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HP Police hatched a conspiracy, tortured and killed innocent laborer in Gudiya case: CBI

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CBI Chargesheet in Kotkhai custodial death

Shimla: Shocking revelations have come to light after the Central Bureau of Investigation on November 25 filed a chargesheet in the case pertaining to the custodial killing of Suraj Singh, a Nepalese laborer arrested for alleged gangrape and murder of Gudiya in Kotkhai on July 6.

The CBI today, on November 30, submitted its status report over the custodial killing to the Himachal Pradesh High Court. The CBI mentioned their accomplishment in concluding a successful probe and filing of challan against accused police officials in the CBI court. The agency said it is in possession of very solid evidences against the accused.

The next hearing in the case was scheduled for December 20.

If the CBI succeeds in proving every charge labeled against the accused in its chargsheet, then it would read like the following story:

A 16-years-old girl disappears on July 4, 2017, while returning back to home from the Government Senior Secodnary School Mahasu. The naked dead body of the girl is discovered on the morning of July 6.

The local police including the Deputy Superintendent of Police, Theog, Manoj Joshi arrive at the crime scene alongwith the Sub-divisional Magistrate . A FIR is filed under IPC Section 302, 376, and Protection of Children from Sexual Abuse Act (POCSO) against unknown culprits. 

After the medical examination and an initial investigation, the police confirm the victim was gangraped and then choked to death. The report says she died of asphyxiation.

The incident sends waves of horror across Himachal as the peaceful Hill state is not acquainted with such inhumanity and barbarism.

Initially, the local police headed by then SP Shimla, D.W. Negi, investigate the case, and a team of the local forensic lab collects evidences from the spot where the dead body is dumped

Regular reports in various dailies and online news portals appear hitting an involvement of influential person. On July 10, the Director General of the Police, Somesh Goyal, forms a Special Investigating Team. With great expectations, the command of the SIT is given to then Inspector General of Police, Southern Range, Zahur H. Zaidi.

Meanwhile, on the evening of July 11,pictures of four youths appears on Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh’s official Facebook page with an update regarding the SIT probe. The update says the police nabbed these four suspects in the Gudiya case.

Virbhadra Singh Kotkhai gangrape controversy

The Chief Minister’s Update on Facebook showing four youth as suspects

The pictures went viral on social media within seconds of posting. The update also confirmed interrogation from these suspects. However, the police do not confirm filing of any charges on the suspects.

The IT Cell of the Chief Minister deletes the photos within few minutes of posting. This suspicious move fuels the doubts of public about the possible conspiracy.

In its justification, the CMs IT Cell states that it was a technical glitch, which was not convincing at all

On the morning of July 13, the police arrests first accused in the case – Ashish Chauhan. By evening, five more accused are arrested. Surprisingly, none of these accused include any person who had appeared on the CM Facebook page on July 11. Five of the accused are laborers including two Nepalese

The youth is the odd one as he reportedly hails from a wealthy and influential family. The police do not provide any details about the role of this youth.

The police holds a press conference on the evening of July 13. The SIT and Director General of Police, Somesh Goyal, assure having in possession clinching forensic, technical, physical, and circumstantial evidences to prove the charges. They confirms confession by the arrested accused as well. 

The SIT claims it solved the case within 55 hours of formation, and all culprits are behind bars. The police pats its own back claiming the case as a difficult one to solve.

However, on July 13, the entire story changes like it never existed.

The previous reports based on initial investigation disappear suddenly. Prior to July 13, the reports suggested Ashish Chauhan as the prime accused, and the SIT probe makes Rajinder alias Raju the prime accused.

The public and local media persons do not buy this theory of police. The local takes to the roads and demand a CBI probe. On July 14, a protest in Theog goes violent as enraged locals vandalize the police vehicles and reportedly rough up then SP DW Negi.

The locals demand a CBI probe.

At the same time, the police take to extreme physical torture to extract false confession from five innocent persons it arrested.

Amid public unrest and demand for the CBI probe, on the intervening night of July 18 and 19, the police hack one of the five accused, Suraj Singh, a Nepalese laborer, to death at the Police Station, Kotkhai, while inflicting extreme physical torture.

The local police again hatch a criminal conspiracy to save itself and file a fake FIR against the prime accused Rajinder alisas Raju for the killing of Suraj. In its statement, the police tell media that Suraj is killed by Raju following a scuffle. The autopsy report also follows the same theory.

(As per CBI chargesheet) The role of doctors who conducts the autopsy of Suraj also comes into question.

The locals and media do not buy this story of the local police either. As a result of it, violent protests erupt in Kotkhai on July 19. The mob vandalizes and almost sets the police station on fire. The government is forced to order an CBI inquiry on July 19.

On July 22, the CBI files two cases – relating to the gangrape and murder of the minor girl and custodial death of Suraj. The agency gets the Body of Suraj re-examined by a team of experts from All India Institute of Medical Sciences.

CBI conducts post-mortem of kotkhai accused

File Photo: CBI taking the body of killed accused for re-exmination on July 25

The findings of the CBI shock the State as the CBI on August 29 arrests eight police officials including Zaidi and Deputy Superintendent of Police, Manoj Joshi in relation to the custodial death.

Shimla Gudiya case

The Sentry, Dinesh Kumar, who was on duty the night Suraj was killed becomes witness and leads to the arrest of the police officials.

On November 14, as another jolt to the State Police, the CBI arrests DW Negi for forging the FIR to save real culprits.

Sp Shimla arrested in Kotkhai Gudiya Case

The CBI finds no evidences against the remaining five accused, who manage to procure a bail.

On November 25, the CBI files a chargesheet against the eight police officials in the special CBI court.

On November 28, two other members of the SIT, ASP Bhajan Dev Negi and DSP Rattan Singh Negi, become eyewitnesses against the arrested officials.

The CBI gives them a clean-chit.

So, if the chargesheet is to be believed, the SIT tried to shield the real culprits, who are still unknown. The police extracted false confession by torturing and threatening the arrested persons. The motivation behind this act is still unknown to even the CBI.

The CBI is convinced that it possesses sufficient evidences to prove all the charges labeled against these nine police officials. The telephonic communication between these officials is said to be one of the strongest evidences against them.

However, the CBI has not made any arrest for the rape and murder of Gudiya. The local police has done a professional job in messing up the forensic evidences. The CBI still continues to visit the Kotkhai region and collect more statements of locals and the classmates of the deceased victim.

As per the reports, the CBI has reportedly seized records of three banks.The agency is either hoping to get a lead from it or already has one.

At the same time, unofficial sources are speculating political influence. They argue that money is not sufficient to lure an IG rank police official to commit such a henious crime.

The family of the victim and the people of the state are still waiting to know what had happened to Guidya and who are the real culprits. Why the police was trying to extract false confession from five innocent persons?

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 9 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 the world around him in his DSLR lens.

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Himachal Pradesh: A Report on ‘Plight of Migrant Workers’ during the Lockdown & Need for Protection of their Rights

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Himachal pradesh - a report on migrant labourers during lockdown

Shimla-Poor people like migrant labourers and workers are nothing more than insects for the governments in India. The attitude of the government and its treatment of the poor workers, who had migrated to other states in search of livelihood, during the lockdown is a very clear evidence of it. What is more pathetic is the fact that that their plight remained invisible to the remaining public as mainstreamed media was being paid more by their political masters for diverting public attention from real issues to rubbish, spicy news. Our society is rotten to such an extent that public also preferred the rubbish served by the media over the bitter truth. Except for a small section of people including social activists, volunteers and non-profit-organizations actually worked to provide some relief like ration to the poor. Spare some time to go through a report on the plight of the migrant workers prepared by the Himachal Pradesh Workers Solidarity (HPWS) – a voluntary solidarity platform.

The first day of Lok Sabha’s monsoon session earlier this week saw MPs raising questions about the condition of Migrant Workers during the lockdown. The response of the Labour Minister that no data on migrant deaths for the period was available has drawn much flak. Additionally, no data on return of migrant workers was available for many states including Himachal Pradesh.

The issue of invisibilisation of migrant workers in a state like Himachal Pradesh has now been raised in a report, highlighting the impacts of the ongoing crisis on this community which contributes significantly to the state economy. Himachal Pradesh Workers Solidarity (HPWS) – a voluntary solidarity platform formed in April 2020, in its report, describes the havoc that a sudden, un- facilitated and unplanned national lockdown announced in response to the COVID19 pandemic six months ago had on the interstate migrant workers stranded in Himachal. HPWS ran a helpline during the period, provided assistance in accessing ration and other relief, travel to home states, through administrative coordination, registrations, and information dissemination etc.

Himachal, in the context of migration, is different from neighbouring Uttarakhand, where the rate of migration out of state is higher, whereas in Himachal the rate of in-migration is slightly higher than out-migration.

Gagandeep, a journalist based in Karsog and part of HPWS, elaborates,

“Post the decade of 1980 -90, expansion of industrial activities in the Shivalik hill region, multi-level infrastructure and development projects, growing local interests in horticulture, and cash crop farming alongside tourism-dependent economy made Himachal an emerging centre for in-migration.”

Today, workers from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Nepal, Uttarakhand, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, and Kashmir constitute a large chunk of the migrant population in Himachal. Most of them are from Scheduled Caste, OBC, STs and minority communities. Difficult work areas and geography, insecure and unsafe living conditions, along with payment and other labour law violations, makes the situation even more difficult for them in mountain state like Himachal.

While the 2011 Census suggests that Himachal had approximately 3.10 lakhs migrant workers, this figure seems to be severely under-estimated due to lack of registration (under the Inter-State Workmen Act 1979), non-maintenance of data by State Labour Department and non-publication of all statistics of Census. The lack of data further worsened the pandemic crisis and impacted relief facilitation.

In response to the issues, the focus of the State was limited to distributing ration but ration alone was not enough for survival and sustenance. Ritika Thakur, another member of HPWS elaborates,

“Having some cash in hand was an urgent need to access gas cylinders, milk, medicines and other essential things like phone recharge, so that workers can at least call for support. Most of the people who contacted HPWS”, she adds, “had not been paid their wages and their savings had died out in payment of room rents and ration as loans and debts kept on piling up.”

Many migrant labourers complained about the interrogatory, apathetic and discriminatory attitude of the officials when they were called for ration support. Seeing no transport facility forthcoming, many workers were forced to walk back home on foot. When caught at borders they were put into quarantine centres forced to return or were left with no choice but to escape on foot.

“The online registration mechanism was completely inaccessible for workers and for weeks there was no response to registrations”,

according to Sukhdev Vishwapremi, a social activist and member of HPWS.

The first ‘shramik train’ ran as late as May 22, 2020.

“The government, meanwhile, allowed private bus operators to run on exorbitant prices,”

he adds.

Many workers were pushed to take loans or sell property/artefacts to be able to return home through these buses while 5000 HRTC buses remained standing in bus stands.

“The fact that the Central government shifted the burden of facilitating transport on the states without any significant co-ordination and clarity made matters worse, aided by lack of coordination and communication between nodal officers, both between Himachal and other states and within Himachal”,

Vishwapremi emphasized further.

According to the information shared by an officer from Himachal Pradesh Government (SDMA), 94,819 migrants had gone out from Himachal to various states of the country by June 23, 2020. As per the information received from SDMA under RTI, 14 shramik trains ferried around 13,183 people out of the state.

Himshi Singh from HPWS reminds, “more than 80% of the migrants took the road on their own expense in which the government merely provided e-passes for private transportation, and the number of people who walked on foot is not yet known.”

Adding further she remarks,

“It’s tragic that in the midst of this crisis, FIRs were registered against reporters who did stories on migrant worker’s condition and on the other hand no action was taken against fake news or media who communalised the issue leading to violence on minority communities like the migrant workers from Kashmir”.

The report highlights how Himachal was one of the 12 states who made major dilutions in labour laws in favour of companies and ‘ease of doing business’.

Almost five months have passed living with this epidemic and even as the success and failure of the lockdown are debated- the economy is falling in doldrums and our governments seem inconsistent and directionless. As per the estimate by ILO, 400 million informal workers in India will fall to critical levels of poverty than ever before- a situation that demands urgent cognizance, state accountability and a responsible approach.

In this regard, HPWS in this report has made the following recommendations for the State:

  1. Release in the public domain all the information about relief/support provided to migrant workers
  2. A joint task force be set to bring out a comprehensive report on the conditions and needs of migrant labourers in the state within 6 months
  3. Provide universal Access to Ration, Economic and other Relief Facilities
  4. Housing facilities for Migrant workers who have been living in Himachal and hostel facilities for seasonal labour
  5. Housing facilities for Migrant workers who have been living in Himachal and hostel facilities for  seasonal labour
  6. Compliance of SC/HC orders-setting up helpdesk/grievance redressal centres at Panchayat, Block, Tehsil  and District levels and conducting employment and skill-based survey of the migrant workers who have returned from other states
  7. Dilution in labour laws be withdrawn and all changes scrapped and strengthening the time-bound  ‘Grievance Redressal’ system and Labour Courts Mandate the registration of all migrant labourers working in the state under ISWMA 1979

HPWS will be submitting the report to various state and central agencies for further advocacy and hopes that the HP Government will take adequate measures to protect the interests of the migrant worker communities in the state.

Read Complete Report

Feature Photo: Sumit Mahar, Volunteer HPWS

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Amid Surge in COVID-19 Cases in Himachal, Speculation of Complete Lockdown Gains Momentum

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Himachal Pradesh Lockdown from August 1st speculations

Shimla-The number of COVID-19 cases is rising at an alarming rate in Himachal Pradesh as for the past five consecutive days, the state had been reporting nearly 100 cases per day. With Monday’s 95 new cases, the tally  for the state jumped to 2270. The number of active cases has crossed the 1000 mark to reach 1025 on Monday. So far, 1216 patients have recovered while 12 of them succumbed to COVID-19 infection.

Among Monday’s cases, Sirmaur district reported the highest 31 cases from Govindgarh (mohalla) locality in Nahan. Complete lockdown of two days was imposed in this area but the spurt in cases continues. Fifteen new cases were reported from Baddi and Parwanoo in Solan district while remaining cases were reported from Bilaspur (11), Mandi (10), Kangra (16), Shimla (5), Una (2), Hamirpur (1), and Chamba (3).

In Shimla, five family members of a policeman, who had tested positive a couple of days ago, also tested positive.

HP Health Department’s COVID-19 Bulletin July 27, 2020 (9PM)

himachal pradesh demand of lockdown amid surge in covid-19

Some leaders of the ruling party (BJP) continue to invite criticism for behaving irresponsibly. The government itself is not learning any lesson from the situation in Govindgarh- a hot spot where the outbreak was triggered due to a marriage ceremony.

On Monday, the opposition Congress filed a police complaint against three persons including a BJP leader for violating rules by roaming around and meeting a large number of people instead of placing themselves under home-quarantine. The opposition said that samples of these persons were taken after they showed symptoms of the COVID-19 infection. Still, these persons kept roaming around after giving samples. The opposition has also alleged a discrimination was seen in initiating legal action for violations of social distancing norms. In Spiti, hundreds of tribal women were booked for staging protest against Minister Ram Lal Markanda for not adhering to the resolution passed by the locals regarding mandatory quarantine for all including the residents of the district. Cases have been filed against the opposition Congress too for violating these norms during recent protests. 

Earlier, a leader from Mandi had introduced the coronavirus in Chief Minister’s office and the State secretariat and infected about two dozen of his contacts including the Advocate General and his family. The leader reportedly visited the IGMC, Shimla, State High Court and other offices.

Now, another ex-MLA from Nadaun and the Vice-Chairman, HRTC, was reported to have met several party workers and even attending an event as the chief guest. Vijay Agnihotri reportedly continued shopping, roaming around, and meeting people after giving a sample. Reportedly, he also attended a marriage ceremony. The district administration would now have a task to trace all his contacts.

At the sametime, the Congress was also seen disregarding the social distancing norms during their recent protests against the hike in bus fare.

Laxity in Organization of and Checking Gathering in Govt Events

While the state government has issued guidelines for attending funerals and marriages, there is hardly any seriousness when it comes to organizing government or the party events. The ‘havan’ organized in Shimla where hundreds of people had gathered and several party leaders including Chief Minister Jairam Thakur had visited it. The event had invited criticism as the Chief Minister and workers of BJP Mahila Morcha were seen disregarding every social distancing norm. 

An employee of HP University also tested positive recently. A few days prior to the confirmation of this case, an event was organized at the varsity on the occasion of the Foundation Day a large number of people including media persons were present.  

Amid such a sharp increase in cases, instead of being so lax, the government is supposed to prohibit any such gathering or at least issue guidelines regarding the maximum number of persons allowed to attend such events/functions.

Solan district where the total COVID-19 cases have reached 553 has begun to witness a shortage of health staff.  The BBN area is the worst hit and has reported about 80 percent of the total cases in Solan. According to a media report, there are only 10 doctors at the CHC at Nalagarh and six at the Civil hospital, Baddi. There are only 28 nurses.

Amid this panic, the public, especially from Shimla district has been suggesting the imposition of a lockdown and questioning the government over still keeping the border open for tourists. To make thing even worse, there are instances where people violated quarantine rules after their samples were taken or were not monitored properly. In Mandi district’s Bagsaid market, a person had opened his meat shop giving a sample. It was after the arrival of his report that the shop was closed. 

Further, the online opinion poll of the State Government inviting public opinion over the imposition of a complete lockdown in the state has led to speculations of a possible lockdown from August 1st.  The matter regarding a lockdown is expected to be taken up in the Cabinet meeting to be held on July 30. The public is confused and preparing to stock up ration/essentials or planning to leave for villages. Several readers have also been writing to Himachal Watcher to inquire about the possibility of imposition of a complete lockdown.  

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First Open for Tourism, Then Train Staff, HP Govt Goes Topsy Turvy

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Himachal pradesh CM jairam thakur on hotel staff training

Shimla- In the last week, the Himachal state government has taken decisions that could have a long-lasting impact on citizens without consulting or even informing all stakeholders.

First, it came out with guidelines for tourism that did not have any inputs from the tourism industry. Second, it decided to open the state for tourism without consulting hotel and travel industry or keeping village pradhans in the loop.Six days after the decision to allow tourist activity and opening State borders for tourists, the state government of HP has decided to train people employed with the industry.

“Online training for the Hospitality sector would also be held in wake of COVID-19. About 10,000 candidates would be provided one-day training on hygiene and sanitation procedures. Three weeks training on basic essential of a tourist guide communication skill etc. would be provided to about four hundred candidates,”

said Chief Minister Jairam Thakur in a review meeting with Tourism Industry officials on 8th July. It’s surprising that the Government did not find the time to either have this ‘1 day training’ program ready or train the staff of hotels and restaurants before throwing open state borders for tourists. The government gave no time to the hotel industry to understand, prepare and implement directions given in the issued SOPs.

Major Hotel Associations have already decided to keep hotels closed at least till September and  Village Pradhans have also refused to allow tourists into their jurisdiction. The Chief Minister said that the State Government is following the lead of states such as Uttarakhand, Rajasthan, Goa, Kerala etc. where the Governments have decided to open the State for tourists.

To enter Himachal Pradesh, tourists have to meet three conditions, a valid booking for at least five days, a COVID-19 test report from an Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) certified laboratory not older than 72 hours and their vehicle should have a sanitisation certificate.

About 600 tourists have already entered Kangra district. Police arrested a couple in Kangra district who managed to enter the State by furnishing a fake COVID-19 negative report.

“A case was registered at Damtal police station against a couple who entered HP from Bhadroya barrier based on fake COVID Negative test report. Legal action is being initiated against them for cheating, fraud & forgery. They are currently lodged in an institutional quarantine facility at Parour,”

SP, Kangra, Vimukt Ranjan, said confirming the report. In another case in Kullu, five tourists, who managed to enter the State and reach Bajaura barrier in Kullu, were detained for not carrying required documents. A total of 12 tourists have been allowed in to Kullu district after they met the three conditions needed for tourists.

According to Kullu district police, about 70 tourists from Punjab, Haryana, Chandigarh, Rajasthan, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh etc. were sent back for not fulfilling conditions prescribed by the State Government. Tourists who should be sent back for a lack of required documents and fulfilling conditions given in the SOPs issued by the State Government are able to cross barriers at borders, like Parwanoo and Swarghat.

Police manning barricades are also frontline staff who are at risk.

We have provided police who are manning the barricades with N95 masks, raincoats that will serve a double purpose for rain and COVID protection and long gloves, policemen over the age of 50 years and those with existing conditions are not deployed at barricades,

said DSP, Kullu, Priyank Gupta.

While the majority of the hospitality industry players, (which is worst hit by the loss of business), is against opening the State for tourism, there are some, especially those who have leased hotels and taken loans who want to open for tourism. However, until the state government takes steps to add healthcare facilities and make more dedicated COVID hospital wards especially in rural areas, large scale tourism could endanger locals.

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