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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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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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