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Shimla MC House is now BJP’s own “Big Boss” show

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sHIMLA Mc HOUSE MEETING 2018

Shimla: The internal political affairs of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party have turned the Shimla Municipal Corporation into a home-made series of ‘Big Boss’. Now we even have a Mayor who was reportedly seen shedding tears in internal party meetings called up with the revolting BJP Councillors.

This time the Big Boss managed to convince these Councillors to support the Mayor and Deputy Mayor in the House to avoid a dissolution motion. It would have been an embarrassment for the ruling party if it had to remove the duo owing to protest by own Councillors.

In the monthly General Meeting of the House conducted on June 29  after several adjournments, most of the proposals in the agenda including the much-needed parking complex at the Indira Gandhi Medical College were postponed due to the ruckus in the House.

However, there was one job that the House did accomplish: issuing No Objection Certificate (NOC) to the government land leased out to two organizations, which are not associated with the public facilities or city’s developmental work in anyway.

The House issued NOC for leasing out 22669 sq.mt. land to Matrivandna and 257 sq. Mt. Land to Vivekanand organization. Even the BJP councillors who boycotted the meeting as protest were also present to pass the resolution to issue NOC to these organisations, which are said to be associated with the Rashtriya Swayamseva Sangh (RSS).

Suddenly, the 11 BJP Councilors, who had been demanding the removal of the current Mayor Kusum Sadrate and Deputy Mayor Rakesh Chauhan, changed their tone and demand. Now, as a piece of meat, the Commissioner Rohit Jamwal, was thrown to the media and the people.

What appears to be an insult of the House is that the transfer of the Commissioner was announced in the middle of the meeting. He was there in the first session to conduct the proceedings of the House, but he was missing in the second one. The Councillors were told that Mr. Jamwal was transferred and Mr. Pankaj Rai have been brought back as the new Commissioner.

Take a look at the proceedings of the House in yesterday’s meeting:

Now, instead of the Mayor and Dy Mayor, the BJP Councillors suddenly came up with new allegations against the Commissioner. They said he did not listen to Councillors and the files of developmental works were pending due to him.

BJP is trying to hide its failures. The Commissioner was mere a scapegoat and he had to bear the brunt of anger among BJP’s own Councillors. They wanted the removal of Mayor and Deputy Mayor, but now a sacrifice of an official was made as part of the drama to deviate attention from the main issue,

said Archana Dhawan, a Councillor of Congress.

It was the part of BJP’s plan to cover up the big failure of its Mayor and Deputy Mayor. The Commissioner has been transferred when the meeting of MC house was going on, which is derogatory also,

said Sanjay Chauhan, former Mayor of Shimla.

Apparently, the bureaucrats are used like disposable cutlery. Along with Mr. Jamwal, the government has shifted nine IAS officers and eight HPAS officers too. It’s for the third time in six months that the government has re-shuffled IAS and HPAS officials.

Further, the condition of civic amenities and pace of developmental activities is a matter of worry for the people. The Corporation is not even able to collect and transport daily garbage regularly. Heaps of garbage along roads welcome tourists.

During recent rains, residents have been posting videos showing the state of rainwater drainage. Even the historic Shimla Mall was flooded by rainwater due to poorly maintained drainage system.

In Vikasnagar, Ward muck entered the shops and a dental cleaning due to poor drainage, and a video of it had done rounds of the social media.

Other things to consider are the attitude of the Mayor towards the acute water scarcity in Shimla town during second half of May, her decision to fly to China for a conference in the middle of the crisis, the revolt against her by BJP’s own Councilors, taking arbitrary decisions without conducting regular meetings of the House, her personal visits to annoyed Councilors to save her chair, and more.

The Mayor was not able to defend herself on returning to Shimla from China. She did her best to avoid facing the Ward Councillors. The Councillors had even protested against her for remaining absent from her office for photoshoots with the Chief Minister.

In fact, the Mayor believes the issue of water crises was mayor a propaganda of the oppositions and media had given in an unnecessary hike.

There are so much quarrel and drama that the focus of the Mayor, Deputy Mayor, and elected Councilors of 34 Wards of Shimla city is nowhere near their duty towards the public. The city and the people are facing a complete neglect.

But the Mayor does want a new SUV for her with the public money. This is the first time first time that Deputy Mayor also demanded a vehicle. Of course, she would defend it saying the vehicle is needed for her official work. 

 How can anyone defend this attitude?

Isn’t it unbelievable that despite all this chaos, internal revolt against them, and their apparent failure to manage the affairs of the Corporation, the duo dared to talk about spending public money on their own facilities?

If the MC provides a vehicle and a driver to the Deputy Mayor, then it would cost about Rs. 10 lakh per year, according to the official proposal. Remember, we haven’t estimated expenditure on official vehicle’s personal use yet.

How can they even dare think about it when there is a widespread protest and unrest among the people of the city? There is hardly any citizen who would come in defense of the Mayor at time when BJP’s own Councilors were unhappy with her performance and demanding her removal.

Though criticism of the ruling party by oppositions and rivals is a usual trend, it also becomes their duty at times such as the SMC is facing currently.

Alongwith the public, the opposition Congress that has Over a dozen of Councillors in the House and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) that has one Councillor are asking the Mayor to resign on moral ground after taking the responsibility for the ongoing chaos.

It’s a complete failure of one-year BJP rule in Municipal Corporation Shimla. Even BJP Councillors alongwith CPM and Congress councillors were demanding the removal of Mayor and Deputy Mayor because they failed to run MC while the people of the city are facing several problems,

said Chauhan.

The door to door garbage collection has been directed towards failure by BJP led MC to implement its agenda of privatisation and to benefit it favoured private companies. In five wards door to door garbage collection have already been outsourced to a private company,

Chauhan alleged.

Over 30 workers of the Shimla Heritage, Environment and Beautification (SHEB) Society have already quite the work as a protest against the privatization of the door-to-door garbage collection in five wards. The workers fear that soon remaining wards would also be given in the hands of private contractors that might render them unemployed.

The workers are of the opinion that they had dreamed of getting regular and being paid better under the new government, but with privatization, it turned out to be an illusion. 

The moral and ethical values are missing among our politicians. They are nothing more than puppets in the hands of Big Boss (party high command).

Expect more episodes in coming days because a murmur over demand of removal of the duo can still be heard among the revolting BJP Councillors.

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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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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