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Anger erupts among villagers in Mandi, allege police of portraying murder of forest guard as suicide

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HP Forest Mafia Murder a forest guard

The villagers and lower forest staff have lost faith in HP Government and its police. Afraid of manipulation, they are demand investigation by SIT and CBI.

MANDI- The case of alleged murder a forest guard by forest mafia in Karsog division of Mandi district in Himachal Pradesh is leading to shocking discovery of mass felling of trees in the beat where the deceased guard was posted. Based on information extracted from guard’s diary and some letters, a team of forest department searched the jungle in Seri-Katanda (सेरी कतांडा) beat and has recovered about 70 stumps of trees felled recently. Over 20 slippers were also found hidden in the jungle, as per the report.

mandi forest gaurd murder case

Stumps of recently felled trees and slipper hidden in jungle recovered/Photo: Amar Ujala

The guard has even mentioned complaining about illegal felling to higher officials. Now, there are some questions that must be answered. Firstly, why the officials didn’t act on complaints of the guard? How is it possible that forest officials in that particular beat weren’t aware about axing of trees on such a large scale? Why police, that had registered a case of murder earlier, has changed the tone and is insisting that it was a suicide?

The villagers have lost faith in government and its police. People have taken to streets and are protesting against the administration, police, and even disappointed with media for manipulating news. The forest employees are also furious and have demanded that the case should be given to Special Investigation Team (SIT) for further investigation. Similarly, the villagers have demanded inquiry through Central Crime Branch (CBI) instead of State Police.

There isn’t any doubt that forest mafia is very active in Himachal and is prowling for trees unbridled. Like mining mafia, forest mafia has entrenched itself in the government machinery.

So far, five people including the Block Officer have been arrested in the case that suggests that forest officials are hands-in-globe with mafia.

Police has reportedly recovered a bag, two vials of poison, and few letters near the spot where the dead body of the forest guard Hoshiar Singh was found hanging upside down from a tree.

Two pieces of paper containing hand-written messages were found from the bag while one other was recovered from the quarters of the deceased, said police. Police has also recovered a diary that, as per the police, contains written records of how the forest guard was being pressurized to join the nexus. However, the letters have been sent for forensic investigation to match the handwriting. Police had earlier registered a case of suspected murder, but now it’s also considering possibilities of suicide as vials of poison, letters, and samples of vomits found near the spot. In one of the letters, Hoshiar has left message for her grandmother while in another letter he has named the Block Officer and four others for pressurizing him to be silent about the illegal felling. 

Police has detained all five and had taken them on three day remand in connection with the case. After 24 hours of arrest, the Divisional Forest Officer has suspended the BO.

The villagers were enraged over the alleged brutal killing of young forest guard and didn’t agree that Hoshiar could commit suicide. The relatives of the guard has also claimed that he often mentioned how forest mafia has entrenched itself in the forest department, and that it is plundering the forests with shocking impunity. A few relatives even said that Hoshiar had even shown them videos containing visuals of illegal felling in trees. Moreover, the villagers have questioned how he was hanging upside down from tree if he had committed suicide.

The autopsy report of the guard, as per reports, said that no wounds were found on the body. However, a picture of the body hanging from tree clearly shows wounds on both wrists.

Moreover, the letters and the diary also suggested conflict between honest guard and his own department. The deceased has mentioned receiving life threats from forest mafia. When the forest guard reported it to the higher officials, he was ignored and told to keep quite. As per police, the dairy also hinted how illegal wood market works in three to four stages.

Meanwhile, the Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh has taken the matter very lightly. In media statement, he said, “It happens at times”. The CM isn’t ready to accept that forest mafia is thwarting in Himachal.

Plenty of cases have been reported during last six months where the field staff of the forest department was roughed up by forest mafia. In Bilaspur district, Congress MLA, Bambar Singh Thakur, even assaulted the DFO, Bilaspur when he tried to stop illegal felling of trees and encroachment on the government land.

The HP Forest Minister is also enjoying perks of power. Rather, massive illegal felling of trees has been reported from his home district – Chamba. He doesn’t seem to care about either the forests or the safety of forest staff. The minister has not given any statement regarding the current case of alleged murder of the guard.

More revelations are expected if the police is allowed to do its job. However, there would be no surprise if police concludes it as a case of suicide. After all, the real mafia is sitting inside the assembly house. Like always, committees have been formed to investigate the case, but that hardly matters as they are the creation of mafia itself.
If government actually cares about delivering justice, then it must reach the bottom of the case. Not only Himachal facing colossal loss of flora and fauna due to corruption, but has also started losing lives now.

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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Disturbing Ashwani Khad viral video is real, but fake for Govt (more clips)

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ashwani khad comparison 2

Shimla: A disturbing viral video showing a large stream carrying tons of solid garbage is indeed the Ashwani Khad or Asni river – a major source of drinking water to Shimla town and Solan.

It has been confirmed that Shimla has now begun to destroy the very sources that offer them invaluable drinking water. Anyone who came across this scene was bewildered.

Himachal Watcher talked to the person, Abhay Sharma and a few other locals, who had recorded the videos as well as the one who had uploaded it on social media. The video was recorded on July 2 near Ashwani Khad not far from Salogra in Solan district.

The gigantic amount of thrash and various sorts of other waste is also real, HW was told.

Not just solid waste like plastic and plastic bottles and bags, thermocol etc., but it also carried a large amount of sewage allegedly discharged under the cover of the heavy rain. The entire region was filled with an unbearable smell of sewage. HW was told.

The contamination of the stream not only threatens the environment but also poses a serious health hazard to the health of the people who receive this water as a drinking water supply.

However, as a shocker, when HW asked the Deputy Commissioner of Shimla, Amit Kashyap regarding the video, he insisted that it was a fake video.

The video is edited and the location also appears to be foreign. The type of plastic visible in the video is not found in Shimla, and there is no such green patch near Salogra or Ashwani Khad,

the DC insisted.

It was a typical ostrich approach – closing eyes and denying the threat. 

When asked about waste management in rural areas of upper Shimla region, he said everything is fine and the waste is disposed of properly.

We have formed teams to monitor and ensure proper arrangements for the waste disposal,

he said.

He also insisted that the daily solid waste generated by the town is also collected daily and taken to the waste treatment plant in Bhariyal.

Officials of the Shimla Municipal Corporation and the State Pollution Control Board are also washing their hands off by terming the video as fake. As per these bodies, everything is at its place.

As per complainants, it began to happen from past couple of years, especially during heavy monsoon rains.

It’s not the first time that the Khad (rivulet) was flooded with an overwhelming amount of thrash. We have witnessed it at least thrice earlier including twice this year,

Abhay, who is also a member of the non-profit organization Healing Himalayas, told Himachal Watcher.

The complainants suggested that it happens when it rains heavy in Shimla. Ashwani Khad flows through upper areas of Shimla like Charabra and passes through the periphery of Shimla town.

The solid waste collection and treatment is in tatters in both the Shimla town and upper areas under Panchayats.

Himachal Watcher also talked to the former Mayor of Shimla town, Sanjay Chauhan.

He rubbished these statements of the district administration and the civic body saying that a large amount of garbage begins to enter the stream starting from upper Shimla due to lack of waste management.

To check random dumping of the trash generated by panchayats, we had taken an initiative under which panchayats were provided facility to remove garbage, and a small amount of fee was charged from panchayats. The scheme was now suspended and the solid waste is thrown anywhere. With heavy rain, it’s washed away and enters the stream,

said Sanjay.

He further pointed out that the garbage generated by residents of Krishna Nagar (Slum) is thrown down the hill. This waste keeps accumulating throughout the year. When it rains heavy, it’s washed away and goes directly into the Khad in Lalpani.

The solid waste collection and management have deteriorated during the past one year. The workers either remained on strike as much as four to five times or didn’t collected the garbage regularly due to poor attitude of the MC towards their demands and grievances,

Sanjay said.

Now, the SMC has handed over the job of door-to-door garbage to a private contractor. The company was supposed to take the charge of sanitation work in five wards from July 1, 2018, however, neither the contractor nor his workers begun the work so far, said Sanjay.

The only way to control it is to ensure that no waste is dumped near the Khad, which is not happening.

Meanwhile, the video is doing rounds of social media not just in India but also in other foreign countries.  Now, it is to be seen whether the State government bothers to order a probe into it or just take it casually.

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Illegal construction in D’shala (Pics): Would stop salary if no action taken against erring officials, HC warns TCP Secretary

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Dharamshala: During the last hearing in a petition on July 6, 2018, the Himachal Pradesh High Court had expressed displeasure with the government departments for the way they are responding to directions passed by it regarding action on officials responsible for allowing illicit and illegal construction by violating various construction laws and environmental guidelines.

We may also observe that since the year 2015, no action, whatsoever, stands taken against any one of the concerned officer(s)/official(s), who allowed such unauthorised construction to come up at the first place,

a bench comprising Acting Chief Justice Sanjay Karol and Justice Ajay Mohan Goel said during the hearing. 

Himachal Watcher also have some exclusive pictures and a video showing rampant damage to and felling of trees in the Dharamshala town due to alleged illegal construction activities despite court orders against the same.

The visuals show the apathy of the various government departments who are not discharging their duties but are still getting paid.

Ilegal tree felling in Dharamshala town 6

These photos were one of the evidence that exposed the deliberate damage illegal construction has caused to the trees in the town in broad daylight and resistance from concerned departments.

Ilegal tree felling in Dharamshala town

Pictures annexed with Local Commissioner’s report submitted to High Court

The pictures were taken by advocate Deven Khanna, who had visited the area under Municipal Corporation in April after the Court appointed him as the local commissioner.

Ilegal tree felling in Dharamshala town 5

The pictures show how unscientific and excess excavation of slopes was undertaken in such a manner that makes them vulnerable to damages and even felling during monsoon.

Watch Video

In fact, digging out soil beneath trees is deliberately used to fell trees, especially under the cover of monsoon rains. It was one of the revelations made in the local commissioner’s report submitted to the Court.

We have noticed, as is apparent from the report of the Local Commissioner, that private individuals are adopting different ways and means of ensuring that trees over their land, which are not only priceless but valuable from environmental point of view, are allowed to be felled/uprooted so as to make it appear that it is on account of natural calamity,

the bench observed.

It must be noted here that Dharamshala receives third highest rainfall in the entire country. The strategy is to fell trees by exposing their roots to the elements, then by digging out the land beneath them and waiting for the monsoons,

the local commissioner had specifically mentioned in his report submitted to the Court. 

The report had also mentioned that roads have been made in a very dangerous fashion. 

Two roads specifically were noticed (Maclodegunj to Dharamkot road and mountaineering institute road) where at least 500 to 1000 trees can be saved if restoration work is done immediately, said the report. 

Related Story: Did HP Govt finish Dharamshala’s ‘Core Area’ to facilitate illegal construction?

The remarks made during this hearing aptly confirmed unwillingness of the State government to take action against its erring officials irrespective of the ruling political party. 

Ilegal tree felling in Dharamshala town 4

The Court had pulled up the government for not taking action against erring officials posted during the time of illegal constructions in the town despite repeated directions.

Despite the Court having issued several directions, continuously since the year 2015, calling upon the authorities to check illicit and illegal felling of trees as also check unauthorised construction, there has been rampant, grave, unauthorised and illegal construction and felling of trees,

the bench observed.

Illegal tree felling in dharamshala

It is in 2018 that only after Court’s intervention such unauthorized structures are now being sealed and demolished, the bench further said. The government is not taking any action on its own.

Noticing absolute apathy on the part of the Government in taking action against any one of its officer/official, we do not hesitate to record that despite prodding, the Secretary, Town and Country Planning has not taken any action,

the bench observed.

We would not hesitate in expressing our displeasure on this count. In fact, we are of the view that salaries of all the persons who are supposed to monitor the construction activities, should be withheld, for they have failed to discharge their duties violators were endeavouring to procrastinate the proceeding pending before various authorities so as to obstruct and impede the enforcement of the orders passed by this Court,

the bench added.

As per Mr. Tara Singh Chauhan, standing Counsel, 70 individuals allegedly violating environmental laws were issued notices. This is in addition to the disconnection of water and electricity to 46 violators.

During a hearing on April 24, 2018, the Advocate General had told the court that despite directions passed by the court, the electricity of some of such consumers who had violated the law with impunity was not disconnected.

Related Story: Shocking video/photos expose Govt Officer’s lies about illegal slate mining in Dharamshala

The court also observed that it is only when the Court is passing orders, the officers/officials are taking action, rather reluctantly.

As the Court did not receive any explanation from concerned officials, the Court said it was in favour of stopping the release of their salaries.

We would have directed the salaries of such officer(s) / official(s) not to be released, but are persuaded by the learned Advocate General not to pass such orders,

the bench stated.

We clarify that if no such action is taken, we would not hesitate in stopping the salary of the concerned Secretary also,

the bench warned.

The bench has also directed the Director, Town and Country Planning and Commissioner, Municipal Corporation, Dharamshala, to submit the list of all the officers of the rank of Junior Engineer(s) and above, who were posted within the municipal limits of Dharamshala, since the year 2010, within two days alongwith their tenure and place of posting.

The Court has challenged the government’s disinterest in controlling corruption and sluggishness. The action of withholding their salaries would result in a reaction from the government. 

The next hearing is scheduled for July 30, 2018. 

Crucial Findings of Local Commissioner’s Report 

The local commissioner had suggested that at least 1,000 trees can easily be saved by putting iron meshes, stones and mud, or by putting retaining walls. The roots have to be covered and the spaces beneath the trees have to be immediately filled and supported.   

As an unfortunate fact, the report had stated that no attempt was being made to restore or protect the trees. 

Other points of the report:

  1. Permissions for felling of trees is not being accorded by tree authority/ tree committee after applying its mind to the situation, no attempt is being made to save the green trees, it was also noticed that the tree authority is not sitting every month as required by the statute.
  2. No tree has been numbered, in fact, the numbering of trees has not even begun, it seems like that the mandatory directions given in the famous forest case in the year 1996 have not been communicated or is being embarrassingly flouted by the forest department and municipalities of the state of Himachal Pradesh.
  3. No attempt is being made by the departments to include technology and use it as a tool to map out and number trees. With the help of satellite, mapping and numbering trees are quicker and one can get an approximation of the total number, same data can be corroborated with drone images to get a more accurate number.
  4. This task won’t ever be done by the forest guards as the area of Himachal is very huge with vast forest cover, this is the sole reason provided by the forest department for not numbering the trees since 1996 mandatory direction of T.N Godhaverman.
  5. That the Tree Authority shall ensure while granting permission to fell/cut trees that the applicant shall plant 10 other trees specifically “Tall Trees” of the same or other suitable species preferably on the same site or close to its vicinity within 60 days of the date when the tree is axed.
  6. The person/entity may also be asked to pay for the environmental damage (which can be the value of the wood + the loss of environment caused to the area), and such fund collected may directly be used by the “plant nurseries” in town for growing and maintaining “tall trees”.
  7. It is seen that, at present, the funds which are collected, are not directly used for restoring the area where felling took place. They are used for “reforestation activities” after a long process and such “reforestation activities” usually happen at some other place and not close to the vicinity of the damaged area.

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Watch : Families living in inhuman, hazardous conditions due to Baddi MC’s dumping ground

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Baddi MC Dumping Ground

Solan: In Kenduwal village, Sandholi Panchayat, the Municipal Council of Baddi created a dumping ground right next to the houses of five Gujjar families two years ago. As a result, the families are now forced to live in inhuman conditions.

In addition to the foul smell from the garbage that makes normal breathing difficult, children, elderly, and cattle frequently fall ill because of the unhygienic conditions of the dump.

In the last two years, 20 cows and four 4 buffaloes have died because of this dump,

says Gulam Nabi from Kenduwal village.

The gravest of all issues is that the path meant for commuting (right of way) used by the five families having 30 members has been obstructed because of the dump. The trucks of MC often break their water-pipelines and garbage completely chokes the path.

As a matter of concern, the affected families alleged that the issue was brought to the notice of the administration several times but no action ever came.

Today, these families met the Sub-Divisional Magistrate (SDM) at Nalagarh to file a formal complaint about the intolerable living conditions created by this dumping and appeal for immediate action to relocate the dump. The SDM in response took the statement of the aggrieved parties and has said he will take suo-moto action in the matter.

The aggrieved families also submitted copies of the complaint to the Deputy Commissioner, HP Pollution Control Board, and Police Station.

In the recent days, due to rains, the path was submerged in obnoxious smelling mucky water due to the garbage dump and the issue was raised many times with the office of Municipal Council.

The Municipal Council assured the families by saying that the path would be repaired.

With a great difficulty, on July 6, the Municipal Council arranged a truck of sand to raise the path. After which another truckload of sand was needed to complete the job but in the meantime, another garbage truck arrived. To prevent the truck from causing damage to the path, women tried to stop the truck from advancing.

Over this, the truck driver, labour managing garbage got into a heated argument with us. They used foul language and did not pay heed to what we had to say which led to a clash between us. We want to make it clear to the administration that we do not have any issues with the labourers, but the dumping of tonnes of garbage in front of our homes is insensitive inhuman and that is what our complaint is about,”

said Nabi.

The families said the police has registered an FIR against them to pressurise them.

Himdhara, a group that is working on environmental issues, has arrived at Baddi to undertake a fact-finding task.

According to Manshi Asher, member of Himdhara, such dumping of urban waste is a gross violation of the Environmental Protection Act. Based on the Act, in 2016, the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change had brought out the ‘solid waste management rules’.

As mentioned in the rules, a solid waste dumping site has to be at least 200 meters away from the place of habitation. Also, floodplains of rivers cannot be chosen as dumping site either.

It is also clearly mentioned in the Solid Waste Management Rules that the site of the landfill should be fenced and should have a gate with a concrete path inside it. The Municipal Council has violated this rule as well, said Manshi.

Can you imagine how they’re living right next to dumping site as huge as five acres?

asked Manshi.

The Gujjar community belongs to the Scheduled Tribe category in our country. They rear cattle, which grazes on public lands and make a living by selling the milk. The complaint filed, which was submitted to the Superintendent of Police and the Pollution Control Board as well also states that:

“The Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989” section 3 subsection 1 (b) states that in the vicinity of places of residence of people belonging to scheduled caste/tribe, disposing fecal matter, garbage, animal carcass or other obnoxious substances whereby unease is caused to them is a punishable offence. Officials not responding to complaints made by members of the SC/ST community are also flouting the law.

We are making a report on this matter and sending it to all administrative offices of the State as well as the Centre,

said the members of Himdhara.

The Gujjars are not the only ones troubled. Since last 6 months, villagers from Malpur have complained about the dumping ground as well as the Common Effluent Treatment Plant also located in Kenduwal, due to the smell. It is shocking that the pollution control board hasn’t taken any steps in this regard.

The families have warned that if no action was taken regarding their grievance, they would be left with no other option but to approach the court.

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