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Another joke with safety of school children, another magisterial probe

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dharmpur school van accident

Mandi: Despite one of Himachal Pradesh’s most tragic accidents in Nurpur region of Kangra district on April 10, 2018, in which total 28 lives were lost including 24 school children, the state of affairs has not improved. The pictures of mass cremation of the deceased children still haunt parents.

Unfortunately, the Himachal Pradesh Government’s claims of taking safety measures and strictness towards overloading of school cabs did not last for even a month.

On Thursday, an overloaded van ferrying children to their homes from a private school, Spectrum Public School in Darwal of Dharmpur in Mandi district, fell down into a gorge. Against a capacity of five passengers, the van was carrying 12 children, who were mostly UKG and LKG students.

Gauri, a 10-year-old girl, succumbed to her injuries while 11 others sustained injuries. Other than head injuries, some children were screaming in pain as their limbs were fractured.

Sakshi, a 6-year-old, was fighting for her life at the Indira Gandhi Medical College, Shimla.

The other students were identified as Anshul (14), Manasi (9), Kavyansh (6), Bhupender (5), Sumit (14), Ashish Kumar (9), Aarav (6), Sara Thakur (8), Lakshay (6), and Lucky (6).

The preliminary investigation has made shocking revelations. An untrained teenage boy was driving the van, which is said to be registered in the name of the Chairman of the school. The reports said the school had been ferrying children in the private car of the Chairman to save taxes.

As per the initial report, the regular driver had handed over the lives of 12 children in the hands of his son, who was said to be a minor. The car owner was yet to submit documents of the vehicle while the driver was carrying no license.

However, the parents of the boy told the transport minister that their boy was 18 years old.

The statements of some of the children, who were in a condition to talk, suggested the driver was looking back at the children for they were making a noise. Initial reports also suggested that the boy was probably only a learner.

The locals, who first heard the screams of children and reached out for help, said it was a spine-chilling scene to see children drenched in blood and screaming in pain. Some locals carried children to the Sarkaghat hospital while others were carried in a 108 ambulance.

The mother of the girl, who succumbed to her injuries, reportedly fainted on hearing the news.

The Superintendent of Police Gurdev Sharma and Deputy Commissioner Rigdev Thakur rushed to the spot, and, in the evening, the transport minister Govind Singh Thakur also arrived at the Zonal Hosptial, Mandi, where the injured children were receiving treatment.

The DC ordered a magisterial probe into the case, as it was done after the Nurpur tragedy. The report had exposed the role of the HP PWD very clearly, but that did not move the government.

School Bus Accident in Himachal

Moreover, what was the outcome of the previous magisterial probe? Was anyone held responsible except the dead driver of the bus? Was any action taken against the officials of the HP Public Works Department for not repairing the collapsed part of the road from where the bus had skidded off?

The district administration, police, and government, all moved on within just two months of the tragedy.

The government had talked about implementing rules and regulations in the hiring of the drivers for the school buses and cabs. However, the current case raises the question whether the government was really serious about it or not. Otherwise, how is it possible that the drivers were switched without the knowledge of the school or the parents?

The parents also remain silent to overloading because last time when the school cabs were asked to not overload, they had hiked the monthly charges by two to three times. Overloading saves money for both the parents and the cab owners. But, is such money worth sacrifice of innocent children?

The standard of Himachal’s government schools and lack of quality education leaves no option for parents but to enrol their children in private school that extort hefty and unreasonable amount of money in the name of fees.

There is no policy regarding the responsibility of transportation facility to school children. Some of the institutes have their own buses, while a large number of others don’t. The parents are being looted by both the cab owners as well as the schools.

On the top of it, the inaction of the government against responsible officials is paving way for more accidents and more deaths. This loop will continue until it is not broken, which is next to impossible in our government work culture.

What’s the use of ordering magisterial probes if no action is taken against responsible persons?

Madan has studied English Literature and Journalism from HP University and lives in Shimla. He is an amateur photographer and has been writing on topics ranging from environmental, socio-economic, development programs, education, eco-tourism, eco-friendly lifestyle and to green technologies for over 9 years now. He has an inclination for all things green, wonderful and loves to live in solitude. When not writing, he can be seen wandering, trying to capture the world around him in his DSLR lens.

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Large Quantity of Banned Tobacco Products Seized in Shimla City

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Shimla SDM seizes Banned Tobacco products in himachal

Shimla-In 2012, Himachal Pradesh Government had imposed a complete ban on the storage, manufacture, and distribution of tobacco-based products that included gutka (tobacco-laced areca nut pieces), pan masala, and khaini. At that time, gutka used to cost at an MRP of Rs. 1 and Khaini and Pan Masala between Rs. 3 to Rs 5. 

However, the imposition of the ban didn’t yield the desired results of discouraging consumption of these chewing tobacco products. Seizure of these products in occasional raids aptly proves it.

In a similar instance, on July 18, 2019, the Sub-divisional Magistrate, Shimla (Urban), Niraj Chandla, raided four shops near Lakkar Bazaar bus stand in Shimla city.  In this raid, about nine sacks of gutka and khaini, each weighing between 15-20 kg, were seized from a wholesale distributor and three other shops. It implies that over 150 kg of banned tobacco products were seized from just four shops.

SDM Shimla Raid

SDM Shimla (Urban) During the Raid

The seized products were sent to Lakkar Bazaar police station and a case was registered against the offenders under Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act (COPTA), 2003. The Excise and Taxation Department has also been asked to take action.

“Shops were inspected in Lakkar Bazar area near the bus stand. Many complaints of sale of tobacco products were received, so a team was formulated and a raid was conducted. Banned tobacco products were recovered from the raided shops. Nine cartons were seized and handed over to police to proceed under COTPA,”

confirmed a member of the team.

Gutka sale in Himachal Pradesh

Banned tobacco products seized from a shop in Lakkar Bazaar during a raid

The SDM said she had been receiving complaints regarding the sale of these products.

The situation is far worse in reality.  These products continue to be sold in black. After seven years of the ban, these products can be bought anywhere in the state. The only difference that is noticeable is that now the Gutka that used to cost Rs. 1 is sold for about Rs. 5 and Khaini that used to cost Rs 5 is now sold for Rs 10-15 in black. Apparently, this money goes into the black market as officially these products are not sold in the state.

This issue has appeared in media several times since the imposition of the ban. Himachal Watcher had also highlighted the issue in 2012 and 2015.  Moreover, the discarded empty packaging of these products can be found littered across the state, which clearly suggests these products are still in use. 

On Nov 4, 2015, Himachal Pradesh government had announced a complete ban on the sale of loose cigarettes. However, a report on HW had noted that loose cigarettes continued to be sold at a higher price after the ban. Also, shopkeepers didn’t hesitate to sell these products to minors. Students of St. Thomas School, as a part of their internship with HW, had submitted this report with a video. The students themselves visited shops and bought loose cigarettes.

In nutshell, the State government has completely failed to implement that ban strictly, and this is why, despite the provision of a heavy fine of upto Rs. 25,000, shopkeepers are fearlessly selling banned tobacco products.   

These shopkeepers take precaution and sell these products to known buyers in their respective localities. In case of loose cigarette, shopkeepers are less precautious.

The challenge for the government is to ensure compliance with its policies of imposing such bans. Occasional action on selected sellers would not solve the purpose. Otherwise, the imposition of the ban on these products is only boosting the black market.

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Garbage Dumping Polluting Giri Ganga River – A Drinking Water Supply Source of Shimla

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Giri Ganga River pollution in Shimla

Shimla– The Gumma Nagar Panchayat in Kotkhai, Shimla district, like most of the other rural areas, lacks a proper solid waste management system. As a result, the usual method adopted here is dumping daily solid waste down the hill in an official dumping yard.

The locals from the panchayat wrote to Himachal Watcher regarding the adverse effect the dumping site in Gumma causing.

Gumma dumping yard in Shimla district 03 (2)

Overflowing dumping site in Gumma

They said the panchayat has allocated the site shown in the photo above to dump their garbage. This garbage is mostly left unsorted. 

With the growing population and increasing number of shops, the hillside is now overflowing with rubbish. This overflowing waste from the dump finds its way down to the Giri river water. 

It not only looks unsightly but also emits a foul smell. Moreover, the half-burnt rubbish flies in all directions, mostly downhill into the water.

Gumma dumping yard in Shimla district 3

The office of the Assistant Engineer, IPH Subdivision Gumma, is located near to this location. Still, the issue is being ignored. 

“Interestingly, the Department of Irrigation & Public Health is sitting above the location, blind and oblivious to it all,”

Devanshe Chauhan Lidgley, a local told Himachal Watcher.

IPH Office in Gumma

Office of the Assistant Engineer, IPH, Gumma

She further added,

“Complaints have been made to the Gumma Panchayat Pradhan who showed helplessness since it was a decision made by higher officials,”

The panchayat pradhan of Gumma told HW that, indeed, the area is facing a problem with daily garbage. There are five wards in the Nagar panchayat, and villagers do not have any common dumping ground. 

“The villagers have found suitable spots near their habitats where they dump their daily garbage,”

Tara Chauhan, the Pradhan of the panchayat told HW

“The dumping site shown in the pictures is particularly created to accommodate daily waste generated by shops in the market. The market has about 300 shops, and the daily waste is transported through pic-ups to the dumping site,”

she added.  

Gumma dumping yard in Shimla district 03 (1)

A Pick-up dumping Gumma Market’s daily waste downhill

She also accepted that this dumping site is now overflowing as the amount of waste dumped is increasing. The issue has been brought to the attention of district administration of Shimla, she said, adding that the administration has asked the panchayat to find a new location for the creation of another dumping yard. However, it’s hard to procure land for it as no one would allow the creation of dumping site on private land, she said. 

“Earlier, we used to set the garbage ablaze when dumping reached on the verge of overflowing. However, now, we have directions not to burn garbage as it causes air pollution,”

Chauhan told HW. 

Gumma dumping yard in Shimla district

As a matter of fact, the said dumping site is overflowing and, in monsoon, a lot of waste is likely to find its way into the Giri Ganga. 

Giri Ganga is one of the main sources of drinking water supply to Shimla, and there is no need to say more why it requires immediate intervention of the district administration and the state pollution control board to prevent water pollution.

In the past, Shimla has already witnessed instances of jaundice outbreaks due to contaminated water that had killed about two dozen people.  However, it appears, we are waiting for another catastrophe to happen before appropriate action is taken.  

The garbage dumped here needs to be removed regularly and disposed of properly before the next truck of garbage is dumped. 

“Is the ‘Swaacch Bharat’ campaign only on papers? How can the National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG) succeed if the sources of Ganga are being polluted?”

asked the local.

It is a matter of concern that the district administration is still stuck at creating dumping yards, which is not a proper way to dispose of solid waste. At the same time, the villagers are left at their own to deal with the daily waste they generate. The State government needs to provide a solid waste treatment facility in rural areas.  

However, there are reasons to believe that the government is hardly concerned about this gigantic environmental issue. The only waste treatment plant that was supposed to convert Shimla town’s municipal waste into energy, is lying defunct. Instead, the locals allege, the plant has been turned into a dumping yard, which was on fire last month. The fire kept smouldering for over a week. 

A similar example was witnessed in Kenduwal of Baddi in Solan district where the Municipal Council and the Baddi-Barotiwala-Nalagarh Development Authority (BBNDA) were supposed to construct a solid waste treatment plant. They had obtained the clearance for the same on August 13, 2015, and were allotted 42 bighas and 13 Biswas of land in Kenduwal. 

However, the plant never came up and the two responsible authorities created a huge dumping site by violating a number of environmental laws and guidelines. Not only they created this site on the flood-plains of Sirsa river but also ignored human habitat located at a distance of 30 meters from it.  The families living in this habitat had to approach the state High Court to get relief from the hellish conditions created by this illegal dumping site. 

 

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Enraged Protesters Barge Into MD HRTC Office Over Poor Bus Services, Leaves Staff Speechless

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Protest at MD HRTC Office

Shimla– After the tragic Banjar bus accident that killed 46 people and left about 37 injured and the school bus accident in Shimla‘s Khalini in which two students and the driver were killed, the Himachal Pradesh Government may have shown some strictness towards overloading, but it forgot to ensure delivery of additional services to facilitate commuters. Protests, especially from the student community are frequently being reported in newspapers and media portals.

Surprisingly, this strictness is limited to Himachal Pradesh Road Corporation buses, while private buses continue to ply overloaded. The public in rural areas is suffering a lot because of this faulty policy of the government. The people complain that even if no one is standing in buses, HRTC conductor or police do not let them board these buses.  The situation has worsened to a level that people are now feeling harassed due to inefficiency and lack of vision of the state government.

The locals from Shimla district had submitted a memorandum regarding the shortage of staff in HRTC and problem they are facing due to suspension of routes without any prior notice to the government through Managing Director, HRTC a couple of days ago. Shockingly, they were not given any response.

Eventually, on Thursday, aggrieved by and enraged over an acute shortage of bus services and harassment in the name of overloading, villagers from various parts of Shimla district gathered at the Old ISBT of Shimla to meet the Managing Director, HRTC. Their anger was fueled as soon as they found that the MD was not present in his office. Led by senior leaders of Communist Party of India (Marxist) including former Mayor of Shimla Town, Sanjay Chauhan and Rakesh Singha, a sitting MLA from Theog Constituency, people sat down outside MD ‘s office and staged an aggressive protest.

Watch How Protesting Locals Left HRTC Staff Speechless


The villagers alleged that while several HRTC routes were suspended in various parts of the district without any prior notice, private buses are encashing on the opportunity by overloading, to which Police is showing a blind eye. The villagers also alleged that in the name of overloading, the passengers are forced out of HRTC buses without provision of adequate services. At the same time, they alleged, the government is allowing overloading in private buses. 

Villagers complained that their vegetable produce is rotting either because the bus routes to their areas were suspended without information or the frequency of HRTC buses plying to the area was reduced to twice or thrice a week. In addition, the problem of not allowing them to load their produce in busses beacuse of the overloading gimmick was just adding to their woes.

Villagers also alleged that school students in rural areas are compelled to miss their classes, even exams due to lack of bus services.

“The number of girl students who have left school and are sitting at home because of the paucity of bus services is in thousands. Their schools are located at a distance of two to three hours, and without bus services, it is not possible for them to travel to schools and back home from schools. These students are dragged out of HRTC buses in the name of overloading but no additional service is provided to them,”

said one of the locals.  

“Biometrics are installed at offices for attendance nowadays. The employees are not able to reach office on time and their attendance is suffering,

said another local present among protestors.   

Later, when the Managing Director arrived at his office and met the protestors, he admitted that HRTC is facing a shortage of drivers and conductors which is adversely affecting bus services in several routes.  The MD agreed to the demand of restoring services on routes where only single buses were plying.

The protestors ended their protest only after the MD assured them to take effective steps to curb the shortage of HRTC bus service. The protestors warned the MD of more aggressive protests if adequate services are not delivered within a week.

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