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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.

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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Plea of 24 children killed in Nurpur tragedy to CM for justice

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no justice for Nurpur school bus victims

Kangra: Five months have passed since one of the biggest tragedy that Himachal Pradesh has ever witnessed, but the parents of 24 kids killed in Nurpur school bus accident on April 9, 2018, are still knocking at the door of the government to get justice for the pieces of their hearts. These kids could not live even their childhood.

This untimely departure left the parents heartbroken and pictures of a mass cremation of these children had given a nightmare to all parents.

Probe report of Nurpur school bus accident

Children killed in the accident being cremated

However, the business appears to be usual for the government. The parents had already approached the State High Court expressing their dissatisfaction with the report of the magisterial probe but to no avail.

On Sunday, a banner was seen hanging near Hanuman Mandir of Dharamshala in which pictures of about 19 children and four others killed in the tragedy were published with a request to the Chief Minister to spare a few moments to the case. The lines written on the poster said “Chand pal hamain bhi de do, Hamari bhi suno Mukhya Mantri Uncle Ji.” (Please, spare a few moments to hear us too Chief Minister Uncle)

Nurpur tragedy banner in dharamshala

It is not known who placed this banner but it did dock the state government, district administration, and the district police. The police has also not filed any charge-sheet in the case, the parents allege.  The parents are demanding a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation, which is another embarrassment for the state police. The people hesitate to lay their trust in the state police due to what it did in cases like forest gaurd Hoshiar Singh and Kotkhai’s Gudia.  

Also Read: Nurpur tragedy: Because Govt did not repair collapsed part of road or bothered about parapets

On April 9, 2018, a school bus of a private school in Nurpur was carrying children back to their homes when it met an accident and fell into the gorge near Gurchal village. In this accident, 23 kids, which mostly included pre-school students, were killed on the spot while remaining one took his last breath a few days later in a hospital. Total 28 people had died including the driver. 

Cause of accidents in Nurpur Kangra

The spot of accident

The spot (shown in the picture above) from where the bus fell down into a 200-feet gorge speaks of the cause of accident itself. The missing piece of the road narrowed the spot. There were no signs of any roadside safety measures such as crash barriers or parapets. Another accident had been reported at the same spot previously too.

The parents are alleging that the government is protecting the officials of the Public Works Department and the contractor responsible for not repairing the collapsed part of the road.

magisterial probe report in Nurpur Bus accident

Photos: Amar Ujala

The authority was not ready to admit that the road was in poor condition. However, within a month of this tragedy, the spot was repaired and parapets were also installed. A few kilometres length of the road around the spot was also metalled in a haphazard manner.

Though the report that wasn’t made public might have been modified later, Himachal Watcher had obtained some of the facts cited in the findings of the magisterial probe.  

Also Read: Findings of magisterial probe into Nurpur Tragedy exposes HPPWD’s blunder

The district administration has not made the findings of the report public, the parents allege. Some of the parents said they were told that the driver suffered a heart attack which caused the accident. The parents alleged the government is trying to hush up the matter and is denying justice to their children.

On the other hand, the administration has told the parents to file an RTI to obtain the copy of the report. The administration said the report is prepared after a fair probe. It also claimed that parents never asked for a copy of the report. 

Protection of its officials even when their callousness and corruption have led to a loss of lives is one of the several things in which the current government agrees with the previous one.  This attitude is less likely to witness any change as the government is always sparing the road and spoiling it departments and officials.  

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HP Govt has every reason to terminate contract with GVK-EMRI providing 108 & 102 services

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HP Govt GVK-EMRI contract termination

Shimla: The 108 and 102 emergency services provided by the GVK Emergency Management and Research Institute (GVK-EMRI) have become a mockery of the very purpose of an “ambulance.”

Yesterday, a 108 ambulance killed a 70-year-old lady and injured three others as it rammed into a ‘dhaba’ in Saho in Chamba district. The ambulance, as per the report, was in bad shape and mostly needed push-start. While doing so, neither the vehicle got started neither the break worked, and it rammed into a dhaba.

In another incident in Nauradhar – a Trans-Giri region of Sirmaur district – the driver and technician of an ambulance had a narrow escape as the driver lost control after a tyre burst. The driver managed to gain control and prevented an accident.

GVK ambulances in bad shape

108 ambulance after tyrebust in Nauradhar

On August 25, a case of break-failure was reported in Sangdah (संगड़ाह) region of the district. The driver had to crash the ambulance against the hill.

Currently, these emergency services are like a lifeline for patients and a large population depends on t

The staff of the GVK had been trying to highlight the plight of the ambulances, which are not fit to be emergency vehicles. Tyre bust, brake failure, and other mechanical faults have been officially reported by the staff of these ambulances to the company, the State Health Department, and the National Health Mission.

The staff had even highlighted that despite being in unfit to be on road, the ambulances are passed by the government every year.

The staff has alleged the company of using repressive means to discourage such employees trying to raise their voice against blatant violations of rules.

These ambulances are supposed to run as much faster as the road and traffic conditions allow while carrying all mandatory life-saving tools, devices, medicine, and technicians. The 102 service dedicatedly serves for the pregnant women under a maternity scheme. The vehicles are supposed to be maintained regularly. Ambulances can’t afford to have worn-out tyers and mechanical errors.

These vehicles, especially those rendering 102 services should be maintained regularly so that they to endure the impact of bad road conditions. However, the situation is quite opposite to it.

Previous Story: 108 and 102 ambulance staff on strike again as their demands not met despite agreement

A month ago, the staff of the company had gone on strike over pending salaries, delay in payment of monthly salaries, and irregularities in the benefits offered by the company. As per the drivers, the company not only made them drive mechanically unfit vehicles but also exploited them by not paying for overtime.

There is no standard policy regarding the salary of the staff. While some employees receive Rs. 6,000 to 8,000, others are being paid 12,000 to 15, 000. The company is paying the salary in an arbitrary manner. Newly employed staff is offered more salary than what is being paid to employees who are serving for past five to eight years,

Puran Chand had told Himachal Watcher during the last strike in August.

Earlier in June, the company had given false assurance to the employees that all their demands would be met within a month. However, after the end of this deadline, the GVK had again failed to meet any of the demands.

The staff was so distressed that it did not resume duties despite the imposition of Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA). The State High Court, like it happens in almost every important issue, had to intervene to make the staff call off the strike. It was after the court termed their strike illegal and threatened them with committing a contempt of court by not joining back that the drivers and technicians called off the strike.

The service provider had also terminated about 63 employees to create panic among the others striking. However, instead of threatening them, the termination fueled the anger among the employees.

An FIR has also been registered against a senior Employee’s Provident Fund Organization Officer and an intermediary of GVK Company for offering and accepting a bribe. The middleman had paid a bribe of Rs. 80,000 to the officer of the EPF office in exchange for reducing EPF liabilities of the company, the striking staff allege.

The court had directed the district administration, the State and Centre Health Departments, and NHM to resolve the grievance of the staff.

Mr Ranjan Sharma, Additional Advocate General had told the court that the Mission Director, National Health Mission, HP, should ensure that the salary to the employees, on the due date, as per the agreement, is released, in accordance with law.

The contract between the State government and GVK should have been terminated long ago considering all above grievance. The contract was renewed in 2017 before the elections to the State Legislative Assembly and is valid till 2022. 

After pressure from the court, it is now that the Health Minister Vipin Singh Parmar is speaking about taking note of these grieve issues and reviewing the contract. He today said that this step was taken after receiving regular complaints about the service provider. The Minister has suggested that the contract could be terminated soon depending upon the outcomes of this review.

The government has every reason to take this much-needed step as the company is showing no signs of betterment in its attitude towards the emergency services and its staff.

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HRTC slammed for targeting schoolchildren for profit, burdening parents

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HRTC School bus fee hike

Shimla: The Himachal Pradesh Road Transport Corporation (HRTC), in a recent meeting, has hiked the fare for school buses by 50 percent. It would also apply to the bus passes, which were earlier issued on concessional rates to keep the transportation cost cheaper for school children.

This decision is facing severe criticism from the Parents Teachers Association of various public and private schools and other social organizations. The demand for withdrawal of the decision to hike the fare is being raised.

The HRTC, on the other hand, justified the hike in fare by reasoning that no hike was made since 2010.

The new rates of the HRTC charges (per month) for school bus passes are as followed:

Rs. 900 for five to ten kilometres

Rs.1350 for 11 to 20 kilometres

Rs. 1500 for 21 to 30 kilometres

The Communist Party of India, as well as the parents, have pointed out that the standard fare for a distance of five kilometres is currently Rs. 7. For both ways, it would be Rs. 14, and for a month, it would be Rs. 420. However, the Corporation is now charging Rs. 900 per month, which is a loot, they said. 

On Friday, some unofficial reports suggested that the Chief Minister could roll-back the decision after facing widespread criticism. 

The PTAs expressed anguish by saying that the Himachal Pradesh Government is hardly able to commit itself for the deliverance of quality education in the government schools. During the past two decades, a large number of parents shifted their trust from government schools to the private/convent schools.

The Education Minister and the teachers in the government schools were seen concerned more about transfers than committing to their schools and students.

Parents strive to get their children enrolled in private schools despite the fact that these institutions extract hefty fees, which makes them unaffordable for children of any family below middle class. The middle-class families sacrifice a lot to ensure a better education for their children, the majority of parents in PTAs agreed.

The parents are not only looted by private schools but also pay for cab services, which openly flaunt rules and regulations meant for ensuring the safety of children.

The government has so far never intervened to put a check on the private schools, regularise fee structure, and stop the financial exploitation of the parents.

As a matter of fact, the politicians, bureaucrats, and government officials settle nothing less than the most reputed private schools in the State when it comes to their own children. The congestion in private schools has grown to such an extent that parents seek approach/personal recommendation of ministers, politicians, elected leaders, bureaucrats, and influential people.

It’s ironical because the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act, 2009, directs the government to ensure free and compulsory school education for all children. The Act specifically mentions that education to children must be ensured in schools located in their neighbourhood.

The Act also states that the governments should ensure that nothing stands in the way of children from accessing compulsory education. The government is supposed to eradicate all barriers or limitations, which keep children from receiving education in schools.

In Himachal, the governments have raised a large number of schools but failed miserably to ensure the quality of education in its schools. The situation is such that the government is proposing to shut down a good number of schools because no students would enrol in them.

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