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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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Kullu Bus Accident: Death Toll Reaches 44, About 35 Injured, Several Critical

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Deaths in Kullu Bus Accident in 2019


SKullu-
The bus accident in Banjar sub-division of Kullu district has entered the list of biggest tragedies in Himachal Pradesh. Per the last information received, the death toll has reached 44, and over 30 injured are undergoing treatment at Banjar Civil Hospital, Kullu Hospital, and Hosptial in Mandi’s Nerchowk.

Several injured are in critical condition and have been referred to PGI, Chandigarh. The district administration fears a possible rise in the death toll considering the critical condition of the injured.

All deceased are said to hail from about 20 villages in Kullu and Mandi.

The accident has again exposed the State government’s hollow promises to take measures to reduce road accidents. There is still no check on vehicle maintenance and overloading, leave alone appropriately placing crash barriers on cliff-side of the roads.
Causes of Kullu Bus Accident in 2019

This 42-seater bus was carrying over 75 passengers, there were passengers on the roof as well, eye-witnesses confirm. The bus had left for Gada Gushaini from Banjar on Thursday evening at about 3:45 PM. The bus had not covered more than two kms when it plunged into a 500 feet deep gorge near ‘Bheot mod’ and landed in a Khada fter scraping the mountain face.
Banjar Bus Accident in Pictures

As per a Hindi Daily, the driver was untrained and was perhaps driving a bus for the first time.

Locals, who travelled in this bus daily, told another Hindi Daily that the bus was in poor condition and often developed technical snags. According to the Daily, the driver experienced a problem in shifting gears when the bus approached the ‘Bheot mod’ and began to move backwards uncontrolled before skidding off the road.

The Superintendent of Police, Kullu, Shalini Agnihotri said, the exact cause of the accident could only be ascertained after a proper probe.

Chief Minister Jairam Thakur, who visited the hospital to meet the injured said,

The road at the spot was not in bad condition. Prima facie it looks like a case of overloading. A meeting was held today to ensure that such incidents don’t happen in future

The driver is reported to have jumped off the bus. A Daily said the driver survived and fled the spot. However, official confirmation was awaited. Hearing the sound of the accident, the locals from nearby Bhumar village rushed to the spot. As per eyewitnesses, the bodies were scattered all over the steep mountain.

Moreover, the condition of crash-barriers install was quite poor. The single-row crash barriers were not installed properly and held no chance of stopping the bus from skidding off the road.

Pictures of Kullu Bus Accident in 2019
The bus was shredded into pieces and its parts were mangled all over the hill and the stream at the bottom of the gorge. The locals had a tough-time descending the steep hill. With the help of ropes, the bodies and injured were extricated and brought up to the road. Further, the locals formed human chains to carry the injured across gushing water of the stream.

Death toll in kullu bus accident

The accident is not the first of its kind. There have been several such accidents in the past in Himachal Pradesh. On April 9, 2018, 27 people including 24 children were killed in a school bus accident in Nurpur in Kangra district. In April 2017, 45 people had died when an overloaded bus had plunged into a gorge near Nerwa in Shimla district. In 2016, 17 had died when a bus fell into Beas river in Mandi district, 25 in Rampur in 2017, 31 in July 2015 when a bus fell into the Parvati in Kullu. Before that, May 2013, 42 people were killed as a private bus plunged into Beas river.

In 2019 alone, 430 people have died in 1,168 road accidents in Himachal Pradesh by May 31. Between 2009 and 2018, over 11,000 people had died in nearly 31,000 different road accidents in the state.

Every time an accident happens, probes are ordered and government issues statements taking vows to fix black spots and implement violation of traffic rules like overloading and rash driving strictly. Further, assurances are provided to take strict action against all government officials and those responsible for the accident. After a few months, the usual business continues as the government officials go back into deep slumber. No action is ever taken against government officials responsible for negligence.

It’s no different this time too, the chief minister has ordered a Magisterial probe while the state transport minister Govind Singh Thakur has made similar promises. How and what actions will be taken remains to be seen.

It’s seen over the year that no audits are conducted to assess the need for additional bus services. The rural areas face a huge problem due to the lack of sufficient bus services, which is also responsible for overloading. There are limited buses and people are left with no choice but to board on overloaded buses to reach their destinations.

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The Regional Transport Office also has a role in such accidents because poorly maintained buses are passed easily. The Public Works Department has all the time to build a corrupt nexus with private contractors, but not to care to install much-needed crash barriers. The district administration and police hardly find time to run regular inspections to see if there is a paucity of bus services or buses are being overloaded.

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Campus Watch

Want to Participate in Sports Tournament? Pay Rs 3700: Shimla’s Private School to Students

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Auckland School Shimla making student to pay for sports tournament

Shimla-The Auckland House School, Shimla, had charged Rs. 4200 per student for a three-day picnic tour to Sadhupul organized about 10 days ago. Now, for a sports tournament in Palampur of Kangra district, the school is asking the students representing it to pay Rs 3700. It sounds absolutely absurd that instead of taking responsibility for the expenditure of the students representing it in the sports tournament, the school is asking students to pay a heavy fee for it. The school is already charging hefty annual fees from the students, but still asking for more. This is nothing more than a new way to extort money from parents. All of these allegations were labelled by the Student-Parent Association on Wednesday.

The school, however, defended itself by saying that participation in these events is not mandatory and parents are not forced in any way. Only those students who opt to participate would have to pay the said fees.

As per the parents, a sports tournament of missionary schools is being organized under the banner of Diocese of Amritsar from June 13 to 16 in Palampur. However, instead of incurring the expenditure for sending students to participate in it, the school is charging Rs 3700 from the students.

The parents alleged that to pressurize the parents, the school sends consent letters to parents just a couple of days before these events. The students are exposed to mental pressure and parents are compelled to sign these consent letters at the last moment. The other private institutions are also following the same pattern.

The parents alleged that the school is not refraining from looting students despite notifications and guidelines issued by the Directorate of Higher Education respectively on March 18, April 8, and May 4. The Association has demanded that the Director of Higher Education should take appropriate action to check this unjustified action of charging hefty amounts on the names of various events.

It’s pertinent to mention that the Association has been staging protests for the last four months against hefty, unjustified fees. They have been alleging that these schools have taken a form of mafia and has turned education into a purely profit-making business. Their protests had compelled the Directorate to issue guidelines to private schools to cut unjustified charges from fees. The Directorate had also ordered an inspection of all private schools running in all districts of the state. It was assured that necessary action would be taken after the completion of the inspection. However, no action was taken following the inspections. The Association had even alleged that schools didn’t even cooperate in inspection and did not provide details they were asked to submit by the Directorate. Moreover, the Directorate did not make findings of the inspection report public.

Some parents had also alleged that their children were made to go through mental harassment by school teachers. The children of those parents who were participating or supporting the protest were targeted individually, made to stand in class, and embarrassed.

However, the government did not intervene in any manner and let the schools enjoy all the liberties they wanted to.

The parents have again demanded that the government should form a regulatory body to check the financial exploitation of the parents by private schools. The Association has warned the government of more fierce protests in case it fails to meet the demands.

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Environment

Hydropower Projects in Himachal Not ‘Eco-Friendly, Govt Keeps People in Dark Through Biased Environment Impact Assessment Reports

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Himachal's Hydropower Projects Are not eco-friendly

Shimla- The Himachal Pradesh Government, as witnessed on several occasions, favours hydropower companies over the environmental impacts and affected people. It believes that these projects would boost the economic growth of the state and that there are hardly any environmental hazards linked to the construction of excess hydropower projects. There is a long list of pending projects that the government wants to get constructed.

In its environmental assessment reports,  the government preach that hydropower is eco-friendly. However, as a bitter reality, it does not appear to be true. There are severe environmental hazards linked to the construction of these projects, which the government is not ready to admit. As a result of this deliberate neglection, the villagers, rivers, local water sources, farming lands, local wildlife etc. are suffering. Houses of people were destroyed due to seepage of water from tunnels of hydropower projects and they are forced to evacuate. Let’s take a look at a new report compiled by an environmental group explaining why hydropower projects in the Himalayas are not eco-friendly.  

In the month of the ‘World Environment Day’, Himdhara Environment Research and Action Collective released their report titled “The Hidden Cost of Hydropower” to highlight the risks associated with hydropower construction, especially in Himalayan regions like Himachal Pradesh.  Over the last few years, increasing evidence has emerged that hydropower production may not be so ‘clean and green’ after all. This document compiles primary and secondary pieces of evidence of the impacts triggered by underground construction for the run of the river (ROR) hydropower projects highlighting the issues of environmental hazards and risks involved.

Echoing the fragility of the Himalayan region due to geological instability and climate change-related disasters like flash floods and cloud bursts, the report highlights the role of construction activities that accentuate this fragility.

 “A report of the state’s own disaster management cell says that around 10 Mega hydropower stations are located in the medium and high-risk landslide area,”

states the document.

  The report explains that the magnitude of the underground component of the civil work in hydropower projects involving blasting and dynamiting exacerbate existing vulnerabilities. These impacts are yet to be adequately studied and understood.

Visuals and testimonies of affected people from project sites in Kinnaur, Kullu and Chamba falling in the Satluj, Beas and Ravi basin collected over the years have been used to show the impacts. Case studies like that of the Parbati II, Karccham Wangtoo, Kashang and Bajoli Holi projects illustrate how landslides, drying up of springs, damages to houses, farms and forests have made difficult the lives and livelihoods of the people in the project area.

Landslide in Jhakri village of shimla due to hydropower project

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The report finds that the existing studies available on these impacts are inadequate or biased in favour of the hydropower producers, with economics as the main concern. Environment Impact Assessment reports of hydro-power projects gloss over the geological & seismic vulnerability of the project sites, with an explanation that the ‘hurdles’, ‘surprises’ and ‘incompetencies’ of the mountain geology would be handled at a later stage, if and when they occur. ‘Scientific’ linkages become difficult to establish later, and during EIAs, the concentration is to only rush through the studies to get ‘clearances’.

“They say there is no scientific evidence that the landslides are because of project activities and so we cannot claim compensation in case of cracks in the houses or damage to fields”,

according to Ramanand Negi of Urni Village located in the affected area of the Karchham Wangtoo project and now sitting on a huge landslide. 

The report also refers to the Audit reports of the Comptroller Auditor General to show how the costs of these ‘surprises’ are borne by the affected people or transferred to the public exchequer. The costs that producers have been forced to bear have led to financial losses, bad loans, and cumulatively a slump in the hydropower sector over the last few years. 

According to the report,

“The contribution of hydropower sector today to the country’s total electricity production has halved from 25% to 13% in the last decade. Where this state of hydropower industries was an opportunity to review hydropower policy and the sector’s viability, the report of Parliamentary standing committee on energy that reviewed the performance of hydro projects in 2018 turned a blind eye to environmental impacts and safety norms”.

 

Based on the committee’s recommendations the Ministry of Power issued an order in March 2019 recognizing hydropower projects with a capacity of more than 25 MW as ‘renewable’ source of energy, thus eligible for further subsidies. Himdhara’s report, however, brings out that hydro projects do not deserve the ‘green’ tag and the government should stop further subsiding the sector, especially large projects.

Water Sources drying due to hydropower projects

Water sources drying in himachal due to hydro projects

 

The report also identifies the institutional failures of the Central Water Commission, the Central Electricity Authority that are supposed to assess the Detailed Project Reports and give techno-economic clearances, monitor the progress, and reasons for the delay in projects.

This list also includes the Ministry of Environment that has blindly granted environment and forest clearances overlooking the above impacts and non-compliance; the State Directorate of Energy and State Disaster Management Authority, who have failed to fulfil their regulatory roles and ensure that there is no negligence.

The environmental group demanded that an independent scientific review of the immediate or long-term implications of construction work for hydropower development in the Himalayas should be commissioned. Citizens’ engagement, public consent mechanisms need to be strengthened, and a grievance redressal process needs to be put in place.

 

Loos of wildlife in himachal due to hydropower projects

 

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