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HP High Court’s gift to daughters of freedom fighters on Independence Day

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HP High Court on Wards of Freedom Fighters in Himachal PRadesh

Shimla: The State High Court of Himachal Pradesh on August 14, 2018, struck down a 1984 policy of the State, which discriminated against the married women. The policy did not consider the married women at par with the married sons and specifically excluded them from reservation being provided to “wards of freedom fighters” category in Govt. Jobs in the state of H.P.

The occasion is apt to echo the four decade old illuminating words of one of the greatest Judges of our Apex Court, Hon’ble J. Krishna Iyer where he said:

If a married man has a right, a married woman, other thing being equal, stands on no worse footing. This misogynous posture is a hangover of the masculine culture of manacling the weaker sex forgetting how our struggle for national freedom was also a battle against woman’s thraldom.

In the year 1984, it was decided by the state of H.P that 2% reservation in services be provided to the children/grandchildren of freedom fighters belonging to the State of H.P. in direct recruitment to all services/posts i.e. Class-I to IV including all Public Sector Undertakings/ Boards/Corporations. As per Scheme, the benefit of the reservation was applicable in respect of sons/grandsons, daughters/ granddaughters of Freedom Fighters. The married daughters/ granddaughters of Freedom Fighters were excluded from the scheme.

The issue of this exclusion was taken up and judicially reviewed by the bench of Hon’ble J.Sanjay Karol and J. Sandeep Sharma on a petition by Letter petitioners Ms Rekha Sharma and Ms Geeta Sharma, daughters of late Shri Het Ram Sharma (a Freedom Fighter).

The court appointed Advocate Deven Khanna as Amicus Curie who made submissions on behalf of the married daughters of freedom fighters (petitioners).

The stand of the state as reflected from the affidavit filed in 2017 was that;

So far as the question regarding giving reservation quota to the married Daughters/ granddaughters of Freedom Fighters is concerned, it is submitted that status of a married woman has to be construed in consonance with the general understanding of the word family as well as a status of married woman in the society. After marriage, a married woman loses the status of being a member of the parent’s family.

On an Affidavit dated October 10, 2017, filed by the Deputy Secretary (GAD) in the Court it was stated:

According to common knowledge and general understanding, the married daughter does not constitute to be a part of the family in its real sense. A daughter of a freedom fighter after her marriage, gets herself transplanted into the family of her husband and cannot, therefore, be claimed to be a part of the family in its real sense of the freedom fighter her father at least for anything relating to her children.

The State effectually took a stand that after solemnization of marriage; daughter severs her relationship with her parental family, for she gets “transplanted” into the family of her husband, and as such, cannot claim herself to be part of family of a Freedom Fighter.

It was argued on behalf of Married daughters (petitioners) that exclusion of a married daughter is plainly an act of hostile discrimination which is violative of the fundamental right guaranteed under Articles 14 and 15 of the Constitution. The condition which has been imposed by the State does not prescribe financial dependence and does not exclude married men.

It was argued that the contrary the purpose here is to give benefit to the family of freedom fighter for their services, family here includes married daughter as much as married son,if we look at the classification made by the state between a married man and married daughter, it does not bear any connection with the object of the policy which seeks the benefit of the family members, hence this violates the basic rights.

It was stated that Discrimination law now sees as its focus the redressal of structural and institutional conditions, that have been historically responsible for subordination on the basis of gender roles. Gender roles here being married daughter considered dependent on her husbands family and losing her identity as it was prior to marriage.

It was further submitted by the amicus that discriminatory treatment, in this case, causes substantive disadvantage to women on grounds of their sex in public employment which is violative of article 16.

It was stated by the amicus:

It is the duty of the State to “not perform” an act which would discriminate on grounds of sex., there is also a positive obligation on the State to perform an act which would remove such existent discriminations.

The Court discussed a Plethora of judgments which had carved out a landscape of principles against gender discrimination in recent years.

Finally, the court struck down the policy to the extent it discriminates against married women and was contrary to the constitution.

The Court speaking through Hon’ble J. Karol came down heavily on the line of defence adopted by the state while striking down the unconstitutional part of the policy, the court held:

“******We find the stand adopted by the State to be absolutely archaic and disappointing..
::…..We notice that, under the instant Policy, the object and purpose of providing reservation is to confer the benefit upon the wards of the Freedom Fighters. Stand taken by the State that daughter gets transplanted into the family of her husband, in view of what the Hon’ble Supreme Court has observed, noticed by us supra, is not in tune with the changing times. The primary object and purpose of the Policy is not to confer benefits only on the male members of the Freedom Fighters. It is to acknowledge the sacrifices made by the Freedom Fighters, by giving employment to their wards.

….The primary object to provide employment to wards of freedom fighters is to recognize the outstanding services rendered by them to the Nation during the struggle for Independence and thus their wards are given benefit towards employment by making reservation to them under the category of “Wards of Freedom Fighters”. In our considered view, Daughters and Granddaughters, even if married, would be eligible for public employment.

…The action of the respondents by not giving reservation to married women and not allotting them Wards of Freedom Fighter Certificate, is illegal and arbitrary and an example of colorable exercise of power, for marriage does not have and should not have a proximate nexus with identity. The identity of a woman, as a woman continues to subsist even after and notwithstanding her marital relationship.

The time has, therefore, come for the Court to affirmatively emphasise that it is not open to the State, if it has to act in conformity with the fundamental principles of equality which are embodied in Articles 14 and 15 of the Constitution, to discriminate against married daughters by depriving them of the benefit of the reservation, which is made available to a son irrespective of his marital status.”*******(excerpt is from the judgement in CWPIL 114 of 2018)

The Court also took note of the fact that the policy was an old policy, passed before the guarantees of sex equality under Articles 14 and 15 had an adequate expansion through various judgements of the apex court. The Court also referred to conflicting opinions passed by its previous benches.

The present case strengthens the fight for equality and strikes at the Differential treatment of men and women on the basis of presumed “gender roles” between the sexes, it exposes that discrimination results from conscious, chauvinistic Mindset and sometimes a product of social, economic, and cultural structures and institutions that create “patterns of exclusion”.

This significantly advances Indian sex discrimination jurisprudence, not only because of what the Court held i.e “that the policy discriminates against married women”, but also because how it was expressed, Justice Karol commenting on the stand of the state observed:

It is certainly not in tune with the changing times. In fact, it is out of sync with the constitutional values and principles. The predominant mindset of male chauvinism is all-pervading.

The language here is highlighting the impact of discrimination, because such practices end up reproducing existing social inequalities and hierarchies, and are the cause of stereotyping a particular gender into set roles. The need is to change the mindset and spread the constitutional morality of equality and freedom, to counter the chauvinism prevalent in the society at large and to provide a level playing field for all to prosper.

The case is a victory for women rights movement and an example of the justice system coming to the rescue of fundamental rights, against, biased and prejudicial laws which have a legacy of discrimination and are nursed by misogynistic mindsets of our society.

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Himachal Pradesh: A Report on ‘Plight of Migrant Workers’ during the Lockdown & Need for Protection of their Rights

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Himachal pradesh - a report on migrant labourers during lockdown

Shimla-Poor people like migrant labourers and workers are nothing more than insects for the governments in India. The attitude of the government and its treatment of the poor workers, who had migrated to other states in search of livelihood, during the lockdown is a very clear evidence of it. What is more pathetic is the fact that that their plight remained invisible to the remaining public as mainstreamed media was being paid more by their political masters for diverting public attention from real issues to rubbish, spicy news. Our society is rotten to such an extent that public also preferred the rubbish served by the media over the bitter truth. Except for a small section of people including social activists, volunteers and non-profit-organizations actually worked to provide some relief like ration to the poor. Spare some time to go through a report on the plight of the migrant workers prepared by the Himachal Pradesh Workers Solidarity (HPWS) – a voluntary solidarity platform.

The first day of Lok Sabha’s monsoon session earlier this week saw MPs raising questions about the condition of Migrant Workers during the lockdown. The response of the Labour Minister that no data on migrant deaths for the period was available has drawn much flak. Additionally, no data on return of migrant workers was available for many states including Himachal Pradesh.

The issue of invisibilisation of migrant workers in a state like Himachal Pradesh has now been raised in a report, highlighting the impacts of the ongoing crisis on this community which contributes significantly to the state economy. Himachal Pradesh Workers Solidarity (HPWS) – a voluntary solidarity platform formed in April 2020, in its report, describes the havoc that a sudden, un- facilitated and unplanned national lockdown announced in response to the COVID19 pandemic six months ago had on the interstate migrant workers stranded in Himachal. HPWS ran a helpline during the period, provided assistance in accessing ration and other relief, travel to home states, through administrative coordination, registrations, and information dissemination etc.

Himachal, in the context of migration, is different from neighbouring Uttarakhand, where the rate of migration out of state is higher, whereas in Himachal the rate of in-migration is slightly higher than out-migration.

Gagandeep, a journalist based in Karsog and part of HPWS, elaborates,

“Post the decade of 1980 -90, expansion of industrial activities in the Shivalik hill region, multi-level infrastructure and development projects, growing local interests in horticulture, and cash crop farming alongside tourism-dependent economy made Himachal an emerging centre for in-migration.”

Today, workers from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Nepal, Uttarakhand, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, and Kashmir constitute a large chunk of the migrant population in Himachal. Most of them are from Scheduled Caste, OBC, STs and minority communities. Difficult work areas and geography, insecure and unsafe living conditions, along with payment and other labour law violations, makes the situation even more difficult for them in mountain state like Himachal.

While the 2011 Census suggests that Himachal had approximately 3.10 lakhs migrant workers, this figure seems to be severely under-estimated due to lack of registration (under the Inter-State Workmen Act 1979), non-maintenance of data by State Labour Department and non-publication of all statistics of Census. The lack of data further worsened the pandemic crisis and impacted relief facilitation.

In response to the issues, the focus of the State was limited to distributing ration but ration alone was not enough for survival and sustenance. Ritika Thakur, another member of HPWS elaborates,

“Having some cash in hand was an urgent need to access gas cylinders, milk, medicines and other essential things like phone recharge, so that workers can at least call for support. Most of the people who contacted HPWS”, she adds, “had not been paid their wages and their savings had died out in payment of room rents and ration as loans and debts kept on piling up.”

Many migrant labourers complained about the interrogatory, apathetic and discriminatory attitude of the officials when they were called for ration support. Seeing no transport facility forthcoming, many workers were forced to walk back home on foot. When caught at borders they were put into quarantine centres forced to return or were left with no choice but to escape on foot.

“The online registration mechanism was completely inaccessible for workers and for weeks there was no response to registrations”,

according to Sukhdev Vishwapremi, a social activist and member of HPWS.

The first ‘shramik train’ ran as late as May 22, 2020.

“The government, meanwhile, allowed private bus operators to run on exorbitant prices,”

he adds.

Many workers were pushed to take loans or sell property/artefacts to be able to return home through these buses while 5000 HRTC buses remained standing in bus stands.

“The fact that the Central government shifted the burden of facilitating transport on the states without any significant co-ordination and clarity made matters worse, aided by lack of coordination and communication between nodal officers, both between Himachal and other states and within Himachal”,

Vishwapremi emphasized further.

According to the information shared by an officer from Himachal Pradesh Government (SDMA), 94,819 migrants had gone out from Himachal to various states of the country by June 23, 2020. As per the information received from SDMA under RTI, 14 shramik trains ferried around 13,183 people out of the state.

Himshi Singh from HPWS reminds, “more than 80% of the migrants took the road on their own expense in which the government merely provided e-passes for private transportation, and the number of people who walked on foot is not yet known.”

Adding further she remarks,

“It’s tragic that in the midst of this crisis, FIRs were registered against reporters who did stories on migrant worker’s condition and on the other hand no action was taken against fake news or media who communalised the issue leading to violence on minority communities like the migrant workers from Kashmir”.

The report highlights how Himachal was one of the 12 states who made major dilutions in labour laws in favour of companies and ‘ease of doing business’.

Almost five months have passed living with this epidemic and even as the success and failure of the lockdown are debated- the economy is falling in doldrums and our governments seem inconsistent and directionless. As per the estimate by ILO, 400 million informal workers in India will fall to critical levels of poverty than ever before- a situation that demands urgent cognizance, state accountability and a responsible approach.

In this regard, HPWS in this report has made the following recommendations for the State:

  1. Release in the public domain all the information about relief/support provided to migrant workers
  2. A joint task force be set to bring out a comprehensive report on the conditions and needs of migrant labourers in the state within 6 months
  3. Provide universal Access to Ration, Economic and other Relief Facilities
  4. Housing facilities for Migrant workers who have been living in Himachal and hostel facilities for seasonal labour
  5. Housing facilities for Migrant workers who have been living in Himachal and hostel facilities for  seasonal labour
  6. Compliance of SC/HC orders-setting up helpdesk/grievance redressal centres at Panchayat, Block, Tehsil  and District levels and conducting employment and skill-based survey of the migrant workers who have returned from other states
  7. Dilution in labour laws be withdrawn and all changes scrapped and strengthening the time-bound  ‘Grievance Redressal’ system and Labour Courts Mandate the registration of all migrant labourers working in the state under ISWMA 1979

HPWS will be submitting the report to various state and central agencies for further advocacy and hopes that the HP Government will take adequate measures to protect the interests of the migrant worker communities in the state.

Read Complete Report

Feature Photo: Sumit Mahar, Volunteer HPWS

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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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