGOs, charities and private institutions, which are working on the ground:

  1. safaindia.org
  2. cjp.org.in
  3. parikrmahumanityfoundation.org
  4. feedingindia.org/donate
  5. kashtakaripanchayat.org
  6. robinhoodarmy.com
  7. https://goonj.org/support-covid-19-affected
  8. fdci.org or write to them at [email protected]seedsindia.org/covid19/
  9. https://tinyurl.com/ydgmfpcm
 
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Migrant Workers in Himachal’s Baddi Forced to Walk Back Home as State Govts Remain Apathetic

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Baddi migrant labourers going back home on foot

Solan: The heart-wrenching exodus of stranded migrant workers from cities back to villages in the wake of the COVID-19 lockdown happening across the country is now unfolding in Himachal’s industrial belt Baddi as well. About 30 organisations, comprising of trade unions, civil rights groups, youth alliances, independent social organisations and networks from Himachal, Uttar Pradesh and the country today issued an appeal in support of workers from other states stranded in Himachal and the need for urgent coordination between states to ensure and facilitate their safe return to their homes.

The Baddi-Barotiwala-Nalagarh Industrial area in the Solan district of Himachal Pradesh houses more than 2000 industrial units and is known as the pharma hub of Asia, said the collective appeal of these organizations.

With an annual turnover of more than 60,000 crores, this zone has a major concentration of migrant workers in the state of Himachal Pradesh, possibly between 1.25 to 1.5 lakh people. These workers belonging to various states mainly Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa have been under severe distress due to the sudden announcement of a country-wide lockdown, the appeal said.

The appeal specifically highlights the distressful state of thousands of migrant workers in the Baddi-Barotiwala-Nalagarh industrial area and the lack of response of the administration and respective governments to ensure urgent evacuation of those who want to leave.

“Post the lock-down, as factories remained closed down, in the absence of any sources of income, these workers soon ran out of the savings, if any, to buy rations and pay off their room rents. In the initial period contractors took care of some relief which soon ended and accessing the government-sponsored relief has not been easy either. Their only desire and demand, for the last month and a half, has been to be able to return to their homes, but it is unfortunate that while the Himachal Government has been able to bring back its native residents, the same efficiency and empathy has not been shown in ensuring the return of these workers who contribute hugely to the state’s economy”,

the statement said.

“Although the news has clearly stated that Himachal government will bear the cost of travel for migrant labourers, private operators have started plying their buses with the permission of administration but have been charging exorbitant amounts from the already deprived workers. This has been causing further panic and stress among these communities. Over the last few days, with no Government assistance forthcoming, after losing all hope and patience, workers have picked up their bags and baggage, their tiny children, the elders and the women and have started walking on foot the journey of several kilometres in a desperate attempt to return back to their homes,”

the statement said.

Specifically highlighting the case of workers from Uttar Pradesh, who have long registered themselves on the online portals to travel back, the statement also raised that “private bus operators are charging exuberant fares from already deprived people and with no State help forthcoming, the migrant labourers have been forced to walk back home several hundred kilometres with their children, elders and women”. 

The statement also condemned the dilution of labour laws as well as the suppression of freedom of the press by filing charges against journalists reporting the plight of the workers and the negative impacts of the lockdown and demanded the withdrawal of these.  Highlighting that the Haryana Government has arranged for free food and public transportation trains as well as buses till state borders for labourers to reach their respective States, the statement questions why Himachal has not done the same.

“The Himachal Government needs to understand that any coercive or apathetic measures in regard to forceful retention of these workers will only lead to psychological insecurities and loss of their trust in Himachal as a State”

read the statement.

The signatories in their appeal stated that it is the responsibility of the State government to ensure that the dignity, the constitutional and human rights of these migrant labourers are protected and respected.

Following Are the Demands Made Through This Appeal:

  1. Himachal government needs to coordinate with other state governments and urgently facilitate movement of migrant labourers stuck in Baddi-Barotiwala-Nalagarh Industrial area.
  2. Public transportation by bus for the evacuation up till the state borders needs to be arranged by the state government free of cost.
  3. Up until then a mechanism of ensuring that relief rations with regular follow-ups are provided to the families of stranded migrant workers without having to make repeated demands needs to be put in place.
  4. The status update of these arrangements should be released in public domain through the media and regular press releases so that people have all information and clarity is established.
  5. We condemn the suppression of freedom of press through the FIRs on media persons reporting on issues of migrant workers and demand that these charges be dropped immediately.
  6. The suspension and dilution of labour laws along with the provision of extension of working hours for adult workers from 8 hours to 12 hours be immediately withdrawn.

 

List State and National Signatories

Himachal Pradesh Organizations

  1. All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC)
  2. Bharat Gyan Vigyan Samiti
  3. Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU)
  4. Citizens’ Rights Forum, Kangra
  5. Communist Party of India, Himachal Pradesh
  6. Himalayan Students Ensemble (HSE)
  7. Himdhara Environment Collective
  8. Jagori Grameen
  9. Mountain Women Rights Forum
  10. People’s Action for People in Need (PAPN)
  11. People’s Campaign for Socio-Economic Equity

 

Uttar Pradesh Organizations

  1. Sangatin Kisan Majdoor Sangathan (SKMS)
  2. MNREGA Majdoor Union
  3. Purvanchal Kisan Union
  4. Humsafar
  5. Mahila Yuva Adhikar Manch
  6. Rihai Manch
  7. National Alliance of People’s Movements, UP

National Organizations

  1. Stranded Workers Action Network (SWAN)
  2. National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM)
  3. Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS), Rajasthan
  4. National Federation of Indian Women (NFIW)
  5. Socialist Party of India
  6. Jan Jagran Shakti Sangathan (JJSS), Bihar
  7. Pennurimay Iyakkam, Madurai, Tamilnadu
  8. National Platform for Small Scale Fish Workers (Inland) [NPSSFW(I)], West Bengal
  9. Andhra Pradesh Vyavasaya Vruthidarula Union (APVVU)
  10. Kosi Navnirman Manch, Bihar
  11. Telangana Vyavasaya Vruttidarula Union
  12. Sanyukt Trade Union, Pithampur, Madhya Pradesh
  13. COVID Action Support Team (COAST)
  14. Khudai Khidmatgar
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