A 51-year-old woman official was chased and shot dead Tuesday afternoon by the owner of a guest house in Kasauli following an altercation between the two during a demolition drive ordered by the Supreme Court against unauthorised structures in 13 hotels across the hill resort in Himachal Pradesh.
According to police and eyewitnesses, Assistant Town Planner Shail Bala Sharma was killed by Narayani guest house owner Vijay Thakur who allegedly fired at least three bullets at her inside the establishment in Mandudhar on the Dharampur-Kasauli road, at around 2.33 pm. A number of police officers and government officials were present at the site when the incident occurred. Sharma was declared dead on arrival by doctors at the Dharampur government hospital. Thakur is on the run, with police saying that they have formed multiple teams to nab him. Police have also announced a reward of Rs 1 lakh for information leading to the accused’s arrest.
A Public Works Department employee, Gulab Singh, who was clearing the hotel rooms earmarked for demolition was injured in the firing and is undergoing treatment in Chandigarh, police said. Officials said the demolition drive, which was being implemented in the area by four separate teams, has been put on hold following the incident. DGP Sita Ram Mardi visited the spot in the evening, said officials.
One of the eyewitnesses, Parwanoo Range Officer Shivender Pal Singh, said Thakur opened fire when Sharma and other officials entered the hotel to take stock of the demolition. “He fired two bullets inside the hotel. One of the PWD employees was injured. We immediately ran outside to save ourselves. He chased us and fired another bullet which hit the ATP, she fell down,” Singh said. Officials said Thakur obtained an arms licence in 2011, and possessed a revolver.
Sharma hailed from Mandi and was married to Dr B P Sharma, who is the director of the National Research Centre for Mushroom (NRCM) under the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, in Chambaghat, Solan. Their 24-year-old son had recently completed his MBBS from Indira Gandhi Medical College in Shimla.
Police said the situation escalated Tuesday after the demolition team, led by Town and Country Planner Leela Sham and Solan Sub-Divisional Magistrate Ashutosh Garg, reached the site and asked the owners of Narayani guest house and Shivalik hotel nearby to “cooperate in the demolition drive”.
“Vijay, his mother Narayani after whom the hotel is named and Shivalik owner Ved Garg had a heated exchange with the officials. Both the owners had employed their staff to remove unauthorised construction but an argument arose over how much would be demolished,” said a police officer.
“The officials wanted the owners to expedite the demolition and made an announcement over their portable PA system for the rooms to be evicted. At one point, when officials threatened arrest, Ved Garg removed his T-shirt, sat in front of his hotel and started shouting that he would allow the demolition only over his dead body,” said the officer. Police said Garg had also engaged a private videographer to film the proceedings, including his exchange with officials.
Range Officer Singh said Thakur and his mother requested Sharma to let them remove the unauthorised construction by themselves. “Sharma inspected the hotel floors and told the hotel owner that as per court directions, three floors will have to be demolished. Thakur was heard shouting repeatedly, ‘Hamein maar hi dijiye (You just kill us)’. But Sharma cited court orders,” he said.
“The ATP then went to have lunch at a restaurant nearby. It was after she returned that Thakur opened fire,” said Singh. According to officials, SDM Garg and TCP Sham had reached the spot earlier and also inspected the hotel. But since there was no earth-mover at the site, the two left to inspect other demolition sites, they said. Thakur’s mother Narayani and wife Meena said he was under “mental stress for several months”.”My husband was on medication,” said Meena. Both claimed they were not aware that Vijay owned a gun.
According to police, CCTV cameras were installed at the reception area where Thakur allegedly started firing. But Narayani claimed that the cameras were “not working” because there was “no electricity”, police said. Officials said ATP Sharma was known as a strict law enforcer, and had met Deputy Commissioner Vinod Kumar twice last week to submit the paperwork needed for the drive, and seek help from police and the administration for Tuesday’s action.
Barely six months into her new posting as Assistant Town Planner in Kasauli, she was on deputation with the Town and Country Planning (TCP) department since March 3, 2017, from the Baddi Brotiwala Nalagarh Development Authority (BBNDA). She was initially posting at Parwanoo but later shifted to Solan. She had joined the BBNDA as Assistant Architect on “regular basis” in 2014. On Sunday, a group of hotels and guest houses in Kasauli were served notices by the TCP’s office to raze unauthorized construction by Tuesday. Many owners had started demolition on their own when The Indian Express visited the sites Tuesday morning.
On April 17, the Supreme Court ordered the demolition of illegal constructions at several hotels and resorts in Kasauli, saying the life of people cannot be endangered for making money. A Bench of Justices Madan B Lokur and Deepak Gupta observed that illegal construction had put the city in danger and ordered their demolition. The apex court was hearing a plea filed by owners of several hotels, resorts and guest houses challenging a National Green Tribunal (NGT) order to demolish or close down several establishments which were extended illegally without approval.
Reacting to Tuesday’s incident, Himachal Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur said, “The culprit will be nabbed soon and action taken as per the law. Law and order will be maintained in the state at all cost and the orders of the Supreme Court would be followed in letter and spirit.”