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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.
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.

Stay updated on the go with Himachal Watcher News App. Click here to download it for your android device.

Madan has studied English Literature and Journalism from HP University and lives in Shimla. He is an amateur photographer and has been writing on topics ranging from environmental, socio-economic, development programs, education, eco-tourism, eco-friendly lifestyle and to green technologies for over 7 years now. He has an inclination for all things green, wonderful and loves to live in solitude. When not writing, he can be seen wandering, trying to capture world around him in his DSLR lens.

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 Strong evidence in Kotkhai custodial death, says CBI, but no words on Gudiya gangrape, murder

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Chargesheet against Shimla SP DW Negi

Negi denies the charges. He said he was misinformed and did not visit the station a day after the custodial killing at the station, but IG Zaidi did make a visit on the directions of the then Director General of Police, Somesh Goyal.

Shimla: While submitting a supplementary charge-sheet against the former police chief of Shimla, DW Negi, in the custodial death case of an accused at the Kotkhai police station on July 18, 2017, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on February 13 claimed it is in possession of strong evidence against all nine arrested police officials.  

Negi shared some of the same charges that were labelled against the other eight police officials like hatching a criminal conspiracy, forging FIR against the wrong person, concealing facts related to the custodial death of Suraj Singh – a Nepalese arrested by the HP Police SIT with five others on July 13 for gangrape and murder of Gudiya. 

However, there was hardly any update in an investigation relating to the mystery of the gruesome gangrape and murder of a minor schoolgirl after abduction between February 5 and 6 in 2017. The Special Investigation Team (SIT) of HP Police had allegedly framed wrong people for the gangrape and murder of Gudiya and tortured one of them to death on the intervening night of July 17 and 18.  Remaining five accused were given bail as the CBI found no evidence against them.

The focus of the case remained more over the custodial death while the culprits behind Gudiya case remain unknown.

While DW Negi was arrested on November 16 last year, eight other police officials including the former Inspector General of Police, Zahur H Jaidi and Deputy Superintendent of Police, Manoj Joshi were already behind the bars since their arrest on August 29 last year.

The court on February 13 has extended the judicial custody of all police officials till February 23 – the day court will scrutinize the charge-sheet.

As per the charge-sheet submitted by the CBI, the DSP, Theog met the then SP Negi and IG Zaidi at their respective residences after Suraj was allegedly hacked to death at the Kotkhai police station.

Though Negi was not part of the SIT, he was the then SP of Shimla and the police station was under his jurisdiction. Negi could have exposed the conspiracy, but he chose to save the officials. For this purpose, false FIR was filed against a co-accused Rajinder alias Raju for the murder of Suraj.

As per media sources, even the IPS  Shimla SP Soumya Sambasivan, who was brought in place of Negi, was pressurized by Zaidi to cremate the body before the arrival of CBI.

Thereafter, the CBI took over the investigation of the Gudiya case and custodial death of the deceased accused in custody.

In its charge-sheet, the CBI booked all accused under Sections 302, 330, 331, 348, 323, 326, 218, 195, 196, 201 and 120 B of the IPC. The chargsheet contains 600 pages including annexes and statements of about 50 eyewitnesses.

However, Negi denies the charges. He said he did not visit the station a day after the custodial killing at the station, but IG Zaidi did visit on the directions of the then Director General of Police, Somesh Goyal. The DSP Joshi misinformed him, he reportedly told the CBI.

Except that, now the probe is  going on at a snail’s pace as no advocate is appearing for the arrested police officers. For the past couple of months, the CBI is stuck at obtaining permission to match the voice samples and permission of the government to prosecute the accused officials.

The new government might have launched the Guidya helpline, but it is silent over the case like the previous government.

The wave of anger among the people of Shimla has now begun to fade. The people were expecting that the case would pick-up pace after the formation of the new government, which did not happen.

The Bhartiya Janata Party had made a lot of clamour over the law and order situation and slow pace of the investigation. However, after coming to the power, the prosecution sanction against the arrested police officials still remain pending.

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Kangra mining mafia assault case: Police held back from taking action

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mining mafia in Indora area of kangra district

Mining mafia active in Indora region of Kangra district abducted Puran Chand of Mand-Myani, almost beat him to death with sticks and iron rods, and threw him near Nangal Boor bordering Punjab.

Shimla: Though the Chief Minister Jairam Thakur led Bhartiya Janata Party has been harping about the elimination of mining, forest, and drug mafia in Himachal Pradesh, but in speeches and media statements only.

In its media statements, the new government has taken expeditious action and is up in arms against the mafia, just like the previous government.

The mining mafia had only emboldened during the previous Congress-led government, and it continues to grow after the BJP romped into power in assembly elections held in November.

Now, the situation has become such that mafia has begun to abduct and assault villagers, who are daring to protest against the destruction of the rivulet. The police is yet again held back by the patrons of the mafia.

On January 30, the mining mafia active in Indora region of Kangra district abducted Puran Chand of Mand-Myani, almost beat him to death with sticks and iron rods, and threw him near Nangal Boor bordering Punjab.

He was first taken to the Civil Hospital in Pathankot, and then to Tanda Medical College, Kangra, in a critical condition.

After nine days of the attack, the culprits, identified as stone-crusher owners, are at large not because our police is incompetent, rather because our leaders and government have always been ceding the control to the mafia.

The cause of failure of police needs no explanation considering the fact that the police had filed a complaint against eight assaulters named by the victim. The Chief Minister had visited the victim and had assured him justice, which proved to be only a media statement so far.

Enraged over the inaction of the police, the people had gheraoed the police station, Indora on January 31. They demanded booking the culprits for an attempted murder (Section 307 IPC). The district administration failed to pacify the situation and had to face the wrath of people, who shouted anti-police slogans.

Isn’t it strange that despite the establishment of the Sub-divisional Magistrate (SDM) office in the region, illegal mining still goes on with no fear of the law?  

As per the allegations labelled by villagers,  the explanation of this inaction of the district administration and police lies in the fat monetary benefits offered by the stone crushers and miners.

This conflict between the common people and growing influence of the mafia is going on for years, but the situation worsened between 2014 to the current date.

As per the Kisan Sabha Unit of Kangra, Puran was playing a leading role in the protest against the illegal miners since 2014, which is why he was targeted to terrorize locals.

Now, the villagers are opposing the movement of tippers carrying mining material. In return, the stone crushers are also obstructing a small bridge to harass the villagers.

Along with the mafia,  the government seems to have lost the fear of law too, because the State High Court and the National Green Tribunal (NGT), in 2017, had made serious observations regarding the illegal mining and had imposed a complete ban on mining in tributaries of the Beas. 

Following the orders, the administration and the mining department registered several cases for a while but soon discontinued their surveillance due to reasons unknown.

The transfers of IPS Gaurav Singh from Baddi and Sanjeev Gandhi, former superintendent of police, Una, are sufficient to support the allegation of patronage to mafias by the government.

Gandhi had tightened the noose around the mining mafia by launching a special drive for this purpose. In March 2017, the police had even caught the offenders red-handed in Damtal region of the district and seized JCBs and vehicles found on the spot.

However, the amount of money and politicians or their relatives who are, directly or indirectly, involved in illegal mining, make the government agencies accede to mafia raj.      

In 2017, Gandhi was slapped three different transfer orders in just 17 days.

He went after the miners in the district who was supplying the illegally mined material to the neighbouring state of Punjab and registered 27 cases against illegal mining.

However, as a reward, his transfer order was issued in his absence within two days after the stone crusher owners and illegal miners exerted pressure on the BJP government.

Previously, during the Congress government, Gandhi, then posted as SP Kangra, had launched a similar drive against the mining mafia. He had registered 17 FIRs alongwith action against 950 violations in just seven months during his tenure in 2016-2017.

During that period, several machines and vehicles were seized by the authorities, which were later released unlawfully.  

The mining mafia in the district heaved a sigh of relief when the administration released impounded vehicles in a gross violation of rules and the NGT in its specific orders had directed the state agencies not to release such vehicles.  Sources said with the intervention of senior officers of the state government, these vehicles were released,

said a report published in the English daily.

He had even conducted a survey of stone crusher units set up near the Chakki rivulet, a tributary of Beas that marks the boundary between Himachal and Punjab, in the Nurpur and Indora jurisdiction.

Chakki rivulet in the subdivision bordering Punjab and Himachal Pradesh is a witness to the rampant and illegal mining that is threatening over 10 panchayats.  The people in the area are dependent on the Chakki water for irrigation.

Illegal and access mining with heavy machinery is turning the fertile fields into barren land. The mafia has destroyed local paths, water channels, and cremation ground, alleges the villagers.

The rivulet is marked by huge ditches as the mining mafia are not adhering to the rules and regulations for extraction of mining material. The government is bearing the huge loss of revenue as the mafia easily evades royalty and local taxes.

At that time, he was transferred to Una. Within four months, he was again transferred.

In 2016, the state High Court had also taken suo-motu- cognizance of the matter, and the Division Bench comprising Chief Justice Mansoor Ahmad Mir and Justice Sandeep Sharma had questioned the Congress government over regressive actions against honest officials.

Earlier, the Kisan Sabha’s protest had compelled the authorities to visit the mining spots, and they had admitted that illegal mining activity was prevalent in the area. The inspection team had found that the miners had excavated upto a depth of about 40 feet. Despite that, no action was ever taken against the culprits, alleged the Kisan Sabha.

The Sabha has expressed doubts over the intentions of the new government as no action is being taken against the perpetrator. The Sabha has also threatened the government that it will launch a massive protest against it if appropriate action is not taken against the assaulters and other stone crushers and mining mafia active in the region illegally.  

As the government, which has failed to keep the mining mafia at the bay, has recently asked Punjab for demarcation of its boundary. The unclear boundary line makes it easier for miners from Punjab to intrude into Himachal.

In a report published in another English daily, the police officials in Kangra had admitted that when they chase mafia, the Punjab police raise the issue of jurisdiction.

A similar attempt was made during 2015 to take up the matter with Pathankot counterparts seeking demarcation of the boundary along the Chakki Khud.

By delaying the right action, the government is not only condoning the offenders, but also ignoring the gravity of the environmental debacle that the excess, unscientific, and illegal mining is causing.

Stay updated on the go with Himachal Watcher News App. Click here to download it for your android device.

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Response to Shimla STPI cleanliness drive depicts poor psycho-social conditioning

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STPI Cleaning 6

The civic body is required to conduct extensive surveys to assess the causes of littering behaviour, study the psycho-social aspects associated with lack of awareness that encourages littering.

Shimla: On last Saturday, the Software Technology Park of India, located at the SDA Complex in Kasumpti, Shimla, made a call for the cleaning of the building premises, which houses 12 information technology and software companies. It was part of the Swacchta Pakhwada organized by the government from time to time. 

Some of the employees of Flexinet Technologies Pvt. Ltd, who are also the Community Members of Himachal Watcher, were also present. So, it was an excellent moment to observe the nature and effect of psycho-social conditioning of all persons employed with various offices and their respective bosses/company owners.

STPI Cleaning 6

The total number of employees in all offices including the STPI staff exceeds 250.  Majority of the employees are educated including males and females aged between 20 -40 years. These employees included natives from almost all districts of Himachal.

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The available data and conditions make it a perfect sample for a sort of survey that could be conducted with a qualitative method. In fact, let us consider that the number of participants was (n = 250). It was a random sample.

Location

The location chosen was the STPI block (24). There are total 12 companies/offices in the block, namely 31 Parallel, Covenant Info Solution,  NIELIT,  Kaith Group of Technologies, Himachal Pradesh Kaushal Vikas Nigam, Saraswati Dot Com, Himachal Media Pvt, Flexinet Technologies Solutions, Netgen IT Solution, Zasaya, and Snowmicro.

Conditions

STPI Cleaning 2

The area around the premises was badly littered around by the same employees. The bottles of whisky and beer, plastic packaging of online stores and snacks, packets of cigarette etc., were littered all over the place. If that was not enough, some offices had disposed of window glasses, marble tiles, and debris of concrete generated after renovations.

The most recent renovation was conducted by the office of Kaushal Vikas Nigam, housed at the second floor of the block. Prior to that, 31 Parallel, a BPO, had undertaken some renovation work.

To the demise of nature-lovers, all this construction waste including broken glasses was disposed of near the building instead of proper disposal.

The parking lot was full of potholes.

The cleaning was an arduous and risky affair due to the glass pieces disposed of with waste, broken bottles, and a steep slope.

 Literature Review

Shimla city is the capital of Himachal Pradesh and was known for its greenery, pure breathable air, and a serenity that its hills used to offer. Currently, Shimla city is heading towards an ugly future as the district administration and Municipal Corporation are in deep slumber. The Shimla’s civic body is the first one in India to implement the door-to-door garbage collection facility. A special body ‘Shimla Heritage, Environment and Beautification (SHEB) Society exists for the purpose of sanitation and solid waste management. Unfortunately, the civic body and SHEB Society are busy in a tug of war over the long-pending demands of the SHEB workers for regularisation. The sanitation work is mismanaged to such an extent that the SMC has allowed its workers to burn daily garbage all over Shimla – a grieve and deliberate violation of the Air (Prevention and Control) Act, 1981.

Sub-section (5) of Section 19 of the Air Pollution Act empowers the State Government after consultation with the state Board to prohibit the burning of any material (not being fuel) in any air pollution control area or part thereof, which may cause or likely to cause air pollution.    

In April 2015, a bench headed by NGT Chairperson Justice Swatanter Kumar, in a judgment, had clearly stated:

It is on the record before us that burning of garbage and other materials is not only source of air pollution but forms 29.4 per cent of air pollution with reference to PM10. The burning of material also causes serious respiratory problems and are even carcinogenic….There shall be complete prohibition on burning of any kind of garbage, leaves, waste, plastic, rubber or any such other materials in open areas.

The bench had further directed,

We direct that for every incident of burning of such material, the person who is actually found burning or responsible for burning would be liable to pay compensation in terms of Section 15 of the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010 under the principle of polluter pays.

The SMC is supposed to ensure proper disposal of garbage but, here in Shimla, the body is itself burning garbage daily. Except for the core or VIP areas, sanitation in the urban Shimla is only worsening with the passage of time.  

The jungles and slopes of Shimla are being buried beneath garbage and illegally dumped muck.  As far as the matter of over-construction is concerned, most of us, we are sure, would be aware of the situation.

The people, even the highly educated, don’t mind littering. It implies that our education system is not focusing on moral education and environmental awareness and its protection.

Moreover, the words such as a ‘vision’ or ‘planning’ are alien to our bureaucrats.

Methodology

Without any safety guidelines or accessories like gloves and masks, these participants were given a common verbal stimulus in the form of a call for the drive to clean their own work environment where they spend most of the time daily.

Results

At about 1:30 PM out of those hundreds of employees, not more than 30 were present on the spot. It implies, only 30 subjects responded to the stimulus including only two girls. Almost 50 percent of these 30 came ahead only after seeing the remaining 15 already engaged in cleaning.

SDA Complex cleaning

The STPI staff filled some of the potholes while some others were only partly covered.   

It is no co-incident that the boss/employer of these girls was also present with them, which motivated them.

Most respondents belonged to the 31 Parallel followed by Flexinet. Only two offices did not take part in the drive.  

Observations

This group did a fantastic job. Watching each other working diligently kept them motivated.

Out of approximately 100 females, only two girls were visible taking part in this small cleaning drive. Both of the girls are employed with the Flexinet. Interestingly, one of the girls, who had resigned a few days ago to pursue her studies, came back especially to join her ex-colleagues in the drive.

While the bunch of concerned people cleaned the premise, all girls chose to be onlookers, gossiping with sarcastic giggles. One of the girls was even seen taking a selfie.

It is a matter of contemplation as to why 98 percent of girls felt reluctant to join the doers’ camp.

As expected, only the owner and bosses of the Flexinet and Zasaya got their hands dirty to collect the kaleidoscopic garbage without any protective measures.

STPI Cleaning 7

However, the best part of this activity was that those who had chosen to be one of the doers did it with commitment.

STPI Cleaning 8

The most poignant fact that requires attention is the poor psychological and social conditioning of this small sample, which is the main reason why even educated citizens ignore all messages or rules regarding littering. They don’t find it embarrassing to litter but show reluctance when it comes to cleaning.  

STPI Cleaning

Most common aspect observed during the activity was yet again the reluctance of majority to come ahead or to join people in causes like cleanliness drives. We wonder how any logical person can ignore the satisfaction, which the group of doers found at the end of the day over a cup of tea with samosa’s (refreshment).

STPI Cleaning 9

In a couple of hours, the doers wrapped up the task, segregated the glass waste from other solid waste, and collected it at a single spot.

Shimla Cleaning Campaign

The Municipal Corporation of Shimla later collected the garbage for proper disposal (if any). SMC sanitation workers can be seen burning garbage in open daily. So, there is still no guarantee about the proper disposal of this solid waste collected during the cleaning.

Conclusion

Even though the majority did not participate, the group of doers was hoping to leave a message to them.

It is for sure that those who did participate in the cleaning would think before abandoning a disposable cup or cigarette packets in open.

Though we are skeptic of it, the STPI staff has assured that at least two dustbins would be placed inside the premise soon.  

As a vitriolic reality, however, litterbugs again set to work and a fresh lot of garbage begins to appear from the very next day. No message was taken from the cleaning drive. The onlookers failed the doers yet again.

We hope that group of doers won’t let these litterbugs spoil the place again. On being caught red-handed, these bugs will be given appropriate demonstration through sensible arguments, by debating the logic and reason.

Further, the civic body is required to conduct extensive surveys to assess the causes of littering behaviour and study the psycho-social aspects associated with lack of awareness that encourages littering.

Due to poor social conditioning related to disposal of garbage in open, most of us do not develop aesthetic sense. Because no one objected to littering, an individual doesn’t consider it a malpractice. We can say that they don’t feel guilty for littering and do not develop a sense to correct things as we grew up regularly witnessing this malpractice by people of all ages despite being educated. 

The State government need to encourage researchers including students in the local institutes to take up the task of conducting studies to find out causes for littering behaviour and other aspects related to the environmental protection. 

Stay updated on the go with Himachal Watcher News App. Click here to download it for your android device.

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