Shimla- In the past few days, there has been unrest in the country over two actions of the parliament i.e firstly, due to introduction of a law called Citizen Amendment Act (CAA), which deals with granting of citizenship to refugees, and secondly, due to the declaration that India will soon have a register of citizens (NRC) where all citizens will have to prove their citizenship with documentary evidence.
About 60 petitions already stand filed in the Supreme Court challenging the (CAA) law. This is the first time in the history of the nation that religion has been considered as a determining factor for grant of privileges in a state enactment. The concern of the people is whether there exists a threat to fundamental values of “fraternity”, “equality”, and “secularism” upon which this nation is built upon. The question is “Whether Something which is not allowed to be done directly is being done indirectly i.e exclusion based on religion in the grant of citizenship”.
Another decision of the Government, the “NRC (National Register of Citizen)” is being sought to be imposed nationwide. This exercise has cost public funds from between 1200 Cr to 1600 Cr in Assam already. It has also led to 40 lakh people being declared stateless by the Government in the first instance, just in Assam. This exercise was, however, erroneously done, and on re-checking, the Courts found that the number was 19 lakh. There was an error of 20 lakh “Human Beings”, who stood declared stateless.
The number of deportation affected by this entire exercise of NRC in Assam is negligible. This begs the question, what is the need for conducting such an expensive and unreliable process and whether the present decisions of parliament are even necessary. Most importantly, if Acts themselves at all are permissible from the perspective of constitutionality, humanity and ethical standards.
Citizen Amendment Act (CAA)
The Law as it Was Before The Amendment:
The law before the amendment essentially said:
If you are in India and you are a non-citizen, without relevant papers, then you are an “illegal immigrant” and, in that case, you have no right be in the country and you are liable to be subjected to be detained and ultimately deported.
An exception to the above rule was;
If one could show that he was a person who was in India, and had come to India due to legitimate fear of being persecuted on any ground in the home country, then he would be eligible for a long term visa. The idea was that if someone is a refugee fearing persecution, then he can stay in India on long term visa basis and the case would be evaluated on ‘case by case basis’.
Notably and rightly so, “religion” had no role to play in the unamended law whatsoever.
The New Law
The 2019 amendment changes the above provision/ position. It creates classes of people who would be entitled to immunity. These classes have been made on the bases of “Religion and Nationality”.
The amendment distinguishes persecuted people who have been living in the country from, on or before, December 31, 2014. It puts them into two categories and says that; one category who are of a particular religion and nationality would be entitled to benefit in “grant of Indian citizenship” and other sets of people who belong to certain “Religion and Nationality”, would be ineligible for immunity in “grant of citizenship”.
The Act also reduces the requirement of residence in India for citizenship by naturalisation from 11 years to five years for these particular communities.
Classes of People Who Stand Excluded under Section 2 (B) of CAA 2019 are:
1. Based on Religion–Anyone who is not a Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis, and Christians. The exclusion of Muslims, Atheists or any other religion is apparent.
2. Based on Nationality – a classification based on country, by restricting the benefit of acquiring citizenship through naturalisation to minority immigrants only from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
In other words, it says that for certain classes of people there is no immunity from being deemed illegal immigrants, and these classes of people can be denied citizenship and coupled with NRC they can even be put in detention centres or deported to their home country.
Due to such grave consequences, a closer examination of this classification made by the State warrants scrupulous scrutiny.
Violation of Equality
In the new law, the distinction is drawn between “persecuted people living within India” like refugees from before 2014. Amongst these persecuted people, one set is given benefit by the state and the other set is not. The distinction between persecuted people has been drawn just based on religion and nationality. In a secular country, religion cannot become the basis of granting or denying privileges to any person, be it citizen or a non-citizen. This idea goes against the mandate of “Fraternity”, “Equality” and “ Secularism” hence violates the basic structure along with various other constitutional provisions.
It is a settled position/principle of law that whenever there is an exclusion based on classification then;
a. There must be a yardstick to differentiate between those included in and excluded from the group, and
b. That yardstick must itself be reasonable.
Where a legislation discriminates based on an “intrinsic and core trait” of an individual, which in the present case is religion, it violates the “Right to Equal Protection from Laws”. This protection is available to non-citizens settled in India also. Classification based on religion does not form a reasonable classification based on an intelligible differentia.
Therefore, the yardstick is reasonable only if it is not based on an “intrinsic and core trait” of an individual such as religion or sex, this is a constitutional limitation placed on the power of the State.
The determining principle for granting citizenship can never be religion, the only relevant factor was ‘persecution’, as it was in the unamended law.
Citizenship can be granted on the grounds of birth, descent, persecution, and naturalisation alone. Bringing religion as a criterion for granting citizenship cuts through the guarantees of Fraternity, Equality, and Secularism which form the basic structure of our constitution.
For example, if you have 10 people living in India as refugees from the past 40 years, all of them have been persecuted. Now you want to save them; you can choose to save all of them or none. However, if you chose to save few and not save the others, then those few who are excluded cannot be excluded purely on grounds of their religion, there has to be some other basis of making this choice. In the old law, it was just persecution. A secular state is bound by principles of secularism and cannot make decisions based on the identity of religion.
It is a capricious and unconstitutional law supported by impermissible sense of purpose. Few important legal positions are;
1. It is incorrect to say that the Act only applies to non-citizens and that Indians need not worry about it. Even though CAA does not at present impact Indian citizens, it impacts human beings who are living in India, who are being treated unequally and the State is acting against the fundamental fabrics of our constitution in handing out such treatment.
If you are a Hindu who came from Pakistan 50 years ago, you get immunity from being an illegal immigrant but if you are a similarly situated Ahamadia or Sufi or Atheist from Pakistan/ Afghanistan/Bangladesh, you don’t get immunity. Such a law cannot be passed by a secular nation.
2. It is incorrect to say that law is inclusive and seeks to benefit immigrants. On the contrary, the irrationality of exclusion is apparent from the fact that now, if a person is suffering from the wrong type of persecution, he won’t get immunity. Persecution in itself is not enough as it earlier was when the old law was in force. Now a determination of citizenship grant is made dependent upon a fact-finding probe into an individual’s religious beliefs.
A human being who has been persecuted have been divided unreasonably, arbitrarily into impermissible categories (religion), hence benefit is being denied in violation of Article 14.
3. The amendment arbitrarily pics up the three nations without any rationale. If you are a persecuted person living in India and you belong to the privileged group of countries, only then you get this immunity and if you don’t belong to these three countries, then you don’t get this immunity. These three countries are not the only neighbouring countries where people have been subjected to violence and religious persecution, for example, Tamils And Rohingyas, or Buddhists from Tibet. There is a ‘pick and choose’ method without having any determining basis or underlying rationale in selecting these three countries. Religious persecution has happened in other countries around us and there are people settled in India, from other countries, who are being excluded from this benefit. This action of exclusion based on nationality is manifestly arbitrary as there is no basis for choosing these three particular countries.
4. The inclusion of a few religions and nationalities is a welfare measure, but the problem is that persons who are equally entitled to get this immunity are being denied of this protection. This offends the equality principle and is discriminatory.
5. It is an incorrect argument to say that Policy matter cannot be tested upon the constitution and cannot be struck down on being arbitrary. The most fundamental principle of equality is that every person in India is entitled to equal protection of laws. Equal protection of law allows the govt to draw certain classifications, which must be reasonable, non-arbitrary and with a defined purpose.
If the purpose of this act is to save people from persecution then it cannot draw these distinctions. And if the purpose of the act is to save only certain religions from persecution, then the purpose itself becomes discriminatory, being only on grounds of religion. On this ground alone, the policy can be struck down.
Is a Law/Policy Undermining Fraternity Constitutionally Permissible?
A law can be struck down if it violates the basic structure of the constitution. One of the basic features of the Constitution along with “Equality” is “Fraternity” which is mentioned in its preamble. Fraternity is a prime value from where other principles like secularism take root. It is the first time in the history of the country that a law has been passed where the “determining principle” of classification of human beings is based on their “religion” alone. This has naturally caused unrest in the country, but among the protests, the voices of “unity of religions” and “brotherhood” are being raised. The voices counter a “Law” which on the face of it, is being perceived to be against the unity of the nation and drawn on communal grounds. As mentioned earlier, the law cannot solely be based on religion, as that would violate the equality principle and Article 14. Besides, this law also offends the principle of fraternity.
In a country such as India, with several disruptive forces, such as religion, caste and language, the idea of fraternity is imperative for ensuring “unity of the nation”, through a shared feeling of a common brotherhood.
According to various decisions of the courts this value has been understood to be of prime importance, though not many precedents exist. None the less, there are few which have given the meaning of this principle and have applied it for circumventing State’s power.
Looking at the issue raised in the present case, this principle can be expounded by the Apex court, as the heart of this problem lies in the values of “fraternity and brotherhood” amongst human beings.
According to the jurisprudential understanding, a fraternal bond is one that does not relate to the shared use of goods but rather a shared feeling that is intrinsic to the existence and functioning of the agents themselves. Any law which undermines or poses a threat to fraternity should outrightly be struck down as the other two great values of “liberty and equality” become illusory in the absence of the fundamental value of fraternity.
Drawing the relation between these three fundamental values, it is said that;
a) Liberty without fraternity, for instance, would bestow upon individuals unlimited powers to pursue individual aspirations, without regard to community sentiments and considerations.
b) Equality without fraternity is characterised as ‘barbaric’ equality, as individuals would have no consideration for the standing of other disadvantaged persons.
In light of this, it becomes imperative to ask that;
a) How have the courts interpreted the rights granted based on fraternity?
b) Can a law be struck down as it offends the “guaranteed commitment to the fraternity” in our Constitution?
c) Have the Courts directed the State to frame policies keeping these principles and constitutional limitations in mind?
The answers to the above questions can be found in the decisions of the Hon’ble Supreme Court. A Couple of important ones are discussed below;
In S.R. Bommai v. Union of India, amongst several conclusions the Court arrived at, it declared that the principle of secularism was an essential feature of the basic structure of the Constitution. In arriving at that conclusion, the Court employed the principle of fraternity in a variety of contexts to assert that the idea of fraternity is a precursor to the attainment of secularism. The Court explained that the inclusion of secular ideals in constitutional provisions was not a product of mere chance but was consciously deliberated upon by the framers in response to the religious foundations of Pakistan. In substantiating this claim, the Court stated that India was historically a country where religious tolerance and a culture of fraternity existed, and the inclusion of secular provisions was accordingly a natural one.
The Court also established that “secularism is the bastion to build fraternity”, and therefore asserted that secular practice and thinking between diverse religious groups, would aid in the fraternal relations between those communities. The outcome of such religious tolerance would have a double impact on fraternity: it would ensure both the unity of the nation through peaceful interaction and the dignity of each citizen.
The Court held that the Constitution strives towards the promotion of secular ideals that would ensure fraternal relations which is the ultimate goal of the framers.
In the Nandini Sundar Case the Courts employed the idea of fraternity in three distinct fashions:
a. As a buffer to unchecked state power;
b. As a mechanism to promote more inclusive policy by the State and finally
c. To reinforce the Centre’s responsibility of upholding human rights in a federal structure.
The governmental policies that disempower humans based on religion are against the constitutional vision. The constitution mandates that power must vest in the State for the welfare of all and not few. The constitutional vision of welfare must be achieved, according to the promotion of fraternity.
The judges in Nandani Sunder case further added that when state power is not exercised responsibly, then there is an inevitable breach of Articles 14 and 21. In using fraternity in such a manner, the Court has elevated the idea of fraternity to a constitutional principle and not merely a noble declaration. In drawing a clear link between unchecked state power and Articles 14 and 21, the Court has created a nexus between the threat to fraternity and a consequent breach of fundamental rights.
The Court also employed the principle of fraternity to judicially review the policy of the State, it stated that it was the responsibility of the Government to ensure the security and integrity of the nation by means which were within the four corners of the Constitution.
The Court in the issue at hand can certainly adjudicate based on the principles mentioned in the above two cases and further expound it. The Courts must preserve constitutional morality which here is an idea of a “unified nation”, where a culture of fraternity flourishes. Hence any policy of the Government which gives rise to “disaffection and dissatisfaction” from its citizens and is a threat to the unity and secular ethos is liable to be struck down on this ground alone.
NRC National Register of Citizens
Assam is a border state and is suffering from the problem of immigration. In the 70s and 80s, the immigration problem led to a strong movement in Assam, which ended with “Assam Accord”. The part of the agreement between Assam and Indian union was the preparation of NRC, which essentially was an exercise of identifying “citizen of India in Assam” and rest who were “non-citizens”.
What we have seen in the last five years is that this NRC process has led to widespread exclusion and disenfranchisement. This is because the NRC procedure relies on documents, the documentary evidence showing that you are a citizen of India.
In a country like India with widespread illiteracy and poverty, this is a very difficult task. The most vulnerable people will be up for exploitation and harassment.
In Assam, the experience shows that 19 lakh people have been left stranded as ‘stateless non-citizens,’ as they have no documents. Amount of more than 1200 crores have been spent on this exercise with negligible deportation. More worrisome is the fact that 20 lakh people in Assam were found to be wrongly excluded by the Supreme Court in this exercise.
Can NRC go National as the Home Minister Has Suggested?
Data collected till now highlights three major issues which have come in the implementation of NRC in Assam, these are;
1. The most marginalised suffer the most and
2. The women suffer more than men due to insufficient documentation
3. A negligible amount of people are deported, and the law does not even serve its purpose efficiently even after consuming lots of time and public money.
Hence, if data shows that these two oppressed groups are the most affected by such an exercise and there has been no benefit achieved, then implementing the same in the rest of the country is illogical.
If you combine CAA and NRC, what you get is that if you are a non-Muslim, who has been left out of NRC, then you still have a possible path of citizenship from CAA. A class of people gets automatic immunity based on religion and nationality. If you are a Muslim, atheist, etc., you are completely ruled out even if you belong to these countries. Ultimately, you are subjected to deportation, or you are put in detention camps. It’s relevant to point out here that the condition of detention camps is terrible and inhumane and is a separate issue in itself.
CAA read alone is discriminatory as it discriminates between persecuted people and divides them in an impermissible category on arbitrary grounds.
The amendment to citizenship Act has brought about disaffection, dissatisfaction and fear in a class of people and has caused unrest in the country. There is internet shutdown (which amounts to the curtailment of the right to speech and expression) in various parts of the country and Section 144 stands imposed in few states. We have an exercise like NRC which wrongly excluded 20 lakh, people, from being a citizen. Now, this is being proposed for the whole country, in the coming days. Worryingly, this might lead to the biggest statelessness crisis of the world causing immense human suffering.
A class is being discriminated based on religion, by state action. The law is arbitrarily neglecting certain communities which is against the Fraternal and Secular values of our country.
The role of the courts as the bastion of fundamental values of the nation is about to be tested. In such times, our commitment to “fundamental duty” and the true values of our country i.e brotherhood and unity and non-violent protests are also under test.
(The post was first published in https://lawumbrella.wordpress.com/ )
PIL Filed in HP High Court Re-Ignites Quest for Recognizing Pahari (Himachali) as Hill State’s Official Language
Shimla- November 10, 2021, Himachal Pradesh High Court on Monday passed an order concerning a public interest litigation (PIL) seeking to recognize Pahari (Himachali) as an official language of the state. The petition also sought effective steps on the part of the government to preserve and promote the Pahari language in the State as its culture and language give it a distinct identity.
The Public Interest Litigation was filed by Arsh Dhanotia with a prayer that the state be directed to declare Pahari (Himachali) as one of the official languages in the State of Himachal Pradesh in any script and also promote further research towards a long-term formal Pahari (Himachali) nuclear language structure and nuclear Tankri script.
Bhawani Pratap Singh Kutlahria, the advocate for the petitioner, argued in the court that the State Government be directed to promote Pahari (Himachali) and other local languages as the medium of instruction in primary and middle-level schools as per the New Education Policy, 2020. On behalf of the petitioner, he also prayed the court to direct the state government to include Pahari (Himachali) language as a separate category for the 2021 Census and simultaneously undertake an awareness campaign to create awareness amongst the masses, especially the youth of the State who speak Pahari (Himachali), to get it marked as their mother tongue in the upcoming Census.
A bench of Chief Justice Mohammad Rafiq and Justice Sabina while disposing off the PIL stated,
“The direction as has been prayed for, cannot be issued to the State Government until and unless it is established on record that the Pahari (Himachali) language has its own script and that a common Pahari dialect is spoken throughout the State of Himachal Pradesh. We, however, set the petitioner at liberty to approach the Department of Language Art & Culture to the Government of Himachal Pradesh with his demand for undertaking research to promote a common Pahari (Himachali) nuclear language structure and nuclear Tankri script. If the petitioner approaches the respondents-State through its Additional Chief Secretary (Language Art & Culture) to the Government of Himachal Pradesh) for the prayer made in the Civil Writ Public Interest Litigation, it would be for the said authority to consider the same in accordance with the law.”
Additionally, the petition had emphasised that Sanskrit, which is the second official language of the state, had only 936 speakers according to the 2011 census and Pahari (Himachali) dialect chain which is spoken by more than 40 lakh people was being neglected and has not been made an official language even after having so many speakers.
The petition also highlighted works of Former Chief Minister Late YS Parmar and Former Education Minister Late Narain Chand Parashar towards the promotion of the Pahari (Himachali) language.
What’s Pahari (Himachali) Language, How Many Districts It Covers
It is to be noted that according to the petitioner, Pahari (Himachali) is a combined term used for the Western Pahari dialect chain spoken in Himachal Pradesh and majorly includes Kangri, Mandeali, Chambeali, Kulvi, Mahasu Pahari and Sirmauri. According to him ever since the creation of Himachal Pradesh, there has been a demand for recognition of Pahari (Himachali) under the Eighth Schedule of the Indian Constitution and it is also officially listed with 37 more languages as a language which is in significant demand to be included in the scheduled languages category.
In his plea, he also stated that the Himachal Pradesh Vidhan Sabha in 1970 and 2010 have also passed resolutions concerning the promotion and development of Pahari (Himachali).
Himachal’s Snow Covered Area Has Decreased, Poses Big Threat to State Economy’s Lifelines: Report
Shimla-The area under snow cover in Himachal Pradesh has declined by 18.5% according to a recent report published by State Centre on Climate Change (SCCC) and Space Application Center (ISRO) Ahmedabad. The report revealed this decreasing trend for the five major river basins in the State.
As the report points out, the high altitude regions of Himachal Pradesh receive precipitation mainly in the form of snow during the winter season. One-third of the geographical area of the state is covered by a thick blanket of snow during the winter season. Rivers like Chenab, Beas, Parvati, Baspa, Spiti, Ravi, Sutlej and its tributaries flowing through Himachal are dependent on snowfall in winter. These rivers mainly feed into the Indus water system and a decline at this rate rings a death knell for water and also food security for millions of people from Himachal to Kashmir, the plains of Punjab, the food bowl of the country.
Using images and data received from satellites, the report states, that the winter precipitation was mapped in all the basins from October 2020 to May 2021 (a period of two years). The findings indicate that there has been an average decrease of 8.92 percent in Chenab basin, 18.54 percent in Beas basin, 23.16 percent in Ravi basin, 23.49 percent in Sutlej basin compared to last year. The ice covered area of Chenab basin was 7154.11 sq km in 2019-20, which has come down to 6515.91 sq km in 2020-21. Similarly, Beas basin was reduced from 2457.68 to 2002.03 square kilometer, Ravi basin from 2108.13 square kilometer to 1619.82 square kilometer and Sutlej from 11823.1 square kilometer to 9045 square kilometers. Overall, the snow covered area was reduced from 23542 square kilometer to 19183 square kilometer in the entire Himachal.
Sutlej Basin covers 45 per cent of the total geographical area of Himachal and it is the longest river of the state. It flows for around 320 kms here, passing through Lahaul and Spiti, Kinnaur, Shimla, Kullu, Mandi, Solan and Bilaspur districts, along its course. The above study shows that the maximum reduction in snow cover has occurred in the Sutlej basin. An area of 4359 square kilometers under snow cover has decreased for the whole state, of which more than half of the Sutlej Basin.
Just two years ago another study had indicated that more than half of glaciers in Sutlej Basin are set to vanish by 2050. Yet another study also showed that the Sutlej basin has the highest 562 number of glacial lakes. These lakes stand the risk of sudden outbursts, which then causes flash floods downstream as the valley has already experienced. So, while the crisis that is unfolding, be it deglaciation, lake formation or reduction in area under snow cover, it seems that the Sutlej river basin is more vulnerable to these changes.
Prakash Bhandari, an environmental researcher and activist and member of Himdhara Collective expressing his concern states that the situation in the Sutlej river basin is certainly indicative of a serious climate emergency and it is critical to look into the drivers of this both local and global.
“The Sutlej basin catchment is the largest and so the changes visible here are more significant. Many factors have worked together to create this crisis which should be studied closely. There is no doubt that global warming is contributing to these changes. But the local conditions also play a role in reducing or increasing its impact”, he says.
The upper reaches of the Sutlej Valley, especially areas like Kinnaur are geologically fragile, with sharp gradients and loose soil strata. Vegetation is in a very small area so the proneness to erosion. We have seen the catastrophic impacts of flashfloods and landslides over the last decade and a half, where crores worth of property has been damaged. This year saw a spate of landslides where lives were lost. “In such a sensitive and also strategically important area, changes in the landscape will have far reaching and irreversible impacts. More construction activities will lead to more deforestation, more erosion”.
Construction of dams has been rampant in the Sutlej valley, a phenomena that started post independence and continues today. If all of the planned dams are built the Sutlej will be cho-a-cloc with more then 150, large and small projects. At the bottom of the valley in Bilaspur is the Bhakra Dam, built almost 6 decades ago, which has a size of 168 sq km and a storage capacity of 9.340 cubic km. Is. This is followed by the Kol Dam which extends for 42 km up to Sunni, which has a total storage capacity of 90 million cubic metres. Nathpa Jhakri Project which is 27.394 kms. is long. When a dam is built, a huge amount of water is stored. The debris of many villages, trees etc. also gets absorbed inside the dam. When water is stagnant, it receives heat from the Sun to form mist in the surrounding area by evaporation and simultaneously generates methane gas. The experience of the lake formed by the Kol dam at Tattapani in Mandi district shows that the area is experiencing heavy haze which was not there earlier.
“In the 30s and 40s, Shikari Devi and Kamrunag used to have snow on the peaks for about 6 months, which now could barely stop for only 2 months. The air route distance of Shikari Devi and Kamrunag is only 26 to 30 kms from Tattapani lake. At the same time, their distance is not much from the cement factories of Darlaghat, Sundernagar”, the elders in the area say. “Today, fog is prevalent and this has also made the area warmer”.
Due to the warming of the weather due to the clouds formed from the mist, the snow has started melting quickly. Apart from this the local crop patterns are affected. Post the 1990s, the Sutlej became a site for run of the river hydroelectric projects using extensive underground tunneling. This involves massive use of explosives for blasting through the mountains. Of the 23,000 MW worth of projects to be constructed in Himachal more than 10,000, a third are from this valley alone. Kinnaur continues to be a hydel powerhouse with 10 run of the river projects in progress and 30 more to be set up including two mega projects of 1500 MW and 1000 MW each. This paints a scary picture.
Interactive Sutlej River-Basin Map indicate Hydropower Station location
It is not just the hydro-electric dams but unplanned tourism and other development activities like mining, cement plants, road expansion and mindless construction across the high Himalayan regions have also add to the shift in local weather patterns, land use changes and thus the ecological crisis. But the reason why we should put the limelight on hydropower is that this is being pushed as “Green Energy”, in the name of climate change mitigation. As opposed to other forms of generating power, hydropower projects are said to cause lesser carbon emissions, which is why there has been a global push to shift to renewable resources. But the climate emergency in the Himalayas has put a question mark on ‘water’ as a renewable resource.
The question then arises that with all this data indicating a steady decline in river discharge and snow cover have our planners and policy makers not considered what will happen to these projects? Will they be able to generate the power they propose to? The people of Himalaya have to wake up to this wastage of public resources. Scarce funds should be diverted to better planning for securing local livelihoods by protecting the forest ecosystems and water sources for the future.
Feature Images: unsplash/@raimondklavins
Himachal: Warnings of Delta Plus Virulence Fall on Deaf Ears, No Restriction on Visitors from Affected States
Shimla-Yesterday, the Centre government directed the state governments to take immediate measure in wake of the spread of more infectious Delta Plus variant. As the Delta Plus variant is posing a threat of the third wave, the states were told to take steps like preventing crowds, increase testing, more focus on surveillance, contact tracing and put boosting vaccine coverage on a priority basis. Following it, Himachal Pradesh Government might have announced an alert over Delta plus variant, but there wasn’t any follow up on instructions passed by scientists and health experts to take strict restrictive measures ahead of the impending third wave.
To make it worse, high rank officials and political leaders were seen flouting Covid-19 SOPs on several occasion, which sent wrong messages to the masses. The pictures and videos showing flouting of Covid appropriate behavior by Chief Minister Jairam Thakur and Directorial General of Police, Sanjay Kundu, alongwith other staff for Anupam Kher is the most recent to mention. A group photograph and video of the same were widely circulated on social media and invited huge criticism from the people.
So far, the state has not reported any case of the Delta Plus variant. But the neighboring states – Punjab, Haryana, and Jammu & Kashmir – reported their first cases yesterday. This puts the boarding areas, like in Una district, at a higher risk. Chief Secretary to HP Government, Anil Khachi, yesterday said samples have been sent for genome sequencing.
Despite repeated warnings of Delta plus variant (B.1.617.2.1.), Himachal Pradesh has thrown its borders open to all and lifted all restrictions for inter-state travel in just one go. From June 23 onwards, the state government removed the condition for registering on the e-pass portal for visitors intending to enter the state. In the Cabinet meeting held on June 22, 201, the government first decided that e-pass restrictions would be removed from July 1, but later it changed the decision and instead implemented it immediately.
This haphazard decision is said to have come under huge pressure from the hospitality industry – the worst-hit sector, leading to financial crisis and mass unemployment among its stakeholders. Related associations had been approaching Chief Minister Jairam Thakur with their pleas to provide relief, but mostly faced disappointment. The stakeholders say the state government didn’t provide any significant relief, which is making the survival of the industry difficult.
Also, stakeholder of the industry, especially hoteliers, had been demanding the removal of restrictions and conditions on the entry of tourists to Himachal so that they could fetch the remaining peak tourist season.
With its inability to offer relief, the HP Government took the chance to waive off restrictions in a haste.
At the same time, the state government has decided to conduct offline examinations for the undergraduate classes starting from July. A section of the students had been condemning the HP government for scheduling exams without vaccinating students. Some student bodies had been asking the government as to why online classes were possible but not online exams.
The state government also waived off restrictions on timings for the opening of markets/shops.
As scientists and health experts warn of the virulence of the new variant and with neighboring states already on alert after reporting cases of the new variant, the HP government hasn’t even mentioned any intention to at least put a check on the visitor from the states where cases of Delta Plus are being reported. Carrying an RT-PCR negative report for visitors from such states/cities would have been a wiser step.
Officially, the state is on alert, but no measures have been announced to check the entry and spread of the variant into the state. The state government does speak of preparing for the anticipated third wave, but there is hardly any long-term preventive strategy. The Covid appropriate behavior is hard to adopt when markets and tourist places are crowded with visitors.
Why Delta Plus is a Big Concern
The World Health Organization (WHO) has labelled the Delta variant as ‘Variant of Concern’.
The Centre and scientific/medical institutes in India also agree with that Delta Plus as a variant of concern and could be the cause of impending third wave. Last Tuesday, based on the findings of INSACOG, the Union Health Ministry had alerted and advised Maharashtra, Kerala and Madhya Pradesh regarding the Delta Plus variant of COVID19.
INSACOG had warned that the Delta Plus variant has increased transmissibility, stronger binding to receptors of lung cells, potential reduction in monoclonal antibody response.
“Delta variant is more resistant to medication, treatment and vaccination. Therefore, people who have been vaccinated can still be affected by this variant and can go on to get a clinical illness, Archana Dhawan Bajaj, director, Nurture IVF, told a national English Daily.
“Neutralising antibodies against this variant post-vaccination seem to be nearly five times lower in people who have already been vaccinated than the other variants,” she said.
Further, Dr Raman Gangakhedkar, ex-Head Scientist of Epidemiology and communicable diseases, ICMR, has also expressed concern over the reports that Delta Plus has reported pathophysiologic change and affecting different organs. Dr Raman says that it could transfer from cell to cell and would more likely produce neurological symptoms as a common manifestation.
So far India has reported 51 cases of the Delta Plus variant.
Delta Plus variant is a variant of Delta with an additional mutation -B.1.617.2.1.