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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 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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Rating BJP’s performance in Shimla MC on completion of one year

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BJP at Shimla MC

Shimla: The public of Shimla town on June 20, 2017, gave the command of the Municipal Corporation to Bharatiya Janata Party for the first time in 31 years. The SMC would complete one year in the office on the coming Wednesday.

Sadly, BJP’s inexperience and choice of candidates for responsible posts of the Mayor and Deputy Mayor backfired at the party. SMC has not only failed to establish coordination with its own Ward Councilors but also with the other government departments.

The SMC couldn’t even run the House or organize its session properly. Last week, the meeting of the House was reportedly cancelled as the Ward Councilors and the Mayor wanted to avoid confrontation over the water crisis. 

The situation of the town is only worsening. For instance, Shimla couldn’t find a place in top 100 cities in Swacch Bharat ranking, which was at 14 in 2014. 

As a matter of fact, the monthly charges for the door-to-door garbage collection were hiked but the facility did not improve. 

Shimla town not only faced loss to the hospitality industry due to recent unprecedented water-paucity but also faced embarrassment at international level as foreign media highlighted it. It was for the first time that the tourists were told to stay away from the town due to the water crisis.

On the top of it, the district administration and the SMC were not accepting that there was actually a crisis due to which public faced hardships for over two weeks and are still receiving rationed supply.

Let us take a look at some of the major promises of the BJP manifesto released before the election to the SMC in 2017. The major promises included: 

  1. 27×4 Water Supply
  2. Construction of Kol Dam and revival of over 30 natural resources to connect them to the town’s water supply through pipelines
  3. Better sanitation facilities and making the town garbage-free by installing dustbins at various places
  4. Introduction of bio-dustbins in the town
  5. Construction of parking complexes for as many as 10,000 vehicles to cut down traffic chaos
  6. Construction of fly-overs, escalators, and attractive footpaths to facilitate both locals and tourists
  7. Construction of gyms and refreshment centres in every Ward
  8. Making the town stray cattle and animal free
  9. Other than these main resolutions, there were several other promises in the manifesto, which are not even in the picture after one year

The water crisis of Shimla town speaks of the efforts made to fulfil 24×7 water supply, while heaps of garbage at market-places and about four strikes of the Shimla Heritage, Environment, and Beautification (SEHB) workers highlights the poor sanitation condition.

The Ward Councilors, as well as the Mayor, remained in news for quarrels over tours. The Mayor left the town and flew to China on a tour amid the most severe crisis it was facing. 

Now, on completion of one year, the Deputy Mayor is reportedly demanding a government vehicle while the Mayor was said to have asked for a new vehicle.

BJP’s poor performance has put it on the target of not only the oppositions but also the people.

Sanjay Chauhan, former mayor of Shimla and a prominent leader of the State Communist Party of India (Marxist), which had completed its five years term at the SMC in 2017, has termed the one year of the SMC as a complete failure.

Neither BJP could run the MC House properly, not it could uphold its dignity. The house hardly recorded any relevant discussions on matters of public interest. Rather, the Councilors were dissuaded whenever they tried to do so, said Sanjay.

For the first time in the SMC’s history, the ruling party had walked out of the House after failing to answer the questions of the Councilors, he said.

He further pointed out that no new schemes were introduced during the last one year. Instead, the MC could not make a progress of even an inch in the schemes that were already passed by the previous MC. Despite the availability of the funds, the new MC did not show any interest in the implementation of these schemes, he said. 

Chauhan said the list of incomplete projects includes the Smart City project (Rs, 2806 crores), World Bank-funded Kol dam drinking water scheme (875 crores) Amrut Yojana (243 crores), Tutikandi rope-way (200 crores), Shimla beautification project (66 crores) and other such projects worth 410 cores. 

Therefore, BJP-ruled SMC has failed to utilize about 4,700 crores sanctioned during the CPI (M) tenure for various schemes, he said. 

The CPI (M) said it was the first time that the city witnessed such chaos over the shortage of drinking water, which has dented the popularity of the town all over the world.

Another jolt to the SMC came after the High Court and the Governor had to take the responsibility of water supply and distribution on their shoulders.

No progress has been reported in the schemes of the public interest, which were due to be completed in 2017, Sanjay alleged. 

The SMC was supposed to complete the task of replacing meters by June 2017 and start issuing bills generated through meter readings, but it’s still pending in 2018, he said. 

Despite the availability of adequate funds, the task of replacing water pumps and supply pipelines at Gumma and Girri schemes was not undertaken within the provided time-frame.

He further added that no efforts were made for the betterment of sewerage management in some localities like Totu despite the availability of funds.

The work of multi-purpose and modern park at the Rani Ground in Kasumpti was also expected to be completed by June 2017.

In addition to Kaithu, Dhalli, Vikasnagar, Jivaanu Colony, Kasumpti, about 55 spots were already marked for the construction of parking lots in various localities and funds were already sanctioned. However, the SMC has not even started any construction work in last one year, said Sanjay. 

The construction of community buildings in Summerhill, Dhalli, Kaithu etc. is still pending despite funds. Similarly, he said, a provision of funds was made during the previous SMC for the construction of four labour hostels.

He further said the sanitation facilities in the town are in tatters for past one year. The SEHB workers went on strike for four times in one year due to the poor management of the SMC. The charges for the service of garbage collection were hiked and the salary of SEHB workers reduced.

Sanjay alleged that the SMC has handed over the contract of garbage collection to its favourite private company.

Moreover, he said, the court had to intervene during the strike of the workers, which confirms the incapability and insufficiency of the current MC.

The Mayor was most visible in local events as Chief Guest or kept herself tagged to the Chief Minister or Union Minister visits. However, she seems satisfied with her performance and told media that she did her best. 

For her, the inconvenience faced by the public during the recent water scarcity was just a lie told by the oppositions and media. 

The current Mayor and Deputy Mayor also faced criticism from BJP’s own Councilors. The opposition Congress had almost geared up for the dissolution of the SMC after sensing this defection within the ruling party.  

Once again, it would not be wrong to conclude that there has been more politics than efforts to fulfil the promises made in the manifesto.  

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HP Govt’s failure in implementing FRA Act turning habitants into encroachers

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Kinnaur protest against eviction from forest land

The right to claim titles in “Forest” areas occupied prior to December 13, 2005, is clearly provided in the FRA for the individuals regarded as “encroachers” under the previous legal framework.

Shimla: About 1500 people participated in a rally and public meeting held on June 7, 2018, at Reckong Peo, Kinnaur, to raise their voice against on-going eviction drive that is terming a large number of occupants of forestland as illegal encroachers in complete violation of the Forest Rights Act, 2006.

The people protested against HP Government’s poor implementation of the FRA, in their district as well as in the entire state.

The rally and public meeting were organized jointly by the Him Lok Jagriti Manch, Zilla Van Adhikar Mancha, a Kinnaur-based platform, Himachal Van Adhikar Manch, Himdhara Collective, and Himalaya Niti Abhiyan.

Activist Manshi Asher with villagers

A memorandum was submitted to the Deputy Commissioner with a demand to immediately start processing the claims under FRA from Kinnaur district.

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The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers Act, or Recognition of Forest Rights Act – commonly known as the Forest Rights Act (FRA)- was passed by Parliament in 2006 to address historical injustices and exclusion meted out to a large community of forest dwellers in India. Rights over forestlands were taken away since notification of forests under colonial Indian Forest Act (1927).

While in Himachal, there was a Forest Settlement in the 1970s that settled people’s access to forestlands, for the community, these remained privileges that could be taken away any time, the activists of organizing groups said.

Since then, a process of alienation of forest-dwelling communities has intensified in the name of development, wildlife conservation, forest management, and development, shrinking survival spaces of the forest-dependent people each time, they said.
It is only logical to assume that this piece of legislation is extremely relevant for Himachal Pradesh, where 67 percent of the total land area is under the jurisdiction of the Forest Department, the activists said.

In the initial phase, the State government had implemented the Act only in the Schedule – V (Tribal regions) areas of the State. As a result of this, the process of implementation in the State faced a long delay.

In 2013, after a High Court order and repeated instructions from the Centre, the government decided to implement the Act in non-tribal areas also. Despite the formation of more than 17503 Forest Right Committees (FRCs), which would file the claims, the process is not taking off in most areas.

Local administration and government officials have a partial understanding of the act and several misgivings. As a result of it, the process is just not moving forward.
The activists informed that it is extremely unfortunate that despite the formation of FRCs in 99.82% of revenue villages, only 53 individuals and 7 community titles have been issued under the Act in Himachal in past five years.

At the same time, the rest of the country, around 17.31 lakhs individual titles and 62.92 thousands of community titles have been issued over more than 137.50 lakhs acres of forestland.
Forest Rights act in kinnaur

Further, on April 6, 2015, the Himachal Pradesh High Court ordered the removal of encroachments on “forest land” in the state within six months. It has triggered an eviction drive by the Forest Department.

This includes serving notices for removal of encroachments, disconnecting electricity and water supply provided to all “illegal” structures raised over encroached land and legal action in case of non-compliance.

In upper Shimla, the Forest Department went to the extent of felling apple trees from orchards on “forest land.” In Kinnaur, 98 such notices have been served to so-called “encroachers”.

Fearing further action, the people of Kinnaur, earlier on July 25, 2015, organised a huge rally at District headquarters, Rekong Peo, questioning the manner in which the Forest Department is implementing the orders of the High Court.

The activists emphasized on the importance of understanding the right to claim titles in “Forest” areas occupied prior to December 13, 2005, is clearly provided in the FRA for the individuals regarded as “encroachers” under the previous legal framework.

The provisions of this Act are applicable for Scheduled Tribes and other forest-dwelling communities, which mean almost the entire state. This is a special Act that supersedes all other previous acts related to forests like the Indian Forest Act 1927 or the Forest Conservation Act 1980.

It is a matter of concern that the state government failed to bring the issue of this non-implementation of the FRA Act to the attention of the High Court, the activists said.

As per the Section 5(4) of Chapter III of the FRA,

No member of a forest dwelling Scheduled Tribe or other traditional forest dwellers shall be evicted or removed from forest land under his occupation till the recognition and verification procedure is complete.

According to the 2011 Census, of the total workforce in Himachal, around 62 percents are cultivators and agricultural labourers. This means that a majority of the population dependent completely on farming and forests (livestock rearing) as a livelihood is not a beneficiary in the state budget allocations, the activists said.

Further, the falling number of jobs in the private sector has added to the crises between communities, which could ultimately lead to distress migration, visible in states like Uttarakhand, they said expressing concern.

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HP Govt says schools within Shimla MC area closed for week due to high tourist footfall, not water crisis

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holiday in HP Govt school in shimla city

Shimla: Himachal Pradesh Government has decided to shut-down all government schools falling within the jurisdiction of Shimla Municipal Corporation for a week.

From June 4 to June 8, all primary, middle, higher, and senior secondary schools will remain closed.

However, the interesting part the reasons given in the official notification issued by the Director of Higher Education, Dr Amar Dev on June 2.

It doesn’t include even a slight reference to the ongoing chaos over water scarcity.
As per the notification, the Higher and Primary Education of Departments, HP, has decided to announce a holiday due to higher movement of tourists during the peak tourist season.

Another reason that was cited in the notification, was that the Departments have taken this reason considering the pattern of the private schools that have already announced a summer break.

There is a condition too. The schools will not get the holidays they used to get during monsoon, which was the set pattern. The Education Minister, Suresh Bhardwaj, suggested the government might change the pattern permanently. 

It’s for the first time that government schools are being given summer holidays. Shimla town has always been a popular tourist destination and the tourist footfall has always been high during the summer season,

the former Mayor of the city, Sanjay Chauhan, told Himachal Watcher.

The Government doesn’t have enough guts to admit that ongoing water crisis is a reason behind it because that would expose not only its poor response to the situation but a huge mismanagement and unfair treatment in the distribution of drinking water too,

the further added.

It appears to be an attempt to kill two birds with one stone. The hotels were forced to cancel bookings and buy water from private tankers on the very high rate. The tourist faced a lot of inconveniences and they are trying to avoid Shimla, the hoteliers have been alleging.

The registered hotels are not receiving supply from the Corporation, but hundreds of unregistered guest houses/flats that have mushroomed in residential localities illegally are consuming domestic water via tankers for commercial purpose. The registered hotels are buying water from private tankers as there is no other choice. The SMC cites High Court orders due to which the supply to hotels in the town is prohibited via SMC tankers. So, tourists are in fact facing problems, but still hotels are facilitating them at their own level, 

 

Sanjay Sood, the President of Hotel & Restaurant Association of Northern India told HW. 

So, citing a higher tourist footfall would suggest that the town is doing fine and there is only a little shortage of water but no crisis. Secondly, the Government was compelled to close the schools, as there was no water – neither for drinking nor for cooking mid-day meals and cleaning of toilets.

Does it suggest that our elected government is not being honest enough to tell the truth to its people?

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