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No favorable sign for RTI activist who had sought details of Priyanka Vadra’s controversial Shimla land purchase deal

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“The presiding High Court judge in the case was compromised due to a “conflict of interest” as his wife had contested the election for Shimla Municipal Corporation in 2012 on a Congress ticket.” 

SHIMLA- The Himachal Pradesh High Court has appointed a senior advocate, Raman Kumar Bawa, and an assistant as amicus curiae to represent the RTI activist Dev Ashish Bhattacharya in the ‘Priyanka Vadra land deal case’. The high-profile nature of the case has made things difficult for the RTI activist, who had sought details of the deal via which Priyanka, a non-resident of Himachal, was allowed to buy land in Charabara, 23 km from capital town Shimla.  The activist filed the RTI on July 2, 2014 seeking file noteings, copies of the sale deeds, relaxations etc. 

Reportedly, the previous lawyer, who was representing the case in the court, had declined to fight the case any further. The reason remained unknown and the lawyer referred to personal reasons, which he didn’t discuss with the activist.  Thereafter, no lawyer in Himachal dared to accept the case and represent the activist. 

Read: Lawyer steps back in high-profile Priyanka Vadra ‘land purchase case’, RTI activist requests HC to appoint Amicus Curiae

In between, a lawyer from Chandigarh expressed his will to represent the case in the Himachal HC, but was not allowed due to legal reasons.  The activist then pleaded assistance of the HC itself to bring the case to logical conclusion and do the justice. 

The court has appointed senior advocate R. K. Bawa who will be assisted by advocate Jivan.  Reportedly, Bawa has served as the Advocate General during BJP government.

Interestingly, the RTI activist was not made aware of this decision to appoint amicus curiae by properly informing through any official mean. He had to file another RTI to obtain the progress in the matter.

Video: All About Priyanka Vadra ‘Shimla Land Purchase Case (in Chronological Order)

 

The Section 118 of the Land and Tenancy Reforms Act, 1972 prohibits sale of the land to non-resident or outsiders except for agricultural purpose. However, Priyanka built a lavish Bunglow in Shimla despite fulfilling any such requirements.  The RTI activist had sought information regarding the relaxation provided to Priyanka under the Section 118 of the said Act.  

A report published on The Wire even said,

RTI activist said that the presiding judge in the case, was compromised due to a “conflict of interest” as Chauhan’s wife had contested the election for Shimla Municipal Corporation in 2012 on a Congress ticket. Following which, Bhattacharya requested that the case be transferred to Delhi to be tried by another judge.

Another interesting fact about the case is that district administration had denied information to the activist.  However, when the activist challenged it and approached the Chief Information Commissioner of Himachal Pradesh, the district administration was directed to provide the sought information under the RTI Act, 2005.

Read: RTI on Priyanka Vadra’s Shimla land deal wrongly rejected, disclose details within 10 days: HP Information Commission

Priyanka filed a petition to prohibit release of the sought information sighting security reasons and being a SPG protectee. But, the RTI activist proved that even this reason wasn’t enough to legally prevent him from obtaining the information.

Then, the activist had alleged the Public Relation Officer of the HC of releasing court orders to media prior to the official date. However, the PRO was given clean-chit without any proper inquiry and without recording statement of the activist, who had filed the complaint.  

The next hearing in the case is scheduled for March 2017.  The appointed senior counsel Bawa is believed to have strong political relationships in the State. So, there’s hardly any favorable sign for the activist. The court and Priyanka also seems to be in hurry and aiming to end the case as soon as possible. 

But at the same time, the image of judicial institutions and judges is on stake as a judge in district Mandi was caught red-handed by the Vigilance Department accepting bribe of Rs. 40,000 from one of the party in a check bounce case that involved lakhs of rupees.  This is the first time that people of Himachal read a news about a judge in their own state being booked for accepting bribe (of merely Rs.40K) . The people have now begun to wonder whether corruption and influence of high-profile people prevails in the judiciary too.  

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.

Misc News/Press Release

Ex-MLA’s Bambar Thakur’s son, 3 others arrested with 498 grams charas in Mandi

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Congress MLA Bambar's Song arrested with charas

Mandi: The notorious leader of Indian National Congress and former Member of Legislative Assembly from district Bilaspur, Bambar Thakur, is again in the news after his son was arrested with about half-a-kilogram of charas in Mandi district today morning.

As per the police, the four youths were carrying 498 grams of charas in a luxury car (HP 69 -2323) that the son of the Ex-MLA was driving. The police confirmed that the vehicle was registered in the name of Bambar Thakur. Two of the accused were minors.

The police confirmed that a team headed by Sunil Kumar, in charge of Sadar Thana, was conducting inspections of the vehicles at a barrier near Bhyuli on National Highway-21 when the car of the accused was spotted coming towards Mandi from Pandoh.

The police stopped the car and recovered the said amount of charas from the dashboard of the car after a checking. All four accused were arrested following this recovery. As per police,  Thakur’s son and one other accused claimed they were minors, which was later verified by the Superintendent of Police, Mandi, Gurudev Chand Sharma. 

Other two accused were identified as Abhishek of Bilaspur and Amar of Shimla district.

The police have filed a case against two adults under Section 20 of the NDPS Act at Sadar Police Station, Mandi. The minors would be booked under the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015. Further investigation is in progress, said the police.

Bambar Thakur and his son have remained in controversies for wrong reasons earlier too. Earlier, Bambar had been alleged of illegal mining and running other illegal trades even when he was a sitting MLA.

The allegations of drug-peddling against his son had also surfaced earlier. The people in a locality of Bilaspur had even staged a protest against the misuse of the local police by the MLA to shield offences of his son. 

The case has again brought the increasing indulgence of Himachal’s youth in drug/substance abuse to the limelight. 

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Video: College students thrash man in Shimla after he allegedly calls them Naxalites

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SFI classh at shimla

Shimla: On Monday, enraged over allegedly being labelled as Naxalites, some members of the Student Federation of India clashed with the man at the New Interstate Bus Terminal (ISBT) of Shimla. A video recorded by another man did rounds of the social media and caused huge embarrassment to the student organization.

The organization faced a widespread criticism after the video was circulated on social media. 

As per the report, at about 9:30 PM, some members of the SFI, who were students of a government college in Shimla, were collecting donations. One of the men reportedly denied donation, allegedly misbehaved and called them Naxalites in front of all passengers sitting inside a bus of the Himachal Pradesh Road Corporation (HRTC).

The enraged students asked the man to apologize. However, man, who identified himself as a BSF personnel, did not apologize, which led to a clash with the students.

An ugly, violent scene continued for several minutes and caused huge inconvenience to other passengers present inside the HRTC bus.

Watch Video of the clash and SFI’s clarification

Note: Himachal Watcher has excluded most of the violent part of the clip posted below:

The police reached the spot, but the man who was thrashed did not file an FIR or complaint. By that time, some other leaders of both ABVP and SFI had also arrived at the spot.

SFI said the man had accepted his fault in front of the police and had compromised afterwards.  

SFI alleged the video was circulated on social media alleging that the SFI members were trying to extort money from the man and thrashed him when he denied it. 

SFI held a press conference on Tuesday and labelled some serious allegation against ABVP. SFI said the students were deliberately provoked. SFI alleged the man who was recording the video was a member of ABVP. He was identified as Saffronist Manish Saklani.

The man can be heard repeating name of SFI as well going to other passengers asking them to identify the student organization.

SFI said it had also lodged an FIR against some members of the ABVP for spreading wrong information to defame the student organization. 

The police confirmed that the man who was thrashed filed no FIR, but after the video went viral on social media, it said action would be taken against the students. The police said no one would be allowed to extort money from passengers. 

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25% loan plus 5% interest subsidy for opening private hospital in rural Himachal

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148th State level review meeting of Bankers Committee

Shimla: About 2131 bank branches and 1879 bank mitras were catering to the needs of the people in far-flung areas of the State.

Each branch of the bank was providing banking services to average 3221 people, which was far better than the national average of 11000 people per branch of the bank, informed the Additional Chief Secretary, Finance Anil Kumar Khachi while presiding over the 148th State-level review meeting of Bankers Committee today.

The Cash Deposit Ratio in the State was about 44.82 percent, and the banks were asked to raise the cash deposit ratio to 60 percent as fixed by Reserve Bank of India.

As per government statistics, till March 2018, the banks provided 5625.68 crore loans to 4.18 lakh farmers under the Kisan Credit Card Scheme.

The General Manager, UCO Bank Vivek Kaul said the banking sector had achieved an annual growth of six percent and its deposit and advances were Rs. 1.06 lakh crore and Rs. 37481 crore respectively.

Over 10 lakh people had opened bank accounts in the State under the ‘Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojna’
In order to encourage private hospital facilities in rural areas, a new scheme ‘Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojna’ has been launched in the State, he said.

An investment subsidy of 25 percent would be provided on an investment of rupees one crore besides five percent interest subsidy for three years on loans taken from banks.

The banks are also expected to encourage this investment so that people of the remote area could get better health education nearer to their homes, he said.

The banks were urged to participate in ‘Jan Manch’ Programme of the State government so that people living in rural areas could be educated regarding various schemes being implemented by the State and Central Governments.
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Anil Kumar Khachi said that under ‘Gram Swaraj Abhiyan’ 93 villages of the State had been selected for making them financial inclusive. He said that in the second phase of Gram Swaraj Abhiyan, a target to achieve Chamba district as financial inclusive has been fixed.

A provision of subsidy has been made to start self-employment ventures by the youth between the age group of 18 to 35 years.

A provision of five percent interest subvention has been made on interest on the loans up to Rs. 40 lakh raised from the banks for the period of three years.

It was informed that the banks were urged to provide more loans to the farmers so that they could opt latest farming techniques to enhance their income.

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