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Himachal Reports First Omicron Variant Case, HP Govt Yet to Step Up Checks

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Shimla-Himachal Pradesh has reported its first confirmed case of the Omicron variant. The 45-year-old a woman hails from the Mandi district and had a travel history from Canada. On December 18 had tested positive for Covid-19. Seven samples, including her, were sent to the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) for genome sequencing. Now, the NCDC has confirmed the sample of the woman to be positive for the Omicron variant.

However, the woman has already recovered and her RTPCR report tested negative on Saturday. Her three contact also tested negative.

Reports of the remaining six samples were still awaited. The Department said that it would send more samples for sequencing to the NCDC.

She has received the both doses of COVID-19 Vaccine, informed an HP Government Spokesperson.  He said the female found positive for omicron has a travel history from Canada and she arrived in Shimla on 3rd December 2021. Her RTPCR test was done on the 8th day after her arrival i.e. 11th December 2021. He told that her sample was sent for WGS to Delhi and positive report was received from the WSG laboratory on 26th December 2021.

The State Government on Sunday informed that 2167 International passengers have arrived in the State as per the number provided by the Government of India from 20th November 2021 till now. A total of 1747 International passengers were eligible for RTPCR testing. The remaining 420 International passengers were not eligible for testing as some of them were untraceable, some have completed 14 days of home isolation, some returned abroad and some are staying out of State.

The HP Government informed that out of 1747 international passengers eligible for testing, 942 RTPCR tests have been conducted. The testing is done on the 8th day after arrival or when the symptoms appear, so accordingly 805 passengers are due for the RTPCT testing.

The Government Spokesperson said that out of 942 RTPCR tests done, 10 samples have been found positive

The Spokesperson appealed to the public not to panic but follow COVID appropriate behaviours such as wearing masks, maintaining social distance, frequently washing hands or using sanitisers, maintaining good ventilation. He appealed to the people to get themselves vaccinated with both doses of COVID vaccine, if not yet vaccinated.

At the same time,  the HP government appears to be following exactly the opposite of what’s required. The state borders are open for tourists without any check, there are no crowd control measures, the testing is low, and Covid appropriate behaviour is reduced to only a formality.

The state government isn’t capable of compensating the tourism industry stakeholders if restrictions are imposed on the tourist movement. Meanwhile, it also can’t afford to annoy these stakeholders considering the crushing defeat on all three Assembly and one Lok Sabha seat in the recently held bye-elections.

While neighboring states are taking preventive measures, like the imposition of night curfew and crowd control measures, in view of the spread of the Omicron variant, Chief Minister Jairam Thakur, along with the entire HP Government machinery, is preparing to create a massive gathering at the Paddal ground in Mandi district to impress Prime Minister Narender Modi. Prime Minister is expected to address a rally in the Mandi district on December 27.

During the peak tourists season, organization of such a huge rally could be a blunder – an invitation to the third wave in the state.

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Mandi Hooch Case: HP Police Claim Bursting Large-Scale Illicit Liquor Trade, Nabs Kingpin

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Mandi-Mandi hooch case has brought shocking facts to light. An organized illicit liquor trade flourished in a village of Hamirpur district right under the nose of the Excise and Taxation Department and the police. It wasn’t a minor business but had inter-state links too. Named ‘Rainbow Café, a factory was operating in a building in a village of the district.

According to the initial police investigation, it was believed the deaths were caused by either improper mixing of the ingredients, or because a part of the spirit procured for the production of liquor may be impure and contained methyl alcohol instead of ethyl alcohol.

It raises another crucial question; can such an organized, large scale illicit business flourish without political patronage? 

Shaken by the death of seven persons due to consumption of spurious liquor in the Salapar area of Sundernagar Tehsil, the State Police formed a Special Investigating Team to investigate the case. According to the police, as the scope of the investigation had expanded, the state police included Arjit Sen (SP Una), Mohit Chawla (SP Baddi), Arvind Digvijay Negi, ASP Kangra and Yogesh Rolta (SDPO Parwanoo) in the SIT.

The police raided different places in different districts, collected evidence and seized a large amount of incriminating material.

The police had nabbed four persons in this connection. On Saturday, the Director-General of Police, Sanjay Kundu, held a press conference and claimed to have busted the illicit liquor business by arresting the prime suspect who was identified as Narender alias Kalu – a resident of village Maloh in the district. He was on the run following the deaths.

During the questioning, Kalu revealed that the main supplier of this illicit liquor consignment was one Gaurav Manhas alias Goru of Palampur. A police team traced his location and apprehended him from a hotel in Zirkpur on Friday.

On being questioned by the SIT, it was found that Goru belonged to the Panchrukhi area of Kangra. According to the police investigation, Goru was running an illicit bottling unit at Hamirpur in collusion with Praveen Thakur. It was also revealed that the raw material for production and packaging was received from other persons belonging to different states.

One Sagar Saini, who belonged to Delhi, supplied the spirit drums and AK Tripathi, who hailed from Samba, Jammu and Kashmir, provided the formula, the police said.

Further, it was revealed that the bottling unit in Hamirpur was run by two persons who belonged to Uttar Pradesh. The duo was responsible for mixing ingredients for the manufacture of liquor. Empty bottles were procured from ‘kabaddi’ in Hamirpur and bottles, caps, boxes and cartons were supplied from Parwanoo. VRV Santra stickers were created by a graphic designer.

Following Seizures Were Made from Hamirpur

1. More than 6000 bottles filled with illicit liquor labelled as “VRV Fools Pvt. Ltd.”,
2. five plastic tanks (300 Its each),
3. seven boxes containing bottle caps marked “VRV foods Ltd.”,
4. nine plastic drums (50. Its each),
5. one carton containing 136 strips of labels marked “Santra, VRV Fools Pvt. Ltd.”
6. 124 sheets containing more than 2500 holograms,
7. 18 plastic tag rolls marked VRV Foods,
8. one carton containing four bottles (500 ml each)
9. one jerry cans (5 Its) containing flavour,
10. three aluminium katchhhi, two bottle sealing machines,
11. one plastic jerry can filled with coloring material for the illicit liquor,
12. 56 plastic bags filled with more than 2500 empty bottles,
13. more than 2000 empty cartons marked “VRV Foods Ltd”,
14. one bottle filling machine,
15. seven stamps marked with impression of Batch No. 61, 62 and 361; 33 distilled water plastic containers (20 Its each)

These items were seized from the illegal premises busted at Panyala village, Hamirpur. The premises was marked as “Rainbow Café”.

At the instance accused Goru, another bottling plant was located under Station Nalagarh which was subsequently raided by police in Baddi.

The suppliers of holograms, labels, cartons, used bottles, spirit, bottles caps and material for the illicit production have been identified and apprehended during searches in the neighbouring districts Kangra, Solan, Hamirpur.

According to the SIT investigation, the illicit liquor factory was operating in Hamirpur District and raw materials were procured from both within and outside the State. The police said that Gaurav Manhas appears to be the kingpin of the illegal trade. Gaurav, with the assistance of Praveen, Pushpender and Sunny from UP, was running this illegal bottling plant at Hamirpur building owned by Praveen.

In addition, the DGP informed, Manu and Gagan were his partners in the bottling plant busted under the jurisdiction of Police Station Nalagarh. Gaurav has a strong network of distributors and supply chains for raw materials and finished liquor. The racket included the following major partners:

1. Gaurav Manhas alias Goru (kingpin),
2. Praveen (owner of the building used as an illegal bottling plant)
3. Pushpender and Sunny (workers in the plant)
4. Manu and Gagan (prime suspects in Nalagarh case)

The DGP said that further investigation is underway and a clearer picture will emerge after the collection of evidence and interrogation of all accused.

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Adi Badri Dam in Himachal Pradesh to be Constructed for Rs. 215.35 crores, MoU Signed

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Shimla-Adi Badri Dam in Himachal Pradesh would be constructed near the Adi Badri area of Yamuna Nagar district of Haryana at Panchkula on 77 acres. Rs 215.35 crores would be spent on the rejuvenation of the Saraswati River. This is what an MoU signed by the Himachal Pradesh and Haryana Government proposes.

The HP Government claimed that Himachal Pradesh would be benefited from the project as 3.92-hectare metre water per annum would be earmarked for the state for drinking water requirement and 57.96-hectare metre for irrigation water demand of the project affected habitations.

The entire funding of the Project would be arranged by the Haryana Government. Both the Governments would be free to prepare the Tourism Projects as well as any other infrastructure facilities from their own resources, the state government said.

According to the HP Government, only 21 families of the State would be displaced and they would be properly rehabilitated. The cost of rehabilitation package for oustees and environmental protection package in accordance with prevalent policies of Himachal Pradesh as well as any other prevalent laws or any other unforeseen cost/ expenditure in this regard related to Adi Badri Dam in future would be borne by the Government of Haryana and no liability on this account would be passed on to Himachal Pradesh

The state government also claimed that on completion of this Project, River Saraswati would again come alive. Out of the total proposed area, 31.16-hectare land falls in Himachal which include 0.67-hectare private land and 30.49-hectare forest land. The Dam would get 224-hectare metre water from the Somb River of Himachal Pradesh that falls in Yamuna near Adi Badri in Yamunanagar district. The HPPCL would be executing agency for the construction of Adi Badri Dam and its related infrastructure. 

The Haryana state government said that Adi Badri Dam Construction Monitoring Committee has been constituted for planning, supervising and monitoring of Adi Badri Dam works which comprise of Additional Chief Secretary Irrigation Haryana, Secretary Jal Shakti Vibhag Himachal Pradesh, Engineer-in-Chiefs and other representatives of both States.

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Mandi Hooch Case: Death Toll Rises to 7 as 2 More Die, 4 Arrested

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Mandi-The death toll in the hooch tragedy in Sundernagar, Mandi district, has risen to seven after two more persons died on Thursday. One of the patients died at Lal Bahadur Shashtri Government Medical College and Hospital (LBSGMC), Nerchowk, while the other died at his home. Further, three more persons have been admitted to LBSGMC. One of the patients was referred to PGI, Chandigarh in a serious condition.

The district administration has now taken to mobile public addressing system ( 10 vehicles) to identify more such victims who fell ill following consumption of spurious liquor.

On Wednesday, five people had reportedly died after consuming a spurious liquor, which was suspected to have some sort of chemical adulteration to amplify the effect. Following these deaths, the police came to action after receiving information about these deaths. The liquor was identified as  ‘Santra brand’ country liquor, manufactured by VRV Foods Limited in Kangra, and ‘999 Power Star Fine Whiskey’—made by Empire Alcobrev, Chandigarh—near Salapper in Mandi district

Shalini Agnihotri, the Superintendent of Police, Mandi, confirmed that four-person were arrested in this connection. These accused are believed to be involved in supplying spurious liquor and all belong to Sundernagar Tehsil.

Two of the accused were said to be Jagdish Chand -former Pradhan of Salapad panchayat – and Achhar Singh – son-in-law of the current Pradhan. Two others were identified as Sohan Lal and Pradeep Kumar. All four have been booked under Sections 308 (punishment for culpable homicide), 304 (culpable homicide), and 120B (criminal conspiracy) of the Indian Penal Code.  The police said it has seized two dozen bottles of ‘Santra brand liquor from one of the accused.

These accused were produced before the court in Sundernagar that granted seven-day police custody of all four.

Caught off-guard in checking smuggling and sale of illicit liquor, the HP Government has formed a Special Investigation Team and deputed the Director General of Police, Sanjay Kundu, to personally supervise the investigation. According to the official statement issued by the HP Police, the DGP is camping at Sundernagar.

Arvind Digvijay Negi, IPS, who is a seasoned police officer and has worked in the National Investigation Agency, has also been included in the SIT, the HP Police said.

“The SIT is undertaking investigation in an earnest way which inter-alia includes visitation of the scene of the crime, raids on suspected places, seizure of incriminating material and interview of other suspected persons, “ the police said.

 The SIT headed by Inspector General (southern range) Madhu Sood, includes Shalini Agnihotri-SP Mandi, Kushal Chand Sharma – Superintendent of Police, Kangra- and Virendra Kalia- SP (Crime) CID Shimla.  

It is yet to be ascertained what chemical agents were used in the spurious liquor that caused the death of the victims.

Meanwhile, the case has taken a political colour as the opposition Congress alleged the current government of sheltering persons involved in the illicit liquor trade. Congress chief Kuldeep Rathore on Thursday raised questions over the deteriorating law-and-order situation.

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