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CAA and NRC – A Dissent on Grounds of Equality and Fraternity

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CAA and NRC Legal Interpretation by Advocate Deven Khanna 2

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 ReligionAnyone 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.

FRATERNITY

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.

Conclusion

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/ )

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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Himachal Pradesh: A Report on ‘Plight of Migrant Workers’ during the Lockdown & Need for Protection of their Rights

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Himachal pradesh - a report on migrant labourers during lockdown

Shimla-Poor people like migrant labourers and workers are nothing more than insects for the governments in India. The attitude of the government and its treatment of the poor workers, who had migrated to other states in search of livelihood, during the lockdown is a very clear evidence of it. What is more pathetic is the fact that that their plight remained invisible to the remaining public as mainstreamed media was being paid more by their political masters for diverting public attention from real issues to rubbish, spicy news. Our society is rotten to such an extent that public also preferred the rubbish served by the media over the bitter truth. Except for a small section of people including social activists, volunteers and non-profit-organizations actually worked to provide some relief like ration to the poor. Spare some time to go through a report on the plight of the migrant workers prepared by the Himachal Pradesh Workers Solidarity (HPWS) – a voluntary solidarity platform.

The first day of Lok Sabha’s monsoon session earlier this week saw MPs raising questions about the condition of Migrant Workers during the lockdown. The response of the Labour Minister that no data on migrant deaths for the period was available has drawn much flak. Additionally, no data on return of migrant workers was available for many states including Himachal Pradesh.

The issue of invisibilisation of migrant workers in a state like Himachal Pradesh has now been raised in a report, highlighting the impacts of the ongoing crisis on this community which contributes significantly to the state economy. Himachal Pradesh Workers Solidarity (HPWS) – a voluntary solidarity platform formed in April 2020, in its report, describes the havoc that a sudden, un- facilitated and unplanned national lockdown announced in response to the COVID19 pandemic six months ago had on the interstate migrant workers stranded in Himachal. HPWS ran a helpline during the period, provided assistance in accessing ration and other relief, travel to home states, through administrative coordination, registrations, and information dissemination etc.

Himachal, in the context of migration, is different from neighbouring Uttarakhand, where the rate of migration out of state is higher, whereas in Himachal the rate of in-migration is slightly higher than out-migration.

Gagandeep, a journalist based in Karsog and part of HPWS, elaborates,

“Post the decade of 1980 -90, expansion of industrial activities in the Shivalik hill region, multi-level infrastructure and development projects, growing local interests in horticulture, and cash crop farming alongside tourism-dependent economy made Himachal an emerging centre for in-migration.”

Today, workers from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Nepal, Uttarakhand, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, and Kashmir constitute a large chunk of the migrant population in Himachal. Most of them are from Scheduled Caste, OBC, STs and minority communities. Difficult work areas and geography, insecure and unsafe living conditions, along with payment and other labour law violations, makes the situation even more difficult for them in mountain state like Himachal.

While the 2011 Census suggests that Himachal had approximately 3.10 lakhs migrant workers, this figure seems to be severely under-estimated due to lack of registration (under the Inter-State Workmen Act 1979), non-maintenance of data by State Labour Department and non-publication of all statistics of Census. The lack of data further worsened the pandemic crisis and impacted relief facilitation.

In response to the issues, the focus of the State was limited to distributing ration but ration alone was not enough for survival and sustenance. Ritika Thakur, another member of HPWS elaborates,

“Having some cash in hand was an urgent need to access gas cylinders, milk, medicines and other essential things like phone recharge, so that workers can at least call for support. Most of the people who contacted HPWS”, she adds, “had not been paid their wages and their savings had died out in payment of room rents and ration as loans and debts kept on piling up.”

Many migrant labourers complained about the interrogatory, apathetic and discriminatory attitude of the officials when they were called for ration support. Seeing no transport facility forthcoming, many workers were forced to walk back home on foot. When caught at borders they were put into quarantine centres forced to return or were left with no choice but to escape on foot.

“The online registration mechanism was completely inaccessible for workers and for weeks there was no response to registrations”,

according to Sukhdev Vishwapremi, a social activist and member of HPWS.

The first ‘shramik train’ ran as late as May 22, 2020.

“The government, meanwhile, allowed private bus operators to run on exorbitant prices,”

he adds.

Many workers were pushed to take loans or sell property/artefacts to be able to return home through these buses while 5000 HRTC buses remained standing in bus stands.

“The fact that the Central government shifted the burden of facilitating transport on the states without any significant co-ordination and clarity made matters worse, aided by lack of coordination and communication between nodal officers, both between Himachal and other states and within Himachal”,

Vishwapremi emphasized further.

According to the information shared by an officer from Himachal Pradesh Government (SDMA), 94,819 migrants had gone out from Himachal to various states of the country by June 23, 2020. As per the information received from SDMA under RTI, 14 shramik trains ferried around 13,183 people out of the state.

Himshi Singh from HPWS reminds, “more than 80% of the migrants took the road on their own expense in which the government merely provided e-passes for private transportation, and the number of people who walked on foot is not yet known.”

Adding further she remarks,

“It’s tragic that in the midst of this crisis, FIRs were registered against reporters who did stories on migrant worker’s condition and on the other hand no action was taken against fake news or media who communalised the issue leading to violence on minority communities like the migrant workers from Kashmir”.

The report highlights how Himachal was one of the 12 states who made major dilutions in labour laws in favour of companies and ‘ease of doing business’.

Almost five months have passed living with this epidemic and even as the success and failure of the lockdown are debated- the economy is falling in doldrums and our governments seem inconsistent and directionless. As per the estimate by ILO, 400 million informal workers in India will fall to critical levels of poverty than ever before- a situation that demands urgent cognizance, state accountability and a responsible approach.

In this regard, HPWS in this report has made the following recommendations for the State:

  1. Release in the public domain all the information about relief/support provided to migrant workers
  2. A joint task force be set to bring out a comprehensive report on the conditions and needs of migrant labourers in the state within 6 months
  3. Provide universal Access to Ration, Economic and other Relief Facilities
  4. Housing facilities for Migrant workers who have been living in Himachal and hostel facilities for seasonal labour
  5. Housing facilities for Migrant workers who have been living in Himachal and hostel facilities for  seasonal labour
  6. Compliance of SC/HC orders-setting up helpdesk/grievance redressal centres at Panchayat, Block, Tehsil  and District levels and conducting employment and skill-based survey of the migrant workers who have returned from other states
  7. Dilution in labour laws be withdrawn and all changes scrapped and strengthening the time-bound  ‘Grievance Redressal’ system and Labour Courts Mandate the registration of all migrant labourers working in the state under ISWMA 1979

HPWS will be submitting the report to various state and central agencies for further advocacy and hopes that the HP Government will take adequate measures to protect the interests of the migrant worker communities in the state.

Read Complete Report

Feature Photo: Sumit Mahar, Volunteer HPWS

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Amid Surge in COVID-19 Cases in Himachal, Speculation of Complete Lockdown Gains Momentum

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Himachal Pradesh Lockdown from August 1st speculations

Shimla-The number of COVID-19 cases is rising at an alarming rate in Himachal Pradesh as for the past five consecutive days, the state had been reporting nearly 100 cases per day. With Monday’s 95 new cases, the tally  for the state jumped to 2270. The number of active cases has crossed the 1000 mark to reach 1025 on Monday. So far, 1216 patients have recovered while 12 of them succumbed to COVID-19 infection.

Among Monday’s cases, Sirmaur district reported the highest 31 cases from Govindgarh (mohalla) locality in Nahan. Complete lockdown of two days was imposed in this area but the spurt in cases continues. Fifteen new cases were reported from Baddi and Parwanoo in Solan district while remaining cases were reported from Bilaspur (11), Mandi (10), Kangra (16), Shimla (5), Una (2), Hamirpur (1), and Chamba (3).

In Shimla, five family members of a policeman, who had tested positive a couple of days ago, also tested positive.

HP Health Department’s COVID-19 Bulletin July 27, 2020 (9PM)

himachal pradesh demand of lockdown amid surge in covid-19

Some leaders of the ruling party (BJP) continue to invite criticism for behaving irresponsibly. The government itself is not learning any lesson from the situation in Govindgarh- a hot spot where the outbreak was triggered due to a marriage ceremony.

On Monday, the opposition Congress filed a police complaint against three persons including a BJP leader for violating rules by roaming around and meeting a large number of people instead of placing themselves under home-quarantine. The opposition said that samples of these persons were taken after they showed symptoms of the COVID-19 infection. Still, these persons kept roaming around after giving samples. The opposition has also alleged a discrimination was seen in initiating legal action for violations of social distancing norms. In Spiti, hundreds of tribal women were booked for staging protest against Minister Ram Lal Markanda for not adhering to the resolution passed by the locals regarding mandatory quarantine for all including the residents of the district. Cases have been filed against the opposition Congress too for violating these norms during recent protests. 

Earlier, a leader from Mandi had introduced the coronavirus in Chief Minister’s office and the State secretariat and infected about two dozen of his contacts including the Advocate General and his family. The leader reportedly visited the IGMC, Shimla, State High Court and other offices.

Now, another ex-MLA from Nadaun and the Vice-Chairman, HRTC, was reported to have met several party workers and even attending an event as the chief guest. Vijay Agnihotri reportedly continued shopping, roaming around, and meeting people after giving a sample. Reportedly, he also attended a marriage ceremony. The district administration would now have a task to trace all his contacts.

At the sametime, the Congress was also seen disregarding the social distancing norms during their recent protests against the hike in bus fare.

Laxity in Organization of and Checking Gathering in Govt Events

While the state government has issued guidelines for attending funerals and marriages, there is hardly any seriousness when it comes to organizing government or the party events. The ‘havan’ organized in Shimla where hundreds of people had gathered and several party leaders including Chief Minister Jairam Thakur had visited it. The event had invited criticism as the Chief Minister and workers of BJP Mahila Morcha were seen disregarding every social distancing norm. 

An employee of HP University also tested positive recently. A few days prior to the confirmation of this case, an event was organized at the varsity on the occasion of the Foundation Day a large number of people including media persons were present.  

Amid such a sharp increase in cases, instead of being so lax, the government is supposed to prohibit any such gathering or at least issue guidelines regarding the maximum number of persons allowed to attend such events/functions.

Solan district where the total COVID-19 cases have reached 553 has begun to witness a shortage of health staff.  The BBN area is the worst hit and has reported about 80 percent of the total cases in Solan. According to a media report, there are only 10 doctors at the CHC at Nalagarh and six at the Civil hospital, Baddi. There are only 28 nurses.

Amid this panic, the public, especially from Shimla district has been suggesting the imposition of a lockdown and questioning the government over still keeping the border open for tourists. To make thing even worse, there are instances where people violated quarantine rules after their samples were taken or were not monitored properly. In Mandi district’s Bagsaid market, a person had opened his meat shop giving a sample. It was after the arrival of his report that the shop was closed. 

Further, the online opinion poll of the State Government inviting public opinion over the imposition of a complete lockdown in the state has led to speculations of a possible lockdown from August 1st.  The matter regarding a lockdown is expected to be taken up in the Cabinet meeting to be held on July 30. The public is confused and preparing to stock up ration/essentials or planning to leave for villages. Several readers have also been writing to Himachal Watcher to inquire about the possibility of imposition of a complete lockdown.  

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First Open for Tourism, Then Train Staff, HP Govt Goes Topsy Turvy

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Himachal pradesh CM jairam thakur on hotel staff training

Shimla- In the last week, the Himachal state government has taken decisions that could have a long-lasting impact on citizens without consulting or even informing all stakeholders.

First, it came out with guidelines for tourism that did not have any inputs from the tourism industry. Second, it decided to open the state for tourism without consulting hotel and travel industry or keeping village pradhans in the loop.Six days after the decision to allow tourist activity and opening State borders for tourists, the state government of HP has decided to train people employed with the industry.

“Online training for the Hospitality sector would also be held in wake of COVID-19. About 10,000 candidates would be provided one-day training on hygiene and sanitation procedures. Three weeks training on basic essential of a tourist guide communication skill etc. would be provided to about four hundred candidates,”

said Chief Minister Jairam Thakur in a review meeting with Tourism Industry officials on 8th July. It’s surprising that the Government did not find the time to either have this ‘1 day training’ program ready or train the staff of hotels and restaurants before throwing open state borders for tourists. The government gave no time to the hotel industry to understand, prepare and implement directions given in the issued SOPs.

Major Hotel Associations have already decided to keep hotels closed at least till September and  Village Pradhans have also refused to allow tourists into their jurisdiction. The Chief Minister said that the State Government is following the lead of states such as Uttarakhand, Rajasthan, Goa, Kerala etc. where the Governments have decided to open the State for tourists.

To enter Himachal Pradesh, tourists have to meet three conditions, a valid booking for at least five days, a COVID-19 test report from an Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) certified laboratory not older than 72 hours and their vehicle should have a sanitisation certificate.

About 600 tourists have already entered Kangra district. Police arrested a couple in Kangra district who managed to enter the State by furnishing a fake COVID-19 negative report.

“A case was registered at Damtal police station against a couple who entered HP from Bhadroya barrier based on fake COVID Negative test report. Legal action is being initiated against them for cheating, fraud & forgery. They are currently lodged in an institutional quarantine facility at Parour,”

SP, Kangra, Vimukt Ranjan, said confirming the report. In another case in Kullu, five tourists, who managed to enter the State and reach Bajaura barrier in Kullu, were detained for not carrying required documents. A total of 12 tourists have been allowed in to Kullu district after they met the three conditions needed for tourists.

According to Kullu district police, about 70 tourists from Punjab, Haryana, Chandigarh, Rajasthan, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh etc. were sent back for not fulfilling conditions prescribed by the State Government. Tourists who should be sent back for a lack of required documents and fulfilling conditions given in the SOPs issued by the State Government are able to cross barriers at borders, like Parwanoo and Swarghat.

Police manning barricades are also frontline staff who are at risk.

We have provided police who are manning the barricades with N95 masks, raincoats that will serve a double purpose for rain and COVID protection and long gloves, policemen over the age of 50 years and those with existing conditions are not deployed at barricades,

said DSP, Kullu, Priyank Gupta.

While the majority of the hospitality industry players, (which is worst hit by the loss of business), is against opening the State for tourism, there are some, especially those who have leased hotels and taken loans who want to open for tourism. However, until the state government takes steps to add healthcare facilities and make more dedicated COVID hospital wards especially in rural areas, large scale tourism could endanger locals.

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