HP Govt Again Faces Heat Over Lifting Restrictions on Tourists Haphazardly, Utility of e-Covid Pass in Question
Shimla-RT-PCR report to enter in Himachal Pradesh is no longer a condition for visitors. As soon as the HP Cabinet announced this decision in its last meeting, tourists from neighbouring states started booking hotels in Himachal in advance. The decision cheered the hospitality industry which has borne huge losses as two peak sessions were washed off due to lockdowns and Covid related restrictions. But, at the same time, the rest of the public is in panic, especially after watching a video showing over one kilometer of traffic queues at the Parwanoo border on Sunday – a day before new guidelines came into force. A large number of these tourists had no idea about the date from which the new rules would come into effect and did not carry an RT-PCR negative report or registered on e-Covid portal. According to the police, they were asked to return as the new rules were applicable from 14 June onwards.
#Viral Video shows traffic congestion on Shimla-Kalka NH near Parwanoo after #HPGovt lifts restrictions on entry into #HimachalPradesh for tourists. While it's a relief for tourism industry, it also raises concerns ahead of warning of the third wave.#ThirdWave #Travel #Shimla pic.twitter.com/6nYuVT5cbR
— Himachal Watcher (@HimachalW) June 13, 2021
The video was shared by mainstream media too, expressing shock over the desperation of people to enter the state to get respite from scorching heat in neighboring states.
Except for the hoteliers and stakeholders in the tourism industry, the scene appeared nothing less than a nightmare considering repeated warnings issued by the government itself over the third wave of the Coronavirus pandemic. The government’s advance warning about the possibility that children might be more vulnerable during the third wave is creating more panic. After witnessing the rampage of the second wave in the state, this scene shook them. Most people were against removing the mandatory condition of furnishing an RT-PCR report for visitors. Others said this crowd of tourists would fuel the third wave and the devastation that it would bring with it. Some said “tourists are not welcomed”, others commented, “hills are not calling, stay away tourists”.
There were suggestions for the government to at least arrange rapid testing of visitors at the entry points. Questions were asked over government’s mechanism to ensure safety against spread of infection.
The video created a stir in the state and the HP government had to issue a statement on Monday. In its statement, the government assured the people that the entry of tourists would be monitored through the e-covid pass portal. The visitors would still have to register on the portal and obtain a pass, which would be scanned at the entry points at borders.
However, hoteliers and the public questioned the relevance of the e-covid pass when tourists are not required to present a Covid negative report. In simple words, it is not possible to ascertain whether a particular visitor is infected or not. They argued that the e-covid pass did not fulfil any purpose and only leading to long traffic jams as police is supposed to scan these passes at designated entry points. If there is no purpose of scanning e-passes, then how would it help to protect the state from a further spread of infection?
At the same time, hoteliers and others involved with the hospitality industry directly or indirectly, are hopeful that the remaining pint of this peak tourist season would provide them with some relief. The state of the popular Indian Coffee House, which is on the verge of closure, is an apparent evidence of the hit that the industry has taken.
The decision of the government came under pressure from the industry. The stakeholders’ associations approached Chief Minister with a request to let them have the remaining peak seasons as the state government didn’t provide any relief. Because no relief was provided, the industry has no other way but to ask the government to lift Covid related restrictions on visitors. Moreover, the industry isn’t sure how long this remaining peak season would last as monsoon has already arrived in the state on July 13.
In May, Mohinder Seth, President of, Tourism Industry Stake Holders Association had written to the government explaining the plight of those employed with the industry.
He had said that hoteliers and businessmen involved in the hospitality industry did not receive any relief from the government and managed their units/services by spending from savings or by raising loans.
The units had somehow managed to pay salaries and other expenses for the April month, the association said, but expressed inability to do so for the May month as the working capital has dropped to zero, Seth said.
Today, a delegation of the Hotel and Restaurant Association of Northern India (HRANI) – a Northern outfit of the Federation of Hotel & Restaurant Associations of India-approached the Chief Minister and requested relief for the industry, which is the hardest hit due to the restrictions and struggles to survive.
The government might have lifted the restrictions, but it appears to be clueless about the management of the crowd and influx of visitors. The government numbers on entry of tourists into the state are also in question. According to a report published in an English Daily,
“As many as 7,201 persons entered Himachal yesterday on 2,787 e-passes but the Shimla police claimed that 5,000 vehicles arrived in Shimla.”
The report further said, “If this is the case, then either the police, manning the entry points, is being liberal in allowing vehicles without an e-pass or some other routes are being used by tourists.”
This brings us to the lack of any robust mechanism or strategy to balance the management of tourist influx and prevention against the spread of infection.
Chief Minister Jairam Thakur-led government is again facing heat over its contentious decisions which appear to be devoid of any vision. Earlier too, Chief Minister has been alleged of being incapable to take decisions related to the interests of the state at his own.
HP Govt Employees to Get Higher Pay Scale on Completion of Two Years of Service: CM Jairam
Shimla-Himachal Pradesh Government employees working in different departments before January 3, 2022, would be given a higher scale at par with other employees on completion of two years tenure of regular service. A higher pay scale was also announced for the Junior Office Assistants (IT) on completion of two years of regular service.
Chief Minister Jairam Thakur made these announcements during the Karamchari Maha Sammelan of the Himachal Pradesh Non-Gazetted Employees Federation at the hotel Peterhof on Sunday.
He appreciated the role played by the employee especially frontline workers in the battle against the pandemic.
He said most of the government employees in the state have been given revised pay scales and on average, every employee has got the benefit of a 12 to 15 percent salary hike. There has also been an increase in the pension of about 1.50 lakh pensioners of the state. The financial benefits of Rs. 7801 crore have been given to state government employees and pensioners from the year 2018 to 2022. The pensioners who retired before 2016 are getting the benefit of a 15 to 20 percent increase in the pension while around 40 thousand pensioners who retired after 2016 would be benefitted soon, he said.
He said the daily wages were Rs. 210 in the year 2017 which has been increased by the present state government to Rs. 350. Similarly, 12 per cent interim relief annually has been provided to government employees and pensioners during the present government’s tenure. He said the Himachal government has provided Dearness Allowance to its employees and pensioners on the lines of Punjab and Central governments from the due date. The Punjab government has given only 5 percent interim relief to the employees while the Himachal government has provided 21 percent interim relief to its employees.
“Out of the total interim relief amount given to the employees and pensioners amounting to about Rs. 6500 crore, Rs. 3500 crore has been paid during the tenure of our government” added the Chief Minister.
He said that the state government has increased the government contribution for NPS employees from 10 percent to 14 percent benefitting more than one lakh employees. The NPS employees are being given the benefits of retirement and death gratuity at par with employees falling under the old pension scheme. The government has also increased the upper limit of death gratuity from Rs. 10 lakh to Rs. 20 lakh.
The Chief Minister said the state government has also increased the honorarium of para-workers working in various departments. The salary of outsource workers has been hiked by Rs 1,500 per month.
Non-Gazetted Employees Federation President Ashwani Thakur thanked the Chief Minister for providing various financial and other benefits to different categories of government employees.
Most Covid Restrictions to be Lifted From March 31, Mask and Hand Hygiene to Continue
New Delhi-The Centre has issued a notification to the States informing that the provisions of the Disaster Management (DM) Act, 2005 will not be invoked in the country after March 31. The Union Health Ministry said that the use of face masks and following hand hygiene will continue.
It implies that most of the Covid-related rules and restrictions would end.
Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla issued the notification which said that the decision was taken following the overall improvement in the situation and the preparedness of the government in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, local authorities and State police can still invoke fines and criminal cases against persons violating COVID-19 norms under the Indian Penal Code (IPC), a senior government official said.
The DM Act was invoked on March 24, 2020, due to the pandemic
“Over the last seven weeks or so there has been a steep decline in the number of cases. The total caseload in the country stands at 23,913 only and the daily positivity rate has declined to 0.28%. It is also worth mentioning that with the combined efforts, a total of 181.56 Cr vaccine doses have been administered,” the notification said.
“I would like to mention that in view of the nature of the disease, we still need to remain watchful of the situation. Wherever any surge in the number of cases is observed, the States/UTs may consider taking prompt and proactive action at a local level, as advised by MoHFW (Health Ministry) from time to time,” the notification said.
The Indian government had issued various guidelines and measures for the first time on March 24, 2020, under the Disaster Management Act to curb the COVID-19 situation in the country, which have been modified several times thereafter.
India currently has 23,087 active COVID-19 cases and recorded 1,778 new cases and 62 deaths in the last 24 hours. The daily positivity rate has also declined to 0.28%.
HP Cabinet Decisions: Country Liquor Made Cheaper in New Excise Policy, Read All Decisions
Shimla-A meeting of the Himachal Pradesh Cabinet was held on March 20, 2022, under the chairmanship of Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur.
The excise policy for the financial year 2022-23 was approved. Approval was also given for the renewal of retail excise vends in the state for the financial year 2022-23 at the renewal fees of 4% of the value of unit/vend.
The State Government said that wants to enhance the government revenue and curb the smuggling of country liquor from the neighbouring states by a reduction in its price.
The brands of Country Liquor will be cheaper as license fees have been reduced. This will help in providing good quality liquor at a cheaper rate to the consumers.
In the new excise policy, the 15% fixed quota of country liquor for manufacturers and bottlers to be supplied to the retail licensees has been abolished. According to the government, this step will give the retail licensees to lift their quota from the suppliers of their choice and further assure the supply of good quality country liquor at competitive prices. The MRP of country liquor will be cheaper by 16% of the existing price.
In this year’s policy, the Gaudhan Vikas Nidhi Fund has been enhanced by Re.1/- from the existing Rs.1.50 to Rs.2.50.
The fixed annual license fee of Bars has been rationalized by abolishing the area-specific slabs of license fee. Now throughout the State, there will be uniform license slabs based upon the room capacity in hotels.
Rates of the annual fixed license fee of Bars in the tribal areas has been reduced considerably.
Further, all the above stakeholders will have to install CCTV cameras at their establishments as it was made mandatory for them.
Wholesale vends and retail vends, the penalty provisions under the H.P. Excise Act, 2011 have been made more stringent.
An end to end online Excise Administration System would be established in Himachal Pradesh, the government said.
HP Government estimates a collection of Rs 2131 crore revenue during the year, which will be Rs. 264 crores higher than the financial year 2021-22 – growth of 14% in state excise revenues.
The Cabinet also gave its nod to amend Himachal Pradesh Disaster Relief Manual-2012 to include deaths due to biting of honey bees, hornet and wasps, accidental drowning and deaths due to accidents of vehicles (including land, water and air) under this Manual.
The Cabinet gave its approval for filling up 11 posts of ‘A’ Class Tehsildar in Revenue Department through direct recruitment on regular basis through Himachal Pradesh Public Service Commission.
HP State Toll Policy 2022-23
The HP Cabinet also gave its nod to HP State Toll Policy for the year 2022-23 which envisages auction cum tender for all the toll barriers in the State. During the year 2021-22, toll revenue has registered a growth of 20 percent of the previous year’s revenue.