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Water Crisis Shimla: HC orders surveillance on ‘Keymen’ via WhatsApp group after taking note of unequal distribution

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Petition on Water crisis in Shimla city

Shimla: The High Court of Himachal Pradesh doing what the officers of Shimla Municipal Corporation and the State Government were supposed to do in return of the fat amount of salary and free facilities they claim from the public tax money every month.  The SMC has put an additional burden on the court as it is now compelled to supervise supply of drinking water to the Shimla city.  

Several localities including Kasumpti and Vikasnagar did not receive any supply as per the schedule released by the SMC.

On Friday, the court took note of the complaints filed by the amicus curie regarding unequal distribution of water, mainly by manipulating the keymen.

Keyman is the Key as far as the distribution of water to the ultimate consumer is concerned. He is the first and the last person between the water available for distribution and the consumer. If he performs his duty honestly, prudently and skillfully, he can ensure equal distribution of water to all, but if a Keyman happens to abuse his position, then the results can be disastrous,

a bench comprising acting Chief Justice Sanjay Karol and Justice Ajay Mohan Goyal observed while hearing a petition regarding town’s ongoing severe water crisis.

The Keyman not only holds the key to it but in fact on the strength of Key, he can put the entire town to ransom,

the bench further observed.

Create WhatsApp Group to Monitor Keymen

Therefore, the court has directed the Shimla MC to create a dedicated Whatsapp group to monitor the Keymen in the town, which can be done easily as currently, there are total 62 Keymen deciding the fate of the distribution of the water.

The group would be supervised by the Assistant, Commissioner, Municipal Corporation, Shimla, Municipal Engineer, Municipal Corporation, Shimla and all Junior Engineers dealing with the supply of potable water, deployed with SMC.

The court further directed that group should share details of water received from various Schemes for distribution and also the details of its distribution with details of Zones constituted by the Committee framed by the State.

The court said there should be hourly updates in this regard in the group. Junior Engineer concerned should share details of all Keymen under them, including the timing and the place where each Keyman has either opened the key for allowing the water to flow or closed the same.

The Whatsapp group should be updated within five minutes of turning the key on or off.

If any keyman is not able to update the action on Whatsapp, then they have been told to provide said information from their Mobiles to the concerned Junior Engineer(s).

The court has held each Junior Engineer responsible to update this data on the Whatsapp group. It also warned that any laxity exercised by anyone will amount to contempt of orders passed.

In order to check the inequitable distribution of water by the Keyman, all Keymen shall be kept under surveillance and they should be accompanied by at least two police officials. The keymen will have to record a video of turning the key On and Off, the court directed.  

The group will also be used to upload overflowing of water to ensure immediate remedial measures within 30 minutes of the updates. The court also mentioned that it was brought to its attention that the tank of an SMC employee was seen overflowing while his neighbourhood did not get even a drop of water and that no action was taken by SMC despite complaint.  

The court has given the SMC the liberty to disconnect the water connections of persons/parties in case overflowing of water is reported on their part.

Meanwhile, the Corporation initiated the drive to disconnect the water connection of hotels listed as defaulters. By Friday evening, connection to 15 hotels was disconnected and about 31, more would be disconnected on Saturday.

This action has created a stir among the defaulters. Unfortunately, the SMC has been patronizing these defaulters for long. The Corporation cites the lack of funds as the main reason for the lack of the public facilities. However, on the other hand, it never bothered to extract a large amount of money that is pending with a large number of defaulters.

Next hearing in the petition has been scheduled for June 11, 2018.  The court has directed the Principal Secretary (Tourism) and the Commissioner,  SMC to remain personally remain present on the next date of hearing.

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.

Environment

Dust storms hit air quality of Himachal, no health advisory issued from Govt

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haze in Himachal Pradesh

Shimla: Himachal Pradesh along with other North India states like Haryana and Delhi-NCR is affected by the dust storms due to strong-anti cyclonic winds, blowing from Rajasthan.

All major towns remained covered in a blanket of haze for the second day on Friday. The air quality has dropped in the capital Shimla. The amount of suspended particulate matter was reported to above 300 µg/m³ from 80-85 µg/m³ on normal days.

As per the Meteorological Department, the haze is worsened by higher humidity levels.

The tourist activity may also be effected in tourist towns like Shimla during the peak season as flights from airports in Himachal were also grounded for the second day due to the low visibility. The heli-taxi service from Shimla to Chandigarh was also suspended.

The State Pollution Control Board or the State Government has not issued any health advisory to the public so far. Some media reports said the PCB was not even aware of the exact levels of suspended particulate matter during past two days.

The haze could cause several problems from respiratory to allergic reactions including wheezing, cough, chest discomfort and shortness of breath.

For people suffering from asthma, it could prove to be fatal.

The reports suggested that a number of asthma patients visiting the Indira Gandhi Medical Hosptial saw a rise during last two days.

Children and elderly persons, who have smaller lung-reserve, can also face breathing problems. Therefore, remaining indoor to avoid long exposure to haze is advisable for vulnerable individuals.

It is a mixture of dust particles, gases, and other pollutants already floating in the breathable air.

The dust particles become a platform for deadly PM 10 and PM 2.5 particulate matter to cling on.

Previous studies have also confirmed the presence of chemcical pollutants in the haze of the Delhi-NCR.

Moreover, dust is a respiratory irritant even if it is not accompanied by toxic particles.

During such conditions, wearing a simple mask is advisable to minimize the damage.

Other than the health issues, the dust is settling on everything from clothes to edibles.

The Met Department had predicted rain with thunderstorm and gusty winds in all part of Himachal on Saturday and Sunday. The rain could bring relief from both humidity and dust storm.

The situation is alarming in the Delhi-NCR. So far, the dust storms have reportedly killed about 15 people in Uttar Pradesh. It may worsen as the storm is predicted to last for next two days.

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Environment

HP Govt’s failure in implementing FRA Act turning habitants into encroachers

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Kinnaur protest against eviction from forest land

The right to claim titles in “Forest” areas occupied prior to December 13, 2005, is clearly provided in the FRA for the individuals regarded as “encroachers” under the previous legal framework.

Shimla: About 1500 people participated in a rally and public meeting held on June 7, 2018, at Reckong Peo, Kinnaur, to raise their voice against on-going eviction drive that is terming a large number of occupants of forestland as illegal encroachers in complete violation of the Forest Rights Act, 2006.

The people protested against HP Government’s poor implementation of the FRA, in their district as well as in the entire state.

The rally and public meeting were organized jointly by the Him Lok Jagriti Manch, Zilla Van Adhikar Mancha, a Kinnaur-based platform, Himachal Van Adhikar Manch, Himdhara Collective, and Himalaya Niti Abhiyan.

Activist Manshi Asher with villagers

A memorandum was submitted to the Deputy Commissioner with a demand to immediately start processing the claims under FRA from Kinnaur district.

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The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers Act, or Recognition of Forest Rights Act – commonly known as the Forest Rights Act (FRA)- was passed by Parliament in 2006 to address historical injustices and exclusion meted out to a large community of forest dwellers in India. Rights over forestlands were taken away since notification of forests under colonial Indian Forest Act (1927).

While in Himachal, there was a Forest Settlement in the 1970s that settled people’s access to forestlands, for the community, these remained privileges that could be taken away any time, the activists of organizing groups said.

Since then, a process of alienation of forest-dwelling communities has intensified in the name of development, wildlife conservation, forest management, and development, shrinking survival spaces of the forest-dependent people each time, they said.
It is only logical to assume that this piece of legislation is extremely relevant for Himachal Pradesh, where 67 percent of the total land area is under the jurisdiction of the Forest Department, the activists said.

In the initial phase, the State government had implemented the Act only in the Schedule – V (Tribal regions) areas of the State. As a result of this, the process of implementation in the State faced a long delay.

In 2013, after a High Court order and repeated instructions from the Centre, the government decided to implement the Act in non-tribal areas also. Despite the formation of more than 17503 Forest Right Committees (FRCs), which would file the claims, the process is not taking off in most areas.

Local administration and government officials have a partial understanding of the act and several misgivings. As a result of it, the process is just not moving forward.
The activists informed that it is extremely unfortunate that despite the formation of FRCs in 99.82% of revenue villages, only 53 individuals and 7 community titles have been issued under the Act in Himachal in past five years.

At the same time, the rest of the country, around 17.31 lakhs individual titles and 62.92 thousands of community titles have been issued over more than 137.50 lakhs acres of forestland.
Forest Rights act in kinnaur

Further, on April 6, 2015, the Himachal Pradesh High Court ordered the removal of encroachments on “forest land” in the state within six months. It has triggered an eviction drive by the Forest Department.

This includes serving notices for removal of encroachments, disconnecting electricity and water supply provided to all “illegal” structures raised over encroached land and legal action in case of non-compliance.

In upper Shimla, the Forest Department went to the extent of felling apple trees from orchards on “forest land.” In Kinnaur, 98 such notices have been served to so-called “encroachers”.

Fearing further action, the people of Kinnaur, earlier on July 25, 2015, organised a huge rally at District headquarters, Rekong Peo, questioning the manner in which the Forest Department is implementing the orders of the High Court.

The activists emphasized on the importance of understanding the right to claim titles in “Forest” areas occupied prior to December 13, 2005, is clearly provided in the FRA for the individuals regarded as “encroachers” under the previous legal framework.

The provisions of this Act are applicable for Scheduled Tribes and other forest-dwelling communities, which mean almost the entire state. This is a special Act that supersedes all other previous acts related to forests like the Indian Forest Act 1927 or the Forest Conservation Act 1980.

It is a matter of concern that the state government failed to bring the issue of this non-implementation of the FRA Act to the attention of the High Court, the activists said.

As per the Section 5(4) of Chapter III of the FRA,

No member of a forest dwelling Scheduled Tribe or other traditional forest dwellers shall be evicted or removed from forest land under his occupation till the recognition and verification procedure is complete.

According to the 2011 Census, of the total workforce in Himachal, around 62 percents are cultivators and agricultural labourers. This means that a majority of the population dependent completely on farming and forests (livestock rearing) as a livelihood is not a beneficiary in the state budget allocations, the activists said.

Further, the falling number of jobs in the private sector has added to the crises between communities, which could ultimately lead to distress migration, visible in states like Uttarakhand, they said expressing concern.

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Campus Watch

Undertake research on ways to reduce dependence on plastic, say Nauni varsity scientists  

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Nauni Varsity environment day celebration

Solan: The scientists and students of the Environment Science Department at Dr. YS Parmar University of Horticulture and Forestry, Nauni celebrated the World Environment Day with the students of Government Senior Secondary School, Kothi Deora. The students, staff, villagers and Dangri Gram Panchayat representatives took part in the celebrations.

UHF Nauni Events

Speaking at the occasion, Dr. SK Bhardwaj, Head Department of Environment Science said that the theme of this year’s celebrations was ‘Beating Plastic Pollution’.

 The scientists and research scholars Apoorva Sharma, Shivani, Lal Rinzuali and health specialist Dr. Ajay Singh took part in the event and apprised the students about the various kinds of pollution and their impact.

Nauni Varsity Students

Addressing the gathering, Apoorva explained the need to curtail the use of plastic products, as they were one of the main pollutants.

She urged everyone to look for environmentally friendly alternatives and undertake research on the ways to reduce the dependence on plastic. Another speaker, Shivani highlighted the pollution of water sources and the importance of water for humans.

She called for collective efforts to conserve water by building small tanks and by proper disposal of soapless water from kitchens and bathrooms in the soil.

School Principal Dr. Narender Sharma also shared effective techniques of environmental conservation with the students. The eco club of the school also administered the oath for the protection and conservation of the environment.

In addition, the Dangri Panchayat also organized a Workshop on Air Quality and TB at its premises. The university scientists set up Respirable Dust Sampler machine, which will help to ascertain the air quality of the area within the next one month.

The panchayat has already taken steps to fight pollution and has distributed plants like a spider plant, snake plant, aloe vera etc., which were provided to them by the university. 

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