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A Harrowing Challenge of Drug Menace in Himachal Pradesh

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drug abuse in Himachal Pradesh

Shimla- The drug menace, predominant among the younger generation, has been haunting the state of Himachal Pradesh for a while now. Inadvertently, an incipient problem of drug use has transformed into a full-blown problem. Over the past few months, minatory incidents such as the arrest of people in possession of contraband drugs became quotidian, and several mysterious deaths of students left the parents in despondency. The faces of the parents are masked with discernable worry and panic, albeit their stony silence on the issue, fails them in downplaying the issue.

If education is driving our children to indulge in drugs, in that case, it’s better not to send them to school/colleges and keep them illiterate,

said a man remorsefully, after reading news about the arrest of a college goer in possession of “Chitta”. The statement reflects the manifest distress and uneasiness among parents.

How dismal the situation is, can be fathomed from the fact that in the year 2018, so far, 151 cases have been registered under the Narcotics Act, and 204 people have been put behind the bars in connection to drug peddling. In addition, 94 kg of Charas, 3 kg of opium, 116 kg of poppy husk, 0.496 kg of ganja, 480 grams of heroin and 39135 tablets/capsules were seized in the state from April to June 2018, as per the report of the state Government submitted before the Hon’ble High Court in the month of August.

In response, the state cabinet under the Chief Minister, on 30 November 2018, decided an amendment in the Narcotics Drugs and Psychotropic Substances(Himachal Pradesh Amendment Bill) 2018, which will be moved in the upcoming winter assembly session in Dharamshala, in order to make the offense non-bailable. The opposition has welcomed the move-not surprising, as they had been making a clarion call for change in law for some time now.

Ergo, the Drug trafficking or smuggling of narcotics in the state of Himachal will become a non-bailable offense once the Narcotics Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (Himachal Pradesh Amendment Bill), 2018 is passed by the assembly in the upcoming session.

The drug menace is not only unpalatable but if it is not quelled timely, it could become inveterate, jeopardizing the prosperity and stymieing the progress of the region. Clearly, the government was left with very few options, apart from making the crime non-bailable but this step might take care of the demand side of this complex issue. In doing this, the policymakers may be overlooking the overriding concerns on the supply side: as the amendments in the law may end up punishing the drug consumers only, whereas the supplier or the producers/manufacturer (in case of Chitta) of contraband drugs may never be nabbed. And the danger is– considering the inordinate delay and pendency of cases in our courts-the miscreants, especially the youth, may never get the second chance to redeem themselves.

After all, we all make mistakes in life, but, the key is to learn from our mistakes and not repeat them.

Hitherto, we have failed to underscore the crucial factors that festered drug use and it’s peddling. Be it the permeable border, high disposable income, lack of employment opportunities, temptation to make easy money or lack of awareness about the heinous repercussion of drug menace- high-risk behaviour, HIV/Aids/Hepatitis-C, violence, child abuse, risky sexual behaviour, the stigma of social exclusion, incarceration and list is endless. There are issues which require a far greater attention of the policymakers and the government.

First and foremost, we need to identify the conduit of these contraband drug and target it indiscriminately. The various studies show that once the European countries stopped the entry of drugs from “Balkan Route-the conduit of the drug trade to Europe” their problem of drug menace was half solved. Our state should follow the same approach.

With the advent of social media, the tricks of the drug trade have also changed; most of the drug sales nowadays are done on “Dark Net”. The state needs to ensure that our intelligence and police are abreast with all the latest technological advancement to nab the big fish of the drug trade. Only then this legislation will bring the desired results, or else our effort to curb the menace may belie the desired results.

Unsolicitedly, we all should provide, whatever little information we have about the drug buccaneers and miscreants in this trade to the police. The silence of the society on social evils don’t help in overcoming them but only fester them to the worse. Embrace meliorism!

We need to fight this menace from all quarters by spreading awareness about the pitfall of drug use. From parents, teachers, students, association, legislators, police, to NGOs, each one of us has a role in this battle against drugs. We, as a society, need to understand that it’s the higher socioeconomic groups that have a greater propensity to drug use, but it’s the society as a whole that pays the price.

The society, as a whole, needs to be emphatic to those who have fallen in the trap of drug use. The state also will have to ensure drug addicts are administered proper treatment-be it in prisons or in rehabilitation centers. Such an attitude for one and all will help drug addicts in overcoming the drug problem and social stigmatization.

The state also needs to usherradical reforms in sectors like education. At present, numerous youth get disillusioned when they get rejected for a job or don’t find a job. In frustration, they feel disheartened by the system and take up drugs. Whereas the real problem is, a majority of them lack the skill set and are often unemployable. The skill set is correlated with quality of education imparted to the students. The reform in the education system should commensurate with the requirement of the modern day age. It’s sad that we have commodified the education system, which further exacerbates the problems of the society, instead of remediating it.

Our policymakers need to introspect whether they have been able to formulate the policies that promote job creation and environment that thrives on an idea of innovation and technology.In absence of both these, youth is like to become susceptible to drugs to find solace. The policymakers need to avoid this trap and make sure the policies cultivate an environment on which our society can prosper for the best, not for the worst.

A bit of lateral thinking will also help. We need to create more options for our youth to have fun and frolic. Let’s understand, if we can offer an environment full of alternative activities to our youth, it will prevent the youth from falling prey to drugs. More parks, health clubs, library, reading rooms (sadly reading habits are declining in society worldwide), playgrounds will certainly help. Our pedagogy and parents can help immensely in this, by encouraging the youth to develop different interest and hobbies. Remember the old adage: An idle brain is a devil’s workshop.

Interestingly, most of the towns in the state or villages for that matter have a painful story related to the drug menace to tell- some certainly veracious, some may be apocryphal. The imminent challenge is to overturn the predicament. In the future, the tales from the state should be about drug survivor who fought his way back to health, not about the one who languished all his life in the hope of emancipation.

We are blessed with a young population but the asset has to be preserved by creating an environment that gets the best out the youth. If we err in doing so, the same asset can easily turn into liability and spell doomsday for the state. It would be a tragedy if we allow our youth to embrace the darkness.

Let’s get our act together; it’s high time! Let’s build a bulwark in the path of slow death by presenting new avenues of life to the youth. They deserve this much, if not better.

Author: Sunny Grack

About Author: Sunny Grack is a former banker. Interested in matters on economy, globalisation ,financial market and public policy; an Economic and Management graduate. He lives in Shimla.

Disclaimer: Himachal Watcher may not necessarily share the same opinion as expressed by the author.

A former banker, interested in matters on economics, globalization, emerging markets, financial sector and public policy; Economic and Management graduate. He lives in Shimla.

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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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Himachal: Tourist Activity Allowed, Read New Rules for Entering State, Quarantine, Plying of Public Transport

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Himachal Pradesh New Rules quarantine on entering state

Shimla: What appears to be a blunder amid continuous surge in COVID-19 cases in India as well as in Himachal Pradesh, the State Government has decided to open the borders and allow movement of all people including tourists without permission or E-Pass. Restrictions on re-opening would be limited to only containment zones.

As a matter of concern, tourists with an advance booking of a minimum of five days and COVID-19 test report obtained not earlier than 72 hours from an ICMR accredited laboratory, would not be quarantined anymore and they would not need any pass to roam around.

The visitors entering the State would have to register on COVID-19 portal (https://covid19epass.hp.gov.in/) in advance. It’s the same portal which was earlier used to issue e-passes. Anyone who wants to visit Himachal from other states or abroad will have to fill their details during registration but would not require a pass/permission from the State or district administration.

Only those arriving from high-load cities would have to follow the mandatory institutional quarantine. Relaxation can be given only in the case of death, pregnancy, medical urgency, elderly people, and children below 10 years or infants. Daily and weekend commuters entering and exiting the State have been exempted from quarantine requirements. It includes industrialists, traders, raw material suppliers, factory workers, project proponents, service providers, inspecting authorities etc. Also, persons falling in these categories are exempted from home-quarantine on arrival from other states.

The residents of Himachal Pradesh exiting the State to visit other states for a short duration for medical, business or official purposes and coming back to the State within 48 hours have also been exempted from home-quarantine provided they are asymptomatic.

Further, persons visiting the State for bonafide purpose of trade, business, job, project, service purpose, marriage ceremonies, commission agents, and ‘artiyas’ can enter the state with supporting documents provided they are not arriving from high-load cities.  

The orchardist, agriculturist, contractors, project proponents etc. would have to get all hired labourers registered on the same portal. They will have to arrange for quarantine facility for all labour brought from other states. The Government has also allowed sending such labour directly to the site of work (orchards, industries, farmlands etc.) provided they follow the guidelines regarding quarantine and social distancing.

Personals of the Armed forces and Central paramilitary Forces would not need registering on the portal and will be allowed to enter by showing their official identity card.

The decision is quite surprising considering the fact that the total of COVID-19 positive cases has crossed the 1000 mark and the rate of appearance of new cases is also on the rise in the State. The State government claimed that it had requested the Centre to allow the State to regulate the entry of people in wake of the rising cases in the State. However, the State Government claimed that the Centre declined this request. Moreover, the economy of the State has been hit adversely due to the lockdown, thus, zero tourist influx.

Therefore, under pressure to resume economic activities, at the same time, the State Government has given a huge relaxation in the lockdown and social distancing measures. The Government has removed the conditions of maintaining 60 percent occupancy in the state carriage buses. Now, the buses could run with 100 percent capacity, informed a  Spokesperson of the HP Transport Department on Friday.

“This will be subject to maintaining social distancing and that no standing passenger would be allowed in the buses during the journey,”

the Spokerspoers said.

Other conditions not related to maintaining 60 percent occupancy mentioned in the Department’s notification issued on May 30, 2020, will remain the same, the Spokesperson said. However, the inter-state movement of public transport would remain prohibited. Inter-state movement of taxis is allowed after obtaining permission from the concerned Deputy Commissioner.

On the situation in the State, Chief Minister Jairam Thakur yesterday said that all is well, and the cause of surge in cases is due to people returning from other States.

“The situation in the State was quite under control. There is a sharp increase in corona patients in the State as over two lakh people from different parts of the country have been brought back to Himachal Pradesh. The people of the State need not worry as the Government is fully aware of the situation,”

Again, he compared the number of cases and fatalities in India with the rest of the world to claim that the spread is contained effectively.

“Number of death due to COVID-19 in the fifteen most developed countries with a population of 142 crore was about five lakh, whereas in India having a population of 135 crore, about 17,000 had lost life due to Corona till date,”

he said.

The State Government said that hotels and restaurants/dhabas would have to follow guidelines issued by the Department of Tourism from time to time. The restaurants and dhabas are allowed to serve food by operating only at 60 percent of their seating capacity. The HPTDC lifts in Shimla city have also been allowed to operate.

On the other hand, the hoteliers are not in favour of opening hotels due to the fear of COVID-19 spread. The Hoteliers & Restaurant Association, Shimla, had written to the State Government a couple of days ago suggesting that tourism activities in the State should not be allowed for the coming few months.

The Association in a written submission had given the following reasons to not open tourism activities (unedited):

  1. Corona cases are increasing at an alarming speed in India and a world at large. As per expert opinion, Corona pandemic will be at peak in the month of July/ Aug. 20
  2. In the summer season, we get bulk of our visitors from Punjab, Delhi, Gujrat, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu. As most of the areas in the above States are gravely infected and are in the red zone, we should not invite them to visit Himachal and put our public at risk of Corona.
  3. The railway which is the popular mode of transportation for the tourist is not operating till August 12, 2020, and airlines have also suspended their operations till July 15.
  4. As most of the Corona patients are asymptomatic, despite taking all precautions and social distancing, we will be putting the life and health of our hotel staff at grave risk, if they come in contact with them.
  5. At present, there is no vaccine available for the cure of Corona, so there is a fear psychosis amongst the population and they are concerned about their health and safety and would not like to venture out from their homes and stay in hotels.
  6. For the above reasons, we don’t expect many tourists to visit Himachal in July and August 20, It will be financially unviable to open hotels.

The Association had suggested that touristic activities in hotels may be permitted after the rainy season is over, sometime in September or October.

Himachal Pradesh is witnessing a rapid rise in COVID-19 case since the day the Government opened borders for its residents who were stranded in other States. So far they required e-pass and had to go through mandatory institutional and home-quarantine. However, now, with borders opened for all including tourists without obtaining any permission, the people of the State need to be prepared in case the outbreak gets out of control.

In such a scenario, people can’t solely rely on the Government and will have to follow social distancing rules strictly to protect themselves.

Click to Read Full Notification 

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