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

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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.
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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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Video: Three Shimla MC Workers Caught Dumping Garbage in Forest, Suspended After Video Shared on Twitter

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Shimla MC Workers Dumping garbage into forest

Shimla- Three sanitation workers of Shimla Municipal Corporation were suspended after a video was posted on social media showing them disposing of a large amount of garbage in a forest area. The incident became an embarrassment for SMC as the video went viral on Twitter and reached Central officials and green activists.

As per the local who recorded the video, on November 22 at about 1:30 PM; he saw garbage being dumped in the forest near SMC parking on the cart-road.

A green activist of Healing Himalaya organization picked the video on Twitter and brought it to the attention of the officials of the Centre government. The organization tagged BK Agarwal, Secretary Lokpal, Govt. of India and IFS officer Parveen Kaswan.

Sanjeev Gupta, Secretary, ISCS, Home Ministry, also responded on the video and Tweeted,

“An absolute shocker. Stern action should be taken against these reckless murderers of the environment (most likely working for Shimla MC). Will take it up with the State Govt & Shimla MC.”

It’s pertinent to mention that Healing Himalayas had undertaken a cleaning campaign in the said area a few months back. The organization in its Tweet said,

“It is so disheartening to see our work being undone near lift Shimla.”

The SMC was directed to take action. It was found that the sanitation workers of the SEHB society were dumping about two tons of garbage collected from the lift area during one of its cleanliness campaigns.

However, instead of carrying it up to the road for transportation, they dumped it into the forest.  The workers were identified from the video and suspended.

According to the Commissioner, SMC, Pankaj Rai, the Area Supervisor and Sanitary Inspector have been served show-cause notices.

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Baddi Dumping Yard Case: Blow to Solan Admin as HC Directs Relocation of Family, Construction of House, Cow-Shelter

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Solan-As a blow to the trickery of District Administration, Solan, and the Baddi-Barotiwala-Nalagarh Development Authority (BBNDA), the Himachal Pradesh High Court on November 21, 2019, gave a big relief to the families forced to live in inhuman conditions in Baddi’s Kenduwal. These two authorities had been reluctant to relocate or compensate victim families. They went to the extent of not following the orders of the court. In fact, this case has highlighted the hypocrisy of the government over its own Swachh Bharat campaign. 

However, hearing the petition, a bench of Chief Justice L.Narayana Swamy and Justice Jyotsna Rewal Dua on november 21, 2019, passed orders directing the Deputy Commissioner, Solan, to identify a piece of land to relocate the family, provide them with a house, electricity and water connection, and consider construction of cow-shelters for their cattle to the satisfaction of the families.  The court also appointed Rajnish Maniktala, a senior advocate as Amicus Curiae to assist the court in this petition. Further, the implementation of Solid Waste Management Rules in the entire state has come under the ambit of this petition, which was filed by Shimla-based Advocate, Deven Khanna. 

The BBNDA and Baddi Municipal Council had turned the site at Kenduwal into an illegal dumping yard. The Authority was supposed to construct a Solid Waste Treatment Plant years ago, however, instead, it simply created a dumping yard and violated several environmental laws and guidelines. As per the petition, none of the 36 Conditions mentioned in the Environment Clearance letter are fulfilled by BBNDA. Such grieve environmental violation under the patronage of the state government is a matter of huge concern for the state. 

The houses of about 32 members of four families belonging to Gujjar families were located at this site. These families had been living here for over three decades. Creating dumping yard around their habitat had made their lives unbearable as well as unsafe due to unhygienic conditions arising due to this illegal dumping yard.

 

These families had been running from pillar to post seeking relief. However, none of the state government bodies, district administration, police, or the BBNDA authority listened to their grievance. Eventually, Suleman, on behalf of these families, approaches the court to file a PIL.

About six months ago, the court had eventually asked the Authorities to relocate the family to a piece of land that is located at a considerable distance from the dumping yard.

However, BBNDA defied the orders of the court and, in a bid to allegedly threaten the families, it demolished their cow-sheds last month. Over 80 cattle, including about 40 cows and newborns, were left shelter-less to face winters under the open sky.  The families had alleged that officials trespassed and demolished their cow-sheds without showing any orders from any authority. Instead, the officials used police force, including armed jawans, to scare them. Himachal Watcher had published a story regarding the same along with a video of the said demolition being carried out.

Surprisingly, none of the other media (dailies and regional news portals) covered this news. In fact, media hardly showed any interest in this petition ever. It appears, belonging to minority community, the suffering of these Gujjar families did not appeal to anyone except the State High Court. 

Through their advocate, Khanna, the families have also filed a contempt petition in the court, which is pending.

Meanwhile, hearing the main petition, the said orders were passed by the court.

“In the peculiar facts and circumstances of the case, we permit the petitioner to approach the Deputy Commissioner Concerned by filing a separate application with a prayer for relocation of his house to the extent of land, which is in his occupation, to any other suitable area to the satisfaction of the petitioner,”

the bench said in its order.

“If such approached by way of application is made to the DC concerned, the said Authority shall consider his request and pass appropriate order at the earlier,”

the bench said.

“It is stated by the learned counsel for the petitioner that the cow-shed, having cattle, was demolished. For this purpose, DC concerned to also look into the matter while considering the application of the petitioner for relocation/construction of house/ow-shed as well as providing electricity and water connection for the decent living of the petitioner,”

the bench directed the DC referring to the act of demolishing petitioner’s cow-shelter.

It’s pertinent to mention that when previously contacted by HW, the DC, Solan, had termed this as a case of encroachment, and had said that these families are not eligible for relocation as they are not covered by any such policy.  Considering the indifference of the district administration, the current order has come as a blow to it.

The next hearing has been scheduled for December 16, 2019. 

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CBI Probe in Kotkhai Gudia Case Under Scanner, Forensic Report Suggests Involvement of More Than One Person

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Kotkhai Gudia case forensic experts report

Shimla-Gudia Nyay Manch has demanded fresh probe into the ill-fated 2017 Kotkhai Gudia rape and murder case after new revelations were made in the recent hearing in the case.   

The case was closed by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) team after booking and arresting a woodcutter for the said crime with a conclusion that it was not a gangrape and only one person was involved. The turn of events left the family of the 16-year-old victim and the people of the state stumped and unsatisfied. Media reports had also challenged the probe

While CBI claimed to have solved the case after eleven months of investigation, hardly anyone was convinced that a woodcutter could have possibly committed this crime and managed to fool CBI and bribe nine police personals including IG, SP, and DSP to frame wrong people.

The accused police officials, who were booked for the custodial killing of Suraj – one of the six suspects allegedly framed by them, were defending someone, the public suspected. There were many other questions which remained unanswered thus the CBI’s claim failed to convince anyone that justice was done to Gudia.

After a silence of about one year, the inquiry conducted by the CBI is in the public court. During the hearing of the case of custodial death at Chandigarh-based CBI court, forensic experts claimed that there is a possibility that more than one persons were involved in the rape and murder of Gudia.

These forensic experts – HV Acharya, Assistant Director, Forensic Science Laboratory, Gandhinagar, and Hemangi Shah Assistant Director, Forensic Psychological Division, Directorate of Forensic Science, Gandhinagar- had conducted polygraph and Brain Electrical Oscillation Signature Profiling (BEO) tests on the five accused – Rajinder Singh, Lokjan, Deepak, Ashish Chauhan, and Subhash Singh.

During this hearing, they were cross-questioned by the defense counsel, Atvinder Singh.

Singh asked Dr Acharya if he still stands by his observation that the crime in Gudia was conducted by more than one person, Acharya said “Yes” as an affirmative response. Dr Shan also supported Acharya.

A joint observation report was compiled by the two experts and submitted to the CBI.

While their report clearly said that no role of these five accused was observed in Gudia case. Their report had also said that no role of Rajinder was observed in killing of Suraj.

Moreover, the report of these experts has also observed that there was “definite police effort to defend someone”.

The experts stood by their observation that these six accused were arrested and tortured without any direct evidence.

The Gudia Nyay Manch is up in arms again against CBI for an allegedly botched up investigation in the case. The Manch said it would be staging fresh protest against CBI soon.

What is Kotkhai Gudia Case

On July 4, 2017, a 16-year-old girl, who was returning home from her school in Mahasu are of Kotkhai, Shimla, went missing. Her naked body was found in the forest of Halaila on July 6. As per the initial investigation by the police SIT, Gudia was gang-raped and then murdered. The SIT on July 13 arrested six persons claiming that they cracked the case.

However, the family and locals were not convinced that these six accused, five of which were laborers and daily wagers, had committed the crime. The pubic, as well as the media, wasn’t convinced with the theory given by the police SIT. On July 18, public outrage was witnessed after one of these accused was killed in the police custody while locked up at the police station, Kotkhai. The locals pelted stones on the police staff and compelled them to leave the station. The station was then set on fire.

Under huge pressure from the public, then Congress-led state government asked the CBI to investigate the case. By the end of August 2017, CBI had arrested nine police officials including the head of the SIT Zahur H Zaidi, IG, Southern Range, DSP, Theog, Manoj Joshi, and six others for the custodial killing of Suraj. Later, the CBI also booked then Superintendent of Police, Shimla, D W Negi.

In its charge-sheet submitted to the court, the CBI had said that all six accused were falsely framed by the SIT.

The CBI had filed a separate case to investigate rape and murder of Gudia. The CBI team investigated for next eleven months without any success, thereby, facing backlash from the state high court over delay in the investigation. Ultimately, disappointed with the CBI, the court questioned the competence of CBI and asked its Director to appear personally before it.

Immediately after this summon, CBI claimed to have cracked the case in which a woodcutter was arrested. The case was considered to be closed thereafter.

However, doubts remain over botched up CBI investigation in the case.  

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