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Meet the Himachali leading BSF’s extraordinary Mt. Everest expedition

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Avinash Negi BSF

He is a certified mountaineer, paraglider, skier and has passed advanced courses in these adventure sports with excellent grades. 

Shimla: What does it mean to lead a team of 25 members on an extraordinary expedition to scale the Mount Everest, the highest mountain in the world,  and bring them all back safely alongwith collecting and bringing back 1000 kilograms of non-biodegradable waste left by other mountaineers?

Considering the challenges that the mighty Everest throws up, it would be a hell of a job for any leader, we believe.

The expedition is real and Col. Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, Union Minister of States for the Youth Affairs and Sports has already flagged off this 90-day expedition of the Border Security Forces (BSF) on March 20, 2018.

BSF Team

As a matter of proud for Himachal Pradesh, Kinnaur’s Avinash  Negi (37), who is currently serving as the Deputy Commandant, BSF, has been elected as one of the two leaders for the expedition alongside Padma Shri Love Raj Singh Dharamshaktu, Assistant Commandant, who has scaled Everest six times.

Himachal Watcher talked to Avinash to know more about this extraordinary expedition and about him. We found out that the officer is not only an adventure sports lover but also has his own philosophy that has been shaped by the mountains or adventures he experienced.

Before, talking about Avinash, first, we should get an outline of the expedition and its objectives.

The prime objective of the Expedition is to pay reverences to the goddess of mountains and to hoist Tricolour on the top of world’s highest peak under the campaign ‘Clean Himalayas, Clean Glaciers’. This gesture will not only sensitize the locals and mountaineers and trekkers community towards cleanliness but also help us spread the message of Swacch Bharat Mission to neighbouring countries.

37-Day Training for the Expedition

Avinash and other team members have undergone a rigorous training of 37 days in the Pir Panjal and Dhauladhar ranges in Manali to prepare for the expedition.

Basically, all the team members are qualified mountaineers, therefore, the focus of the training was to increase endurance and stamina,

Avinash told HW.

BSF Mt. Everest expedition 2018

Their days began with running in hills for nearly 15 to 20 kilometres with their back-packs on, followed by handball or football games and yoga classes under a trained yoga instructor.

In yoga sessions, they mostly concentrated on the breathing practices. Besides this, they also did snow and ICE climbing – the most essential part of the Mt. Everest Expedition.

Other than that, the team members scaled peaks upto altitudes of 14,000 to 15,000 feet. The focus was on trekking with full gears with night climbing exercises as all the journey performed and route travelled above the base camp of the Everest is usually undertaken at early mornings or late nights, Avinash said.  

BSF Mountaineering training

Avinash during the training period

The reason behind night climbing is that during the daytime, the probability of avalanches is higher due to the melting effect of sunlight deep within glaciers.

The training also included lectures on the first aids, CPR practice, and ladder crossing which is used to cross craves.  

He further informed that normally, upto the base camp, one person carries a weight depending on his needs. Nevertheless, the weight of the essential equipments like oxygen cylinders, food and water reach upto 15 to 18 kilograms.

The most important question was that how the team would bring down the collected 1000 kilogram of garbage, as it is a gigantic amount for  25 men.

We will be collecting and carrying the garbage in parts. We will go to the camp one and two for acclimatisation. During this period, the team will be returning to the base at least thrice,

he explained.  

During these visits, we will collect the non-biodegradable garbage from these camps. This garbage will be transported back during the returning journey after the summit, he further added.

BSF Mt. Everest expedition training

BSF team members during the training period

Thereafter, with the help of supporting staff and service providers, the team will carry it to the base camp.  The garbage will be transported to Nepal through yaks for a proper disposal.

When asked as to what does it mean for him to lead a team and scale the highest mountain in the world, he replied,

The best view comes after the hardest climb and taking no risk is the biggest risk of life.

I am fortunate enough to be the second leader alongside Padma Shri Love Raj Singh Dharamshaktu. He has a vast experience in mountaineering, and it is my sheer pleasure that I am chosen for the responsibility,

he added.  

It is a big responsibility because above 8000 meters, there starts the death zone – the term usually used by climbers.

When asked whether he was feeling any nervousness, he replied,

We are ready to take on the challenge as we have rigorously practised for the mission. But, I once again reiterate that we are nothing in front of the mountains and nature. It is our endeavour and we will succeed in it, I believe. I take challenges as they come. We are here and we are geared up.

 

About Avinash Negi

Avinash Negi Kinnaur

Born in the mountains of Kinnaur district, he has a rich history of adventure sports. His father, Mr K.C. Negi, is a retired IIS officer, who has served with the Govt of India.

Avinash received his higher education from the Punjab University.

 He cleared the Union Public Service Commission CPF-2007 Examination in 2008 and joined the Forces.  He underwent 14 months of training at the BSF Academy.

Currently, he is about to complete nine years of serving in the BSF

When asked whether he always wanted to join forces, Avinash replied,

Yes, I always had a liking for the armed forces and uniform. I am happy to be part of it.

Besides undergoing routine courses of the BSF, he has tried his luck in the field of adventure sports too.

I started my adventure career with my basic and advance mountaineering courses, which I took at the Atal Bihari Vajpayee Institute of Mountaineering and Allied Sports (ABVIMAS), Manali.

During the basic and advance courses, I was exposed to heights. I climbed to the height of 15500 feet in basic training and upto 17,900 feet in Pir Panjal Ranges of Manali,

he added.

Besides climbing some routine unnamed peaks, he has successfully attempted the following peaks:

  • Mt Friendship Manali, HP, (17,900 feet)
  • Mt Rudurgera, UK ( 20,000 feet).
  • Mt Gangotri Group of peaks, UK (21,700 feet)
  • Jogin 1 and 3 Expedition UK (215k -20100 feet) as the Deputy Leader alongside Lovraj Singh Dhramsaktu- his mentor

That is not all about him.  He is also a passionate paraglider and has taken several courses at Bir Billing in Kangra.  He is a certified pilot for solo paragliding, for which he has completed all three levels – P1, P2, and P3 courses at Gurukul paragliding school in Bir Billing.

There, Mr. Gurpreet Dhinsa, the Ace paragliding pilot of India, remained his mentor.

He did not stop here and underwent advance courses like thermalling and cross-country paragliding courses that added to his flying hours and let him fly next to clouds.

He is also a qualified skier. He has taken the basic and intermediate courses at the ITBP, Auli and advanced courses at the Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam, Uttrakhand, with excellent grades.

You must go on to adventures to find out where you truly belong,

he replied when asked if he would call himself a passionate mountaineer.

I am born and brought up in mountains like any other Himachali, especially the upper regions. The mountain always fascinates me and brings out the best in me, 

he said.

The best place to find your self is mountains. They teach you discipline and lessons that you never learn in classrooms. The first one is that the friends we make in mountains are for the lifetime because the people who stand by your side selflessly in the times of adversity are the ones whom you can bank upon blindly, Avinash said.

Avinash during the training period

He holds an opinion that the adventures open up one’s perspective towards life. People who are into mountaineering and adventure sports see life differently.

They are more docile, trustworthy, disciplined, punctual, lively, and helpful because mountains teach and inculcate these qualities in them, he said. 

Nature is supreme and we humans are just a nought in front of it.  Therefore, any mountain we scale should be done by seeking the permission of the mountain itself, he believes.

Himachali to scale mt everest

He always liked the saying “mountains are calling and I must go”.  The life depends on nature; therefore, only being disciplined and obedient will help us carry forward our mission successfully.

The mountains also teach us the reality of life. The days we spent on mountains are with limited things, be it edibles or limited space to sleep.

The two men tent and some warm water offered by someone becomes luxury when you are down.  A small space of just 24 square feet inside the tent looks far bigger than any king size bed. There we learn the value of things like food and water, which help us understand how little the requirements of a human being are.

Leisure moments during paragliding session

He believes there is a child in all of us and we should let that child live within us, otherwise, we are nothing more than machines.

Adventure helps add on to one’s decision-making ability, which is why all the corporates are also making it compulsory for their employees to undertake adventure activities once in a year. Most of the schools have also included adventure activities in their routine curriculum, he said.

I recommend all go outdoors. Being outdoor does not necessarily mean climbing a mountain or flying in thermal. Even a little exposure may help us realise what we actually are and what we actually want in life,

he said.

When he is off duty or on leave, then there is nothing better than a sunny evening, light music, and a broad view ahead.  He loves long drives and makes it a point to carry his iPods with him.   

He is not unaware of the dangers and risks involved in adventure activities. His advice is that adventure and accidents are closely associated. So it should only be undertaken under the supervision of a trained person until one becomes capable enough to do it on his own. All these activities look sounds adventures and charming but they involve a lot of risks too. Therefore, surveillance on a learner’s activities by an expert is a must.

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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