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Supreme Court States No Substantial Progress Made in Kothkhai Custodial Death Trial, Grants Bail to EX-IGP Zaidi

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Zahur H Zaidi Granted Bail in shimla Guidya gangrape case1

Shimla-Ex-IGP Zaidi who was under custody for last 19 months has been granted Bail in Kotkhai Custodial Death by the Hon’ble Supreme Court on Friday, 5th April 2019. The order was passed by the full bench of the Hon’ble Chief Justice of India sitting with two other judges.

Importantly the reason that has weighed upon the Hon’ble court for granting bail was that the trial had not made substantial progress beyond the framing of the charge.

The Hon’ble Court stated in its order that;

  …Our attention has been drawn to the allegations against the accused- appellant and that he is in custody for the last 19 months. Though the accused-appellant is facing charge under Section 302, we are told that the trial has not made substantial progress beyond the framing of the charge. Completion of trial will take some time…

…the period of custody suffered and likely time that may be taken for completion of trial, we are of the view that the accused appellant  should be released on bail in connection with FIR No.RC SI 2017 S0009 CBI/SC-I/New Delhi, on satisfaction of the appropriate condition(s) as may be imposed by the learned trial court…

The CBI had also pleaded in the court to shift the hearing of the case from H.P High Court to Delhi High Court for expeditious disposal. The  Hon’ble Court did not adhere to this request and observed that the same would be considered after hearing all the accused.

Further CBI had also raised doubts that if the police officer was granted bail, he could influence and intimidate witnesses in the case as he was a high-rank police official. To this, the Hon’ble Court observed that this cannot be a reason to deny bail at this juncture, and if such incidence comes to light then it is always open for CBI to apply for cancellation of Bail in the competent court.

The matter is ordered to be listed after two weeks.

The reason of delay in trial with a remark that nothing substantial had been done in the case after framing of charge is a blow to the prosecution’s case

Zaidi was denied bail by the State High Court when he had approached it in January 2018. The court had said that the case of custodial killing was not a simple offence committed in violation of Section 302 of IPC. The court had reminded that custodial killing is one of the worst things that could happen in a civil society-governed by law. In the judicial system, custodial death is more serious than just murder.

After the rejection of bail, Zaidi moved to Supreme Court. The apex court had earlier granted him an interim bail of one week to attend last rituals of his mother.   

The accused was among the five persons who were arrested by the Special Investigation Team headed by Zaidi in relation to Gudiya gangrape (which was later termed as only rape by CBI) of a minor school girl in Halaila forest of Kotkhai Tehsil, Shimla district. The girl went missing on July 4, 2017, and her body was found in the Halaila forest on the morning of July 6. By 13 July, Zaidi-led SIT claimed it cracked the case and projected six accused, who were mostly labourers, as the culprits. The public, including the locals from Gudiya’s region, expressed doubts over the SIT’s investigation and demanded a CBI inquiry.  By July 18, Suraj-a Nepalese laborer-was allegedly killed in the police lock-up. The blame was put on another accused and inmate of Suraj. This alleged custodial killing led to massive and violent protest from locals. The State Government and Police faced severe criticism across the State.    

A day after Suraj was killed, the State government referred the case to CBI. After the case was handed over to the CBI, nine policemen including members of the SIT and then Superintendent of Police, Shimla, DW Negi, were arrested over custodial death and for allegedly framing innocent persons.

(The post was first published in https://lawumbrella.wordpress.com/ )

Deven Khanna is a Lawyer, practicing at High Court of Himachal Pradesh, other H.P Courts/Tribunals and the Supreme Court of India, he is an alumnus of a National Law School. For any queries related to the articles, he can be contacted at 7018469792 or at [email protected] The personal blog is at https://lawumbrella.wordpress.com/

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Lahaul-Spiti: Haughty Minister Allegedly Heckling Tribal Women Who Dared to Deny Him Entry in District Over Quarantine Violation

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Lahaul-Spiti tribal women booked

Lahaul-Spiti-Support is pouring in for the tribal women of Spiti after the local administration initiated police action against nearly 200 women for protesting against Himachal Pradesh Agriculture Minister Ram Lal Markanda for violating the local quarantine rules early in June. Locals said earlier only some specific protestors were being identified and booked. In response to this embarrassment, Markanda tried to give it a political color by alleging that oppositions had conspired this protest. So all women from each household gave a list of their names to the police identifying themselves as protestors. Following which these women were booked. 

On June 9, hundreds of representatives of Mahila Mandals apart from some youth and other residents including employees of the State Government from Spiti carried out an agitation to protest the violation of the ongoing self-imposed lockdown in the region amidst apprehensions of the spread of Corona pandemic in the region. 

The women had gathered at the gate in Kaza and did not allow Markanda and his convey of over a dozen of vehicles to enter district without following community rule regarding mandatory quarantine.

They wanted Markanda and his cavalcade to follow the rule like everyone else. Markanda did not agreed to it and had to return to Shimla following this demonstration. However, instead of respecting the decision of the locals, now he is after protestors. The ego of the haughty minister seems to be so big that the police was made to book a woman in almost every family in Kaza. This action is highly undemocratic if democratic values are considered.  He forgot that he is supposed to respect the mandate of the people who had elected him. Instead, as alleged by the women, he wants a written apology. 

More than 190 women were booked under Sections 341 (wrongful restraint), 143 (unlawful assembly) and 188 (disobedience of public order) of the IPC. These charges also include not maintaining social distancing while protesting. Markanda said he believed that the women were politically motivated, and now, as it appears, he is trying to set an example to discourage such dissent in future. 

However, as a matter of fact, Lahaul-Spiti had managed to remain COVID-19 free till June 30 – the day first two cases were reported in migrant labourers working for the BRO. Spiti has still no reported even a single case. It was due to the initiative and proactiveness of the locals who had framed their own rule regarding entry and quarantine. All residents of the region had agreed to follow the same also asked everyone to adhere to these rules.

“We have been following our COVID-19 rules as framed by our local committee, comprising members from local monasteries and community leaders, much before the state framed the rules. Our rules are applicable to all people, including our family members, who are returning to the area for the first time since the pandemic,”

Mahila Mandal President Sonam Dolma told news agency IANS.

The COVID-19 tally has crossed 1000 mark in the State but Lahaul-Spiti district is still doing far better than others with only four cases till July 2.

Instead of filing cases against them, these residents deserved to be appreciated for preventing infection entering into the district at a time when most of other districts were reporting COVID-19 cases. The display of unity and understanding of democracy by these tribal women is outstanding. Rest of the India should learn from these tribal people. 

Support Pour in For Tribal Women

These women are receiving support from other organizations and activists.

In this row, close to 20 women, representatives of various organisations, women’s groups, as well as, concerned individuals from across Himachal recently issued a joint solidarity statement in support of these women.

The statement said that the residents have highlighted that even before the imposition of the lockdown there was serious concern amongst the tribal community of Spiti about the pandemic given its remote geographical location and socio-economic vulnerabilities.

Given the tribal lifestyles and dependence on each other for their livelihoods, social distancing within the community was close to impossible. The absence of public health facilities would have meant that any spread of COVID would have unleashed a threat to the very existence of this tribal community, the representatives said in the statement issued.

The representatives said that in this scenario for the last four months, the local people, especially the Mahila Mandals, have worked relentlessly to facilitate quarantine of residents returning from outside, making masks and also guarding against people from outside the region visiting the region. The local committees had resolved that each and every person entering from outside would have to observe 15 days quarantine.

 It needs to be noted that the women were already agitated by the continued pressure of some members of the Tribal Advisory Council to bring labourers from outside to the area, the representatives said.  

“Despite being well aware of this context, the local administration instead of attempting a dialogue with the protestors has initiated police action against women who were simply asking that the local resolutions be duly followed and respected”,

said Ratan Manjari, leader of Mahila Kalyan Parishad, Kinnaur

the representatives said that the women have made it amply clear that they had no political motives and neither anything personal against the Minister. The representatives alleged that not only summons were issued selectively against some women representatives of Mahila Mandals but they are also being heckled to issue an apology and harassed by the administration daily.

The representatives alleged that some departments have also issued show-cause notices to their local women staff who participated in the protest. Apparently, cases have been registered under IPC sections 341,143 and 188.

“We condemn this harassment of the tribal women by police and the local administration. Whereas across the state legal action was initiated against those violating the lockdown, when local people made the demand that lockdown rules be followed in their area, the police has, in turn, initiated action against them. This reflects the double standards, high-handedness and patriarchal nature of the government agencies and the State. We also believe that this unjustified action of the police is to create fear amongst the local community”

 said Himshi Singh of Himdhara Collective Notably, Spiti is a schedule V area and the constitution empowers the communities for self-governance.

Further, the women of the region seem to be well aware that if there is a COVID outbreak there then they, who already bear the burden of care and nurturing work in the family and community, will be burdened even further, the representatives said.

 “It is rather unfortunate that women are expected to be present to welcome political representatives but when they have a genuine issue to raise about the actions of the same representatives they are silenced and repressed. In such a scenario how will women even be considered equal citizens of our democracy?”

said Vimla Vishwapremi of Parvatiya Mahila Adhikar Manch.

The open statement has demanded that the charges against the tribal women of Spiti be dropped and that their harassment and repression by the local administration be immediately stopped. The local administration must acknowledge and support the participation and leadership of the local tribal community, specifically the Mahila Mandals and work together to maintain the safety and security of the region, the representatives said in this joint statement.

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Viral Video: HP PWD Tarring Puddled Road in CM Jairam’s Home District

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Viral Himachal pradesh road tarring video

Mandi– There is no dearth of shocking and bewildering incidents when it comes to corrupt nexus of Departments of State Government and private contractor. The people of the State already know about the alleged ‘PPE kits purchase’ scam of the Health Department in which a higher official was arrested and suspended. Then, there is a separate alleged scam related to purchase of sanitizers at the State Secretariat in which an high rank official has been booked. In Bilaspur, district health authority had allegedly supplied raincoats to health staff instead of PPE kits. The case is being investigated by the Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau.

Also Read: Vigilance Probe Begins into Alleged Delivery of Raincoats to Health Staff Instead of PPE Kits

Today, the HP Public Works Department is in news. While, the Chief Minister Jairam Thakur claims that Himachal Pradesh has touched new heights in terms of development under his and Prime Minister Modi’s leadership, a video showing a complete waste of public tax money in CM ‘s home-district went viral on social media yesterday.  

The video showed labourers throwing tarring material onto a road-cum-pool of accumulated rainwater. The video was reportedly recorded near Bhantal in Karsog area of Mandi district. The contractor was tarring the road without soling/filling potholes. Take a look.

The road is in tatters and impassable, locals said.

It’s not new for contractors to undertake tarring work in the rain, and Himachal Watcher has reported such incidents earlier too. However, this one depicts widespread corruption in a more ugly form. 

When the video went viral on social media, the work was stopped. An official of HPPWD reached the spot and informed that this work was given to a private contractor.

In a live video on a regional Facebook page, the official can be heard saying that the work was being carried out under the supervision of an HPPWD official. The supervisor was also present at the spot. When the supervisor was asked as to why he did not stop the contractor from undertaking the tarring job amid rain, he replied that the contractor did not listen to him and continued the work despite being told to stop it.

Posted by करसोग अब-तक on Thursday, 25 June 2020

While the locals want action against erring officials and contractor, neither PWD nor the State Government has given any statement regarding this video. The chance that the contractor and responsible PWD officials would be held accountable is almost negligible, as always.  

These days, the Chief Minister, his MLAs and Cabinet Ministers are busy in organizing virtual rallies and count achievements of the BJP Government. In statements given by leaders in these rallies, everything is perfect, there is no corruption and the State has witnessed unprecedented development.

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

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Shimla- Education Minister Suresh bhardwaj helpless in front of private schools

Shimla-Private Schools in Himachal Pradesh, especially the bigger and famous ones, are in no mood to give parents relief from fee payments for their wards. In normal circumstances, it wouldn’t have been a surprise or unexpected from these schools, but relief from them was expected on humanitarian ground amid lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic. More so when even employees of private companies and businesses have taken a hit financially. They want their fees at any cost irrespective of the fact that schools are closed for over two months now. Not all private schools could be blamed here. There are small schools in other towns and rural areas who would actually find paying salaries to teachers difficult, but in Shimla town, there are bigger and more expensive schools that have enough in store for such times.

After a backlash over failure to make private schools provide relief in fees, the State Government, Education Minister Suresh Bhardwaj, and the Department of Higher Education did announce some decisions and the Directorate issued notifications directing private schools to cut down their fees and charge only tuition fees during the lockdown.

But these schools don’t give two hoots to these orders and notifications. In fact, the Education Minister and the Department of Higher Education have no guts or willingness to regulate the fee structure of private schools. For that matter, these schools have found ways to defy court orders too.

Also Read: Is This The Best Himachal’s Education Minister Can do to Regulate Private Schools, Make Them Obey Govt Orders?

In a recent case on May 23, 2020, the Cabinet took a decision that private schools would charge only tuition fee during the period of lockdown, and only those school which are imparting online education could charge this fee. The Education Minister had also assured the implementation of this decision.

In a notification issued by the Director of Higher Education, Amarjeet Singh on May 27, 2020, the Government seems to be facilitating private schools by manipulating its own orders.

In the notification, one of the directions said,

“Other funds like building fund, maintenance fund, sports fund, computer fee, co-curricular fee etc. may be deferred during the period of lockdown.”

This fee includes annual charges, security charges, admission fee, and miscellaneous charges.

(Scroll Down to View HP Education Department’s Notification Issued on May 27, 2020)

This direction implies that the said fees are not waived off, but merely deferred. The schools can demand payment of these funds after the period of lockdown. How did the Government provide parents a relief?  There were no classes, no sports-related activities, no computer classes or any other activities in schools for the last two and half months, therefore, the schools should have been directed to waive off these charges from their bills, and not defer them.

Moving on to other directions given in the notification, the Department had stated,

“The tuition shall not be demanded and collected on a quarterly basis, and should only be collected on a monthly basis.”

First, the schools have already extracted their fees for March, April, and May by pressurizing parents to deposit fee by the end of March. At that time, the Education Minister had directed schools to not compel parents to deposit fees before March 30, but schools didn’t care and made parents pay the first installment within the given deadline. Parents don’t come out openly to speak of their distress and dictatorial attitude of these schools alleging their children would be harassed by schools for speaking up against them. This is an advantage these schools are exploiting even in times of a grieve crisis.

Another direction said,

“There shall be no increase in tuition fees and no additions of any other fee/hidden charges in tuition fees.”

Also, the Cabinet had decided that private schools would charge the same amount for tuition fee as charged in 2019.

The student-parent association on June 8, 2020, wrote a letter to the Chief Minister Jairam Thakur in which it is alleged that not only schools increased tuition fees by eight to 20 percent but also defied orders of the court passed in 2016 to adjust excess fees charged by schools in next sessions.

To defy this order, some private schools allegedly removed titles of other funds from their fee booklets and increased the tuition by three to four times.

As evidence, the student-parent association has produced receipts of fees issued by the DAV Lakkar Bazaar.

Himachal Pradesh Private School Fees during lockdown

The parents alleged that the tuition fee which was Rs 2,400 in March was increased to Rs 11,290 by May. The Government prohibited schools from making any hikes in fees or include hidden charges in the tuition fees, but the schools are least concerned about power-less Education Minister and the Director of the Department.

Himachal Watcher spoke to the Principal, DAV School, Lakkar Bazaar, to confirm whether tuition fee has been hiked or not. The principal denied hiking tuition fee and said the only monthly tuition fee was being charged in accordance with the notification.

“Someone is trying to create confusion about the fees. But we don’t have any confusion regarding it. We are charging the same amount as we had charged in 2019. Whatever was the fee, the details have been shared with the parents,”

the principal told HW.

Shimla DAV School Fee in 2020

Further, concerning the payment of salaries of the teachers during the period of lockdown, the Cabinet had decided that schools won’t be allowed to cut employee salaries, put the salaries on hold, and fire any teacher.

According to the notification of the Education Department issued on May 27,

“Private School Managements/Trusts shall neither stop payment of monthly salary nor reduce the existing total emoluments being paid to the teaching and non-teaching staff of their schools in the name of non-availability of funds and arrange the funds in case of any shortfalls from the Society/Trust running the school.”

In the letter to the Chief Minister, the association has alleged private schools of adopting immoral means to make cuts in salaries. It alleged that some schools transferred full salary to the accounts of teachers through online banking, but asked the teachers to physically appear in schools and deposit half of the amount in cash.

The notification has also barred schools from charging transportation fees and denying online classes to students even if they failed to deposit fees timely.

“No Students shall be deprived of online classes/reading material in case of inability to pay the fee because of financial crisis due to lockdown,”

the notification said.

“If any parent did not deposit the tuition fee during the lockdown period, no fine be charged and name of the students may not be struct off from the school roll,”

the notification further said.

The association also alleged that some schools are only sending assignements through Whatsapp to students and terming it as online learning/classes so that they could charge fees. 

The schools were asked to comply with these orders strictly. The schools were also warned of strict action in case of defiance of these orders. However, neither the schools are complying nor the Education Minister and the Director are in a position of taking any real action against schools for defying the orders. Apparently, the Education Minister’s warnings of action are as hollow as his assurances to the parents.

HP Education Department Notification Issued on May 27, 2020

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