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Looking back at magnificent tenure of Justice Sanjay Karol at HP High Court

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Justice Sanjay Karol as Acting Chief Justice of HP High Court

Shimla: The Judge of the Punjab & Haryana High Court, Justice Surya Kant, has been appointed as the new Chief Justice of the Himachal Pradesh High Court. He would be taking the charge soon. Justice Kant started practising law at the District Courts, Hisar, in 1984 and moved to Chandigarh in 1985 to practice at the Punjab and Haryana High Court. He was designated as Senior Advocate in March 2001. He also held the office of Advocate General, Haryana, till his elevation as a Permanent Judge to the Punjab and Haryana High Court on January 09, 2004.

The time is right to look back at the tenure of Acting Chief Justice and the functioning of the Hon’ble High Court in the past year under his leadership.

Justice Karol belongs to Garli village, Tehsil Dehra Gopipur in District Kangra of Himachal Pradesh.

He was born in Shimla on August 23, 1961. He is an alumnus of the St. Edward School, Shimla, and graduated with Honours in History from Government Degree College, Shimla.

He obtained a Degree in Law from H.P. University, Shimla and enrolled as an advocate in the year 1986.

He had assumed the charge of the office of the Acting Chief Justice of the State High Court on April 25, 2017.

India has had many brilliant judges but few amongst them became great. A brilliant judge might know the law to its minutest detail, but a great judge knows ‘justice’ and the spirit that it posses. The road to greatness is paved by compassion, kindness and a seeking for truth. With empathy in heart and sensitivity in mind, Justice Karol has been setting an example for us of how human dignity and compassion is to be practised, not just through his judgements but also through his acts of kindness and compassion in normal life situations.

Justice Karol is greatly admired for encouraging the young lawyers and welcoming them to the profession with open arms. The Hon’ble Justice is also known for his work in public interest litigation since assuming the charge of Acting Chief Justice of Himachal High Court. The greatest change which the Hon’ble judge brought was to accept letters of common people and convert it into public interest petitions, in case, those letters revealed miscarriage of justice and breach of fundamental rights.

In India, the first PIL was filed in the year 1976 – Mumbai Kamgar Sabha v. M/s Abdulbhai 1976 (3) SCC 832. The seed of the PIL was sown by Justice Krishna Iyer through this landmark judgement. Soon thereafter, with the efforts of Justice Bhagwati, the concept of the PIL evolved and developed to a great extent. The courts started accepting letters as petitions if they happen to disclose any violation of fundamental rights and matters of public importance.

Justice Bhagwati once said,

“Public interest litigation is essentially a cooperative or collaborative effort on the part of the petitioner, the State or public authority and the Court to secure observance of the constitutional or legal rights, benefits and privileges conferred upon the vulnerable sections of the community and to reach social justice to them. The State or public authority against whom public interest litigation is brought should be as much interested in ensuring basic human rights, constitutional as well as legal, to those who are in a socially and economically disadvantaged position, as the petitioner who brings the public interest litigation before the court. The State or public authority which is arrayed as a respondent in public interest litigation should, in fact, welcome it, as it would give it an opportunity to right a wrong or to redress an injustice done to the poor and weaker sections of the community whose welfare is and must be the prime concern of the State or the public authority.”

The importance of strengthening such a practice of Letter Petitions as PILs in a state like ours was absolutely necessary. Himachal has poor people, farmers, and large parts of villages are backward, hence, the judicial process for most of the people in the state is incomprehensible or costly to pursue. This has led to unchecked human rights violations and also large scale unchecked environmental degradation. The Hon’ble High Court in the past year has done extensive work in taking up the fundamental rights and environmental issues of poor and downtrodden, even if they have been addressed by way of letters.

The Acting Chief Justice during his tenure has dealt with issues of public importance and made efforts with the tool of Public interest litigation for the realisation of the dreams of our Constitution. His orders and judgements cover the whole spectrum of issues, such as:

  • Landmark order for ‘right of sanitation’ and directing the state for construction of public toilets at highways
  • A landmark judgement in Directing payment of unpaid salaries of nurses, which was unpaid for months
  • Landmark judgement for removing discrimination against married women in matters of employment
  • Protection of trees through technology, use of RFID, Drones and Satellites
  • Protection of wetlands, the direction was given for the creation of a wetland authority, which facilitated funds to the state from centre
  • Directions for Checking illegal mining
  • Protection of rivers from the illegal running of dams
  • Providing compensation to the families of road accident victims or to families who suffered an act of criminal violence
  • Thinking about hemp and medical cannabis as an alternative source of income to farmers and as a mode to curb drug market
  • Deliberating upon police reforms, directing the installation of cameras in the prisons to check human right violations. Also directing the Advocate general to re-look at H.P police Act and bring it in consonance with the constitution
  • Reforms in the forest department especially the condition of forest guards
  • Several judgements on animal rights issues
  • Several directions for building roads, most importantly monitoring the construction of national highways
  • Several Directions for the protection of the UNESCO heritage sites, including a drive to clean up Shimla-Kalka railway
  • Several directions to tackle the garbage problems in various places in Himachal
  • Several directions to improve the medical facilities in the hospitals

To take up and decide the above-mentioned issues requires a spirit rooted in kindness, empathy and compassion. This kindness was not just limited to judgements but also in the pragmatic handling of real-life situations. During Shimla’s water crisis, alongside high-ranking state and municipal corporation officials, Justice Karol nearly spent all night inspecting operations at the water control rooms to ensure that they were working without any impediments. The court also gave orders that no special treatment be meted out to the VIPs during the time of crisis.

In an another and very recent incident, a milkman who fainted after suffering a seizure in the Lakkar Bazaar of Shimla was saved by the acting chief justice who helped the man reach the hospital in time. Justice Karol got out of his vehicle and directed the driver to take the man to the hospital immediately. He then simply begun to walk. It was an example of humbleness for those taking perks of the VIP culture.

We spoke to a High Court lawyer, Advocate Deven Khanna, who as an amicus has assisted the court in various matters.

The most significant work of the acting chief was the focus on Access to justice. Without the ‘access’ or means of accessing justice, the constitution is redundant. Once the constitution is triggered, then only fundamental rights can be realised. Public interest Litigations is the tool that the Acting Chief has used to democratise the judicial process. The court has essentially said that justice does not only belong to the rich people, corporates and governments (who take up most of the litigation time in courts), it primarily belongs to the poor. The poor can write a letter or get legal aid or get assistance from an amicus currie, who on his behalf, will pray to the court on a violation of his most basic rights,

Deven told Himachal Watcher.

It is said that Article 32 was the most favourite article of the great B.R Ambedkar. He said that it is the soul of the constitution. When he was referring to Article 32, he actually meant ‘access to the courts’ in case fundamental rights are violated. Article 32, 226 and letter petitions are essentially the same and are the heart and soul of the constitution. It was visible in practice in the working of the Hon’ble Acting Chief Justice during last one year

, he added.

When the state has failed to protect the rights or has failed to do its duties, its the duty of the Superior Courts to step in and make sure that law of the land is not sabotaged and common man or the environment is not jeopardised,

he further added.

More about Justice Sanjay Karol

Including Hon’ble Supreme Court of India, he practised in various Courts in Constitutional, Taxation, Corporate, Criminal and Civil matters. He had appeared as Counsel in the Inter-State water Dispute (BBMB Project) in the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India.

He also discharged the constitutional duties as the Advocate General of Himachal Pradesh from 1998 to 2003. In the Year 1999, he was designated as Senior Advocate.

He remained on the Senior Panel for Central Government, Supreme Court of India. He was elevated as the Judge of the High Court of Himachal Pradesh on March 8, 2007. He also remained the Chairman of State High Court Legal Services Committee

Presently also discharging statutory duties as Executive Chairman of H.P. State Legal Services Authority and a member of the Board of Governors, Himachal Pradesh Judicial Academy.

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Inflation, Increased Cost of Food Items, Ration, Crumbling Health Infrastructure, and 100 Gram Sugar: Govt’s Diwali Gift to People

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hp govt's gift on diwali 2020

Shimla-The Himachal Pradesh Government has collected over Rs. 86 crores in the name of the COVID-19 relief fund, but only Rs 25 crore was spent. It was stated by Sanjay Chauhan, former Mayor of Shimla and a senior CPI (M) leader. It’s a shocker considering negligible relief measures and the state of health infrastructure crumbling amid a pandemic. The unpreparedness of the state government to deal with community spread of coronavirus is coming to light as its COVID-19 hospitals have begun to run out of beds in isolation wards. Two major medical facilities -Indira Gandhi Medical College & Hospital and DDU Hospital in Shimla- are packed to their full capacity. 

What’s not shocking is that Chief Minister did hail the Prime Minister, exactly as he was told, claiming that the nation is out of COVID-19 crisis. It suggests that the Chief Minister is little aware of the surge in cases and over 400 COVID-19 deaths, of which 93 were reported during the last 12 days of November month. Yesterday, the state has reported over 700 cases with six deaths, which is alarming.

“Prime Minister Narendra Modi deserves all praise for his dynamic leadership as he is successfully steering the Country amid all troubles and difficulties. He has successfully brought the Nation out of Covid-19 crisis,” 

said Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur, while addressing a public meeting at Sihunta under Bhatiyat Assembly Constituency on Wednesday. 

Talking about the real situation and relief measures, the state Government became a laughingstock and was being trolled on social media after it announced 100 gram sugar and 500-gram rice per person to all ration cardholders as a Diwali gift. If that was not enough, according to a media report, this quota has still not reached the depots. There is a possibility that it would reach the cardholders only after Diwali.

The reason behind this backlash is not only that 100-gram sugar is too trivial to be called a gift or relief, especially amid a pandemic when common people, especially those falling in middle and lower-income groups, are faced with unemployment and economic crisis.

While the people were hoping for relief from their elected government, inflation was on the rise. Currently, prices of food items including vegetables and other essential commodities have also witnessed a huge increase. Further, cut in subsidy on electricity, hike in bus fare, increase in property tax, rise in diesel and petrol prices etc. have put additional burden on the commoners. 

Then there were other issues like relaxation in garbage collection fee for the period of lockdown. Sadly, the public did not get any relief even in garbage bills despite staging protests. 

Meanwhile, Ministers made news for spending tax money on buying luxury vehicles and VIP numbers. 

Oppositions, Congress and CPI (M) have also targeted the government over its failure to provide any considerable relief to the people when it’s most needed. As per oppositions, the current government has no control over the market or inflation.

Chauhan also raised the issue of thousands of vacant posts of doctors, para-medical staff, nurses etc. at medical facilities across the state. He said that of the total 1000 posts of lab technicians, 700 were still vacant. He said that the government did not prepare for a community spread despite having a time of eight months during the lockdowns. It was due to this lackadaisical attitude of the government that currently IGMC and DDU hospitals have run out of space in isolation wards, he said.

He also said that, in an all-party meeting convened on March 21, CPI(M) had given the government 12 recommendations to effectively deal with the situation. The party had suggested that thousands of vacant posts should be filled at the earliest, all government buildings construction of which were completed should be prepared to accommodate COVID-19 patients. Similarly, at least four blocks of the under-construction building of IGMC should also be equipped with facilities to accommodate patients, the party had suggested. 

On November 8, 2020, the state unit of Mahila Congress staged a protest over a huge increase in prices of food items. They wore garlands of potatoes and onions and marched from the party headquarter to the Office of Deputy Commissioner, Shimla. Women alleged that the people have received no relief despite such a huge crisis. Instead, the current government is encouraging hoarding of essentials.

The opposition also said that the government has increased the rate of cereals provided through the public distribution system. This increase is Rs 5 for cereals and Rs. 9 for mustard oil. Vegetable prices have gone beyond Rs 50 during the festival season. It also said that the registration fees of vehicles have also been increased.

Sanjay Chauhan is of the view that to provide relief, the government should deposit at least Rs 7500 in the accounts of consumers and provide them with 10 kg ration per person for free.

He also said that recently the government has hiked the charges for electricity and installation of meters. The government has now withdrawn its notification restricting schools to charge only tuition fee and allowed them to charge full fees, including those pending for the period of lockdown, he said. This decision has come as a huge financial burden for parents and is causing mental harassment. 

The policies of the current government are only benefiting corporates, while other sections like labourers/daily wagers, small scale industries and businesses, shopkeepers, farmers are faced with financial crisis and unemployment due to lockdowns imposed in view of corona pandemic, Chauhan said. 

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Exam Fees in Govt Schools Hiked Amid Pandemic, Private Schools Allowed to Charge Full Fees Relaxed During Lockdowns

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himachal pradesh - private school fees during lockdowns

Shimla-Amid the pandemic and economic slowdown, the public had hoped for relief from the government; unfortunately, they are only receiving more financial burdens in form of hikes in bus fares, cut in electricity subsidy etc. Now, the Himachal Pradesh Board of School Education (HPBOSE) has decided to implement hike in examination fees on the students of government schools.

A student of class 10 will now pay Rs 600 as examination fee instead of the previous Rs 500. For the students of class 12, this fee has been hiked to Rs 850. Read complete notification below:

Another bad news for parents came after the government, citing orders of the State High Court, allowed private schools to charge all fees which were deferred during the lockdowns. Moreover, in its previous notification, the Directorate of Higher Education had only mentioned deferring the fee, and not waiving it of. This decision has led to distress among parents because pending fees of some of the schools would go in lakhs.

Also Read: Himachal: Private Schools Only Asked to Defer Fees During Lockdown, Not to Waive Off, Thanks to Helpless Edu Minister

Private schools are not funded by the government and they depend entirely on fees to meet their expenditures, the government said.  The state government had directed the schools to not cut salaries of teachers or fire them during lockdowns. However, despite the pandemic, the state government did not consider compensating these institutes. Similarly, bus fares were also hiked instead of compensating transporters.

Earlier, the state government had yielded to the pressure from parents to relax all fees except tuition fees as the educational institutes were closed and no facilities were availed by the students.

Further, it’s pertinent to mention that the Ministers of the state government are making headlines for allegedly wasting money on buying luxuries with the public tax money. Recently, Education Minister Govind Singh Thakur remained in news for buying a luxury vehicle amid pandemic even though he already had a Fortuner. Prior to that, the IPH Department has been in news for buying not only an SUV for a XEN but also purchasing a VIP number for Rs. 1 lakh.

At the same time, huge wastage of money was seen during the commissioning of the Rohtang Tunnel on publicity to claim the credit. Large hoardings with the faces of CM Jairam Thakur and PM Narender Modi can still be seen throughout the state publicizing commissioning of the Tunnel. Money was spent on installing LEDs across the state to live telecast the event. There is distress among the people over the debate that, amid pandemic, this money could have been used to provide the public with some relief, but instead, the government seems to be insensitive enough to put personal interest first.

Earlier, the government had hiked vehicle registration fee and cut electricity subsidy to generate resources. The vehicle registration fee was increased to 7-10% of the existing 2.5-4% in June.

Feature Photo: [email protected]

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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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