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Strict Stand of the HP High Court against Corruption, Senior Govt. Officers Under Scrutiny

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HP High Court Justice Surya Kant

Shimla- Taking note of the unabated mushroom growth of illegal and unauthorised construction on the National Highway especially in the areas of Solan, Kandaghat and Kasauli,  an inquiry was set up by the  High Court to ascertain if there existed any nexus between the government officials and the land mafia.

After the said inquiry, pursuant to the orders of the Court,  on 20th  March 2019, a status report was filed by the state government, which suggested  that some junior officers of Municipal Corporation, Special Area Development Authority (SADA), Municipal Council solan, and Kasauli Planning Area have been hands In glove  with the land mafia.

Taking a serious view of the matter the Hon’ble Chief Justice Surya Kant came down heavily upon the respondent state for shielding its senior officers who were actually at the helms of affairs when such blatant violations of the law took place.

Speaking through Hon’ble Justice Surya Kant,  the court gave the following directions to the state;

We are not impressed by the status reports. This National Highway is used by all high Government functionaries and the senior Authorities cannot escape their responsibility merely by passing on the buck on small level employees who are neither vested with statutory powers nor have supervisory control over the high and affluent people who are apparently involved in raising the unauthorized constructions.

He further added,

Let the Chief Secretary to the Government of Himachal Pradesh file an affidavit giving particulars of all the Officers who have held the office of Additional Chief Secretary / Principal Secretary / Secretary/Joint Secretary/ Special Secretary in the Town and Country Planning Department, Urban Development Department or as the statutory supervisory Authorities of Special Area Development Authority during the last ten years when most of these unauthorized constructions have been raised. The total tenure of each Officer be disclosed and the action, if any, taken by such Officer to prevent or demolish the unauthorized construction be also briefly described in the remarks column while giving the particulars in a tabulated form. Thereafter, this Court shall consider the desirability of asking the Officers to show cause as to why suitable action be not taken against all and one for express, implied or tacit collusion for promoting the unauthorized constructions.”

The Hon’ble chief justice also went on to direct the said authorities to identify unauthorised illegal and non-sanctioned constructions alongside the national highway and submit a list to the court. A further direction was given to not to compound even an inch of unauthorised construction, the chief added that all such constructions which would be illegal and unauthorised shall be demolished without compounding even an inch of such construction.

The court also took note of the fact that how easily the records of  Municipal Council Solan goes missing, and this excuse is conveniently offered whenever some unlawfulness or illegalities are detected. To tighten its noose around such a peculiar problem, the Hon’ble Chief Justice directed the M.C solan to reconstruct the entire record which is misplaced and submit a compliance report, he further added that action will be taken against those officers, who were incharge at the time when these records went missing

The stance of the court is applaudable and gives hope to the people of the state who are fed up with corruption in the system, it also gives hope to those officials who are working honestly and with integrity around the bad apples. Certainly, it inspires confidence in those people who have been living in the state as law abiding citizens.

Accountability comes in two dimensions: that of the government workers to elected officials; and that of the latter to the citizens who elect them. The judiciary Is the institution which keeps the elected officials as well as the government officers under check and has the duty to maintain their accountability. The primary duty of the judiciary is to see that no man thinks of himself, above the law, and at the same time has the fear of breaking the law for his or her private gains, especially when he is entrusted with public money, power and resources.

The order inspires confidence of the people in the justice system.

The case is now Listed on 6th May, 2019.

Environment

Group of Youth Try Cleaning Part of Shimla’s Jakhu Hill, Finds More Garbage Than Expected

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Trek A Tribe Cleanliness Driver in Shimla

Shimla-Every year on April 15, Himachal Day is celebrated to mark the day when Himachal Pradesh, among other 30 princely states, came into being as a centrally administered territory. Since the inception of this state, the people throughout the world have admired Himachal Pradesh owing to its tall standing mountains, forests, nature, adventurous trekking trails and the peace and serenity it offers.

However, during the last decade, this love and admiration from tourists have turned into filth and carelessness. Rivers and forests alike have been polluted by broken beer bottles, single-use plastic cups, water bottles, wrappers of crisps and biscuit. Not only do they harm the soil, but also poses a threat to the lives of animals like cows and dogs, who consume littered plastic, causing them extreme physical ailments.

The menace of littering continues despite the claims of the civic bodies as well as the government of India that Swachh Bharat has almost eradicated this ill practice.

As an initiative Trek A Tribe, a tours and travels company, organized a cleanliness drive at Shimla on April 15, 2019 to celebrate Himachal Day. Total 18 youth participated in the cleanliness campaign. As per this team, the campaign began from Sheeshe Wali Kothi and was supposed to end at Jakhu Temple. But they had to abandon their plan of going till the top since the amount of waste was much more than these youth had expected.

Just the starting point consumed over four hours of their drive. We collected 35 bags of garbage at the starting point of their drive,

the team said.

Most of the trash is the plastic left behind by youth who come to the forest to drink and eat, causing harm to the environment,

the team said.

The end solution, however, does not lay in repetitive cleanliness drives, but in the conscious awareness of the people. They should be aware enough to not leave their trash behind, it said.  

These cleanliness drives, the team said, do help in cleaning the surroundings but they do not solve the purpose if the people keep littering the same place over and again. The team said that the purpose of its cleanliness drive was also to raise awareness among the people by initiating a dialogue towards the protection of the environment. This drive urged people to raise voice against plastic pollution and to lead their lives more consciously. They need a more aware lifestyle.

The Municipal Corporation, Shimla, provided transportation and disposal facility for the garbage collected by these youth.

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Now, Himachal’s Private Schools Warn Govt of Protest, Term Ongoing Inspections Wrongful

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Himachal's Private Schools Inspection Report

Shimla-Under immense pressure from parents, who have been protesting for last one and half month, private schools in Himachal Pradesh are finally undergoing inspections from April 9, 2019.  As per reports, the committees formed by the Directorate of Higher Education, H.P., inspected dozens of schools in Shimla and took records related to fees charged during last three years, salaries of staff, number of students, facilities, qualification of teachers, expenditure on school etc. into possession.

Though the Department did not comment about these schools officially, the inspected schools of Shimla included St. Edwards, DAV Lakkar Bazaar, Dayanand Public School, Auckland House, St. Thomas, Convent of Jesus and Mary, Secret Heart Dhalli, DAV Totu, Mount Shivalik in Jubbarhatti, Rising High etc. There are over 150 private schools running in Shimla.

Internal sources from some of these schools, on the condition of anonymity, told Himachal Watcher that committees are executing directions of the Directorate strictly. The officials are not soft on the management. It has created a stir among these schools.

By issuing a notification, on April 8, 2019, the Directorate had formed committees and had asked them to file a report of private schools running in District Headquarters by April 13. However, inspections still continue and the Directorate has not received reports of all schools yet. The report of schools in subdivisions and others is expected by April 22.

As per the student-parent forum, total 1472 private schools are currently running in the State. Further course of action would be decided only after the data of all schools is available, the Director Dr Amarjeet Kumar Sharma  had told media.

Similarly, at least six teams were constituted for inspection of over 180 private schools in Kullu district. Reports from Bilaspur said there are over 80 private schools in Bilaspur and 20 percent of them had not provided data that the Directorate had sought two months ago. It is expected that now these schools would be made to comply with the orders strictly.

It’s pertinent to mention that the Directorate had asked schools to submit various data related to their fee structure, annual hikes, audit reports, funds etc. However, a large number of schools had not responded to it. Moreover, the Government appeared reluctant to take action for this non-compliance. But now the pressure from protesting parents now compelled it to take action.

Private Schools Terms Govt Inspections Wrongful

Reports from Mandi said that managements of several private schools expressed their anguish over allegations labelled by the student-parent forum. In a meeting with authorities of the Education Department, they claimed that annual fee hikes are not as high as alleged by the forum.  The schools said it’s absolutely wrong to term them as looters. Justifying annual hikes, they said that in order to provide facilities to students and to hike salaries of teachers every year, it becomes unavoidable to make hikes in school fees and funds.

Association of Private Schools in the State has submitted a memorandum to the Chief Minister and warned that they would stage a protest at the Directorate of Higher Education, Shimla, if these inspections weren’t stopped. 

The Association alleged that the government did not provide them with any aid despite fulfilling criteria of reserving 25 percent seats for poorer section of society.

The Association argued that the government’s interference in deciding fees of these schools is unwanted and wrongful as they do not receive any funds. They also argued that parents send their children to private schools willingly.

The Association asked that if the schools are not running as per the government rules, then how they obtain renewable every year. The Association termed this action as a haphazard response to the protest of the student-parent forum. 

Management or owners of these schools termed it a favor to the society to make quality education accessible to them through private institutes.

Schools Targeting, Mentally Harassing Children: Student-Parent Forum

On Friday, the forum alleged that a reputed private school based in Khalini of Shimla targeted children of those parents who had participated in the protest held on April 8.  The convener of the parents’ forum Vijender Mehra alleged that children complained to their parents that they were threatened in the classroom. The forum demands that action should be taken against this school under the Protection of Child Rights (CPCR) Act 2005.  Also, it violates rights and protections given to children under Article 39(f) of the Constitution.

 Mehra, who had been leading back-to-back protests against various schools and the Education Department, terms it a victory of the parents who came together to protest. He expects that now parents would receive some relief.

The forum is demanding that the Department should ensure solid action at the ground level.  The forum has warned of more protests if the government tried to manipulate the situation to protect private schools.

Enrolling children to private schools is a huge financial burden on parents.  Deteriorating quality of education being provided in government schools has facilitated the monopoly of private schools. The people do not trust government schools when it comes to education and the future of their children. The government’s will to improve academic standards in public schools is absent. At the same time, the government had been avoiding regulation of private institutes in the State.

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Rafale Deal – Analysis of Petitions in the Supreme Court

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Rafale Review Petition Analysis

Shimla-A three judge bench of the Supreme Court unanimously has ruled as admissible the ‘secret’ documents, containing file notes of the Defence Ministry, that had been annexed to the review petition that was filed in the case relating to the purchase of the Rafale aircraft.

The documents were released by the newspaper ‘Hindu’ and state took an objection in the Supreme Court that such documents may not be allowed , however the Hon’ble court rejected the contention of the Government and stated that admissibility of the secret documents, including a claim of privilege under Section 123 of the Evidence Act which was misplaced.


Further, the Hon’ble Chief Justice in his Judgement with respect to publication of the documents in ‘The Hindu’ newspaper, reminded us of the consistent views of the Supreme Court in upholding the freedom of the press in a long line of decisions commencing from Romesh Thapar vs. State of Madras and Brij Bhushan vs. The State of Delhi.

This means that these documents will now be treated like any other document for admission and the court will have the power to look into them. The review petition will now be heard on merits.

What does this petition alleges and what will the Hon’ble Supreme Court now be adjudicating upon;

The procedure for purchasing defence equipment is elaborately laid down in a Defence Procurement Procedure document which has been amended from time to time. However broadly from 2001 till date, the PROCEDURES in place provide the following:

  1. The Services Head Quarters have to give their requirements for the quality and quantity of the equipment that they need. This is called the Services Qualitative Requirement (SQR)
  2. Thereafter the matter goes to a larger body called the Categorisation Committee which then decides whether the equipment could purchased/ made domestically or would have to be purchased from abroad or a combination of the two.
  3. Thereafter an even higher body called the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) approves the quantity, quality and whether the equipment should be purchased/made domestically or purchased from abroad or a combination of the two. The DAC gives it’s approval called the Acceptance of Necessity.

It is only then that tenders are issued.

Facts

In 2007, after going through the above procedure tenders were issued by the Ministry of Defence for the purchase of 126 fighter aircrafts and it was specified in the Request for Proposal that 18 of these aircrafts would be purchased from abroad in a ‘fly-away’ condition and the remaining 108 would be manufactured in India in the factory of Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) with transfer of technology from the foreign vendor. Six companies had applied and after extensive trials by the Air Force two were short listed. After that the financial bids were opened and Dassault Company manufacturing the Rafale aircraft was declared the lowest tenderer and thereafter price negotiations began. These negotiations were at a very advanced stage (95% complete) by 25th march 2015.

Allegation

However within 15 days of this, the Prime Minister of India and the President of France announced a totally new deal jettisoning the virtually complete 126 aircraft deal and the Prime Minister on behalf of India agreed to purchase only 36 Rafale Aircrafts in a ‘fly-away’ condition without any transfer of technology and make in India. It later turned out that the new deal involved 50% of the value of the contract to be given as “offset contracts” to Indian companies and that the government informally told Dassault and the French government that the bulk of the offset contracts would have to be given to a company of Mr. Anil Ambani which had just been set up. When the final contract was signed after price negotiations, it transpired that the price of the aircraft had been increased to more than double to what was under consideration in the old deal of 126 aircrafts.

The Petitioners tried to file an FIR which was not registered by CBI. Ultimately, the petitioners filed the writ petition feeling aggrieved by this non-registration of FIR by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on a written complaint that was made to the CBI on the 4th of October, 2018 in relation to above-mentioned facts.

The Offences

According to the petition Offences under S. 7 and S. 13 of the Prevention of Corruption Act are made out, these have been elaborated below;

  • That high ranking public servants, unilaterally, in violation of all mandatory procedures, without obtaining any SQRs from the IAF, or any decision of the Categorisation Committee or any Acceptance of Necessity from the Defence Acquisition Council, entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with the French regarding purchase of just 36 Rafale aircrafts, all in a ‘fly away’ condition with no Transfer of Technology and no Make in India.
  • That they did so after virtually scrapping the earlier procurement process for 126 aircrafts, which had followed all due procedures, and was in accordance with the specifications of the Indian Air Force. In the process, all important strategic objectives of the earlier procurement procedure that were on the basis of institutions authorised to do so, were eschewed. Consequently, just 36 aircrafts were arbitrarily purchased, with no make in India and no Transfer of Technology against the determination of IAF Services Head Quarters, the Categorisation Committee and the Defence Acquisition Council.
  • That under the earlier deal, HAL was to be the production agent for Dassault in India and there was no scope for Mr. Ambani to be a offset partner.
  • That this act of unilaterally changing the deal by bypassing all laid down procedures, was to ensure that Mr. Ambani could be brought in as an offset partner for the purpose of obtaining for him offsets worth thousands of crores.
  • That the French government as well as the Dassault Aviation company were told that this contract of 36 ‘ready to fly’ aircraft will be only given to Dassault Aviation, if they gave the major part of the offset contracts in this deal to Mr. Anil Ambani’s company.
  • That Mr. Anil Ambani’s recently incorporated company had no credibility or even eligibility to be an offset partner for Dassault. That therefore, the thousands of crores to be received by RAL through the offset contract are substantially in the nature of commissions.
  • That the price of the aircrafts in the new deal has been increased from approximately 700 crores per aircraft to over 1600 crores per aircraft without any legitimate public interest.
  • That the facts mentioned above show two things; (a) that Indian public servants asked Dassault to give the major offset contracts in this deal to Anil Ambani’s defence company as a condition for getting the contract; & (b) that the offset contracts worth tens of thousands of crores which have been awarded to Reliance are not and cannot be considered to be legal remuneration for services actually rendered or services which could credibly be rendered by Reliance Aerostructure Limited.
  • Therefore, these offset contracts and the payments made/to be made for them are at least in large part in the nature of undue advantage/illegal gratification/commissions to be paid to the Reliance under this deal. It is clear therefore that public servants in India have abused their positions to give an undue advantage to Anil Ambani’s Reliance company as a consideration for the discharge of his function as a public servant to award the contract of purchasing 36 Rafale jets from Dassault in a ‘fly away’ condition.

The Supreme Court can now order a CBI investigation if it finds merit in the claims of the petitioners.

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