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HP FRMB (Amendment) Bill 2021: Raising Borrowing Limit Would Lead Himachal into Debt Trap, Will Damage Federal Structure, Says Opposition

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HP FRMB (Amendment) 2021 Bill

Shimla-Himachal Pradesh Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management (FRMB) (Amendment Bill, 2021, was passed in State Vidhan Sabha on March 18, 2021, after a heated debate between the ruling government and the opposition that was followed by a walkout.

Opposition Congress and lone legislator from CPI (M), Rakesh Singha, opposed the Bill. They alleged that the government has no planning regarding managing state’s finances and dependents upon borrowings only. 

According to the State Government, the Bill was introduced and passed to regularize excess borrowings in the year 2019-20. Previously, the state government could only borrow three percent of the gross state domestic product (GSDP), but after this amendment, this borrowing limit was raised allowing the state government to borrow upto five percent of the GSDP.

The opposition leader Mukesh Agnihotri and CPI(M) MLA Rakesh Singha insisted that it was a very delicate matter that is bound to have serious financial implications for the people of the state. They insisted that this Bill should first be sent to the Select Committee for detailed discussion before passing it.

“If the financial condition was so poor, then the state government should have mentioned in the Budget that it would generate resources through taxes,” Agnihotri said.

He said that this will go down as a black day in the history of the state. He argued that instead of fighting for its share from the Centre, the state government is covering up the fault of the Centre. He also said that the state government was already warned by the CAG in 2018 of the violations of the borrowing limits but it did not act then.

“Passing of this Bill would lead Himachal Pradesh into a debt trap and the state won’t be able to come out of it,” Rakesh Singha said.

“This Bill is an attack on the federal structure of the state,” he said.

Opposition and Singha argued that if this Bill is passed then the interest liability on the post-2022 borrowings would rise and Himachal Pradesh doesn’t have sufficient tax-based resources to repay this liability.

“When the GST was introduced then state governments and Centre government had reached an agreement that compensation at the rate of 14% would be given to the state for the 2017-22 period. The government had also imposed Central cess of various kinds, Singha said.

“However, now the states are being told to borrow as Centre had backtracked from providing the agreed compensation,” he added.

More borrowing would lead to more liabilities including interest-liability, he said, asking as to how the state plans to pay it back.

“I want to appeal that this Bill would have serious implication, therefore, send it to the Select Committee and the Cabinet for detailed debate,” he said.

There is only one solution to it, he said.

“Take your entire Cabinet to the Government of India and request it not to impose it on the State Government. Let the Central Government borrow this money,” Singha said.  The opposition leader Agnihotri also supported Singha and said the opposition legislators would support the state government in doing so.

Moving on to the second objection, Singha quoted the sixth line of the Statements of Objects and Reasons.

“In addition, the State of Himachal Pradesh received one-time receipts from the Union Government on account of its share of Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA) Funds credited in the Public Accounts, which is included in the public debt of the State,” he quoted from the Bill

He argued that the funds being given to the State for the protection of its own forests can’t be treated as a debt in the account of the State.

The Urban Development Minister Suresh Bhardwaj insisted that the Bills is introduced to regularize an anomaly caused by borrowings of the previous Congress government.

Bhardwaj tried to justify the Bill blaming then Congress government for violation of borrowing limits in the years 2012-13, 2013-14, and 2014-15. He also insisted that it was just a one-time relaxation for the year 2019-20.

Bhardwaj quoted the Bill,

“Provided that the fiscal deficit may exceed the level of 3 per cent but shall not exceed 5 per cent of the estimated Gross State Domestic Product in the Financial Year 20919- 2020.”

In 2013, State’s fiscal deficit was Rs 2978 crores – 3.6 percent, 2012 crores in 2013-14 – 4.23 percent and Rs 4200 crores in 2014-15 – 4.05 percent. The Bills is meant to regularize exceeded limits of borrowings in these years too, Bhardwaj argued.

He also said that the revenue collection of Centre under Goods Services Tax (GST) was low due to the pandemic in the said year due to which the state couldn’t get the share committed by the Centre. Bhardwaj also said that the borrowings increased in 2019-20 as funds of Rs 1600 crores received under the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA) were also counted as public debt.

He added that the Statement of Objects and Reasons clearly says “The actual receipts of Central taxes decline during 2019-20 due to which share of States also got affected.”

Following a heated argument, the Bill was passed in the absence of legislators who had walked out in protest against it. 

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Kinnaur Landslide: 14 Bodies Recovered in 30 Hours, Several Still Missing

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Kinnaur landslide rescue operation photos

Kinnaur: Landslide in Kinnaur district is unfolding as one of the biggest catastrophe in Himachal Pradesh as the of fatality count continues to rise. After 30 hours of the rescue operation, which was hampered multiple times due to shooting stones at the site, 14 dead bodies had been recovered till the suspension of the operation on Thursday evening. While 10 bodies were recovered on Wednesday, four more were exhumed from the rubble on Thursday.

As many as 15 persons were rescued and taken to Bhavanagar CHC for treatment.

The wreckage of the HP Road Transport Corporation bus was found scattered about 500 meters below the National Highway-5 in Nigulsari – the site of the massive landslide. The condition of the wreckage suggested there was little hope of survival of any passenger. The distraught relatives of the missing persons remained at the site, grieving with diminishing hope to see their family members alive as the rescue operation for today was suspended.

Kinnaur HRTC Bus wreckage

HRTC Bus Wreckage

The state of exhumed bodies added to the horror of the families, as well as, the rescuers. Some of the bodies were in such a state that their identification was next to impossible. While some bodies had their limbs cut off, one of them was found without the head.

As the rescue operation would be entering its third day on Friday, the death toll is likely to rise as the driver of the bus, who had survived the accident and was seriously injured, had estimated that 25-30 passengers were onboard when the landslide pushed it down the NH.

Further, there is still no sign of one vehicle (Bolero SUV), informed Director, State Disaster Management, Sudesh Kumar Mokhta. The exact number of people feared to be buried under the rubble was yet to be ascertained. According to the district administration, based on calls received from families, the number of missing people could be anywhere between 30-50.

Kinnaur rescue operation resumes

Meanwhile, some family members of the missing persons complained that while the rescue operation was initiated immediately from the Negulsari side, JCB machines took over five hours to reach the spot from the Chauri side. They complained that such a big delay was crucial and could have saved more lives.

It’s pertinent to mention that the HRTC bus had remained untraceable on Wednesday and the wreckage was found on the second day of the rescue operation. However, most passengers were yet to be traced.  

According to the Deputy Commandant, ITBP, Dharmender Thakur, shooting stones and sliding rubble posed a huge challenge for the rescue teams, which comprised of hundreds of personnel of NDRF, ITBP, Home-Guards, local police, and CISF. Undertaking this operation on a steep slope further created difficult circumstances for the teams. The lives of the rescuers were also at risk as the site remained vulnerable to reactivation of landslide.

This landslide in the Kinnaur district has become a matter of debate for geologists, environmentalists, seismologists and climatologists. Unscientific cutting of fragile mountains and blasting for the widening of roads and construction of tunnels for hydropower projects, changing patterns of rains, and seismic activity are being referred to be the reasons behind the increased incidents of landslides, especially in Kinnaur district.

At the same time, the inability of the state government to consider technical suggestions given by geological experts from time to time for mitigation of such hazards is also finding mention in the critical comments given by experts. The lackadaisical attitude of the government in the adoption of technologies, such as the early warning system developed by the IIT Mandi for mountainous regions vulnerable to landslides, is also attracting criticism.

It’s pertinent to mention that after the Kotrupi disaster – a massive landslide that had buried two buses and claimed 48 lives in August 2017-experts from IIT Mandi had carried out surveys and studies and provided several suggestions for minimizing damages, which fell into deaf ears.  

The deceased were identified as:

  1. Rohit Kumar
  2. Vanshuka
  3. Meera Devi
  4. Nitisha
  5. Prem Kumar
  6. Gyan Dassi
  7. Devi Chand
  8. Kumari Radhika
  9. Bhupender
  10. Kamlesh Kumar
  11. Lakshman Thapa
  12. Vijay Kumar

Two others were yet to be identified. The state government has announced ex-gratia of Rs 4 lakh to the kin of the deceased and Rs 5o thousand to the injured. HRTC has also announced Rs. 1 lakh ex-gratia to the passengers of the bus killed in the mishap. 

Further, Chief Minister Jairam Thakur and several other political leader visited the spot and met the relatives of victims on Thursday. 

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Kinnaur Tragedy: HRTC Bus Wreckage Found, Death Toll Rises to 13 and Likely Rise

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Kinnaur HRTC Bus wreckage

Kinnaur-The rescue operation at the site of the landslide in Nigulsari, Nichar Tehsil of the Kinnaur district, was resumed on Thursday morning. The wreckage of the ill-fated bus of the HP Road Transport Corporation was found 500 meters below the road and about 200 meters above the Sutlej River. The pictures showed that the bus was completely crushed and torn to pieces. 

So far, 13 dead bodies had been recovered and 14 injured including the driver and the conductor of the HRTC bus, which was on its way from Reckong Peo to Haridwar, were rescued and taken to hospital. The death toll is likely to rise as the passengers were yet to be traced. According to the driver, there were 25-30 passengers in the bus when it was hit by the landslide. A Bolero SUV alongwith passengers was also missing and was yet to be traced.  

Kinnaur rescue operation resumes

The mishap occurred at about 12:30 pm on Wednesday. The rescue operation was suspended at 9 pm due to dark conditions and shooting stones, which made the rescue operation difficult.

Till the suspension of the operation, the rescue teams comprising of NDRF, ITBP, Home-Guards, Central Industrial Security Force, and local police had traced three cars and a tipper.  

The rescue teams were searching from two directions and were using drones too.   

Kinnaur tragedy drone picture

The landslide had hit about 200 meters patch of the National Highway-5 – about 10 kilometres away from Bhavanagar.

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Kinnaur Tragedy: 10 Bodies Recovered, Still No Trace of HRTC Bus, 50-60 Persons Feared to be Missing

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Kinnaur tragedy drone picture

Kinnaur: The rescue operation at the site of the landslide in Nigulsari, Nichar Tehsil of the Kinnaur district, was suspended at 9 pm on Wednesday due to dark conditions and shooting stones, which made the rescue operation difficult. The rescue operation would be resumed on Thursday morning, according to the information provided by the district administration.

So far, 10 dead bodies, including those of five women and a child, had been recovered and 13 injured were rescued and taken to CHC Bhavnagar. Though the exact number was not known, 50-60 persons were feared to be buried and were yet to be traced.  

Kinnaur rescue operation pictures 7

Source: ITBP

The rescue teams comprising of state NDRF, ITBP, Home-Guards, Central Industrial Security Force, and local police had been carrying out the rescue operation aggressively.

The HRTC bus carrying 25-30 passengers and a Bolero SUV were still untraceable. As earth removers removed the rubble, two cars and a truck were traced, but the bus and the SUV weren’t found beneath the rubble. It’s being suspected that rubble and boulders might have pushed the bus and the SUV down the gorge and into the Sutlej River.

Kinnaur rescue operation pictures 5

Source: ITBP

The HRTC bus and a utility vehicle (a Bolero) and their passengers have not been found under the debris. They are still untraceable. Both vehicles may have rolled down with the debris,” informed Director, State Disaster Management Force, Sudesh Kumar Mokhta.

The rescue teams were searching from two directions and were using drone too, informed Deputy Commissioner, Kinnaur, Abid Hussain Sadiq.    

Kinnaur rescue operation pictures

Source: ITBP

The landslide had hit about 200 meters patch of the National Highway-5 – about 10 kilometers away from Bhavanagar. The ill-fated bus was reportedly on its way from Reckong Peo to Haridwar in Uttarakhand via Shimla.

Kinnaur tragedy drone picture

Source: ITBP

The survivors included the drivers of the bus, Mahender Pal, who had first informed his higher officials about the landslide, and the conductor, Gulab Singh.

Meanwhile, ex-gratia of Rs 2 lakh was announced for the kin of the deceased and Rs 50 thousand for the injured.

Kinnaur rescue operation pictures 3

Source: ITBP

The landslide has again stirred a debate over ecological damages to the fragile Himalayan region due to rampant blasting and tunneling for hydropower projects and cutting of hills for the widening of roads in an unscientific manner. As compared to the previous year, landslides and cloudbursts doubled in 2o21.

Earlier, on July 25, a landslide had claimed nine lives after boulders rolling down a hill hit a tourist vehicle on Sangla-Chitkul NH in the Batseri region in Kinnaur district. 

According to the statement given in the Legislative Assembly, the ongoing monsoon session has claimed 212 lives and caused damages worth over Rs. 500 crores. The death tally would rise as the rescue operation would be resumed tomorrow.

Kinnaur rescue operation pictures 2

Source: ITBP

Kinnaur rescue operation pictures 6 Kinnaur rescue operation pictures 4

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