Access denied
The aim of setting up consumer courts is to ensure speedy and inexpensive redressal of the grievances. Unfortunately, courts in the state are inaccessible and the cost of litigation is high
Lalit Mohan
Tribune News Service

Dharamsala, October 14
Consumer forums in the state have so far failed to provide speedy justice to the people, thus defeating its very purpose of formation. The inability of the state government in setting up consumer courts in all districts is the main culprit. At present, there are only four district-level consumer courts functioning in the state.

The consumer court in Kangra caters to both Kangra and Chamba districts. Since the court complex is located in the district headquarters at Dharamsala, the president of the court moves at different places to listen to the complaints.

The government has also failed to appoint a member in the court due to which there is just one president and one member of consumer court here. The court is also facing staff shortage. Presently, there are just three staff members in Dharamsala. Many posts are lying vacant, which hampers work and leads to inordinate delay in settling the cases. With all these hiccups, consumers prefer to stay away.

As per the law, the district-level consumer courts should settle a case within 90 days. In Kangra consumer court, about 100 cases have been lying pending for the past two to three years. Three cases are pending since 2004. The total number of pending cases pertaining to Kangra district is 800 while 100 cases from Chamba district are not yet decided.

Poor assessability is keeping the number of cases limited. The jurisdiction of district consumer forums illustrates the fact.

Una district consumer forum has jurisdiction over Una, Hamirpur and Bilaspur districts. It is very difficult for residents of Bilaspur to travel to Una for monitoring their case proceedings. Shimla district consumer court has jurisdiction over Shimla, Solan, Kinnaur and Sirmour districts. The plight of members and litigants appearing in the court can be adjudicated from distance up to which the jurisdiction of the consumer forum extends.

The Mandi consumer court has jurisdiction over Mandi, Kullu and Lahaul and Spiti districts.

Interestingly, the previous government had bought material such as furniture, photocopiers and other office equipment worth Rs 4 crore for setting up new consumer courts. The material was purchased without keeping in view that there were no buildings, office-bearers or sanctioned courts.

All that material is now lying dumped in the four-storeyed building of Kangra district consumer forum complex. Sources say unlike other states, most of the cases in consumer courts in Himachal Pradesh are such where compensation of more than Rs 1 lakh is sought.

Small consumers are still keeping away from the courts due to delayed justice and high cost of litigation. However, this defeats the basic purpose of the setting up of consumer courts.



Terror threat
State ill-prepared?
Kuldeep Chauhan
Tribune News Service

Mandi, October 14
Tremors of the bomb blasts that rocked the national capital reverberated in the state as well. Intelligence inputs reveal that terrorist can create trouble in the state, vitiating its peaceful atmosphere.

In this context, Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal recently chaired a high-level meeting in Shimla to review state’s preparedness in dealing with any terrorist attack.

Experts, however, doubt state’s capabilities in dealing with such acts of violence. Though the police has tightened security around hydropower project sites, temples and other public places, much needs to be done.

Unlike other states, the Himachal police neither has dedicated bomb detection and disposal squads in all 12 districts nor the government ever allocated funds for upgrading and maintaining this high-risk special force.

The police department has trained two or three cops each for bomb detection and disposal squad in sensitive districts, but they might prove ineffective given their lack of expertise and upgradation.

Inputs from intelligence and other investigative agencies reveal that this time security threat is critical in the state exposing its lack of preparedness in dealing with such threats, says the sources.

Religious and tourist places are an easy target for terrorist to strike and create panic, comments a senior official. “This time threats is 
serious and all officers concerned have been alerted,” he adds.

Bomb squads have no actual experience of detecting live bomb and diffusing it as the state police has not faced such a situation so far. That is why there is no dedicated professional force to the job,” the sources add.

Director general of police G.S. Gill, when quizzed on these security issues, admitted a laid back attitude. But he asserted that the police was refreshing and retraining the bomb detection and disposal squads. “We have some equipments and getting more to deal with such situations,” he said, adding that the department was preparing itself to deal with terrorist threats.



Fiscal Correction Plan
World Bank wary of pay revision
Rakesh Lohumi
Tribune News Service

Shimla, October 14
The World Bank is concerned about the impact of the impending pay revision of employees on the financial health of the fiscally stressed state, which will put to naught the plan to pull it out of the debt trap under which the bank has advanced a development policy loan of Rs 900 crore.

A team of the bank, which was in the state to monitor the implementation of the agreed "policy matrix" to be followed as part of the loan deal to find a permanent solution to the financial woes of the state, was taken aback by the huge implications the pay revision will have on the exchequer. The state had no answer wherefrom the funds will come to meet the additional annual burden of Rs 1,500 crore and pay the arrears of Rs 4,500 crore.

The state is solely banking on the 13th Finance Commission but with the increasing fertiliser subsidies, oil bill and the fact that the Centre itself has to bear the burned of pay revision, there is not much hope.

What worries the bank is that the state will veer off the fiscal correction path chalked out by it to improve its financial health. With the burden of salaries and pensions shooting up from the existing Rs 4,500 crore to Rs 6,000 crore and with Rs 3,000 crore going towards the payment of loans and interest, the financial health of the state will be worse than ever before. The position will be grim as the Centre has not been allowing off-budget borrowings after the enforcement of the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management (FRBM) Act.

Under the "policy matrix" the total number of transfers in a year will not exceed 6 per cent of the total strength of the staff, the level of subsidy on electricity to various categories of consumers will be maintained at the existing level of Rs 140 crore and the guarantees that the government furnishes for raising loans, particularly in respect of the public sector undertakings, was capped at 40 per cent of the total receipts of the preceding year.

The loan the government proposed to take during 2008-09 is almost double the amount of Rs 1,125 crore fixed by the bank. On an average, the net loan was to go up by about Rs 1,100 crore every year from 2007-08 to 2011-12 to help keep the total outstanding debt of the state down to Rs 24,000 crore. However, the figure will be reached by the end of the 2008-09, throwing the fiscal correction plan haywire. By keeping the borrowings within manageable limits the bank had planned to improve the ratio of fiscal deficit to the gross state domestic product from minus 3.4 per cent to minus 2.2 per cent over the five-year period.

The only silver lining is that the state had been able to increase its revenue from the power sector from almost Rs 53 crore to over Rs 1,100 crore over the past four years which is appreciated by the bank. However, with the central regulatory commission proposing to put a cap on the rates of power the revenue may decline.



A Lost Utopia?
Kuldeep Chauhan
Tribune News Service

Malana, October 14
Malana, a fiercely independent relic of an old-order civilisation that claims descent from the Greeks, has historically remained aloof and defiant, tough to access through the centuries; it now faces several challenges.

There may be no roads in the village but the video parlours have made inroads into its age-old heritage. The dwellings too are changing and in fact, the village is going through a slow process of socio-cultural degradation and if this continues the day may not be far off when it will lose its unique identity.

The world’s oldest surviving democracy, the 10-member Malana panchayat faces double challenge as to how to preserve its ancient arts stone-roofed architecture and adopt new ways of modern economy.

The high-quality hashish is a main attraction for tourists here. The two groups of foreigners, six Israelis and 10 Spaniards, were in Malana on September 15 on a trekking expedition after coming from Manali.

Even foreigners have some strange perception about Malana. “People are strange and interesting here as they do not allow you to touch their houses, temples as this would incur a fine of Rs 1000”, said S Luis, a research scholar from Spain. “We know Malana crème”, Tamar, an Israeli laughed.

Small children, instead of going to school, are busy playing coin games, a locally evolved minor gambling.

At a local school, only a few children are enrolled even at middle level and only four students are enrolled in class X. A drawing master who comes from outside has been running this school for the past 11 years and remains drunk most of the time, allege villagers. Three more teachers have joined now hoping that Malana children would be motivated to study.

Although there are total of four teachers but the number of students is only 13. So far only two students in the village have managed to reach class 12.

Houses in Malana are two or three storied and each storey has a specific name and purpose. The ground floor is called khudang, which acts as a cattle shed and where the firewood and fodder for the sheep and goats are stored. The first floor called Gaying is used to store eatables, wool and fer weaving woolen fabric. The top floor with an over hanging balcony is called pati. It is the actual living quarter. The houses are built of alternate bands of stove and limber. The inner walls are plastered with mud. The outer side is entirely made up of wood and acts as a verandah.

Fire that broke out in January last year has destroyed half of ancient slate-roofed houses. New cement and tin-roofed structures have spelled doom for Malana’s ancient arts.

Cash cannabis economy has brought about property in Malana. It is writ large in the new painted tin-roofed houses.

In fact an outsiders in Malana or any other village is an intruder. The village of Malana is like a well-knit family and it is but natural that nobody should interfere in their private affairs.

The project road has ripped apart Malana’s ecology, ending its long isolation.

Panchyat Pradhan Deli Ram said, “Bullocks were not bred here as villagers cultivate kathu, rajmah etc with Kudali. Villagers are tending sheep and goat now as they yield wool and meat.

Kardar of Malana’s presiding lord, Jamlu Devta, Shukru, who heads the 10-member Malana’s parliament is a worried man. He said the cannabis gives them fiber for ropes, sole material for pulas, in-house shoes, and its seeds are used in dishes eaten during harsh winter. The seeds are offered to as parshad to Jamadgni Rishi during sacred Phagli festival. “We have formed SHGs so that HIMPA can do something for us”.

But Charas came much later as villagers depend upon cannabis that has been growing naturally in Malana over the ages, he adds. “Police destroys the crop now a day. Change is good but where is the alternative for our children”.

There are no herbs here. But no attempt has been made to advise them to harvest herbs and flowers in Malana along the scientific lines.

HIMPA wants to set up demonstration farms in Malana to lure away the villagers from contraband cultivation.

Coordinator OP Sharma said, “We are trying all tricks of trade to instill confidence among villagers. The self-help groups are being formed in village. Villagers would respond to new crops once demonstration farm comes up in March in village”.

The scientists said herbs, flowers and off-season vegetables would ring in new prosperity in Malana. The villagers have nothing to lose except their isolation and misplaced inhibition to switchover.

But a question remains. Would this switch over save Malana as the ancient neat and clean oldest democracy or it would decimate its ancient aura and architecture?

But how long can the unique identity of this land be maintained when the Malanese themselves are more or less succumbing to the evil of modernisation? There may be no roads in the village but the video parlours have made in roads in its sanctity. The dwellings too are changing and in fact, the village is going through a slow process of socio-cultural degradation and if this continues the day may not be far off when it will lose its unique identity.




Development eludes Parwanoo
Ambika Sharma

Solan, October 14
With little progress towards the upgrading of infrastructure, including roads, sewage, water, etc, the industrial town of Parwanoo continues to lag behind in development despite attracting investment worth several crores after the 2003 central industrial package.

What is worse is the fact that roads and bridges whose repair work is on is progressing at a snail’s pace making things difficult for the industry.

Members of the Parwanoo Industries Association (PIA) while interacting with Solan SDM Vivek Chandel at Parwanoo recently expressed their resentment at the sorry state of infrastructure of this developing industrial town, particularly bad roads, parking crunch, traffic jam, lack of sewerage, growing number of jhuggis etc.

Capt Alok Sharma, president of the association, said the biggest problem of the town was the presence of multiplicity of agencies such as the municipal council, HIMUDA, town & country planning and panchayats. As a result, there was little accountability and problems remained unsolved. “Surprisingly, the owner of the land in the town is HIMUDA, whereas the maintenance of the same has been entrusted to the Municipal Committee many years ago”.

He opined that HIMUDA should have been handed over the charge to look after the town to the Municipal Committee.

Chandel assured the members of his support and help in sorting out some of these problems. He expressed his concern about the maintenance of peace, law and order in the industrial township. He reassured the gathering that if at all there were any unrest in an industrial unit, none of the parties would be allowed to take law in their own hands.

He also appealed to the members of the association to help in maintaining peace in the town and also get their employees registered, particularly the security staff, with the local police. In the cases where the armed guards are appointed, the management must make sure that the security staff possessed valid licences.

Earlier, the PIA conducted a seminar on “credit facilitation through banks and performance and credit rating scheme” where the National Small Industries Corporation, Chandigarh, as well as Onicra Credit Rating Agency of India Limited gave presentations on various schemes for SSI and credit rating of SME units.

The members welcomed the grant of 75 per cent subsidy given by the NSIC on the cost of credit rating. Prior to the seminar, in the general body meeting, members resolved that they should request the state government to handover the local ESI Hospital to the ESIC who had agreed to manage and maintain the hospital.

They opined that this would help the workers of the industrial units to actually get the benefits and better medical facilities.



Environmentalist to be honoured in US
Jagmeet Y. Ghuman

Kumarhatti, October 14
Payson Stevens, adviser to My Himachal, an NGO, will be honored by the Project Concern International (PCI) for his contribution to the cause of environment while working with the NGO. The function will be held on November 8 in San Diego, California.

PCI, one of the largest non-profit organisations of the US, is hosting Hands Across Borders 2008, to celebrate the diversity and spirit of South and Southeast Asia and an “honour roll” of local individuals and non-profit organisations whose commitments are making a real difference in South and Southeast Asia.

This is perhaps for the first time that a state NGO is being honored in the US. Dr Muhammad Yunus, the 2006 noble peace prizewinner from Bangladesh, will also be honored in the same event with humanitarian award. A total of 30 NGOs will be honored in the event.

Payson is a noted artist, designer, writer, and a filmmaker for over 30 years. He has also been an adviser on environmental sustainability and eco-tourism issues for the Great Himalayan National Park in India. Payson makes annual trips to the Kullu valley where he lives for some part of the year with his wife and writer Kamla Kapur.

Avnish Katoch, president of My Himachal, will also take part in the event. “We will be there in our Himachali caps and dresses and will show the best of our state,” says Katoch, adding, “We will also share video films and pictures taken in Himachal with world’s top dignitaries”.



shimla diary
All they need is blessings
Pratibha Chauhan
Tribune News Service

Shimla, October 14
People from all streams of life queued up to seek the blessings of the shankaracharya of Kanchi Kamkoti Peeth, Jayendra Saraswati, during his two day visit to the town, but it was politicians who outnumbered all others.

Though it is still not certain as to when the next parliamentary elections would be held, the netas ensured that they got the blessings of the highly revered spiritual guru. Right from Chief Minister, former chief ministers, ministers, legislators, and aspiring politicians sought the blessings of the shankaracharya.

It was amusing to see how they tried to interpret and weigh each and every word uttered by him or his actions or even just a smile. It’s a different matter that religious issues interest him more than politics and he would prefer the two to be kept apart. “Religion must not be misused by indulging in acts like conversion and at the same time politicians must also restrain from dragging spiritual matters into politics,” he opined.

In a lighter vein he joked that neither do the politicians have a retirement age like others a certain service period to ensure pension benefits.

Politics hit students

Whether the appointments of PTA teachers are right or wrong is a totally different issue but the fact remains that it is the students who are being hit in what is being best described as political victimisation.

Now it remains to be seen whether the studies of students in thousands of schools especially in the rural areas continues to get affected or some solution is found to the problem.

The over 12,000 teachers appointed by the Parent Teachers Associations (PTA) in various government schools during the tenure of the previous Congress regime are once again on a warpath with the government.

They had started a fast unto death in protest against the decision of the Dhumal regime to scrutinise over 3,000 PTA appointments. Their attempts to carry out agitation near the state secretariat have been thwarted as the police bundled them away to the hospital and others who tried to carry on the fact were taken into custody.

Tourists are back

With an exceptionally long and vigorous monsoons finally getting over, the tourist season in the state is picking up. The Queen of Hills has been thronged by tourists, especially lots of Bengali tourists, who are here to enjoy Dussehra holidays.

The hotels have come out with special packages to attract tourists, including the newly weds and those who would want to celebrate karva chauth while in Himachal. The Himachal Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation (HPTDC) has offered three nights stay during the week by paying for two nights. 





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