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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 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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Manohar Parrikar Was ‘Chief Minister of Commoners’, Says Cabinet condoling his demise

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Manohar Parrikar Condoloscence messages

New Delhi– The Union Cabinet, chaired by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi, today condoled the sad demise of Manohar Parrikar, Chief Minister on March 17, 2019, at Panaji, Goa.  The Cabinet observed silence for two minutes in his memory.  Parrikar had been in and out of hospitals since February last year after he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

He was cremated with full state honours at Panjim’s Miramar Beach this evening. He was 64-years-old.

The Cabinet had also approved observing one day of mourning by the Government of India and flying the National Flag at half-mast on March 18, 2019, in all the States/UTs Capitals including Delhi and throughout the State of Goa.

The Cabinet expresses profound sorrow at the sad demise of Shri Manohar Parrikar, Chief Minister of Goa in the evening of 17th March 2019 at Panaji, Goa. In his passing away, the country has lost a veteran and distinguished leader, affectionately called as the Chief Minister of commoners,

said a condolence Resolution of the Cabinet.

The President of India, Ram Nath Kovind, also condoled the passing away of Parrikar.

Extremely sorry to hear of the passing of Shri Manohar Parrikar, Chief Minister of Goa, after an illness borne with fortitude and dignity. An epitome of integrity and dedication in public life, his service to the people of Goa and of India will not be forgotten.

the President said

About Manohar Parrikar


Born on December 13, 1955, at Mapusa, Goa, Parrikar was educated at Loyola School, Margao and later graduated in Metallurgical Engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology, Mumbai in 1978. Before entering politics, Parrikar had joined the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) at a young age and became a Mukhya Shikshak (Chief Instructor) in the final years of his schooling itself. After graduating from IIT, he resumed RSS work in Mapusa and became a Sanghchalak at the age of 26.

As a member of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Parrikar was elected to the Legislative Assembly of Goa in 1994. He became the Chief Minister of Goa for the first time on 24th October 2000 and continued till 27th February 2002. He was re-elected as Chief Minister on 3rd June 2002 and served till 2nd February 2005.  He became Chief Minister of Goa for the third time on 9th March 2012 and continued till 8th November 2014. On 9th November 2014, Shri Parrikar became Union Minister of Defence and continued till 13th March 2017, he was again sworn in as Chief Minister of Goa on 14th March 2017.

He is credited with the building of modern Goa and to the modernization of India’s Armed Forces as well as improvement to the lives of ex.-Servicemen.

Parrikar was awarded the ‘Distinguished Alumnus Award’ by IIT Mumbai in 2001, Honorary Doctorate by National Institute of Technology, Goa in 2018, and the Dr. S.P. Mukherjee Award in 2018, among others. He is survived by his two sons.

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Parents Protest Loot by Himachal’s Private Schools, Education Minister Advises Sending Children to Govt Schools

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Loot by Private Schools in Himachal Pradesh 2

Shimla- Levying of hefty fee by private schools in Himachal Pradesh continues despite instructions by the Supreme Court, State High Court and MHRD Ministry. The assurances of the State Government to regulate private schools has also proved insignificant. Parents allege that after court orders to remove the building fund and the admission fee, the schools have only changed the methods of fleecing them with exorbitant fees.

Now, their free booklets have removed the colums of building fund and admission fee and replaced them with annual charges, tuition fee, smart-classroom charges, SMS service charges etc. They have not only adjusted the previously charged funds under new columns but also hiked the total charges, parents alleged.     

Distressed parents have organized under the banner of Parent-Student forum and are again out on the roads to protest against private schools and incapability of the government to take appropriate action. They are asking the government to regulate private schools and make them accountable and responsible. Three main demands of the parents include regulation of fee structure, syllabus, and admission process.

Video

On March 11, 2019, parents gathered outside the Office of the Deputy Commissioner, Shimla, to hold a protest. On March 13, the forum staged another protest outside the Directorate of Higher Education. The protests are likely to continue until the government addresses the issue, suggested the convenor of the forum, Vijender Mehra.

Parents complained that schools did not consult them before implementing fee hikes for the current session. They also alleged that schools flaunted all regulations while doing so. After extracting hefty fees, some schools were charging an additional Rs. 35-40 in the name of tours, parents alleged. If that was not enough to burden the parents, the schools charge money for their events too, the convenor of the forum said.

My son was in the second class last year, and I paid about 50,000 to the school as various fees. This year, I will have to pay more,

a father told Himachal Watcher on the condition of anonymity.    

Schools have imposed compulsions on parents regarding purchase of books and uniforms. Parents are strictly ordered to buy them from shops selected by schools, where books and uniforms are sold at thrice or four times the normal cost, the convenor said.

Vendors selected by schools set stalls inside the campus and parents must buy books from these vendors. It’s a strict instruction given by the school. These vendors sell books at a higher price as parents are rendered helpless by the school,

said another parent on the condition of not mentioning the name of the school.

Schools tie up with these vendors and fetch fat commissions from them every year on the sale of stationary and uniforms, the parents allege.

If the number of students enrolled in these schools is considered, then they are earning almost over Rs.6 crores per year. Including the commissions from books and uniforms, this amount increases to almost Rs. 7 crore. Their expenditure including salaries of teachers doesn’t exceed Rs. 3 crores. Rest of the amount is their surplus,

the convenor of the forum said.

Himachal Watcher talked to some parents of children enrolled in various private schools in Shimla. It turned out that Rs. 30,000 – 50,000 per annum is a common amount for the majority of schools. For reputed ones, this cost reaches upto Rs. 60, 000.

I have two sons enrolled a reputed private school in Shimla. Elder one is in class II and younger one is in LKG. Last year, I paid about Rs. 90,000 as their fee,

a mother – resident of Summerhill- told HW.  

The schools justify annual hike and hefty charges saying that they are fully self-funded. To hike salaries of teachers, the fees are also hiked every year, non-funded private schools argue.

According to Right to Education (RTE), all private schools are supposed to reserve 25 percent of the seats for children hailing from economically weaker sections. In 2014, the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) had also issued fresh guidelines to private schools. The parents alleged that schools are not following these rules. The government, they alleged, is behaving like a mute spectator.

It is seen that MLAs, bureaucrats, leaders of the ruling, as well as the opposition, enroll their children in reputed private institutes because they don’t believe in the quality of education and facilities provided in government institutes. While middle class parents also dodge the government institutions because they have begun to find consolation in the fact that their children are at least receiving the best possible education they can afford to secure their future, which government schools cannot provide.

I won’t send my children to government schools because I want them to explore their full potential and develop their personalities. I want them to develop enough self-confidence and communication skills to face the modern, tough competitive world. Currently, government schools are just not able to offer much to children,

said a father of two and resident of New Shimla.

What Does Education Minister Says?

The Education Minister Suresh Bhardwaj, in response to these protest, told media that he is well aware of this loot. His advice to parents was to send their children to Government schools. As per the Minister, the Government schools are tip-top and quality of education is at par with private schools.

Since assuming the office, the Education Minister was reluctant to accept that a decline in enrollments in government schools is a result of the degrading quality of education. As per his statement in February 2019, parents send their children to private schools for it has become a status symbol. He also claimed that introducing pre-nursery classes in about 390 government schools have resulted in the additional enrollment of 40,000.  He also claimed that 99.7 percent of government schools have toilet facility and that 18 percent of the budget is being spent on education.    

It’s pertinent to mention that the HP Private Education Institutions (Regulation) Act does exist, but its hardly playing any role in regulating schools.

The school aren’t even following the instruction given by the Directorate of Higher Education to submit records of their annual charges for the session 2018-2019.

Other states have developed their own regulatory mechanism to deal with loot by private schools. For example, the State of Gujarat has the Self Financed Schools (Regulation of Fees) Act. It makes State Government competent of forming laws for state boards, the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) and the Indian Certificate of Secondary Education (ICSE). 

However, it appears that the Government in Himachal is trying to delay forming and implementing any such regulatory law.

Parents also question the government’s disinterest in the implementation of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009.

Moreover, irrespective of political parties in power, private schools are hardly audited.

In January 2018, right after coming into power, the Education Minister had assured the people that a policy would be introduced to check arbitrary fee structures of private schools in the State. The laws formed by other states to prevent private schools from exploiting parents financially would be studied, he had said. He had also said that very soon these schools would be brought under the Regulatory Commission.   

In March 2019, the Education Minister has again given an assurance that the Government would make provisions to regulate private schools.  The Government did not mention any deadline or estimated time it would take to frame laws and implement them. Meanwhile, schools have already begun extorting this year’s fees.

The parents also said that they would be meeting the Education Minister during the current week with their plea. The parents have warned the government of more such protests if no action was taken to tighten the noose around these schools.

What Does Law Say?

Operation of private schools and commercialisation of education has long been a matter of litigation across the country. The Supreme Court in December 2018 had ordered a 20 per cent decrease in fees charged by upscale private schools. The schools were ordered to return half the fees they had charged for summer vacations. This order was applicable across the country whose fees were in excess of Rs 5, 000.

The apex court had also ordered that private schools can only increase their fee by five percent each year.

Before it, cases like Islamic Academy of Education versus State of Karnataka (2003) and Modern School versus Union of India (2004) have clearly stated that educational institutions should be allowed to make only ‘reasonable surplus’. The schools were expected to use this profit to provide better facilities and not for profiteering by the school management.

Apparently, the welfare of society lies in putting a check on the commercialisation of education. Good education lies at the foundation of a strong, healthy democracy. At least, education must not be put on sale.

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Shimla Police’s Two Friendly and ‘Ready to Help’ Cops

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Shimla Police Achievements 2019

Shimla-Losing a Rs. 18,000 cellphone may not be very sentimental to some, but for a plebian, it is a big deal.  

A woman lost her cellphone at New Inter-State Bus Terminal (ISBT),Tutikandi in Shimla on Wednesday March 6, 2019. Her two and half-year-old son and another woman from her neighborhood accompanied her when this happened. They had visited a few shops and had returned home.

On reaching home, she couldn’t find her cellphone. She tried to call on her number using neighbor’s phone but it was switched off by that time. Her best guess was that she must have forgotten it on the counter of one of the shopsshe visited. She rushed back to the ISBT and inquired about her phone at a shop she was most suspicious of. But the worker at the shop denied having any knowledge about it.  

As it was her fault to have misplaced the phone, going to the police didn’t occur to her. In fact, she wasn’t aware that there is a police assistance room at the ISBT.

Someone put her in contact with a member of Himachal Watcher, who lived in the same locality. On talking to the women, he found that she was heartbroken, not for losing the cellphone but the personaldata it contained.

It was a Motorola handset she had bought for about Rs. 18,000 two years back, right after the birth of her son.

I wanted to capture photos of his childhood as memories. Though it was not affordable, still I bought it because I wanted a good camera phone. It contains thousands of pictures and videos of my son from his birth to his first walk,

she told the HW member.

The member suggested that she should have approached the police to file a complaint. With the help of CCTVs inside the ISBT and the shops, there was a chance to recover it. As usual, her first impression was that it would become another complaint lodged in the police register. She had given up hope.

The member, however, went to the police assistance room. A Lady constable Seema Sharma (Shimla) and constable Sushil Kumar (Kumarsain), who were on duty at that time, attended him.  The member introduced himself only as a neighbor of the woman who was trying to help her.

The duo at the assistance room took few details like approximate time of her visit. Instead of dumbly asking to get the number blocked, write down a complaint or go to the police station, this smart duo headed right to the shop they zeroed down on based on the details given by the woman.

The lady constable walked into the shop and talked to a worker and then the owner, while the other cop waited outside. In less than 10 minutes, they recovered the phone without being rowdy or threatening. After confirming it was the same handset, the lady constable handed it over to the member with a smile on her face. 

It was later found that the worker had slipped the phone when the woman placed it on the counter to check a piece of clothing, immediately switched it off and hid it in a dustbin.

The personals not only saved the victim from going to the police station and lodging a complaint but also saved a lot of valuable time of the department.The lady cop merely instilled the fear of CCTV cameras installed around the shop. Before writing a complaint, she peacefully offered the workers a chance to correct the mistake.

Rest, the uniform did its job. The owner also co-operated and told the workers to return the phone in case any of them had taken it. It worked exactly the way two cops wanted it to.

They behaved like idol police officers-friendly, smart, and ready to help.

The member returned the phone to its rightful owner.  The woman, on receiving her phone, was surprised as she had almost convinced herself that the phone and all the data it contained was gone forever. At least, she had not expected to find it within an hour.

First thing, she checked after switching on the phone was the photo albums. She was literally jumping around in ecstasy. That day, these two police personals were her heroes.

I don’t know how to thank them. It really mattered to me a lot,

she said.

It’s a small compliment for the State and Shimla Police that have been struggling to rebuild reputation after the Gudiya case of 2016.

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