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A lethal carelessness of HP PWD that goes unnoticed

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poor road safety in himachal

Shimla: As per Social Welfare Council of India, in Himachal Pradesh, road accidents account for the highest percentage of deaths by far from any calamity. Out of the total, 15 percent accidents in hilly areas of India are caused by ill-maintained roads despite the fact that these accidents are easily avoidable.

As part of the safety measures, the road surface should be free of moisture, potholes, loose gravel, dust etc. Everday, several minor accidents occur in a bid to avoid potholes on the roads, but the matter receives no significant attention of government and the public. 

The poor and unsafe road conditions are directly associated with corruption. 

Here, the Himachal Pradesh Public Works Department and the private contractors deserves a mention. The duo is perhaps the world renowned for the poorest job in road construction and maintenance as the State is an international tourist destination.

Shimla bypass road in poor condition

Near BCS, Shimla

Poor quality asphalt concrete with an almost negligible amount of bitumen is used in tarring of roads. The roads are approved by the government. As a result of it, these roads easily wash away in rains, leaving behind layers of loose gravel and dust on the road surface. This loose gravel poses a huge risk of road accidents. Especially, it is lethal for two-wheel riders.

A resident of Tutikandi in Shimla city shared his encounter with death on the Shimla-Dhali bypass road, all because of the carelessness of the contractor undertaking maintenance work.

The bypass road was tarred in 2017 but returned to a state of tatters after the monsoon. The entire stretch is full of potholes, loose gravel, and lots of dust.

The contractor is doing an equally poor patch-work these days. On Monday morning, the man was on his way back to home at about 10:30 PM. He was riding at a speed of 30-35 kms per hour. 

accident due to poor road condition

Poor patchwork by HP PWD on Shimla-Dhali Bypass

 Near the crematory in Lalpani, he realized an over-speeding truck was compensating a sharp, blind curve in a way that left little room for his bike. Still, the rider could have managed the situation very easily.

However, he realized that he has pushed brakes on a layer of loose gravel that was left as it is by the laborers after doing a poor patch-work. 

In a fraction of a second, the bike skid on this gravel. The rider fell down, rolled over several times and reached the middle of the road. His head smashed against the road at least thrice.

For about 30 seconds, he found it unable to move. Unfortunately, he was laying in the middle of the road at a blind curve and there was every chance that he would have been mowed down by other vehicles.

Luckily, he managed to get up and crawl to the edge of the road. Somehow, he dragged his bike to safety and sat down for a while.

After getting back to his senses, he tried to identify what damage the accident caused to his body. He realized his knees, ankle, and arm were hit.

After a little while, he got up and moved his limbs to confirm there is no fracture or bleeding. Luckily, his helmet and jacket saved him from a great pain.

He was left with a broken laptop display and mobile screen and a damaged bike.

After a while, he took a moment to analyze what actually happened.

None of it had happened if the contractor had bothered to sweep the road to clean the loose gravel.

The man received minor injuries and bruises but managed to ride the bike upto his home.

He was thankful to his helmet that saved him from serious head injury which was otherwise inevitable.

Though I wearing a helmet, I could still feel the blow everytime my head hit the ground,

said the man.

At that point, I realized that this carelessness on the part of the contractor, thus, HPPWD had almost caused me my life,

he said. 

This incident is another opportunity to draw the attention of the otherwise indifferent and insensitive government departments and contractors hired by them.

The HPPWD has closed its eyes towards the quality of the work. There is no supervision over the contractors.
There is no measure to ensure these contractors are following standard practices and following all mandatory guidelines related to road safety.

Considering the fatality rate in road accidents, the Indian government had announced Road Safety Policy on December 26, 2016.

HP government had notified establishment of “The State Transport Development and Road Safety Council.”

The Council was supposed to consider all aspects that contribute to road accidents and take measures like better road designing with engineering solutions, safety audits for selected stretches of National Highways, rumble strips, reflective stickers at junctions, fixing signboard/ cautionary board, providing signage and speed restrictions.

Sadly, the grieve issue of gravel proves, the State is far behind in the implementation of any of these road safety measures. Ensuring removal of gravel after repairs does not require additional budget and it can avert several minor incidents of road accidents such as the one narrated above.

 

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Plea of 24 children killed in Nurpur tragedy to CM for justice

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no justice for Nurpur school bus victims

Kangra: Five months have passed since one of the biggest tragedy that Himachal Pradesh has ever witnessed, but the parents of 24 kids killed in Nurpur school bus accident on April 9, 2018, are still knocking at the door of the government to get justice for the pieces of their hearts. These kids could not live even their childhood.

This untimely departure left the parents heartbroken and pictures of a mass cremation of these children had given a nightmare to all parents.

Probe report of Nurpur school bus accident

Children killed in the accident being cremated

However, the business appears to be usual for the government. The parents had already approached the State High Court expressing their dissatisfaction with the report of the magisterial probe but to no avail.

On Sunday, a banner was seen hanging near Hanuman Mandir of Dharamshala in which pictures of about 19 children and four others killed in the tragedy were published with a request to the Chief Minister to spare a few moments to the case. The lines written on the poster said “Chand pal hamain bhi de do, Hamari bhi suno Mukhya Mantri Uncle Ji.” (Please, spare a few moments to hear us too Chief Minister Uncle)

Nurpur tragedy banner in dharamshala

It is not known who placed this banner but it did dock the state government, district administration, and the district police. The police has also not filed any charge-sheet in the case, the parents allege.  The parents are demanding a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation, which is another embarrassment for the state police. The people hesitate to lay their trust in the state police due to what it did in cases like forest gaurd Hoshiar Singh and Kotkhai’s Gudia.  

Also Read: Nurpur tragedy: Because Govt did not repair collapsed part of road or bothered about parapets

On April 9, 2018, a school bus of a private school in Nurpur was carrying children back to their homes when it met an accident and fell into the gorge near Gurchal village. In this accident, 23 kids, which mostly included pre-school students, were killed on the spot while remaining one took his last breath a few days later in a hospital. Total 28 people had died including the driver. 

Cause of accidents in Nurpur Kangra

The spot of accident

The spot (shown in the picture above) from where the bus fell down into a 200-feet gorge speaks of the cause of accident itself. The missing piece of the road narrowed the spot. There were no signs of any roadside safety measures such as crash barriers or parapets. Another accident had been reported at the same spot previously too.

The parents are alleging that the government is protecting the officials of the Public Works Department and the contractor responsible for not repairing the collapsed part of the road.

magisterial probe report in Nurpur Bus accident

Photos: Amar Ujala

The authority was not ready to admit that the road was in poor condition. However, within a month of this tragedy, the spot was repaired and parapets were also installed. A few kilometres length of the road around the spot was also metalled in a haphazard manner.

Though the report that wasn’t made public might have been modified later, Himachal Watcher had obtained some of the facts cited in the findings of the magisterial probe.  

Also Read: Findings of magisterial probe into Nurpur Tragedy exposes HPPWD’s blunder

The district administration has not made the findings of the report public, the parents allege. Some of the parents said they were told that the driver suffered a heart attack which caused the accident. The parents alleged the government is trying to hush up the matter and is denying justice to their children.

On the other hand, the administration has told the parents to file an RTI to obtain the copy of the report. The administration said the report is prepared after a fair probe. It also claimed that parents never asked for a copy of the report. 

Protection of its officials even when their callousness and corruption have led to a loss of lives is one of the several things in which the current government agrees with the previous one.  This attitude is less likely to witness any change as the government is always sparing the road and spoiling it departments and officials.  

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HP Govt has every reason to terminate contract with GVK-EMRI providing 108 & 102 services

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HP Govt GVK-EMRI contract termination

Shimla: The 108 and 102 emergency services provided by the GVK Emergency Management and Research Institute (GVK-EMRI) have become a mockery of the very purpose of an “ambulance.”

Yesterday, a 108 ambulance killed a 70-year-old lady and injured three others as it rammed into a ‘dhaba’ in Saho in Chamba district. The ambulance, as per the report, was in bad shape and mostly needed push-start. While doing so, neither the vehicle got started neither the break worked, and it rammed into a dhaba.

In another incident in Nauradhar – a Trans-Giri region of Sirmaur district – the driver and technician of an ambulance had a narrow escape as the driver lost control after a tyre burst. The driver managed to gain control and prevented an accident.

GVK ambulances in bad shape

108 ambulance after tyrebust in Nauradhar

On August 25, a case of break-failure was reported in Sangdah (संगड़ाह) region of the district. The driver had to crash the ambulance against the hill.

Currently, these emergency services are like a lifeline for patients and a large population depends on t

The staff of the GVK had been trying to highlight the plight of the ambulances, which are not fit to be emergency vehicles. Tyre bust, brake failure, and other mechanical faults have been officially reported by the staff of these ambulances to the company, the State Health Department, and the National Health Mission.

The staff had even highlighted that despite being in unfit to be on road, the ambulances are passed by the government every year.

The staff has alleged the company of using repressive means to discourage such employees trying to raise their voice against blatant violations of rules.

These ambulances are supposed to run as much faster as the road and traffic conditions allow while carrying all mandatory life-saving tools, devices, medicine, and technicians. The 102 service dedicatedly serves for the pregnant women under a maternity scheme. The vehicles are supposed to be maintained regularly. Ambulances can’t afford to have worn-out tyers and mechanical errors.

These vehicles, especially those rendering 102 services should be maintained regularly so that they to endure the impact of bad road conditions. However, the situation is quite opposite to it.

Previous Story: 108 and 102 ambulance staff on strike again as their demands not met despite agreement

A month ago, the staff of the company had gone on strike over pending salaries, delay in payment of monthly salaries, and irregularities in the benefits offered by the company. As per the drivers, the company not only made them drive mechanically unfit vehicles but also exploited them by not paying for overtime.

There is no standard policy regarding the salary of the staff. While some employees receive Rs. 6,000 to 8,000, others are being paid 12,000 to 15, 000. The company is paying the salary in an arbitrary manner. Newly employed staff is offered more salary than what is being paid to employees who are serving for past five to eight years,

Puran Chand had told Himachal Watcher during the last strike in August.

Earlier in June, the company had given false assurance to the employees that all their demands would be met within a month. However, after the end of this deadline, the GVK had again failed to meet any of the demands.

The staff was so distressed that it did not resume duties despite the imposition of Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA). The State High Court, like it happens in almost every important issue, had to intervene to make the staff call off the strike. It was after the court termed their strike illegal and threatened them with committing a contempt of court by not joining back that the drivers and technicians called off the strike.

The service provider had also terminated about 63 employees to create panic among the others striking. However, instead of threatening them, the termination fueled the anger among the employees.

An FIR has also been registered against a senior Employee’s Provident Fund Organization Officer and an intermediary of GVK Company for offering and accepting a bribe. The middleman had paid a bribe of Rs. 80,000 to the officer of the EPF office in exchange for reducing EPF liabilities of the company, the striking staff allege.

The court had directed the district administration, the State and Centre Health Departments, and NHM to resolve the grievance of the staff.

Mr Ranjan Sharma, Additional Advocate General had told the court that the Mission Director, National Health Mission, HP, should ensure that the salary to the employees, on the due date, as per the agreement, is released, in accordance with law.

The contract between the State government and GVK should have been terminated long ago considering all above grievance. The contract was renewed in 2017 before the elections to the State Legislative Assembly and is valid till 2022. 

After pressure from the court, it is now that the Health Minister Vipin Singh Parmar is speaking about taking note of these grieve issues and reviewing the contract. He today said that this step was taken after receiving regular complaints about the service provider. The Minister has suggested that the contract could be terminated soon depending upon the outcomes of this review.

The government has every reason to take this much-needed step as the company is showing no signs of betterment in its attitude towards the emergency services and its staff.

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HRTC slammed for targeting schoolchildren for profit, burdening parents

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HRTC School bus fee hike

Shimla: The Himachal Pradesh Road Transport Corporation (HRTC), in a recent meeting, has hiked the fare for school buses by 50 percent. It would also apply to the bus passes, which were earlier issued on concessional rates to keep the transportation cost cheaper for school children.

This decision is facing severe criticism from the Parents Teachers Association of various public and private schools and other social organizations. The demand for withdrawal of the decision to hike the fare is being raised.

The HRTC, on the other hand, justified the hike in fare by reasoning that no hike was made since 2010.

The new rates of the HRTC charges (per month) for school bus passes are as followed:

Rs. 900 for five to ten kilometres

Rs.1350 for 11 to 20 kilometres

Rs. 1500 for 21 to 30 kilometres

The Communist Party of India, as well as the parents, have pointed out that the standard fare for a distance of five kilometres is currently Rs. 7. For both ways, it would be Rs. 14, and for a month, it would be Rs. 420. However, the Corporation is now charging Rs. 900 per month, which is a loot, they said. 

On Friday, some unofficial reports suggested that the Chief Minister could roll-back the decision after facing widespread criticism. 

The PTAs expressed anguish by saying that the Himachal Pradesh Government is hardly able to commit itself for the deliverance of quality education in the government schools. During the past two decades, a large number of parents shifted their trust from government schools to the private/convent schools.

The Education Minister and the teachers in the government schools were seen concerned more about transfers than committing to their schools and students.

Parents strive to get their children enrolled in private schools despite the fact that these institutions extract hefty fees, which makes them unaffordable for children of any family below middle class. The middle-class families sacrifice a lot to ensure a better education for their children, the majority of parents in PTAs agreed.

The parents are not only looted by private schools but also pay for cab services, which openly flaunt rules and regulations meant for ensuring the safety of children.

The government has so far never intervened to put a check on the private schools, regularise fee structure, and stop the financial exploitation of the parents.

As a matter of fact, the politicians, bureaucrats, and government officials settle nothing less than the most reputed private schools in the State when it comes to their own children. The congestion in private schools has grown to such an extent that parents seek approach/personal recommendation of ministers, politicians, elected leaders, bureaucrats, and influential people.

It’s ironical because the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act, 2009, directs the government to ensure free and compulsory school education for all children. The Act specifically mentions that education to children must be ensured in schools located in their neighbourhood.

The Act also states that the governments should ensure that nothing stands in the way of children from accessing compulsory education. The government is supposed to eradicate all barriers or limitations, which keep children from receiving education in schools.

In Himachal, the governments have raised a large number of schools but failed miserably to ensure the quality of education in its schools. The situation is such that the government is proposing to shut down a good number of schools because no students would enrol in them.

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