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Illegal construction in Shimla’s Core Area: Despite MC’s demolition orders, 2 structures raised within 6 months

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illegal construciton in Shimla Core Area

SHIMLA-Haphazard, illegal, and over-construction has plagued Shimla during last couple of decades. Illegal construction in urban area has become more aggressive after Himachal Pradesh Government’s announcement of retention policy to regularize illegal structures. The Core Area of Shimla isn’t untouched. In a starling case,  two persons have illegally raised extra stories over existing roof in broad daylight despite demolition orders by the Municipal Corporation of Shimla. Both structures are built adjacent to each other.  

These two illegal structures are now threatening some shops that are located in vicinity to them. The brick work and cement is exerting huge weight on shops that are very old and are stands on wooden pillars. This could lead to possible collapse of the entire building and lead to loss of life, damage to property, and risk the lives of pedestrians as the market mostly remains crowded.  The shopkeepers are compelled to live under threat of possible collapse of the entire structure.   

The orders were passed in December 2016 with a deadline of four weeks after  an SMC Engineer inspected the building and confirmed illegal construction without any sanction. Surprisingly, the offenders still continue with illegal construction in April 2016, and have almost completed the construction without attracting any action except notices.

Illegal Construction in Shimla's Core Area

One of Himachal Watcher’s readers reached us and brought the matter of this blatant violation by the offenders and inaction of the administration to our attention. The reader provided us with  copies of the two different notices (one mentioned demolition orders while other one asked to stop the construction) sent to these two offenders.  

In one of the cases, the SMC Commissioner, Pankaj Rai, had issued a demolition notice to Usha Rani in December 2016.  Second offender, Kanta Kapoor, was issued a notice to stop construction work on December 14, 2016. As per the notice issued to Usha Rani, she was found guilty of carrying out unauthorized construction and architectural modification in Shimla town’s Core Area, Lakkar Bazaar.  She increased the height of the roof and raises an extra storey over existing roof. The structure is located adjacent to a liquor shop in the bazaar.  According to the complainant, the structure was raised for commercial purpose. 

Illegal Construction in Shimla's Core Area 2

Official orders for demolition passed by Shimla MC Commissioner, Pankaj Rai in December 2016

The Corporation confirmed the violation after receiving complaint and initiated official proceedings against the two offenders . SMC sent a notice to Usha under Section 25(1) of the H.P. Municipal Corporation Act, 1994 on 12 November, 2016. Through this notice she was informed of about the violation committed by her and was directed to stop the work immediately. Similarly, second offender, Kanta, was also issued a demolition notice in on December 14.

Illegal Construction in Shimla's Core Area 6

Picture taken during inspection by Shimla MC JE

However, none of the two offenders complied with the orders and continued with the unauthorized construction work. For this non-compliance with previous order, SMC issued another notice to Usha on 21 December, 2016. In this notice, issued under Section 253 and 242 of the HP MC Act, 1994, for unauthorized construction measuring 50 Sq. mts., SMC initiated proceedings against the said structure raised in violation rules regarding sanction for construction in the Core Area of Shimla and Planning Area. The offender didn’t appear on the date of hearing despite personally receiving this notice.

Therefore, on December 24, the Municipal Commissioner, Pankaj Rai, directed the offender to demolish the unauthorized structure within a period of four weeks.

Illegal Construction in Shimla's Core Area 7

On the rear side of the construction site

Four weeks passed but the offender continued with the construction work. The notice had warned the offender that if she doesn’t demolish the said structure, it will be taken down by the corporation at the risk, cost and responsibility of the offender. The Sr. Architect Planner was directed to monitor the demolition process and to seek assistance of R & B Department in the matter and report compliance.

Illegal Construction in Shimla's Core Area 5

Offender has damaged MC’s safety railings to make way to the construction site

Shockingly, the illegal construction work of both the structures continues in April 2017, going against orders of demolition within four weeks starting from December 24, 2016. Kanta was ordered to stop the work but she didn’t bothered about the notice either. The each offender have almost completed construction of an extra story in the Core Area of Shimla. 

This case, very clearly, puts the working of SMC and AP branch in question.  The SMC had given clear orders of demolition, but the orders weren’t followed.  It also hints at possible act of corruption or patronage to the offenders by some influential/political personality.  

Illegal Construction in Shimla's Core Area

On the top are the two said illegal structures

About Sections of H.P. Municipal Corporation Act, 1994 under which proceedings were conducted

According to the Section 242 of the HP MC Act, 1994,

“No person shall erect or commence’ to erect any building or execute any of the works specified in section 244 except with the previous, sanction of the Commissioner, nor otherwise than in accordance with the provisions of this Chapter and of the bye-laws made under this Act in relation to the erection of buildings or execution of works.”

Section 253 HP MC Act, 1994,

“Where the erection of any work has been commenced, or is being carried on or has been completed without or contrary to the sanction referred to in section 246 or in contravention of any condition subject to which such sanction. has been accorded or in contravention of the provisions of this Act or bye-laws made thereunder, the Commissioner may in addition to any other action that may be taken under this Act, make an order directing that such erection or work shall be demolished by the person at whose instance the erection or work has been commenced or is being carried on or has been completed within such period (not being less than Seven days from the date on which a copy of the order of demolition with a brief statement of the reasons therefore has been delivered to that person) as may be specified in the order of demolition.”

 

Illegal Construction in Shimla's Core Area 3

Illegal Construction in Shimla's Core Area 4

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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Quandary in KCC Bank Recruitment – Himachal’s Unemployed Youth Grinds Between Corruption & Politics

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KCC Bank Recruitments 2017

Shimla- If you search hashtag #KCCB on Twitter, you are likely to find thousands of Tweets where the youth of Himachal Pradesh is requesting the current Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) government led by the Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur to deliver justice. In every Tweet, the CM can be seen tagged. Since the government chooses to remain tight-lipped, the helpless youth is now cursing not only the CM but also the Prime Minister Narendra Modi for befooling them. 

Shimla– If you search hashtag #KCCB on Twitter, you are likely to find thousands of Tweets where the youth of Himachal Pradesh is requesting the current Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) government led by the Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur to deliver justice. In every Tweet, the CM can be seen tagged. Since the government chooses to remain tightlipped, the helpless youth is now cursing not only the CM but also the Prime Minister Narendra Modi for befooling them. 

After being versed with entire matter, you will be astonished to find, how far the politicians and corrupt officials can go in playing with the future of the youth and their money.

State’s educated but unemployed youth had been trying to attract the attention of the ruling government towards the mental agony and despair they are going through for the past 18 months due to ugly vendettas of political parties and blatant corruption in the Kangra Central Cooperative(KCC) Bank.

You’ll find a lot of newspaper cuttings, pictures of protests, and memes showing how the politicians and the Bank not just toyed with the sentiments of lakhs of unemployed youth but also extorted crores of rupees from them. 

At the same time, the youth are alleging the Bank officials of lying through their teeth with no remorse at all. Read on to understand the entire issues.

Back in 2017, the KCC Bank advertised recruitment to fill up 216 vacant seats of assistant manager (Grade III), Junior Computer Programmer (Grade III), Clerk (Grade 1V General public, trained secretary, employees of cooperative society quota) and computer operators. Over 1. 26 lakh candidates applied for the recruitment conducted through the HP Board of School Education (HPBOSE). However, while applying, they had no idea that their own government would make a mockery of their unemployed status.

The then Chairman of the Bank, Jagdeesh Sephiya or the ruling Congress government did pay heed to the fact that the recruitment process actually violated the guidelines issued by the Reserve Bank of India and the Registrar Co-operative Society. It’s important to note, Sephiya is a Congress leader and a close aide of former chief minister Virbhadra Singh.

According to the applicants, the bank collected between 5-7 crores, conducted a written examination in June 2017 and held interviews of the 750 candidates in September. Before the declaration of the merit list, the Model Code of Conduct came into force ahead of elections to the State Legislative Assembly.

After elections, one of the first decisions of the new government of Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) was to not carry forward any recruitments made during the period of six months before the elections. The KCCB recruitment process was one of them. Since then, the 750 candidates who had appeared in the personal interview wait desperately for the bank to declare the result.

The BJP governmenthas alleged of nepotism in the recruitment while the members of KCC Board of the Directors allege grieve irregularities in granting loans and manipulation of data related to the Non-Performing Assets, which deem the entire application and recruitment process unlawful.

An inquiry by the then MD of the Bank, PC Akela, into some loans had confirmed a violation of norms by few KCC bank branches including one near Government College, Una. A chargesheet was also issued to the managers of these banks, if the ex-MD is to be believed.

Similarly, Rs 1.30 crore cash credit limit (CCL) extended by the bank to Chunni Lal, brother of Anand Chauhan, LIC agent – an accused in corruption cases registered against the former Chief Minister by the CBI, also came under the scanner.

The then Director of the bank, Keshav Korla, who is also associated with BJP and was in a race to become new MD, labelled serious allegations against the then MD and filed a petition in the State High Court, challenging the recruitment process.

It was alleged that the bank was not eligible to hire since its NPA was higher than 12 percent. According to bank officials, its NPA was about 15 percent. However, Korla alleged that the actual NPA was over 20 percent and that the bank has manipulated the statistics to fool the RBI.

The absurdity of the political drama witnessed a new low when Korla, in August 2017, alleged that he was slapped by Jaswant Singh Rana, another member of the BoD, over an argumentconcerningthese irregularities in the bank.

The new government then ordered a vigilance probe into the alleged irregularities in the grant of loans and manipulation of data related to the NPA. A nod was also given to lodge FIRs against three Chairmen and MDS. However, the vigilance probe was slowed down and no one was held accountable ;perhaps a regular outcome of such probes.

Also, it was found that the HPBOSE had destroyed all records of the recruitment except the personal interviews.

On July 19, 2018, the BJP government dissolved the BoD and the bank worked without the Board for about eight months. The government took its turn to reward its blue-eyed leaders and officials. In July itself, the government re-shuffled the MD of the Bank for as many as three times and made the respectable post a joke.

In November 2018, Rajiv Bhardwaj, a BJP leader from Kangra district and Shanta Kumar’s loyalist, was appointed as the new Chairman of the Bank along with the nomination of two other leaders as members.

Despite appeals from and protest of 750 candidates, by December 28, 2018,the new BoDpassed a resolution to cancelthe recruitment.Following this decision to cancel the recruitment, the court also closed the petition.

Now, the applicants tuned protestants allege that the bank officials including the new Chairman are lying to the candidates that they had no information regarding the cancellation of the recruitment. In fact, the court has mentioned it specifically that the petition was disposed of after the BoD submitted a written reply stating that it has cancelled the recruitments. The Chairman has held the court responsible for the cancellation of the recruitment. The Bank is treating these youth like primary kids, nothing more.

The reason given for cancellation was that the recruitments were conducted through HPBOSE. The BoD said it was against the Registrar Co-operative Societyguidelines, which instruct that banks can only recruit through IBPS, State Staff Selection Board or State Public Service Commission.  Secondly, the RBI guidelines, the BoD further stated that banks with an NPA higher than 12 percentare not eligible to conduct recruitments.

The candidates, who had no role in this mess created by the previous and new governments, facedmental harassment awaiting their results during all this time. They met several leaders and even the new Chief Minister, requesting him to declare the results. The Chief Minister, during an event in Bilaspur, had assured them that they would not face injustice, which they eventually did.

These youth are questioning how other banks with higher NPAs are able to conduct recruitments and why this rule is being implemented in their case only.

They staged protests and reached media several times since the formation of the new government.

They received occasional hopes from the government, which were ultimately dashed to the ground. These candidates are still not in any mood to give up protesting over their demand.

The BoD members, some of which are nominated, have their affiliations to their respective patron political parties. All the members strive to appease their party through nepotism in recruitments, issuance of insecure loans to politically influential or any mean they can find.

In fact, one of the biggest reason for rising NPA of the Bank is that the previous as well as the current governmentshave been ignoring persons with banking background for the top positions and instead electing those having a political background. This political influence leads to grant of insecure loans to selected candidates or near and dear to leaders of the respective ruling government. These political persons do it to please their masters.

The biggest irony is that despite being such a sensitive issue, no one is held responsible.

Someone must be held responsible for initiating the process of recruitment when the Bank was not eligible to do so officially and legally. Someone must be held responsible for making the Bank BoD a political battleground where anyone hardly has any experience related to banking. Someone needs to lay some eligibility criteria for the selection of the BoD, members and the position of the Chairman.

As far as nepotism is concerned, none of the parties leaves a stone unturned to influence the recruitment process, which is no hidden secret.

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A Harrowing Challenge of Drug Menace in Himachal Pradesh

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drug abuse in Himachal Pradesh

Shimla- The drug menace, predominant among the younger generation, has been haunting the state of Himachal Pradesh for a while now. Inadvertently, an incipient problem of drug use has transformed into a full-blown problem. Over the past few months, minatory incidents such as the arrest of people in possession of contraband drugs became quotidian, and several mysterious deaths of students left the parents in despondency. The faces of the parents are masked with discernable worry and panic, albeit their stony silence on the issue, fails them in downplaying the issue.

If education is driving our children to indulge in drugs, in that case, it’s better not to send them to school/colleges and keep them illiterate,

said a man remorsefully, after reading news about the arrest of a college goer in possession of “Chitta”. The statement reflects the manifest distress and uneasiness among parents.

How dismal the situation is, can be fathomed from the fact that in the year 2018, so far, 151 cases have been registered under the Narcotics Act, and 204 people have been put behind the bars in connection to drug peddling. In addition, 94 kg of Charas, 3 kg of opium, 116 kg of poppy husk, 0.496 kg of ganja, 480 grams of heroin and 39135 tablets/capsules were seized in the state from April to June 2018, as per the report of the state Government submitted before the Hon’ble High Court in the month of August.

In response, the state cabinet under the Chief Minister, on 30 November 2018, decided an amendment in the Narcotics Drugs and Psychotropic Substances(Himachal Pradesh Amendment Bill) 2018, which will be moved in the upcoming winter assembly session in Dharamshala, in order to make the offense non-bailable. The opposition has welcomed the move-not surprising, as they had been making a clarion call for change in law for some time now.

Ergo, the Drug trafficking or smuggling of narcotics in the state of Himachal will become a non-bailable offense once the Narcotics Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (Himachal Pradesh Amendment Bill), 2018 is passed by the assembly in the upcoming session.

The drug menace is not only unpalatable but if it is not quelled timely, it could become inveterate, jeopardizing the prosperity and stymieing the progress of the region. Clearly, the government was left with very few options, apart from making the crime non-bailable but this step might take care of the demand side of this complex issue. In doing this, the policymakers may be overlooking the overriding concerns on the supply side: as the amendments in the law may end up punishing the drug consumers only, whereas the supplier or the producers/manufacturer (in case of Chitta) of contraband drugs may never be nabbed. And the danger is– considering the inordinate delay and pendency of cases in our courts-the miscreants, especially the youth, may never get the second chance to redeem themselves.

After all, we all make mistakes in life, but, the key is to learn from our mistakes and not repeat them.

Hitherto, we have failed to underscore the crucial factors that festered drug use and it’s peddling. Be it the permeable border, high disposable income, lack of employment opportunities, temptation to make easy money or lack of awareness about the heinous repercussion of drug menace- high-risk behaviour, HIV/Aids/Hepatitis-C, violence, child abuse, risky sexual behaviour, the stigma of social exclusion, incarceration and list is endless. There are issues which require a far greater attention of the policymakers and the government.

First and foremost, we need to identify the conduit of these contraband drug and target it indiscriminately. The various studies show that once the European countries stopped the entry of drugs from “Balkan Route-the conduit of the drug trade to Europe” their problem of drug menace was half solved. Our state should follow the same approach.

With the advent of social media, the tricks of the drug trade have also changed; most of the drug sales nowadays are done on “Dark Net”. The state needs to ensure that our intelligence and police are abreast with all the latest technological advancement to nab the big fish of the drug trade. Only then this legislation will bring the desired results, or else our effort to curb the menace may belie the desired results.

Unsolicitedly, we all should provide, whatever little information we have about the drug buccaneers and miscreants in this trade to the police. The silence of the society on social evils don’t help in overcoming them but only fester them to the worse. Embrace meliorism!

We need to fight this menace from all quarters by spreading awareness about the pitfall of drug use. From parents, teachers, students, association, legislators, police, to NGOs, each one of us has a role in this battle against drugs. We, as a society, need to understand that it’s the higher socioeconomic groups that have a greater propensity to drug use, but it’s the society as a whole that pays the price.

The society, as a whole, needs to be emphatic to those who have fallen in the trap of drug use. The state also will have to ensure drug addicts are administered proper treatment-be it in prisons or in rehabilitation centers. Such an attitude for one and all will help drug addicts in overcoming the drug problem and social stigmatization.

The state also needs to usherradical reforms in sectors like education. At present, numerous youth get disillusioned when they get rejected for a job or don’t find a job. In frustration, they feel disheartened by the system and take up drugs. Whereas the real problem is, a majority of them lack the skill set and are often unemployable. The skill set is correlated with quality of education imparted to the students. The reform in the education system should commensurate with the requirement of the modern day age. It’s sad that we have commodified the education system, which further exacerbates the problems of the society, instead of remediating it.

Our policymakers need to introspect whether they have been able to formulate the policies that promote job creation and environment that thrives on an idea of innovation and technology.In absence of both these, youth is like to become susceptible to drugs to find solace. The policymakers need to avoid this trap and make sure the policies cultivate an environment on which our society can prosper for the best, not for the worst.

A bit of lateral thinking will also help. We need to create more options for our youth to have fun and frolic. Let’s understand, if we can offer an environment full of alternative activities to our youth, it will prevent the youth from falling prey to drugs. More parks, health clubs, library, reading rooms (sadly reading habits are declining in society worldwide), playgrounds will certainly help. Our pedagogy and parents can help immensely in this, by encouraging the youth to develop different interest and hobbies. Remember the old adage: An idle brain is a devil’s workshop.

Interestingly, most of the towns in the state or villages for that matter have a painful story related to the drug menace to tell- some certainly veracious, some may be apocryphal. The imminent challenge is to overturn the predicament. In the future, the tales from the state should be about drug survivor who fought his way back to health, not about the one who languished all his life in the hope of emancipation.

We are blessed with a young population but the asset has to be preserved by creating an environment that gets the best out the youth. If we err in doing so, the same asset can easily turn into liability and spell doomsday for the state. It would be a tragedy if we allow our youth to embrace the darkness.

Let’s get our act together; it’s high time! Let’s build a bulwark in the path of slow death by presenting new avenues of life to the youth. They deserve this much, if not better.

Author: Sunny Grack

About Author: Sunny Grack is a former banker. Interested in matters on economy, globalisation ,financial market and public policy; an Economic and Management graduate. He lives in Shimla.

Disclaimer: Himachal Watcher may not necessarily share the same opinion as expressed by the author.

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Report bursts myth about ‘big encroachers’ in Himachal’s tribal areas

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Big encroachers in tribal himachal

Shimla-Himdhara Environment Research and Action Collective in collaboration with Zila Van AdhikarSamiti, Kinnaur, released its report titled, ‘Who Gains from the Forest Rights Act, 2006?’. The study conducted in the tribal district of Kinnaur, assessed 1351 Individual Forest Right (IFR) claims of 22 Forest Rights Committees (FRC) in the district where 132 FRCs have been formed.

The study found that 96.5% of these IFR claims were for less than 10 bighas of land and only 6 claims out of 1351 claims being of more than 20 bighas.

Jiyalal Negi, president of Zila Van AdhikaarSamiti, Kinnaur said,

The data shows that people are making genuine claims of land under their occupation mainly for their survival and not for grabbing land as is the notion that the administration holds.

The study looked at the landholding data of 417 claimants of the total 1351 showing that 67% of these have existing private land holdings under 10 bighas.

Negi further added that close to 26% of the claimants are in the category of Scheduled Castes, whereas they form only 17.53% of the total population.

The report also revealed that the average size of land claimed under FRA by the SC community is slightly more than the average land claimed by ST community. Prakash Bhandari from Himdhara Environment Collective emphasized,

If the IFR claims of 417 SC claimants studied are recognized, then the average land holding size would increase from 8.86 bigha to 11.47 bigha,

showing that a fair and just implementation of this Act could play a critical role in reducing land ownership inequities in the region.

The Forest Rights Act, 2006 was legislated to support the survival of tribal and other communities living in areas where dependence on ‘forest lands’ is high. The act recognizes the individual as well as community uses of forestland dependent communities.

The study by Himdhara Collective was carried out to challenge certain arguments posed by the administration in Kinnaur as well as some other areas, questioning the individual claimants on the grounds that they belong to already landed communities and would be grabbing more land.

With such arguments dominating political and bureaucratic discussions, the implementation of the Act has remained poor, where only 129 individual claims have been approved across the state

, said SonamTargay and Rigzin, representatives from Lahaul-Spiti.

The representatives from both districts recommended that it is high time that the pending files with State and District level Committees be expedited. They also emphasized on the urgent need of training that should be conducted for both the administration and political representatives to remove misconceptions about this very important act.

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