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HP Health Deptt Scam: BJP Chief Bindal Resigned on “Moral Grounds” or Asked to Resign by High Command?

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Why Rajive bindal resiged

Shimla-In a time when the corona pandemic is haunting India as well as the entire world and a huge amount of budget is being allocated for health infrastructure, services, and equipment like PPE kits, ventilators etc., officials and politicians in India are as usual ensuring their cut in corruption. Are all the donations that people are making towards the PM/CM Relief Funds to fight COVID-19 safe in the hands of the current Government? No surprise that a cut from the 20 lakh crores, which the Prime Minister claims has been released as a relief for the people, would end up in the pockets of bureaucrats, politicians, and middlemen.

An example of this is Himachal Pradesh’s Health Department and politicians. Just after a week of an audio clip of an alleged deal between the Director, Health Services, Dr. Ajay Gupta and an employee and close aid of a politician appeared; Dr. Rajiv Bindal has resigned from the position of State BJP Chief. His resignation was also accepted almost immediately. He claimed that he resigned on “moral grounds” as he was hurt after the party’s name was associated with the alleged scam. He claimed that the party and the Government are clean and have no role in this alleged scam. It’s hard to digest that BJP Chief resigned even though no particular name of any political leader has been confirmed officially. The pubic and oppositions are sensing something fishy in this act of the BJP party chief.

The resignation came right after the mater reached the Office of the Prime Minister. Some sources say Bindal didn’t resign but was asked to resign on the behest of PM Office anticipating a political upheaval not only in the State but at the national level.  Five times MLA Bindal has served as health minister, remained the Speaker of State Legislative Assembly, and then given the charge to lead the party in Himachal.

It’s not the first time that Bindal had been in controversy over alleged corruption. In 2016, he was booked under several sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and Anti-Corruption Act.  He was, with some others, alleged of appointing several employees in the Solan Town Council in 1998 and 2000 by allegedly defying provisions under the Himachal Pradesh Town Service Act. Bindal was the Chairman of one of these committees. However, his cases were withdrawn in January 2019 after BJP came to power in the State.

Oppositions and public are demanding a CBI probe into all purchases made during the period of lockdown. Senior BJP leader and former Chief Minister Shanta Kumar also expressed anguish over the ongoing corruption in the health department, especially when the nation is going through turbulent times due to the pandemic.

प्रैस विज्ञप्तिभारतीय जनता पार्टी के वरिष्ठ नेता एवं हिमाचल प्रदेश के भूतपूर्व मुख्यमंत्री एवं पूर्व सांसद, शांता…

Posted by Shanta Kumar on Saturday, 23 May 2020

It’s pertinent to mention that it’s not the first such scam, irregularities were earlier reported in the purchase of sanitizers. According to the allegations, hand sanitizers were bought at a price higher than the actual price. Moreover, last year, a letter from a BJP’s leader had created a stir in which serious allegations were labelled against the minister and officials of the health department.

What Happened Earlier

Director, Health Services, Dr. Ajay Gupta was suspended after a 43-second-long audio clip leaked in the media on May 21, 2020. In the audio, two persons can be heard talking about bank accounts and transactions of Rs. 5 lakh. The charges are that the Director was allegedly asking for a bribe in purchase-related to health equipment in wake of the pandemic.

Additional Chief Secretary RD Dhiman had to hand over the case to the Vigilance department soon after the audio clip appeared.  Ordering immediate probe is something that BJP is presenting as proof of State Government and Chief Minister Jairam Thakur’s innocence.

The Director confessed that he was one of these two persons heard speaking in this clip. Later, late that night, the Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau arrested Gupta.

Then, he got admitted to the Indira Gandhi Medical Hospital complaining of poor health due to his diabetic condition. He was discharged on Monday, May 25. After his discharge from the hospital, he was produced in a court from where he was remanded to five days of police custody.

His house was raided by a Special Investigating Unit headed by IPS Shalini Agnihotri and jewelry worth Rs. 4 lakh and Rs. 28 thousand cash was ceased. Several documents, mobile phones etc. have also been ceased.

On May 25, the Vigilance team informed that the Director holds over a dozen accounts in various banks. As many as 20 ATMs and Credit cards were also ceased in the raid on his office and residence.

Then, media reports said that the entire scam is linked to some influential leader of Bharatiya Janata Party. According to a Hindi Daily, the person to whom the Director was speaking is an employee of a firm that the alleged politician is affiliated to. This firm was allotted the tender for the purchase of equipment related to COVID-19. The Daily said the Director had negotiated the deal for a bribe of Rs. 5 lakh.

The politician involved was reportedly making attempts to get an extension for the Director who was to retire on May 31. After the audio clip went viral, the politicians tried to hush it up but could not do so as the Vigilance had already arrested the director.

Not only the Director but the committee constituted for taking decisions on purchases for the Health Department has come under the scanner.

Since Gupta’s arrest, the Vigilance Department has not released any information regarding the person on the other side of the phone. No other arrest has been made so far. However, it was reported that a close aid to the politician involved was being questioned regarding the scam.

However, the public fears, investigation of this scam is likely to be botched up as influential politicians and bureaucrats are said to be linked with it. In the name of investigation, the Director or a couple of other officials would be held responsible. Still, the investigation might not reach its conclusion for years, as it happens when influential politicians of a party are involved in scams.

Environment

Govt Legitimizing and Legalizing Environmental Violations for Business by Amending EIA Rules: Activists  

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Himachal pradesh EIA Notification 2020 Amendments news

Shimla-While in statements, the politicians in power at the Centre and State Governments have been expressing concerns over environmental issues and ensuring the people that they are committed to protect and preserve the environment, the reality is contrary to it. The most recent evidence is the proposed 2020 draft amendments to the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification. With these amendments, the process of environmental assessment before granting permission to execute commercial projects, like hydropower projects in Himachal Pradesh, would be reduced to merely a formality.

Environmental activists and people’s organisations from across Himachal have written to the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) to scrap the 2020 draft amendments to the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification proposed by it.

These activists and environmental protection groups are of the opinion that the EIA Notification, first issued in 1994 under the Environment Protection Act 1986, is a critical mechanism that regulates clearances granted to all kinds of development projects and economic activities in the country. It is one of the environmental decision-making processes that makes it mandatory for project developers to not just study the socio-economic, ecological and other impacts of a proposed project but also place them in front of the affected communities for their opinions and objections, thus, ensuring the process of a free, fair and informed consent. However, this notification has been amended and read down several times in the last two decades, in favour of ‘easing the norms’ for business. The latest draft continues to move in the direction of rendering the EIA process a mere formality. 

The submission made by HP groups states,

“In the context of the already vulnerable and sensitive Himalayan region, flouting of various provisions of even the present EIA notification has heavily impacted the local ecology and livelihoods of the people. The new amendments will only legitimize and legalize these violations and this will mean irreparable damage to the Himalayan ecosystem”. 

The key objections raised are around exemptions of a variety of projects from the mandatory  Public Consultation’ process as well as the dismantling of this process itself.

“The reduction of the time prior to public hearing from 30 to 20 days is also highly objectionable. In the given 30 day period itself, the information about Public hearings does not reach all the affected areas which are often spread out widely in case of mountains with some project-affected communities residing in remote and inaccessible terrains. Here accessing information takes a long time and reducing this time to 20 days will completely exclude such people from raising their grievances and suggestions in the public consultation. This is a clear attempt to block their participation in the environmental decision-making process”

said R.S Negi of Him Lok Jagriti Manch, Kinnaur. 

 

“It is shocking that the amendments include allowing post-facto clearance, which means that the project proponent can start work and before they have obtained environmental clearance. If the basic precautionary principle on which the EIA notifications is grounded is itself not followed it can lead to a disastrous situation for the ecology and local people. In this situation who is going to be responsible for the losses? If the project proponent is not in a position to pay for losses, will the MoEF&CC take the responsibility of losses? This provision will encourage project developers to bypass the process of environmental decision making. We absolutely oppose this amendment”,

said Prakash Bhandari of Himdhara Collective.  

The 2020 draft also dilutes the guidelines for monitoring and compliance of Environment conditions.

“Already the system of monitoring is weak, the conditions lose, the pollution control board and companies non-accountable, thus, leading to widespread destruction of local ecology and impacting health, lives, and livelihoods of project-affected communities. In the case of hydropower projects, for instance, the illegal and unmonitored dumping of muck along river beds, in forests and on common lands, has damaged pastures, disrupted the flow of the rivers, and caused massive disasters when floods occur. The proposed changes will give a free reign to those profiting from extractive and polluting projects,” 

according to Kulbhushan Upmanyu of Himalaya Bachao Samiti. 

It is ironic that on one hand, the global COVID crisis has thrown up several studies showing that pandemics like COVID emerge from ecological degradation and forest loss, and on the government is pushing for policy changes which will accentuate the environmental crisis that the country is already reeling under.  

“If the MoEF&CC wants to change the environmental laws, it should carry out countrywide regional consultations”,

added Uma Mahajan of Himachal Van Adhikar Manch.

The country, especially ecologically diverse yet climate-vulnerable regions like the Himalayas need a robust and strong environmental regulatory and governance regime that makes project proponents accountable and keeps the affected communities and ecological concerns at the centre of the EIA and environmental decision-making process. 

Notably, MoEF&CC had called for citizen’s comments before May 11 but this deadline was extended upto  June 30 and now August 11 as environmentalists and concerned groups expressed outrage that calling for public inputs on this critical law amidst the COVID led lockdown was unjustified. The MoEF&CC has in this period received thousands of objections highlighting the new draft as anti-people and environment.

The demand is to scrap these proposed amendments for the sake of the environment. 

Submission Made to Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change by Activists and Organizations

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Himachal: Tourist Activity Allowed, Read New Rules for Entering State, Quarantine, Plying of Public Transport

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Himachal Pradesh New Rules quarantine on entering state

Shimla: What appears to be a blunder amid continuous surge in COVID-19 cases in India as well as in Himachal Pradesh, the State Government has decided to open the borders and allow movement of all people including tourists without permission or E-Pass. Restrictions on re-opening would be limited to only containment zones.

As a matter of concern, tourists with an advance booking of a minimum of five days and COVID-19 test report obtained not earlier than 72 hours from an ICMR accredited laboratory, would not be quarantined anymore and they would not need any pass to roam around.

The visitors entering the State would have to register on COVID-19 portal (https://covid19epass.hp.gov.in/) in advance. It’s the same portal which was earlier used to issue e-passes. Anyone who wants to visit Himachal from other states or abroad will have to fill their details during registration but would not require a pass/permission from the State or district administration.

Only those arriving from high-load cities would have to follow the mandatory institutional quarantine. Relaxation can be given only in the case of death, pregnancy, medical urgency, elderly people, and children below 10 years or infants. Daily and weekend commuters entering and exiting the State have been exempted from quarantine requirements. It includes industrialists, traders, raw material suppliers, factory workers, project proponents, service providers, inspecting authorities etc. Also, persons falling in these categories are exempted from home-quarantine on arrival from other states.

The residents of Himachal Pradesh exiting the State to visit other states for a short duration for medical, business or official purposes and coming back to the State within 48 hours have also been exempted from home-quarantine provided they are asymptomatic.

Further, persons visiting the State for bonafide purpose of trade, business, job, project, service purpose, marriage ceremonies, commission agents, and ‘artiyas’ can enter the state with supporting documents provided they are not arriving from high-load cities.  

The orchardist, agriculturist, contractors, project proponents etc. would have to get all hired labourers registered on the same portal. They will have to arrange for quarantine facility for all labour brought from other states. The Government has also allowed sending such labour directly to the site of work (orchards, industries, farmlands etc.) provided they follow the guidelines regarding quarantine and social distancing.

Personals of the Armed forces and Central paramilitary Forces would not need registering on the portal and will be allowed to enter by showing their official identity card.

The decision is quite surprising considering the fact that the total of COVID-19 positive cases has crossed the 1000 mark and the rate of appearance of new cases is also on the rise in the State. The State government claimed that it had requested the Centre to allow the State to regulate the entry of people in wake of the rising cases in the State. However, the State Government claimed that the Centre declined this request. Moreover, the economy of the State has been hit adversely due to the lockdown, thus, zero tourist influx.

Therefore, under pressure to resume economic activities, at the same time, the State Government has given a huge relaxation in the lockdown and social distancing measures. The Government has removed the conditions of maintaining 60 percent occupancy in the state carriage buses. Now, the buses could run with 100 percent capacity, informed a  Spokesperson of the HP Transport Department on Friday.

“This will be subject to maintaining social distancing and that no standing passenger would be allowed in the buses during the journey,”

the Spokerspoers said.

Other conditions not related to maintaining 60 percent occupancy mentioned in the Department’s notification issued on May 30, 2020, will remain the same, the Spokesperson said. However, the inter-state movement of public transport would remain prohibited. Inter-state movement of taxis is allowed after obtaining permission from the concerned Deputy Commissioner.

On the situation in the State, Chief Minister Jairam Thakur yesterday said that all is well, and the cause of surge in cases is due to people returning from other States.

“The situation in the State was quite under control. There is a sharp increase in corona patients in the State as over two lakh people from different parts of the country have been brought back to Himachal Pradesh. The people of the State need not worry as the Government is fully aware of the situation,”

Again, he compared the number of cases and fatalities in India with the rest of the world to claim that the spread is contained effectively.

“Number of death due to COVID-19 in the fifteen most developed countries with a population of 142 crore was about five lakh, whereas in India having a population of 135 crore, about 17,000 had lost life due to Corona till date,”

he said.

The State Government said that hotels and restaurants/dhabas would have to follow guidelines issued by the Department of Tourism from time to time. The restaurants and dhabas are allowed to serve food by operating only at 60 percent of their seating capacity. The HPTDC lifts in Shimla city have also been allowed to operate.

On the other hand, the hoteliers are not in favour of opening hotels due to the fear of COVID-19 spread. The Hoteliers & Restaurant Association, Shimla, had written to the State Government a couple of days ago suggesting that tourism activities in the State should not be allowed for the coming few months.

The Association in a written submission had given the following reasons to not open tourism activities (unedited):

  1. Corona cases are increasing at an alarming speed in India and a world at large. As per expert opinion, Corona pandemic will be at peak in the month of July/ Aug. 20
  2. In the summer season, we get bulk of our visitors from Punjab, Delhi, Gujrat, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu. As most of the areas in the above States are gravely infected and are in the red zone, we should not invite them to visit Himachal and put our public at risk of Corona.
  3. The railway which is the popular mode of transportation for the tourist is not operating till August 12, 2020, and airlines have also suspended their operations till July 15.
  4. As most of the Corona patients are asymptomatic, despite taking all precautions and social distancing, we will be putting the life and health of our hotel staff at grave risk, if they come in contact with them.
  5. At present, there is no vaccine available for the cure of Corona, so there is a fear psychosis amongst the population and they are concerned about their health and safety and would not like to venture out from their homes and stay in hotels.
  6. For the above reasons, we don’t expect many tourists to visit Himachal in July and August 20, It will be financially unviable to open hotels.

The Association had suggested that touristic activities in hotels may be permitted after the rainy season is over, sometime in September or October.

Himachal Pradesh is witnessing a rapid rise in COVID-19 case since the day the Government opened borders for its residents who were stranded in other States. So far they required e-pass and had to go through mandatory institutional and home-quarantine. However, now, with borders opened for all including tourists without obtaining any permission, the people of the State need to be prepared in case the outbreak gets out of control.

In such a scenario, people can’t solely rely on the Government and will have to follow social distancing rules strictly to protect themselves.

Click to Read Full Notification 

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

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Lahaul-Spiti tribal women booked

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

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

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

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

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

However, as a matter of fact, Lahaul-Spiti had managed to remain COVID-19 free until June 30 – the day first two cases were reported in migrant labourers working for the BRO. Spiti has still not reported even a single case. It was due to the initiative and proactiveness of the locals who had framed their own rule regarding entry and quarantine. All residents of the region had agreed to follow the same also asked everyone to adhere to these rules.

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

Mahila Mandal President Sonam Dolma told news agency IANS.

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

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

Support Pours in For Tribal Women

These women are receiving support from other organizations and activists.

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

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

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

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

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

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

said Ratan Manjari, leader of Mahila Kalyan Parishad, Kinnaur

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

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

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

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

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

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

said Vimla Vishwapremi of Parvatiya Mahila Adhikar Manch.

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

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