Shimla-After two weeks of tragic accidents of the overloaded private bus in Banjar of Kullu district in which 46 people had died and 37 were injured, the accident of the school bus in Jhinjhari of Shimla district has yet again exposed lapses on the part of the district administration as well as the State government.
Serious questions are being raised on the working of the government and its attitude toward the safety of passengers in public and private transport. The biggest shocker was the statement of the Transport Minister he had given prior to any investigation in which he had tried to protect the owner of the private bus.
This time, three persons including two students and the driver were killed. The accident occured when the bus fell into a 500 feet gorge while the driver tried to drive through a congested spot on the road. The Bus driver, Naresh Thakur, died on the spot. Two students of the Convent of Jesus and Mary School — Manya and Mehul, both aged between 13-15 years — succumbed to their injuries later on.
The primary reason given by the locals for the accident is congestion created on the already narrow road by wrongly parked vehicles and lack of roadside safety measures like parapets or crash-barriers. In fact, the matter related to the absence of roadside safety measures had been popping up after several fatal road accidents. However, neither the previous government nor the current government considered it a priority.
If the government had attended to these demands and, at least, installed crash-barriers, this accident could have been prevented, the locals exerted.
A wave of rage erupted among the locals, who even gheraoed the Education Minister who had arrived to visit the spot of the accident. He faced severe backlash and had to flee the scene after facing enraged locals.
The locals also smashed windows of the cars parked along the roadside. Following it, they staged a protest near Khalini and blocked the Khalini-Jhinjhari road. Reportedly, media persons, too, faced protest from the locals, who pelted stones at them.
At the same time, another shocking fact has come into the light. The HRTC bus was in a dilapidated state and its insurance had also expired. As per the former Mayor of Shimla town, Sanjay Chauhan, the bus was introduced in 2008 under JNNURM and was supposed to be decommissioned about three years ago. The bus faced frequent mechanical failures, the locals alleged. The bus driver had complained a fault with the steering a couple of weeks ago.
It’s worth a reminder that after coming into power, despite a debt of Rs 49,000 crore, the state government had bought several sport utility vehicles (SUV) worth over 30 lakh each. However, public transport is left on the mercy of poorly maintained, old buses.
The Akhil Bharatiya Janwadi Mahila Samiti, in a press note released today, alleged that the locals had brought the matter of road congestion due to wrong parking to the attention of district administration about three years ago. It said, the administration was told that the road is vulnerable to accidents, and demand for installation of parapets/crash-barriers was also raised.
The locals had even undertaken a week-long campaign against roadside parking. Signatures of a large number of locals were taken to highlight the matter. The road was declared as a ‘no parking zone’ after this campaign. But this campaign could not deter people from roadside parking for more than a couple of weeks. The administration also neglected the issue and showed complete laxity on its part.
If the administration had listened to the people, the lives lost today could have been easily saved.
The locals also alleged that the administration never bothered to take in to account the rising population in the area and requirement for parking space.
Sitting MLA, Theog, Rakesh Singha, also termed it as a failure of state government. He said that the real cause of each accident needs to be ascertained but the fact remains the state government has failed to prevent repeated accidents of buses in Himachal Pradesh.
“The major cause of accidents is bad conditions of roads, worn out vehicles having crossed seven lakhs kilometers mileage, failure to provide sufficient workshop staff to undertake timely maintenance and repair of vehicles, massive shortage of drivers and conductors leading to stress conditions of the available staff to carry out the operation of the regular bus route services,”
While Mahila Samiti has demanded a compensation of not less than Rs 20 lakh to the families of the three victims who died in the accident, Sigha has also asked the government to pay compensation beyond the set paraments.
“Loss of life cannot be compensated in terms of money but the state must provide relief beyond the parameters set by it and rupees ten lacks must be the minimum that is expected of any elected government,”
The Student-Parents forum, that has been demanding implementation of various rules in private schools including the deployment of their own school buses, staged an aggressive protest at the Directorate of the Higher Education. The forum said that it is mandatory rule for every CBSE affiliated school to provide students with its own school buses, which is hardly being followed. The angry members of the forum entered the office of the Director, which was followed by heated arguments. The forum asked why the Directorate has failed to implement directions of the State High Court passed in April 2018 regarding the safety of school children.
Meanwhile, Chief Minister Jairam Thakur repeated the usual statement assuring strict action against those who were responsible for the accident. However, now the people appear to have fed up with hollow promises and actions that are taken only in papers.
The opposition Congress, who had been a failure itself (in matters related to road safety) during its tenure, also opened an attack on the current BJP government and demanded the resignation of the Transport Minister.
The continued slumber of the government suggests that loss of lives hardly rings a bell for its officials. Their actions and remedies remain confined to documents and magisterial probes, which are not made public, like the Nurpur school bus accident and the one reported in Kullu’s Banjar.
If the government is actually serious about road safety, then it should undertake an extensive campaign to ensure that all roads are protected by crash-barriers, speed regulators are made mandatory for the public and private buses, old, dilapidated buses are replaced with new once, and black spots are fixed as soon as possible.
Stray Cattle Menace in Himachal: Man Dies After Being Attacked by a Bull in Bilaspur
Bilaspur-Stray cattle population in Himachal Pradesh is increasing day by day, and along with it increasing the menace created by them. Destroying crops, causing road accidents and traffic jams, and attacking humans are included in this menace.
In such an incident, a 70-year-old man died after he was attacked by a stray bull in Baroha village of Jhanduta Sub-Division in Bilaspur district on September 8, 2019.
The man was carried to Jhanduta community health centre in an injured condition. After initial treatment, the doctor referred him to District Hospital Bilaspur where he was declared brought dead. SHO, Police Station, Jhanduta, Pritam Chand, confirmed the report. He said a case has been registered in this regard.
The deceased was identified as Ganga Ram, a resident of Baroh village.
As per the report, the victim was returning from Shiv Mandir (temple) in Baroha on Sunday evening when he was attacked by a bull standing on the roadside.
It’s not the first time that stray cattle have attacked people. About a half a dozen cases have been reported from Bilaspur where people lost their lives or sustained injuries.
Watch Hundreds of Stray Cattle Roaming on Roads in Bilaspur, Hamirpur, Mandi Districts
Other than Bilaspur, district Mandi, Hamirpur, and Kangra are also facing this menace due to the rising number of stray cattle. Road accidents have become very frequent on National Highway 21.
In a very recent case, a truck loaded with apples met an accident while trying to save a stray cow on NH 21 in Harabag, Sundernagar in Mandi district. Two people were injured in the incident. Further, Dharampur, Sarkaghat, Navahi, Balah and Nachan Assembly segments in the district are worst hit by this menace.
A couple of days ago, villagers in Bichadi sub-division of Hamirpur district had raised the issue of an alarming rise in the number of stray cattle. They had highlighted that several accidents have been reported due to hundreds of these animals roaming on the roads. The villagers also said that attacks by stray animals have become frequent and children and elderly are most vulnerable to these attacks.
Similarly, locals in Ghumarvin region of Bilaspur district had raised the issue of rising menace due to stray cattle. As per the locals, in several incidents, people were injured due to attacks by cattle roaming on roads. Dakadi Chowk, Gandhi Chowk, Bhaged Chowk, Kandror Chowk, Ghumani Chowk, Nihari Chowk, Padyalag Chowk, Dangar Chowk, Kutheda Chowk etc. were some of the places where stray cattle destroyed crops of the villagers.
Kisan Sangharsh Samiti and Jan Sangharsh Samiti say that no cow-shelters were built in panchayats despite the orders of the State High Court passed in 2015. These organizations allege that they have raised the matter several times but no action ever came from the administration.
The situation in Palampur is also similar as despite the court orders, no cow-shelters or homes for stray animals were set up. The administration and the Animal Husbandry Department express their helplessness saying they don’t have funds to provide shelters.
Worst affected is the main bazaar of Palampur where herds of cattle can be seen creating traffic troubles. Ghuggar and Lohana Aima areas are also facing safety hazards due to the rising number of stray cattle.
On the other hand, the state government, in May 2019, told the High Court that a policy is being framed for stray animals under which animal sanctuaries would be established in every district. In these sanctuaries, the government had told the court, these animals would be provided with every basic facility including animal hospitals and vets. However, no such sanctuary has come into existence so far.
Prior to 2015, in an order passed on 7-10-2014 while hearing a petition filed by the Bhartiya Govansh Rakshan Sanverdhan Parishad, HP, the court had ordered the state to make the entire road length free of stray cattle by December 31, 2014.
The court had directed the Superintending Engineers of all National Highways to ensure that no stray cattle, including cows and bulls, are found roaming on the roads. The court had further directed Executive Officers of all the Municipal Councils, Nagar Panchayats and Pradhans of the Gram Panchayats to ensure that all the roads passing through their jurisdiction are kept free from the stray cattle to ensure free and smooth flow of the traffic.
The order had further directed that all the cattle including cows in M.C. Shimla and Municipal Councils, Nagar Panchayats and Panchayats should have a tag number to make it easy to trace the owner.
Further, as per the court orders, every citizen has a right to bring to the notice the location of the Cow or stray animal suffering from any disease or injury to Government Veterinary Officer/Doctor, who can’t refuse to treat stray cattle.
In March 2018, while presenting the state budget, the current government led by Chief Minister Jairam Thakur, had even started levying one percent cess (Gau vansh vikas cess) on sale of every single bottle of liquor. He had also decided that 15 percent of the total offering made in temples would be utilized for construction of cow-shelters.
No need to say that the government have collected fat amount of funds by August 2019. However, the number of stray cattle roaming on roads continues to rise instead of decreasing.
As per the previous Congress government, the total number of stray cattle in 2015 was 31,000. For the new government, this number was 32,000 in 2018. However, as a matter of fact, the actual number is much higher, especially after the ban on beef was imposed. Now, the villagers do not sell old cows to traders but simply abandon them. After reports of mob lynching, no one takes the risk of even transporting cows to any cow-shelter.
The people themselves have a major role in creating this menace. The situation is being worsened by the government’s inaction and defiance toward court orders.
Tutikandi-Dhali Bypass (NH-5) in Tatters Again, Potholes, Dust Trouble Commuters
Shimla – Tutikandi-Dhali Bypass (NH-5), like every year, is in tatters after the monsoon. It has become a tradition or a necessary ritual for the government that the bypass must get back into miserable condition after monsoon every year.
The road was tarred in last December and then a patchwork was given right before the elections to the Lok Sabha. But the monsoon has exposed the quality of work done by the contractor. Most of the road has eroded and large potholes have appeared. The road is covered with loose gravel and dust. To make it even worse, the potholes are being covered by filling them up with soil or illegaly dumped muck. It’s making the road dustier on sunny days, and muddy when it rains.
The shops located along the bypass are suffering daily due to the unbearable amount of dust arising from the road and settling on every single thing in the shops.
“Dust settles on everything kept in the shop. I have no option but to dust anything that I sell before handing it over to consumers. Worst hit is the sale of my vegetables because dust ruins them within a couple of hours. I can’t keep sprinkling water entire day,”
said a shopkeeper who runs a shop near Phagali along the NH.
Dhabas and tea-stalls are also bearing the brunt of dusty roads.
“People don’t prefer to stand at the stall due to dust, and it is affecting my business,”
said a tea-stall owner located near New ISBT in Tutikandi.
Further, if you park your vehicle anywhere on bypass, it’ll be covered in dust within 10 minutes.
For two-wheelers, the road is becoming almost unmotorable as potholes and gravel make it unsafe to ride. At the same time, dust not only settles on clothes but also reduces visibility at several points.
The pedestrians, as well as passengers, who use bust stops daily, are also helpless against dusty conditions.
“During rains, the splashes of water from potholes troubled the pedestrians, and now the dust is making it a suffocating task to walk along the road,”
a resident of Kanlog said.
Another risk arises from the efforts of drivers to avoid potholes or eroded patches of the road and they even enter into the wrong lane to do so. It raises the risk of road accidents.
Two main reasons for the poor condition of the road are blocked rainwater drainages and sub-standard tarring work. Before the onset of the monsoon, the state government had announced that it was ready for the monsoon and necessary precautions and measures like clearing of drains have been taken, but in reality, the drains remained blocked throughout the monsoon. As a result, the rainwater eroded the road.
As far as the maintenance of the road is concerned, it’s highly unlikely that it will be carried out before March or April next year. Till then, the condition of the road would continue to deteriorate and the contractor would continue filling up potholes with soil and muck.
A Roar of a Lion- Right to free speech, Right to Dissent, Sedition and Majoritarianism
Of Roaring Lions and Squeaking Mice!
Francis Bacon had once described the judges as ‘Lions under the throne.”However decades later in the famous Second World War case of Liversidge v Anderson, where Lord Atkin delivered his powerful dissenting speech, he commented on the arguments of the lawyers and stated that this level of reasoning would have been acceptable to the Court of Kings Bench in the time of Charles I (a monarchy) but not in a democracy, sadly this reasoning was accepted by all of his brother judges. The subjective interpretation adopted by his brother judges who were then pleasing to politicians provoked a letter to Lord Atkin from Mr Justice Wintringham Stable. The letter expressed approval of Lord Atkin’s dissent, and then added:
“I venture to think the decision of the House of Lords has reduced the stature of the judiciary, with consequences that the nation will one day bitterly regret. Bacon, I think, said the judges were the Lions under the throne, but the House of Lords has reduced us to mice squeaking under a chair.“
The time is right to celebrate the courage shown by one of our very own, Justice Deepak Gupta, who has roared like a lion in times where just speaking against the ruling Governments would amount to sounding of the death knell for some. In times where we have judgments after judgments trying to bypass the constitution in novel ways so that the mighty and the powerful may not get offended (remember the dissent of Justice Chanderchud where he talks of a fraud played on the constitution and present grant of adjournments in habeas corpus petitions in SC), in times where police is more active in catching hold of people who have written something on their facebook wall or WhatsApp (under an extinct provision of Section 66A) rather than looking for rapists and murderers, in times where a lawyer if he knows the politician he becomes a judge or an advocate general, in times where dissatisfaction with the government will brand you as an anti-national, in times where freedom of speech is being attacked across the country and fight for human rights and civil liberties is undermined in every nook and corner, a sitting judge of the Supreme Court, and our very own, ‘son of the soil’ has had the spine to publically say THE TIMELESS TRUTH of our democracy.
The Hon’ble Judge expressed himself On September 7. The following are edited excerpts of his lecture.
Right to Dissent
There cannot be any democratic polity where the citizens do not have the right to think as they like, express their thoughts, have their own beliefs and faith, and worship in a manner which they feel like.
The right to freedom of opinion and the right of freedom of conscience by themselves include the extremely important right to disagree.
Thus, the right to dissent is one of the most important rights guaranteed by our Constitution. As long as a person does not break the law or encourage strife, he has a right to differ from every other citizen and those in power and propagate what he believes is his belief.
Every society has its own rules and over a period of time when people only stick to the age-old rules and conventions, society degenerates. New thinkers are born when they disagree with the well-accepted norms of society. If everybody follows the well-trodden path, no new paths will be created, no new explorations will be done and no new vistas will be found. If a person does not ask questions and does not raise issues questioning age-old systems, no new systems would develop and the horizons of the mind will not expand.
Whether Buddha, Mahavira, Jesus Christ, Prophet Mohammad, Guru Nanak Dev, Martin Luther, Kabir, Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Swami Dayanand Saraswati, Karl Marx or Mahatma Gandhi, new thoughts and religious practices would not have been established, if they had quietly submitted to the views of their forefathers and not questioned the existing religious practices, beliefs and rituals.
In a secular country, every belief does not have to be religious. Even atheists enjoy equal rights under the Constitution. Whether one is a believer, an agnostic or an atheist, one enjoys complete freedom of belief and conscience under our Constitution. There can be no impediments on the aforesaid rights except those permitted by the Constitution.
The judgment of HR Khanna, J. in A.D.M. Jabalpur case, is a shining example of a dissent which is much more valuable than the opinion of the majority. This was a judgment delivered by a fearless, incorruptible Judge. Judges are administered oath wherein they swear or affirm to perform the duties to the best of their ability without fear or favour, affection or ill will. First and foremost part of the duty is to do one’s duty without fear.
Law of Sedition
It was enacted at a time when India was ruled by a foreign imperialist colonizing power. The British brooked no opposition and did not want to listen to any criticism. Their sole aim was to deprive the people of this country of their rights including the right to express their views.
Interestingly, though sedition was an offence in the first draft of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) drafted by Lord Macaulay, somehow this did not find its way into the IPC when it was enacted in the year 1860. The IPC was amended in the year 1898 when Section 124A was introduced.
When Section 124A was first introduced, we were told that this provision was not to curb legitimate dissent but was to be used only when the writer or the speaker directly or indirectly suggested or intended to produce the use of force.
Interestingly, another reason given was that there was a Wahabi conspiracy by a man who had preached Jihad or holy war against Christians in India and therefore the need to introduce such a provision.
Though Section 124A was inserted for fear of Muslim preachers advocating Jihad or religious war, it was initially used against Hindu leaders. The first such case was of Jogendera Chunder Bose wherein in a newspaper called Bangobasi, the Editor objected to the English rulers raising the age of consent of sexual intercourse for Indian girls from 10 to 12 years.
Subsequently, the British used the law of sedition to curb any demand for independence said Gupta citing the case of Queen Empress v. Bal Gangadhar Tilak.
I would also like to refer to the Father of the Nation Mahatma Gandhi, who in this city of Ahmedabad was charged with sedition. Appearing before Sessions Judge Broomfield, Mahatma Gandhi while dealing with the word ‘disaffection’ had this to say: “Affection cannot be manufactured or regulated by law. If one has no affection for a person or system, one should be free to give the fullest expression to his disaffection, so long as he does not contemplate, promote or incite to violence.”
I think this brilliantly sums up what I want to say today that mere criticism without incitement to violence would not amount to sedition. However, the Mahatma was sentenced to undergo imprisonment for 6 years.
You cannot force people to have affection for the government and merely because people have disaffection or strongly disagree with the views of the Government or express their disagreement in strong words, no sedition is made out unless they or their words promote or incite or tend to promote or incite violence and endanger public order.
However, in present times there is no healthy discussion but only shouting and slanging matches, lamented Justice Gupta. If one does not agree with another, that person becomes an anti-nationalist.
There is no advocacy on principles and issues. There are only shouting and slanging matches. Unfortunately, the common refrain is either you agree with me or you are my enemy, or worse, an enemy of the nation, an anti-nationalist.
The constitutional validity of Section 124A has to be read in the context of Article 19 of the Constitution of India. Thus, advocating any new cause however unpopular or uncomfortable it may be to the powers that be, it must be permitted.
Sedition can arise only against a government established by law. Government is an institution, a body and not a person. Criticism of persons cannot be equated with criticism of the government….Criticism of senior functionaries may amount to defamation for which they can take action in accordance with law but this will definitely not amount to sedition or creating disharmony.
Police cannot deal with law and order problems but have time for sedition
Majoritarianism Can’t be Law
During the dark days of Emergency, an attempt was made by one party President to equate his leader with the country. I am sure that no one will ever try in future to equate a personality with this country of ours which is much bigger than any individual.
A majority government does not mean that minority voices should not be heard. Majoritarianism cannot be the law. Even the minority has the right to express its views. We must also remember that in India we follow the first past the post principle. Besides, he also stated that even Governments which come in with a huge majority do not get 50% of the votes. Therefore, though they are entitled to govern or be called as the majority, it cannot be said that they represent the voice of all the people.
The police always claim to be short of forces when questioned about the adverse law and order situation in various parts of the country. Trials in criminal cases of rape, murder and crimes falling under POCSO carry on for years on end because police officials do not have time to even depose before the courts but when it comes to sedition or Section 153A or implementing the provisions of Section 66A of the Information Technology Act (which has been declared unconstitutional), there seems to be no shortage of manpower and the police acts with great alacrity.
It is, thus, clear that there is one set of rules for the rich and the powerful and another set of rules for the ordinary citizens of the country. In a country which professes to live by rule of law, this cannot be permitted.
Thus, the law of sedition is more often abused and misused and the people who criticise those in power are arrested by police officials on the asking of those in power and even if a person may get bail the next day from the court, he has suffered the ignominy of being sent to jail. The manner in which the provisions of Section 124A are being misused, begs the question as to whether we should have a relook at it. Freedom of expression being a constitutional right must get primacy over laws of sedition. Sedition is a crime only when there is an incitement to violence or public disorder.
But the law as laid down in Kedar Nath Singh’s case regarding sedition is not being followed.
‘Right to Criticise Government’
I think our country, our Constitution and our national emblems are strong enough to stand on their own shoulders without the aid of the law of sedition. You may force or compel a person to stand while the National Anthem is being sung, but you cannot compel him within his heart to have respect for the same. How does one judge what is inside a person’s mind or in his heart?
In Chhattisgarh, a 53 years old man was arrested on charges of sedition for allegedly spreading rumours over social media about power cuts in the State. It was said that this was done to tarnish the image of the then Government running the State. The charge was absurd and again highlights the misuse of power. In Manipur, a journalist made a vituperative attack on the Chief Minister of the State and used totally unparliamentary language against the Prime Minister of the country. The language was intemperate and uncalled for but this was not a case of sedition.
Criticism of government by itself cannot amount to sedition. India is a powerful nation, loved by its citizens. We are proud to be Indians. We, however, have the right to criticise the Government. Criticism of the Government by itself cannot amount to sedition. In a country which is governed by the rule of law and which guarantees freedom of speech, expression and belief to its citizens, the misuse of the law of sedition and other similar laws is against the very spirit of freedom for which the freedom fighters fought and gave up their lives.
The shoulders of those in power who govern should be broad enough to accept criticism. Their thinking should be wide enough to accept the fact that there can be another point of view. Criticism of the policies of the government is not sedition unless there is a call for public disorder or incitement to violence. The people in power must develop thick skins. They cannot be oversensitive to people who make fun of them. In a free country, people have the right to express their views.
Everybody may not use temperate or civilised language. If intemperate, uncivilised and defamatory language is used, then the remedy is to file proceedings for defamation but not prosecute the persons for sedition or creating disharmony.
Judiciary Not Above Criticism
In fact, I welcome criticism of the judiciary because only if there is criticism, will there be an improvement. Not only should there be criticism but there must be introspection. When we introspect, we will find that many decisions taken by us need to be corrected.
Criticism of the executive, the judiciary, the bureaucracy or the Armed Forces cannot be termed sedition. In case we attempt to stifle criticism of the institutions whether it be the legislature, the executive or the judiciary or other bodies of the State, we shall become a police State instead of a democracy and this the founding fathers never expected this country to be.
Section 66A of the IT Act, which put restrictions on the freedom of expression in an online space, is still being used by the lower judiciary and the police, even after being struck down in the Shreya Singhal case.
It does not speak well of the Indian judiciary that the magistrates are unaware of the law of land, and day in and day out, we hear of magistrates granting judicial custody or police remand in relation to such offences.
The recent trends have instilled fear in people when it comes to expressing their opinions on criticising governments in power. A very important aspect of a democracy is that the citizens should have no fear of the government. They should not be scared of expressing views which may not be liked by those in power. No doubt, the views must be expressed in a civilised manner without inciting violence but a mere expression of such views cannot be a crime and should not be held against the citizens.
No doubt, the views must be expressed in a civilised manner without inciting violence but a mere expression of such views cannot be a crime and should not be held against the citizens. The world would be a much better place to live if people could express their opinions fearlessly without being scared of prosecutions or trolling on social media. It is indeed sad that one of our celebrities had to withdraw from social media because he and his family members were trolled or threatened of dire consequences.
‘Nationalism is a Great Menace’
Gurudev Rabindra Nath Tagore had a view on nationalism, which is the anti-thesis of the view which many of us have. He, in fact, had not appreciated the Satyagrah movement. He, who wrote the National Anthem also held the view that ―nationalism is a great menace. I do not agree with those views nor did eminent leaders of that time but this did not make Gurudev Rabindra Nath Tagore less an Indian, less a patriot than any of his contemporaries. Merely because a person does not agree with the Government in power or is virulently critical of the Government in power, does not make him any less a patriot than those in power. In today‘s world, if any person was to say ―nationalism is a great menaceǁ he may well be charged with sedition.
If this country is to progress not only in the field of commerce and industry but to progress in the field of human rights and be a shining example of an effective, vibrant democracy then the voice of the people can never be stifled. I can do no better than quote the words of Gurudev Rabindra Nath Tagore:
“Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high,
Where knowledge is free.
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls.
Where words come out from the depth of truth,
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection.
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary deserts and of dead habit.
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action.
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.”
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