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Rating BJP’s performance in Shimla MC on completion of one year

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Shimla: The public of Shimla town on June 20, 2017, gave the command of the Municipal Corporation to Bharatiya Janata Party for the first time in 31 years. The SMC would complete one year in the office on the coming Wednesday.

Sadly, BJP’s inexperience and choice of candidates for responsible posts of the Mayor and Deputy Mayor backfired at the party. SMC has not only failed to establish coordination with its own Ward Councilors but also with the other government departments.

The SMC couldn’t even run the House or organize its session properly. Last week, the meeting of the House was reportedly cancelled as the Ward Councilors and the Mayor wanted to avoid confrontation over the water crisis. 

The situation of the town is only worsening. For instance, Shimla couldn’t find a place in top 100 cities in Swacch Bharat ranking, which was at 14 in 2014. 

As a matter of fact, the monthly charges for the door-to-door garbage collection were hiked but the facility did not improve. 

Shimla town not only faced loss to the hospitality industry due to recent unprecedented water-paucity but also faced embarrassment at international level as foreign media highlighted it. It was for the first time that the tourists were told to stay away from the town due to the water crisis.

On the top of it, the district administration and the SMC were not accepting that there was actually a crisis due to which public faced hardships for over two weeks and are still receiving rationed supply.

Let us take a look at some of the major promises of the BJP manifesto released before the election to the SMC in 2017. The major promises included: 

  1. 27×4 Water Supply
  2. Construction of Kol Dam and revival of over 30 natural resources to connect them to the town’s water supply through pipelines
  3. Better sanitation facilities and making the town garbage-free by installing dustbins at various places
  4. Introduction of bio-dustbins in the town
  5. Construction of parking complexes for as many as 10,000 vehicles to cut down traffic chaos
  6. Construction of fly-overs, escalators, and attractive footpaths to facilitate both locals and tourists
  7. Construction of gyms and refreshment centres in every Ward
  8. Making the town stray cattle and animal free
  9. Other than these main resolutions, there were several other promises in the manifesto, which are not even in the picture after one year

The water crisis of Shimla town speaks of the efforts made to fulfil 24×7 water supply, while heaps of garbage at market-places and about four strikes of the Shimla Heritage, Environment, and Beautification (SEHB) workers highlights the poor sanitation condition.

The Ward Councilors, as well as the Mayor, remained in news for quarrels over tours. The Mayor left the town and flew to China on a tour amid the most severe crisis it was facing. 

Now, on completion of one year, the Deputy Mayor is reportedly demanding a government vehicle while the Mayor was said to have asked for a new vehicle.

BJP’s poor performance has put it on the target of not only the oppositions but also the people.

Sanjay Chauhan, former mayor of Shimla and a prominent leader of the State Communist Party of India (Marxist), which had completed its five years term at the SMC in 2017, has termed the one year of the SMC as a complete failure.

Neither BJP could run the MC House properly, not it could uphold its dignity. The house hardly recorded any relevant discussions on matters of public interest. Rather, the Councilors were dissuaded whenever they tried to do so, said Sanjay.

For the first time in the SMC’s history, the ruling party had walked out of the House after failing to answer the questions of the Councilors, he said.

He further pointed out that no new schemes were introduced during the last one year. Instead, the MC could not make a progress of even an inch in the schemes that were already passed by the previous MC. Despite the availability of the funds, the new MC did not show any interest in the implementation of these schemes, he said. 

Chauhan said the list of incomplete projects includes the Smart City project (Rs, 2806 crores), World Bank-funded Kol dam drinking water scheme (875 crores) Amrut Yojana (243 crores), Tutikandi rope-way (200 crores), Shimla beautification project (66 crores) and other such projects worth 410 cores. 

Therefore, BJP-ruled SMC has failed to utilize about 4,700 crores sanctioned during the CPI (M) tenure for various schemes, he said. 

The CPI (M) said it was the first time that the city witnessed such chaos over the shortage of drinking water, which has dented the popularity of the town all over the world.

Another jolt to the SMC came after the High Court and the Governor had to take the responsibility of water supply and distribution on their shoulders.

No progress has been reported in the schemes of the public interest, which were due to be completed in 2017, Sanjay alleged. 

The SMC was supposed to complete the task of replacing meters by June 2017 and start issuing bills generated through meter readings, but it’s still pending in 2018, he said. 

Despite the availability of adequate funds, the task of replacing water pumps and supply pipelines at Gumma and Girri schemes was not undertaken within the provided time-frame.

He further added that no efforts were made for the betterment of sewerage management in some localities like Totu despite the availability of funds.

The work of multi-purpose and modern park at the Rani Ground in Kasumpti was also expected to be completed by June 2017.

In addition to Kaithu, Dhalli, Vikasnagar, Jivaanu Colony, Kasumpti, about 55 spots were already marked for the construction of parking lots in various localities and funds were already sanctioned. However, the SMC has not even started any construction work in last one year, said Sanjay. 

The construction of community buildings in Summerhill, Dhalli, Kaithu etc. is still pending despite funds. Similarly, he said, a provision of funds was made during the previous SMC for the construction of four labour hostels.

He further said the sanitation facilities in the town are in tatters for past one year. The SEHB workers went on strike for four times in one year due to the poor management of the SMC. The charges for the service of garbage collection were hiked and the salary of SEHB workers reduced.

Sanjay alleged that the SMC has handed over the contract of garbage collection to its favourite private company.

Moreover, he said, the court had to intervene during the strike of the workers, which confirms the incapability and insufficiency of the current MC.

The Mayor was most visible in local events as Chief Guest or kept herself tagged to the Chief Minister or Union Minister visits. However, she seems satisfied with her performance and told media that she did her best. 

For her, the inconvenience faced by the public during the recent water scarcity was just a lie told by the oppositions and media. 

The current Mayor and Deputy Mayor also faced criticism from BJP’s own Councilors. The opposition Congress had almost geared up for the dissolution of the SMC after sensing this defection within the ruling party.  

Once again, it would not be wrong to conclude that there has been more politics than efforts to fulfil the promises made in the manifesto.  

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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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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Environment

Govt Legitimizing and Legalizing Environmental Violations for Business by Amending EIA Rules: Activists  

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Himachal pradesh EIA Notification 2020 Amendments news

Shimla-While in statements, the politicians in power at the Centre and State Governments have been expressing concerns over environmental issues and ensuring the people that they are committed to protect and preserve the environment, the reality is contrary to it. The most recent evidence is the proposed 2020 draft amendments to the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification. With these amendments, the process of environmental assessment before granting permission to execute commercial projects, like hydropower projects in Himachal Pradesh, would be reduced to merely a formality.

Environmental activists and people’s organisations from across Himachal have written to the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) to scrap the 2020 draft amendments to the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification proposed by it.

These activists and environmental protection groups are of the opinion that the EIA Notification, first issued in 1994 under the Environment Protection Act 1986, is a critical mechanism that regulates clearances granted to all kinds of development projects and economic activities in the country. It is one of the environmental decision-making processes that makes it mandatory for project developers to not just study the socio-economic, ecological and other impacts of a proposed project but also place them in front of the affected communities for their opinions and objections, thus, ensuring the process of a free, fair and informed consent. However, this notification has been amended and read down several times in the last two decades, in favour of ‘easing the norms’ for business. The latest draft continues to move in the direction of rendering the EIA process a mere formality. 

The submission made by HP groups states,

“In the context of the already vulnerable and sensitive Himalayan region, flouting of various provisions of even the present EIA notification has heavily impacted the local ecology and livelihoods of the people. The new amendments will only legitimize and legalize these violations and this will mean irreparable damage to the Himalayan ecosystem”. 

The key objections raised are around exemptions of a variety of projects from the mandatory  Public Consultation’ process as well as the dismantling of this process itself.

“The reduction of the time prior to public hearing from 30 to 20 days is also highly objectionable. In the given 30 day period itself, the information about Public hearings does not reach all the affected areas which are often spread out widely in case of mountains with some project-affected communities residing in remote and inaccessible terrains. Here accessing information takes a long time and reducing this time to 20 days will completely exclude such people from raising their grievances and suggestions in the public consultation. This is a clear attempt to block their participation in the environmental decision-making process”

said R.S Negi of Him Lok Jagriti Manch, Kinnaur. 

 

“It is shocking that the amendments include allowing post-facto clearance, which means that the project proponent can start work and before they have obtained environmental clearance. If the basic precautionary principle on which the EIA notifications is grounded is itself not followed it can lead to a disastrous situation for the ecology and local people. In this situation who is going to be responsible for the losses? If the project proponent is not in a position to pay for losses, will the MoEF&CC take the responsibility of losses? This provision will encourage project developers to bypass the process of environmental decision making. We absolutely oppose this amendment”,

said Prakash Bhandari of Himdhara Collective.  

The 2020 draft also dilutes the guidelines for monitoring and compliance of Environment conditions.

“Already the system of monitoring is weak, the conditions lose, the pollution control board and companies non-accountable, thus, leading to widespread destruction of local ecology and impacting health, lives, and livelihoods of project-affected communities. In the case of hydropower projects, for instance, the illegal and unmonitored dumping of muck along river beds, in forests and on common lands, has damaged pastures, disrupted the flow of the rivers, and caused massive disasters when floods occur. The proposed changes will give a free reign to those profiting from extractive and polluting projects,” 

according to Kulbhushan Upmanyu of Himalaya Bachao Samiti. 

It is ironic that on one hand, the global COVID crisis has thrown up several studies showing that pandemics like COVID emerge from ecological degradation and forest loss, and on the government is pushing for policy changes which will accentuate the environmental crisis that the country is already reeling under.  

“If the MoEF&CC wants to change the environmental laws, it should carry out countrywide regional consultations”,

added Uma Mahajan of Himachal Van Adhikar Manch.

The country, especially ecologically diverse yet climate-vulnerable regions like the Himalayas need a robust and strong environmental regulatory and governance regime that makes project proponents accountable and keeps the affected communities and ecological concerns at the centre of the EIA and environmental decision-making process. 

Notably, MoEF&CC had called for citizen’s comments before May 11 but this deadline was extended upto  June 30 and now August 11 as environmentalists and concerned groups expressed outrage that calling for public inputs on this critical law amidst the COVID led lockdown was unjustified. The MoEF&CC has in this period received thousands of objections highlighting the new draft as anti-people and environment.

The demand is to scrap these proposed amendments for the sake of the environment. 

Submission Made to Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change by Activists and Organizations

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