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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 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.

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Illegal construction in D’shala (Pics): Would stop salary if no action taken against erring officials, HC warns TCP Secretary

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Dharamshala: During the last hearing in a petition on July 6, 2018, the Himachal Pradesh High Court had expressed displeasure with the government departments for the way they are responding to directions passed by it regarding action on officials responsible for allowing illicit and illegal construction by violating various construction laws and environmental guidelines.

We may also observe that since the year 2015, no action, whatsoever, stands taken against any one of the concerned officer(s)/official(s), who allowed such unauthorised construction to come up at the first place,

a bench comprising Acting Chief Justice Sanjay Karol and Justice Ajay Mohan Goel said during the hearing. 

Himachal Watcher also have some exclusive pictures and a video showing rampant damage to and felling of trees in the Dharamshala town due to alleged illegal construction activities despite court orders against the same.

The visuals show the apathy of the various government departments who are not discharging their duties but are still getting paid.

Ilegal tree felling in Dharamshala town 6

These photos were one of the evidence that exposed the deliberate damage illegal construction has caused to the trees in the town in broad daylight and resistance from concerned departments.

Ilegal tree felling in Dharamshala town

Pictures annexed with Local Commissioner’s report submitted to High Court

The pictures were taken by advocate Deven Khanna, who had visited the area under Municipal Corporation in April after the Court appointed him as the local commissioner.

Ilegal tree felling in Dharamshala town 5

The pictures show how unscientific and excess excavation of slopes was undertaken in such a manner that makes them vulnerable to damages and even felling during monsoon.

Watch Video

In fact, digging out soil beneath trees is deliberately used to fell trees, especially under the cover of monsoon rains. It was one of the revelations made in the local commissioner’s report submitted to the Court.

We have noticed, as is apparent from the report of the Local Commissioner, that private individuals are adopting different ways and means of ensuring that trees over their land, which are not only priceless but valuable from environmental point of view, are allowed to be felled/uprooted so as to make it appear that it is on account of natural calamity,

the bench observed.

It must be noted here that Dharamshala receives third highest rainfall in the entire country. The strategy is to fell trees by exposing their roots to the elements, then by digging out the land beneath them and waiting for the monsoons,

the local commissioner had specifically mentioned in his report submitted to the Court. 

The report had also mentioned that roads have been made in a very dangerous fashion. 

Two roads specifically were noticed (Maclodegunj to Dharamkot road and mountaineering institute road) where at least 500 to 1000 trees can be saved if restoration work is done immediately, said the report. 

Related Story: Did HP Govt finish Dharamshala’s ‘Core Area’ to facilitate illegal construction?

The remarks made during this hearing aptly confirmed unwillingness of the State government to take action against its erring officials irrespective of the ruling political party. 

Ilegal tree felling in Dharamshala town 4

The Court had pulled up the government for not taking action against erring officials posted during the time of illegal constructions in the town despite repeated directions.

Despite the Court having issued several directions, continuously since the year 2015, calling upon the authorities to check illicit and illegal felling of trees as also check unauthorised construction, there has been rampant, grave, unauthorised and illegal construction and felling of trees,

the bench observed.

Illegal tree felling in dharamshala

It is in 2018 that only after Court’s intervention such unauthorized structures are now being sealed and demolished, the bench further said. The government is not taking any action on its own.

Noticing absolute apathy on the part of the Government in taking action against any one of its officer/official, we do not hesitate to record that despite prodding, the Secretary, Town and Country Planning has not taken any action,

the bench observed.

We would not hesitate in expressing our displeasure on this count. In fact, we are of the view that salaries of all the persons who are supposed to monitor the construction activities, should be withheld, for they have failed to discharge their duties violators were endeavouring to procrastinate the proceeding pending before various authorities so as to obstruct and impede the enforcement of the orders passed by this Court,

the bench added.

As per Mr. Tara Singh Chauhan, standing Counsel, 70 individuals allegedly violating environmental laws were issued notices. This is in addition to the disconnection of water and electricity to 46 violators.

During a hearing on April 24, 2018, the Advocate General had told the court that despite directions passed by the court, the electricity of some of such consumers who had violated the law with impunity was not disconnected.

Related Story: Shocking video/photos expose Govt Officer’s lies about illegal slate mining in Dharamshala

The court also observed that it is only when the Court is passing orders, the officers/officials are taking action, rather reluctantly.

As the Court did not receive any explanation from concerned officials, the Court said it was in favour of stopping the release of their salaries.

We would have directed the salaries of such officer(s) / official(s) not to be released, but are persuaded by the learned Advocate General not to pass such orders,

the bench stated.

We clarify that if no such action is taken, we would not hesitate in stopping the salary of the concerned Secretary also,

the bench warned.

The bench has also directed the Director, Town and Country Planning and Commissioner, Municipal Corporation, Dharamshala, to submit the list of all the officers of the rank of Junior Engineer(s) and above, who were posted within the municipal limits of Dharamshala, since the year 2010, within two days alongwith their tenure and place of posting.

The Court has challenged the government’s disinterest in controlling corruption and sluggishness. The action of withholding their salaries would result in a reaction from the government. 

The next hearing is scheduled for July 30, 2018. 

Crucial Findings of Local Commissioner’s Report 

The local commissioner had suggested that at least 1,000 trees can easily be saved by putting iron meshes, stones and mud, or by putting retaining walls. The roots have to be covered and the spaces beneath the trees have to be immediately filled and supported.   

As an unfortunate fact, the report had stated that no attempt was being made to restore or protect the trees. 

Other points of the report:

  1. Permissions for felling of trees is not being accorded by tree authority/ tree committee after applying its mind to the situation, no attempt is being made to save the green trees, it was also noticed that the tree authority is not sitting every month as required by the statute.
  2. No tree has been numbered, in fact, the numbering of trees has not even begun, it seems like that the mandatory directions given in the famous forest case in the year 1996 have not been communicated or is being embarrassingly flouted by the forest department and municipalities of the state of Himachal Pradesh.
  3. No attempt is being made by the departments to include technology and use it as a tool to map out and number trees. With the help of satellite, mapping and numbering trees are quicker and one can get an approximation of the total number, same data can be corroborated with drone images to get a more accurate number.
  4. This task won’t ever be done by the forest guards as the area of Himachal is very huge with vast forest cover, this is the sole reason provided by the forest department for not numbering the trees since 1996 mandatory direction of T.N Godhaverman.
  5. That the Tree Authority shall ensure while granting permission to fell/cut trees that the applicant shall plant 10 other trees specifically “Tall Trees” of the same or other suitable species preferably on the same site or close to its vicinity within 60 days of the date when the tree is axed.
  6. The person/entity may also be asked to pay for the environmental damage (which can be the value of the wood + the loss of environment caused to the area), and such fund collected may directly be used by the “plant nurseries” in town for growing and maintaining “tall trees”.
  7. It is seen that, at present, the funds which are collected, are not directly used for restoring the area where felling took place. They are used for “reforestation activities” after a long process and such “reforestation activities” usually happen at some other place and not close to the vicinity of the damaged area.

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Watch : Families living in inhuman, hazardous conditions due to Baddi MC’s dumping ground

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Baddi MC Dumping Ground

Solan: In Kenduwal village, Sandholi Panchayat, the Municipal Council of Baddi created a dumping ground right next to the houses of five Gujjar families two years ago. As a result, the families are now forced to live in inhuman conditions.

In addition to the foul smell from the garbage that makes normal breathing difficult, children, elderly, and cattle frequently fall ill because of the unhygienic conditions of the dump.

In the last two years, 20 cows and four 4 buffaloes have died because of this dump,

says Gulam Nabi from Kenduwal village.

The gravest of all issues is that the path meant for commuting (right of way) used by the five families having 30 members has been obstructed because of the dump. The trucks of MC often break their water-pipelines and garbage completely chokes the path.

As a matter of concern, the affected families alleged that the issue was brought to the notice of the administration several times but no action ever came.

Today, these families met the Sub-Divisional Magistrate (SDM) at Nalagarh to file a formal complaint about the intolerable living conditions created by this dumping and appeal for immediate action to relocate the dump. The SDM in response took the statement of the aggrieved parties and has said he will take suo-moto action in the matter.

The aggrieved families also submitted copies of the complaint to the Deputy Commissioner, HP Pollution Control Board, and Police Station.

In the recent days, due to rains, the path was submerged in obnoxious smelling mucky water due to the garbage dump and the issue was raised many times with the office of Municipal Council.

The Municipal Council assured the families by saying that the path would be repaired.

With a great difficulty, on July 6, the Municipal Council arranged a truck of sand to raise the path. After which another truckload of sand was needed to complete the job but in the meantime, another garbage truck arrived. To prevent the truck from causing damage to the path, women tried to stop the truck from advancing.

Over this, the truck driver, labour managing garbage got into a heated argument with us. They used foul language and did not pay heed to what we had to say which led to a clash between us. We want to make it clear to the administration that we do not have any issues with the labourers, but the dumping of tonnes of garbage in front of our homes is insensitive inhuman and that is what our complaint is about,”

said Nabi.

The families said the police has registered an FIR against them to pressurise them.

Himdhara, a group that is working on environmental issues, has arrived at Baddi to undertake a fact-finding task.

According to Manshi Asher, member of Himdhara, such dumping of urban waste is a gross violation of the Environmental Protection Act. Based on the Act, in 2016, the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change had brought out the ‘solid waste management rules’.

As mentioned in the rules, a solid waste dumping site has to be at least 200 meters away from the place of habitation. Also, floodplains of rivers cannot be chosen as dumping site either.

It is also clearly mentioned in the Solid Waste Management Rules that the site of the landfill should be fenced and should have a gate with a concrete path inside it. The Municipal Council has violated this rule as well, said Manshi.

Can you imagine how they’re living right next to dumping site as huge as five acres?

asked Manshi.

The Gujjar community belongs to the Scheduled Tribe category in our country. They rear cattle, which grazes on public lands and make a living by selling the milk. The complaint filed, which was submitted to the Superintendent of Police and the Pollution Control Board as well also states that:

“The Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989” section 3 subsection 1 (b) states that in the vicinity of places of residence of people belonging to scheduled caste/tribe, disposing fecal matter, garbage, animal carcass or other obnoxious substances whereby unease is caused to them is a punishable offence. Officials not responding to complaints made by members of the SC/ST community are also flouting the law.

We are making a report on this matter and sending it to all administrative offices of the State as well as the Centre,

said the members of Himdhara.

The Gujjars are not the only ones troubled. Since last 6 months, villagers from Malpur have complained about the dumping ground as well as the Common Effluent Treatment Plant also located in Kenduwal, due to the smell. It is shocking that the pollution control board hasn’t taken any steps in this regard.

The families have warned that if no action was taken regarding their grievance, they would be left with no other option but to approach the court.

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Did HP Govt finish Dharamshala’s ‘Core Area’ to facilitate illegal construction?

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Dharamshala illegal construction in core area

Dharamshala: One by one, every popular town of Himachal Pradesh is nearing irreparable environmental damage along with adoption of an ugly look due to haphazard and even illegal constructions without facing any resistance from the past or current State Government and local authorities.

After Shimla, Dharamshala is one of the worst victims of lawlessness.

A large number of multistory buildings, including those having as many as seven storeys, mushroomed in the Core Area of Mcleodganj by violating a number of Municipalities, Town and Country Planning, and Environmental laws. Everything happened under the nose of those government officials who were being paid to monitor illegal activities.

The core area was spread from the main crossing to the Dalai Lama temple.

As a shocker, one of such buildings was allegedly raised in front of the office of the Dharamshala MC by one of its own officials.

Meanwhile, in 2005, one Ghazala Abdullah approached the State High Court to bring the ongoing destruction of the internationally acclaimed tourist destination – Dharamshala – to its notice.

A bench of then-Chief Justice Mansoor Ahmad Mir and Justice Tarklok Chauhan had begun the hearings in the petition and passed some strict orders to prohibit further construction activities in the planning area.

The court had also ordered to disconnect water and electricity connections to such structure that stand in violation of the laws. Surprisingly, the departmental support reportedly continued to these violators. Alongside the hearing, illegal activities also continued. Therefore, in 2018, a Bench of Acting Chief Justice Sanjay Karol and Justice Ajay Mohan Goel had to appoint advocate Deven Khanna as the local commissioner as the trust on government machinery was lost.

Prior to it, by the end of 2017, the Town and Country Planning appears to have tried a master-stroke to facilitate illegal construction.

Rajeshwar Goel, Director, Town and Country Planning, had told the court that the development plan for Dharamshala Planning Area was changed and was later notified on January 27, 2018. It made changes to the previous development plan notified on June 15, 1994. The “Core Area” in the previous plan was re-notified as “Mixed Land Use Area”.

At that time, Minister for Urban Development was Sudhir Sharma. 

It would not help to legalise previous structures raised by violating laws but has opened the door for new ones.  Further, the old buildings could be demolished and new ones can be raised at their places. 

The purpose of declaring the area as the Core Area was to protect degradation and natural disasters due to excess of construction. The aim was to keep such activities to minimal.

The TCP had reasoned that no heritage or other such old properties remain in the Core Area so the status was changed, which do not sound a wise decision at all because area falls under high seismic zone v/vi. On the top of that, rampant illegal felling of and damage to trees were also reported.

But to the demise of the State Government, now, the Bench found it fishy, therefore, directed the Principal Secretary, Town and Country Planning, to explain the reasons and circumstances, which led to such change in the rules. The said official is expected to file an affidavit regarding the same by the next hearing scheduled for July 30.

We notice that under the new development plan, certain areas which were defined as “Core Area” stand re-notified as “Mixed Land Use Area,”

the court observed on July 6, 2018.

He shall explain as to whether at the time of taking such decision, the factum of Dharamshala (District Kangra) being prone to earthquake, falling within high seismic zone v/vi, was considered or not. Let such affidavit be filed within a period of two weeks,

the court said.

It’s pertinent to mention that if the court had not appointed amicus curiae and local commissioner, only lies would have reached the court and the government officials would have portrait the situation to be perfectly fine.

The local commissioner Deven who was direct to visit the area physically exposed alleged lies of the officials of the Municipal Corporation, Town and Country Planning, Mining Department etc.

Also Read: Shocking video/photos expose Govt Officer’s lies about illegal slate mining in Dharamshala

Further, if such state of non-governance and lawlessness continued, Himachal’s town would become one of the worst examples of poor planning. Shimla’s Core Area could be the next victim. After all, the government would only need to temper with existing laws.

Sadly, things do not seem to be changing even with the change in the government. 

It is to be seen whether the TCP Director could justify this decision in his personal affidavit to be filed in the court before July 30.

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