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.
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?
Illegal construction in D’shala (Pics): Would stop salary if no action taken against erring officials, HC warns TCP Secretary
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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”.
- 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.
Watch : Families living in inhuman, hazardous conditions due to Baddi MC’s 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,”
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?
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.
Did HP Govt finish Dharamshala’s ‘Core Area’ to facilitate illegal construction?
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.
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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