Narayani Devi, whose son is accused of killing a woman officer leading a demolition drive against illegal construction, began her day early today, digging deep into the rubble of the guesthouse named after her to try and salvage what she could. A day after her son Vijay Singh Thakur was arrested on charges of killing assistant town planner Shail Bala Sharma, the owner of the Narayani Guest House, a part of which is being demolished, was stoic, her face giving away little as officials and police kept hawk-eyed vigil on the site that has become the cynosure of national attention.
The court ordered demolition work of two of the four floors of the guesthouse, on the busy Dharampur-Kasauli road, is being carried out by different civil agencies of the Himachal Pradesh government under the careful watch of the Himachal Pradesh police, including commandos. The slender elderly woman, dressed in a salwar kameez and wearing slippers, rifled through the debris of plywood, brick and mortar, picking up pieces of her life as it were, stopping occasionally to tell those engaged in bringing down the floors to be careful.
Narayani Devi had earlier said her son had lost his mental balance as he couldn’t see their guesthouse being demolished. Thakur was arrested in Mathura yesterday in a joint operation by the police in Himachal Pradesh and Delhi. He allegedly fired and killed Sharma, who was leading a demolition drive against illegal construction and had reached the Narayani Guest House in Kasauli, on Tuesday.
Most of those in the neighbourhood where the shooting incident took place described Thakur, a government employee, as a man who kept a low-profile and helped his mother run the guesthouse. “We were shocked when we heard that Vijay Singh had killed a lady officer. He is an educated person who was also known for his good writing skills. He would take a bus to Shimla from Dharampur to reach his office and was polite and courteous with everyone,” said a local who owns a juice shop.
The Supreme Court had on April 17 ordered the state government to demolish unauthorised structures in several hotels and guesthouses in Kasauli and Dharampur areas of Solan district. Four teams were constituted by the authorities to carry out the work. Yesterday, the apex court said the “unfortunate death” of the woman government official was the result of “non-implementation of the law”.
Seeking the status of investigation in the case, it directed the Himachal Pradesh government to apprise it about the steps taken to ensure that no unauthorised constructions were carried out in the entire state. It also asked the state to inform it about the status of implementation of the order regarding demolition of unauthorised constructions in 13 hotels at Kasauli.
Today, teams from different government departments, including Revenue, PWD, Electricity Department, Forests and Irrigation and Public Health, were engaged in the task of bringing down illegal structures with police personnel being deployed outside each building. Several hotel and guesthouse owners said they have decided to bring down unauthorised constructions on their premises.
Aman, the manager of Hotel Whispering Winds, told PTI that they had decided to voluntarily demolish a portion of the hotel. Giving details, officials said unauthorised construction in four hotels and guest houses in Sanawar in the area had been demolished. A hotel on the Dharampur-Kasauli road had allegedly built several rooms without permission and most of the structure was being brought down.
According to norms, only three storeys plus one for parking is admissible, but several hotels have openly violated the norms by constructing four to eight storeys. The issue has inevitably acquired political overtones. Attacking the BJP government in Himachal Pradesh over alleged poor law and order situation, Himachal Pradesh Congress Committee (HPCC) president Sukhwinder Singh Sukhu has said the murder of a lady officer at Kasauli had generated fear among law enforcing employees. He alleged that the crime graph had gone up since the BJP came to power in December last year.
Hitting out at opposition parties, Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur said the opposition should refrain from politicising the Kasauli incident. Unauthorised constructions in the area were old, he said, taking a potshot at rival Congress, which earlier ruled the state.