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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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Himachal’s Snow Covered Area Has Decreased, Poses Big Threat to State Economy’s Lifelines: Report

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Himachal Pradesh's Snow Covered area decreasing

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.

basin wise snow cover in himachal pradesh

Figure Source: Hindustan Times

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.

Author: Gagandeep Singh-From Himdhara (Environment Research and Action Collective)

Feature Images:  unsplash/@raimondklavins

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Himachal: Warnings of Delta Plus Virulence Fall on Deaf Ears, No Restriction on Visitors from Affected States  

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Delta plus in himachal pradesh

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 Read: Read Eight Reliefs That Himachal’s Devastated Tourism Industry Seeks from HP Govt  

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.

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Kullu Brawl: New Video Shows Farmers Expressing Discontent with CM Jairam Thakur-led Govt in Front of Union Minister

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Kullu-The Superintendent of Police, Gaurav Singh, 2013 batch IPS, and Chief Minister Jairam Thakur’s Security Personal, ASP Brijesh Sood, got into an ugly scuffle on June 23 and created an unruly situation. A verbal spat between the two officials of the HP Police led to slapping and kicking each other.

What’s humiliating for the state police department was the fact that this unwanted incident occurred on an occasion where the Chief Minister had come to the Airport to welcome a Union Minister – Nitin Gadkari.

Also Read: IPS Gaurav Singh and CM’s Security Personnel Exchange Slaps & Kicks, Video Goes Viral, Inquiry Ordered

The video has appeared on national news channels and the incident made headlines, raising question over the professionalism of the state police. This part of the entire episode, is getting more attention from the media. But a new video has emerged adding another layer to the controversy, as when Union Minister Nitin Gadkari stopped the car and got out to speak to people who were holding a banner of “Four-Lane Sangharsh Samiti” and BJP flags. It turned out, that these people were farmers, who have been affected by the four-lane project as their lands were acquired for it. These farmers allege that before coming into power, the Bharatiya Janata Party, in its election manifesto, had promised compensation four times the circle rate if elected to power. These farmers also allege that after coming to power, the government didn’t fulfil this promise that also included employment to affected youth. These aggrieved farmers say they have been raising their grievance for the last four years, but the government didn’t lend an ear. With these grievances, the farmers had come to see the Union Minister.

Gadkari’s visit has come right before the by-elections in the state. He is supposed to inaugurate and dedicate some projects during this visit. This visit was supposed to leave a positive impact. The video also shows that the farmers’ group did not create any obstruction to the convoy of the Union Minister, neither they create any ruckus. They just stood outside the Airport with banners and posters in their hands. This halt was not scheduled for Gadkari and the Chief Minister was caught off-guard.

The farmers told Gadkari all about their grievance and also alleged that Chief Minister and the Deputy Commissioner, Kullu, weren’t even ready to listen to them. To discuss the matter, there and then Gadkari called for the Chief Minister, who rushed towards the spot from his vehicle.

Watch What Happened When Gadkari Spoke to Agitating Farmers

In the video, the farmers can be heard telling the Union Minister that they are BJP supporters and workers. Later, they were also seen chanting “Jai Shri Ram” for the Union Minister. They can also be heard saying that despite their party being in power at both Centre and the State, there is no hearing. This added to the humiliation for the Chief Minister as the party supporters were not at all satisfied with him.

The video also shows the Chief Minister losing temper when the farmers repeatedly kept saying that they had been agitating for the last four years over the same grievance. He was seen swiftly turning towards farmers with a hostile gesture of warning. The farmers were heard retaliating to this gesture and saying “ Gussa to hame bhi aa rha hai Thakur sahb (we are also angry Mr Thakur)”.

At the same time, farmers expressed their gratitude towards the Union Minister for stopping the vehicle himself and attending them. “This is his (Gadkari) greatness that he saw us and bothered to listened to us,” a farmer later said while speaking to the media.

The situation put both politicians in contrast while dealing with the same situation related to the people’s grievance.

This video aptly explains why the Chief Minister and his security were annoyed with the local police for allowing people to stand outside the Airport. Though the local police was not responsible for the halt of Gadkari’s convoy, the Chief Minister’s security triggered arguments over it. This argument eventually led to one of the most shameful moments for the HP Police. An IPS slapping another police officer is hard to justify or defend, but taking into account the history of an IPS officer like Gaurav Singh, the question as to what exactly caused him to lose his temper to such an extent that he dared to slap the Chief Minister’s security personal on an occasion where the Union Minister was also present.

Also Read: Who is IPS Gaurav Singh, the Officer in News for Slapping CM Jairam’s Security Personnel

Now, as it’s a well-established fact that the 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha elections were fought with Narendra Modi as the BJP’s face, and so were the state assembly polls of Himachal Pradesh in 2017. Owing to the media and the IT cells, the very name and face of PM Narendra Modi won a majority for BJP not only in Himachal but in other states too. Therefore, the situation couldn’t get any worse for a Chief Minister who is serving his first term when the slogan “ Hamara PM Kaise Ho, Gadkari Jaisa Ho” was raised by the people.

What message this entire episode would send to the BJP High Command about Chief Minister’s capacity to contain the distress amongst its own party supporters and handle the officers? This doesn’t end here. The opposition has alleged that this incident clearly proves that the Chief Minister doesn’t have a hold on his officers, as well as, party sympathizers, especially from the farming community. The opposition is citing the current incident as an example of BJP’s anti-farmer attitude. Pertinent to mention that the current Centre government is at loggerheads with farmers who had been protesting for nearly one year against the contentious farm laws passed in 2020.

Himachal Kisan Sabha also released a statement in which it alleged that the Chief Minister was desperate to ensure that the farmers do not get to speak to the Union Minister. Further, the results of the recently held elections to the four Municipal Corporations of Himachal Pradesh – Solan, Mandi, Palampur, and Dharamshala-have already dented Jairam Thakur’s term.

Ahead of the by-polls in the state, the factionalism in the party is already a challenge for Thakur.

Last but not the least, the treatment given to bureaucrats and IPS officers by politicians which results in such ugly, unruly situations like these has also become a topic of debate.

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