The unemployment paradox

The state has not made a serious effort to develop the right kind of human resources all these years. Not much thought has been given to create trained manpower required by various sectors, writes Rakesh Lohumi

The ongoing industrial boom and implementation of big power projects notwithstanding, the problem of unemployment continues to plague the hill state.

The state has the highest percentage of population in government jobs in the country but at the same time the 8.16 lakh jobless persons are far too many for a small state with a population of just 62 lakh. Lack of proper planning and the laidback lifestyle of the hill people, who are keen only on white-collar jobs, are mainly responsible for this paradoxical situation. The winds of change sweeping the country following globalisation and economic liberalisation have not penetrated the hills so far. The mindset of the common Himachali has not changed.

Employment in the government sector has reached a saturation point and, in fact, the stress is on downsizing the bulky administrative set-up. However, the youth still run after government jobs. They are still not keen on employment in the private sector, particularly the industries, and their first preference is a secure government job. Accustomed to living in open and a clean environment, the average Himachali youth is reluctant to work in shabby slum-like conditions in which the industrial workers are made to live. The people, mostly settled in rural areas, are relatively better off with a decent place to live along with basic amenities like water, electricity, road connectivity and access to telephone. Moreover, the peripheral areas of the state like Baddi, Kala Amb and Nalagarh, where new industry is coming up, has no housing facility. The rents are so high that a respectable dwelling costs much more than the monthly wages paid to workers.

It is thus not surprising that the youth do not want to go far away from home for employment. They are not very ambitious and also not given to job-hopping in search of lucrative opportunities. The job attrition rate in the state is negligible. A little less but nearer home is an acceptable proposition. The government has also not made any effort to create suitable employment opportunities in the rural areas.

The other reason for the growing unemployment is that the state has not made a serious effort to develop the right kind of human resources all these years. The stress has all along been on opening more and more educational institutions as part of a political agenda and not much thought has been given to create trained manpower required by various sectors. For instance, the textile industry shifted from Punjab to Baddi two decades ago when terrorism was at its peak. The state never thought of introducing textile engineering and other allied vocations. Textile engineering has been started only this year at the newly set up college at Sundernagar with 40 seats on persistent demand of the industry.

Similarly no worthwhile courses in information technology were available until Jaypee University came up four years ago. The demand for graduate nurses is perennial at the global level and within the country but the state does not have a nursing college till today. In the neighbouring Punjab, more than a dozen nursing colleges have come up over the past three years.

The state is on its way to becoming the pharmaceutical hub of the country and when all the new units being set up come into production, it will account for almost 70 per cent of the total medicines produced. However, the first college of pharmacy has been opened only this year at Rohru.

Intriguingly, while the government is banking on the private sector for setting up institutions for such professional courses, it is squandering away its own resources on general-degree colleges. As many as 16 degree colleges have been opened over the past two years even though the enrolment in such colleges is on the decline. The industries prefer the pass outs from industrial training institutes and are ready to take even plus-two candidates who fit in well after training. However, there are no takers for simple graduates produced by degree colleges who are ever on the lookout for white-collar jobs.

Those on the live registers of employment exchanges include 38,000 postgraduates, 92,000 graduates, 5,38,000 matriculates and 1,45,000 under matriculates. The maximum number of 1.57 lakh jobless are in Kangra, followed by Mandi (1.35 lakh) and Shimla (1.31 lakh). The gravity of the situation could be judged from the fact that over 70,000 candidates, including a large number of postgraduates and graduates, applied for 447 posts of forest guards for which the recruitment process was started recently. Even postgraduates are ready to work as guards, thanks to handsome salaries, a comfortable and secure job, and other benefits in the public sector.

On the other hand, not many turn up for jobs in industries. In fact, Mr Ashok Thakur, principal secretary, industries, said the government would organise recruitment “melas” in collaboration with industries at Shimla, Mandi and Dharamsala, shortly to ensure that the maximum youth got employment in the upcoming industries. He said so far industrial proposals involving an investment of Rs 21,000 crore and a potential to provide employment to 2.90 lakh persons had been cleared by the government.

However, the unemployed will opt for jobs in the private sector only if they are convinced that employment opportunities will not be available in the public sector, which is not the case.



Lure of a secure job
Vibhor Mohan

Every single day, scores of unemployed youth converge at the Regional Employment Exchange at Dharamsala with the hope that someone somewhere will have an opening for them.

Official records show that the total number of applicants from Kangra district swelled from 30, 913 in 2003 to 49, 601 in 2005 and the total number of candidates waiting for a job (live register) as of now stands at 1,57,123. While 182 could get jobs through the employment exchange in 2003, the placements rose to 784 in 2005.

Even though the authorities insist that of these only one-third actually need a job and most of them are either studying or are already doing small-time jobs, the long waiting list includes postgraduates and pass outs from ITIs and other technical institutes in the area.

“It is high time youth in Himachal Pradesh got over their fixation for public sector jobs,” says Regional Employment Officer J.S. Patial.

He adds: “Even though the employment exchange keeps organising

awareness programmes for students and fresh pass outs to explore private jobs or go in for self-employment by taking loans, a majority of them still feel their final destination is a job in the public sector.”

The absence of industry in the Kangra region and lack of entrepreneurial initiative is one reason why most youth still depend on the employment exchanges to help them corner a job. In the year 2002 in Punjab, a little over two lakh candidates approached the exchange while the live register in Himachal recorded nearly six lakh of them.

Every day, between 70 to100 applicants visit the office of the employment exchange in Dharamsala. The number rises in months when the

results of graduation and post graduation exams are declared. The total number of postgraduates or graduates who got themselves registered with the unemployment exchange by June 30 this year was 14,624, Class XII pass was 35, 075 and the figure of matric pass was 50,272 for Kangra district.

Besides the vacancies notified in the district, the Central Cell of the employment exchange located in Shimla also forwards the names of skilled applicants to employers in different districts of the state. “But unless it is a good opening, most applicants are averse to moving out of their home district,” says Patial.

“The objective of getting registered at the employment exchange is obviously to get a secure job with a stable income. So there is nothing wrong in most applicants seeking a public sector job as private sector jobs don’t offer much in the state,” says Rajiv Bansal, M. Sc student at CSK Agricultural University, Palampur.

The absence of placement cells and industry-institute interface wings in most educational institutes in the state also contributes to unemployment. “Students need to have the right orientation right from the start and should know which stream is suitable for them. But most students often opt for science subjects out of parental or peer pressure and eventually fail to perform,” he says.

The computerisation of the employment exchange has begun and all the data is being put on the hard disc at the regional office. The 11 sub-offices in the district would also be computerised in the second phase. Classification of waiting list.

MA/B Ed: 1,704

MSc/Bed: 771

BA/Bed: 31,073

BSc/Bed: 42, 093

ITI qualified: 73,022

Total live register: 1,57,123



Hillside view
How corruption comes from home…
by Vepa Rao

That was a cold December night. My sister, her three small children and I were stuck at Bhopal railway station. Our names were not in the reservation chart, though we had booked the berths well in advance, on the connecting train next morning. No railway official would hear my plea. Those days, getting berths reserved in trains was quite a job—the railways were as ill reputed as the PWD. An elderly passenger there said the only way out was to ‘grease the palms’.

That was the night a piece of innocence died—along with my punchy lines of poetry bursting with teenage idealism. I chased the railway clerks the whole night and “managed” the berths in time. My family, though a byword in a southern state for uprightness, applauded my “capability” in bailing out my sister and the little ones.

That’s how corruption is seen as a virtue in case of “exigencies”. Scripts like Shukra-neeti that talk of exceptions to the rules of dharma, and a whole lot of mythological tales that justify wrong deeds of gods and demi-gods have a deep rationalising effect on our minds. And the priests suggest a way of “cleansing and purifying” in case of every wrong deed, be it murder, rape, theft, telling lies… Concepts and instruments like remorse, penance, daan-dharm, special puja-paath, etc are there to bail us out regularly. You can commit a crime, but amply “make up” for it later—baad me dekha jayega ! This emboldens us.

I was brought up in a family of such brahmanical orthodoxy that most people in these parts of India cannot even remotely visualise. When we ate meals, even the voices of the so-called lower castes were not to reach our pious ears! The panchaang (the astrological almanac) guided every little activity in the day—like, when to “start” packing your clothes for a journey even to the next town, when to wear a new shirt, which vegetables (not merely onions) are prohibited on that day, etc.

Steel and glass utensils were considered unholy—not fit for use at main meals or a puja. A shirt and pant were “unholy” and were not to be worn at main meals. A copper tumbler in which you gave coffee to anyone from another caste, religion or region had to be put on burning coal for “purification” before its re-entry into the household.

As a boy of eight I was once caught eating paapad at a night-soil carriers’ dhaba. One of them would lift me in his hands affectionately, play with me and feed me crunchy paapads. My grandfather thundered abuse on him, and I was promptly given a special “purification bath”. Then on, the dhabawallas kept me away despite my entreaties. I remember looking longingly at them while going to school a few furlongs beyond.

Similar experiences followed, when I interacted with classmates of other castes and religions who were not to step inside the house.

Mythological roots

Such incidents started bewildering me. Even as a mere boy, who took keen interest in the constant religious discussions at home, I found the warped logic in defence of lies, shadyantr (crooked strategies) and deception unconvincing. That was when I stopped believing blindly in the explanations given in the mythological contexts. I was of course singularly lucky (unlike many those days) because I was born in an orthodox family that still had room for questioning and debate. I was allowed to separate religion from the stranglehold of mythology.

Such facility is inherent in the core areas of every well-evolved religion. But our blinding anxiety to defend obstinately the non-essential aspects buries the heart of all religions—the deep philosophical enquiry into life, coupled with immediate temporal guidance. It kills the reasoning mind.

How could you defend Krishna stealing butter and adore him as a maakhan-chor? How could you uphold his urging Yudhister to fecilitate his Guru Dronacharya’s death by telling a lie? How could Maryada Purshottam Shri Rama shoot at Vali from behind a tree? Why did Rama, the worshipped brother of Lakshmana and Bharata, accept Vibhishan, a defector and a traitor to his brother (who should have fought openly with Ravana to rescue Sita, or fight at his brother’s command—even if it meant death)?

God, if my wish is fulfilled, I shall visit your shrine, and give you so much cash and those items of your liking. It’s commerce, bribery, mutilated sense of devotion. Such practices and beliefs distance us from what we refer to as God. Above all, they inject into our lives the crude element of “give-and- take” —ultimately, weakening our minds for deviant and corrupt practices.

Easy way out!

How often do we hear: “Kuch upaay batayiyen. Koyee gunjayish?” We do not want to do as ordained in the books, or we have already deviated. The priests gaze at the sky and locate the exceptions, or prescribe “solutions”. The easy way out.

Why not follow the rules, or question them in the right way? Either way, you may at least develop a strong and straight mind. But no sir, we are allowed to evade, deviate, and develop weak minds in the long run. We are always looking for loopholes in the system, and latch on to exceptions—instead of following the rules scrupulously, uncompromisingly. We will not fill the forms in time—because there is that late fee. Or the officer can waive the delay and use his discretionary powers! Violate the traffic rule, baad me dekha jaiyega !

There is always a way out—koyee baat nahin! A backdoor is always kept ready! Our conscience is never allowed to come into high pressure to produce a positive action, or change our mindset.

These questions cropped up in millions of questioning minds then; they do today. The thunderous and crushing answers by the mike-loving scholars and religious leaders merely build icy pockets of silence in our minds. The ultimate feeling sown in our minds is—no action of gods and other exalted beings can be wrong. Unfortunately, we refuse to realise that these are most likely myths created and altered many times over centuries. Nothing sacrosanct or necessarily factual about every story, every detail.

Substitute gods with ministers, leaders, heads of institutions—you get one invisible key to the corrupt bigwigs. Each of them must be feeling often— aham brahmasmi (I am the Supreme one) !

We let things be with platitudes like “bhai, yeh sab dharm sookshmata aam log samajh nahin sakteh!” (“These intricacies of right and wrong cannot be grasped by ordinary people”). You don’t understand, so you accept blindly—what logic! You need not think, we are all there to think for you. Otherwise it will be blasphemy. What a base we have developed over centuries for “democracy” which envisions freedom from corruption of any kind and in any form— including that of the thinking process.

To the criminals’ doting parents each son is a Krishan Kanhiya — stealing bathing maiden’s sarees, having many affairs, exhorting the pandavas to be “practical”. Manage the railway berths somehow, even if you have to “grease the palms”. Manipulate evidence, bribe, threaten—do anything, but defend the actions of those close to you! You can quote scriptures, recite scores of mythological instances when yagya, tapasya , charity, penance, etc would “wash” the sins and “purify” the criminals. There is always a crooked way out— that’s the problem.



Shimla Diary
Girls take to taekwondo
Rakesh Lohumi

The missionary zeal of a sports enthusiast has made taekwondo, a modern form of martial arts characterised by fast, high and spinning kicks, a popular sport in the hill state over a short time.

It was only in 1991 that Vinod Kumar, a black belt, revived the defunct state Taekwondo Association. Starting from scratch, he has provided training facilities across the state without any patronage from the government. Such has been his passion for the game that when all his efforts to raise funds to create infrastructure to develop the sport failed, he withdrew all his savings from the bank and even utilised part of his provident fund to build a complex at Kusumpti. A senior technical assistant in the Central Potato Research Institute, here, Vinod does not have any other source of income and as such investing over Rs 4 lakh from his own resources to promote the game is no small matter.

His effort has not gone in vain. Today the state boasts of as many as 103 black belts, over 1,000 registered taekwondo players and currently over 11,000 boys and girls, mostly schoolchildren, are undergoing training across the state. It is no mean achievement considering the fact that the neighbouring Punjab has only 88 black belts, Chandigarh 28 and Jammu and Kashmir 29. As many as 45 taekwondo training centres are functional in Shimla, Una, Dharamsala, Solan, Hamirpur and Mandi where four qualified coaches and a number of trained instructors are imparting training.

Despite such phenomenal growth, taekwondo officially continues to be a “B” grade sport in the state, laments Vinod. Consequently, the association gets a grant of only Rs 35,000 annually from the government. The grade “A” games are given Rs 50,000. Incidentally, the state Taekwondo Association is one the few sports bodies in the state, which had constituted district units in accordance with the state Sports Act and has been regularly organising various tournaments. The Centre had, on the basis of the country’s performance at international events, upgraded taekwondo to a priority sport.

Vinod Kumar insists that it is not an aggressive sport as generally believed. It only helps develop mental and physical strength. It is rather a skill to improve self-defence and perhaps for this reason a large number of girls were taking to taekwondo.

Keeping in view the growing popularity of the sport, the government should provide adequate facilities for it. To begin with, proper Taekwondo arenas should be made available at Shimla, Mandi, Bilaspur and Dharamsala. All that is required for an arena is a hall where a standard 14 m X 14 m taekwondo mat, which costs about Rs 3.5 lakh, is available. At present the state association has only one mat, which is transported to various places for conducting tournaments.

Menace of stray dogs

At last the local municipal corporation has started the mass sterilisation programme to put an end to the nuisance created by stray dogs in the “queen of hills”. Over the past three or four weeks, the corporation has operated on as many as 300 animals. However, the funds promised for the purpose are not forthcoming from the National Animal Welfare Board. The board gives Rs 500 per dog for sterilisation and the corporation had submitted a Rs 40 lakh project which included Rs 26 lakh for setting up a hospital and Rs 5 lakh for an ambulance.

The board has now said that it would not be able to spare any funds during the current year and the corporation would have to wait till the next year. The Deputy Commissioner of Shimla came to the rescue of the corporation and promptly gave Rs 4.50 lakh. The local Rotary Club shelled out Rs 50,000 and the local Chemists Association and some businessmen also chipped in with useful contributions.

The corporation, which has no funds for the purpose, has requested the state Urban Department to provide Rs 5 lakh so that it could carry out the programme until funds were received from the board.

Entry tax

The district administration is toying with the idea of imposing entry tax from December 24, 2006, to January 2, 2007, to help regulate the rush of winter revellers, which creates chaos in the queen of hills during Christmas and the New Year. In absence of any effective regulation, the roads are choked with vehicles causing unending traffic jams.

The situation is worse in the nearby tourist resort of Kufri, which attracts a large number of revellers. The administration proposes to ban the entry of tourist vehicles beyond Chharabra where the Kalyani helipad will be converted into a temporary parking. Local shuttle bus services will be plied between Chharabra and Kalyani to ferry tourists.

It has been decided that in case of snow a team of home guards will be kept ready for rescue and relief operations. The snow-clearing labour will be given gloves, woollen clothes and the required implements so that they could carry out the job efficiently.



Angling for tourists

The successful breeding of brown trout is expected to give a major fillip to Himachal tourism, says Pratibha Chauhan

Encouraged by the successful breeding of the imported strain of brown trout for the first time in Himachal, the Fisheries Department will set up its exclusive farm at Nagni in Kullu district so that the Tirthan river can be developed as a world class site for angling.

The results of the breeding programme launched by the department by importing brown trout eggs from Denmark have started showing encouraging results. The department has acquired 8.5 bigha land for setting up the first exclusive brown trout farm for which Rs 2.32 crore has already been sanctioned by the Centre.

Till the farm at Nagni is completed, the brown trout breeding is being done at Barot, where stocking of over 11,000 fingerlings has been done by the department. The fact that it is a sought after fish by anglers and found at only select places in the world, the successful breeding of the brown trout is likely to give a major fillip to tourism related activities in the hill state.

The eggs of brown trout were initially introduced in Kullu by a British general in 1909 but in the absence of a feed formulation the efforts failed to bring about the desired results. There is a great demand for rainbow trout too, which is considered a delicacy by people fond of seafood.

“It is for the first time that genetically pure stock of brown trout has been successfully bred on the Tirthan river on which nine proposed hydro-power projects were cancelled by the government so as to promote angling, which is fast emerging as a major tourist attraction,” remarked Mr Harsh Mahajan, Fisheries Minister.

He said trout farming was proving to be lucrative and large number of farms had come up in the private sector as Rs 6 crore had been spent by the government for its promotion. He said the six government trout farms at Patlikuhl, Sangla, Dhamwari, Holi, Nagni and Barot had been revamped which had almost become defunct after the damage caused in the 2001 floods. In the absence of a proper feed formulation, immediately after hatching the brown trout is put in the river, reducing its chances of survival. “We have been able to breed the fast- growing strain of brown trout to about 15 gms size as it has a very long incubation period of three years,” informed Mr B.D. Sharma, Director, Fisheries.

Though the rainbow trout is found in relative abundance but the brown trout is confined to the upper heads of the Beas, Ravi and Sutlej only. However, the success of the angling competition organised by the Fisheries Department in September on the Tirthan river can be gauged from the fact that brown trout of over half kilogram was caught by the anglers. With the setting up of trout farm being a money-spinning proposition, a large number of private farms are coming up in the state. Presently there are 35 trout farms in the state with a production of 30 tonnes per annum. Trout is in such great demand that the entire production of the state is being picked up by a Mumbai-based company at a rate of Rs 230 per kg. Trout is being sold at almost Rs 1,100 per kg in Goa and Rs 750 in Mumbai. With a major concentration of trout farms in Kullu and Mandi region, efforts are being made by the government to encourage people in other areas to set up farms. The main handicap is the absence of feed mills as presently there is only one mill set up under the Indo-Norwegian Fish Project at Patlikuhl. The feed for trout has to be stored at less than five degrees centigrade and cannot be stored for more than one month as it starts producing teflo toxins, which can kill the fish. With trout farming being confined only to select places in the country, like Himachal, Jammu and Kashmir and at a very small scale in the North-East, Himachal has been able to emerge as the leader in trout farming.



Traffic chaos endangers bridge
Ambika Sharma

Baddi bridge shows signs of crumbling under the weight of vehicles.
Baddi bridge shows signs of crumbling under the weight of vehicles. — Photo by Ranesh Rana

Traffic chaos is taking toll of the crucial Baddi bridge, which is not only undergoing excessive load but has also started showing signs of crumbling under the weight of vehicles. Hundreds of trucks remain parked here for seeking clearance from the Excise Department. The bridge has been made to bear weight far exceeding its capacity.

Hundreds of trucks carrying tonnes of load commute daily to Baddi from all over the country. The trucks carry raw material or finished goods. Prior to entering the state at Baddi, each truck has to fill the mandatory Form 26 obtained from the excise and taxation barrier. The details of each truck and its load are then entered into the computer after which the trucks are allowed to pass through. Since there is inadequate staff to handle the computers, each truck has to wait for at least 10 minutes to get the mandatory receipt from the excise and taxation barrier. Consequently hundreds of loaded trucks remain parked on the bridge merely waiting for clearance.

The region has attracted investments worth Rs 1,700 crore and hundreds of trucks ply daily on the road. The government has cared little to enhance the staff strength. The tonnes of load borne by the bridge has started taking a toll. Inaugurated barely a few years back by the former BJP government, it has started showing signs of weakening. Its iron frames, which are usually covered by cement, have started protruding out at several places. All this has not attracted the attention of the authorities to wake up and work out a solution to save the bridge from further damage.

The Baddi-Barotiwala-Nalagarh Industries Association, which has taken up the matter several times with the district administration, has failed to get any response. Its general secretary, Mr Arun Rawat, said, “I had given a presentation about traffic issue. The dangers emanating from this excessive load, which the bridge is subjected to all 24 hours of the day, are immense. A suggestion to construct a makeshift parking utilising the adjacent riverbed was also made. This would have saved the bridge from bearing excessive load while the excise clearance is being obtained. The Excise and Taxation Department can be provided a room in its vicinity where the work can be done smoothly after adding more men.”

He regretted that though the district administration readily agreed to address the problems, nothing had actually been done. Others commuting through the place regularly say that given the present situation, the bridge may collapse soon posing more problems for the region. Since it connects the industrial area to other parts of the region, any breakdown would cause immense inconvenience.

Interestingly, the district administration has been meeting the association regularly to chalk out solutions for its various problems. The pace of the work is, however, not commensurate with the growth of industries and the rising number of vehicles.

The Additional Excise and Taxation Commissioner, Mr Amit Kashyap, said the department was seized of the problem. To facilitate the traffic, a toll plaza is coming up behind the petrol pump on the national highway. This would provide parking space to at least 50-60 vehicles. The land acquisition is in progress and work is being taken up on priority. The national highway wing of the PWD was executing the work. He said the number of computers had already been enhanced to four at Baddi while a proposal for manpower enhancement had been sent to the government. He regretted that with space constraint at the barrier, there was little scope to execute the desired expansion.

With the Punjab Government showing little inclination to complete the Baddi-Chandigarh road, which would have reduced the distance by 11 km, this route remains the lone route to enter the industrial area. Although the Police Department has also deployed more men to control the traffic chaos, particularly in the morning and evening hours, it is an alternative route for these trucks, which will serve the purpose, confides an investor who commutes daily from Chandigarh.



Fire incidents on the rise
Kuldeep Chauhan

A spiral of fire that has scorched the hill horizons red every year poses a threat to the residents of the haphazardly growing towns across the state. Historic buildings, disputed old properties and business houses doing poorly have gone up in flames, in what has turned out to be a scourge of unexplained fires. Over a dozen major fire outbreaks still trigger nightmares in the minds of residents, particularly in Shimla, Mandi, Kulu, Dalhousie, Kala Amb and Baddi.

The ill-equipped firefighters are no match to the threat as dozens of major fires have broken out in Mandi, Shila (Kulu), Jankidas Building, Shimla, the Baddi industrial area, Recongpeo in Kinnaur, Jubbal, Kala Amb and Dalhousie sometime back.

Though fire incidents have been reported throughout the year, the fire threat increases every winter. This is when city residents use electric heating systems and villagers stock up dry fodder and firewood in their houses to keep warm in the freezing temperature.

Fruitless inquiries

Sources say that most of the major fires in the state have remained unexplained. All inquiries to find out the exact cause of the fires remain buried in government files.

Some of the fires are said to be—in the case of loss-making firms or disputed old buildings or shopping complexes—“cover-ups”. In some cases the fires have been triggered due to sheer carelessness on the part of occupants, which has gutted historic buildings like Kennedy House, Petterhoff and others in Shimla, add sources. In most cases, both officials and owners blame the fires on “short-circuit”.

Fading heritage

The historic, hill-friendly structures, that once evoked images of the stone-roofed, gable-shaped houses and chalets on the green hillsides in Mandi, Shimla and Dalhousie, have faded forever. On Thursday, a midnight fire destroyed a 102-year-old building. This was the last remnant of the erstwhile Mandi state. Located in the historic Chauhata Bazar, it was literally a city centre linked to every corner in Mandi town.

The fire destroyed 14 shops worth Rs 2.5 crore and changed the face of Chauhata forever. “It is a bitter reminder of the 1905 catastrophic Kangra earthquake that had razed the dome-shaped old building to ruins”, recalls Dr K. K. Kapur, retired agricultural scientist in the town. The Chauhata city center—once famed for its rocket-shaped domes and quaint stone-roofed houses—is today a smouldering heap of ash. As in other cases, this has sparked a legal battle among the owners and tenant-shopkeepers to stake their claims to the property.

The primary question, however, remains unanswered: “Will the new building restore its pre-1905 beauty? Or will there be another lifeless monster in the town?” asks Dr B.L. Kapur, a writer who wants to see Chauhata in its old glory once again.

Preventive measures

Experts say that occupants take no preventive measures and the enforcement of fire manual remains weak, except in VVIP places like the Secretariat, Governor’s House, AG and Vidhan Sabha.

However, several offices, hospitals, old wooden buildings or houses, hotels and guest houses, dharamshalas, LPG retailer deports, filling stations, commercial buildings, private shops and houses remain vulnerable to fire. This is especially the case in the congested town areas, where first aid and fire extinguishers are conspicuous by absence and fire engines cannot go in case of 
an emergency.

In the rural areas, most of the villagers have old wooden houses, built in clusters. These houses are stocked with the fire-catching dry grass and firewood in preparation for the harsh winter months. This can be seen from the case of Shila village in Kulu district where over a 100 houses, stocked with dry grass-fodder and firewood were gutted in a major fire last year, rendering villagers homeless.

Fire manual

Commercial areas have come up within residential areas in old and new towns in a haphazard manner. Here a small spark can ignite a major inferno. “Shopkeepers, government and private offices, hoteliers and petrol station owners never bother to implement the fire manual, including setting up of the mandatory fire extinguishers”. Under the fire manual, all business establishments, including the government offices, hotels and petrol stations need to get an NOC from the Home Department but the regulation has been shunned by everyone, commented officials in the Home Guards Department.

Rampant negligence

Even the fire extinguishers that have been installed are not of the right kind, as most of the wooden houses, shops, filling stations and LPG gas stations, dealing in inflammable material, need need-specific CO2 and liquid-filled fire extinguishers, say firemen.

“But none of them have kept the relevant first aid or fire extinguishers in their shops. Even wire fitting remains faulty and old. Negligence in things like leaving heaters on carelessly or ignoring plugs that spark is rampant.”

Shopkeepers and hoteliers claim that firefighters remained ill trained and unequipped for dealing with fire incidents in the state. “They do not brief the shopkeepers and hoteliers on the fire manual.”

The Deputy Commandant of Home Guards and Fire, Mr. B.S. Pal, says that since the Fire Department is the first responder in disaster management, be it flood, fire or accident, it needs direct access. “We sensitise and conduct training workshops for hoteliers and shopkeepers and give them tips on prevention and fighting the fire”.

Says HP Chief Fire Officer Sher Singh Thapa, “Under chapter 4 of Fire Manual it is the duty of the heads of all government offices, corporations to inspect office premises, ensuring fire safety by keeping ready fire extinguishers and the fire hydrants. We have limited staff to inspect each and every office and other establishments. Heads of private and government establishments should inform the fire stations if they have problems”.

Fire in villages

What worsens the plight of villagers is that the firefighters cannot reach the place in time, as villages are inaccessible to fire stations. “The villagers should be made aware and advised to keep the hearth away from the firewood and grass. Secondly, Pardhans and Mahila Mandals should be sensitised about the fire-preventive measures. They can be advised to maintain a water tank, equipped with a hydrant and hose pipes in each village, in order to be prepared for any eventuality”, suggests Mr Pradip Banchta, former Up-Pradhan, Dewat Panchayat, Shimla district.

The firemen suggest that SDMs in each tehsil should identify all fire-sensitive villages that exist in clusters and put the preventive measures in place. “We are giving training to the panchyat Pardhans and distribute pamphlets to make them aware about the preventive measures in Kulu district”, says Mr M. S. Sonkhla, fire station officer, Kulu.

CM’s directions

Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh, who rushed here by air to take stock of the fire-hit families on Friday, directed the district administration to ensure that firefighters and ambulances reached every corner of the town. “If need be, they should remove all encroachments on the way. Shopkeepers and residents should install fire alarms to spot the fire in time to nip it in the bud. The IPH Department should maintain the fire hydrants regularly. We will equip fire stations and relocate them in central places”.

On the other hand, former CM and Leader of the Vidhan Sabha Prem Kumar Dhumal, who also met the fire victims, said the relief manual should be amended, as the assistance under the manual was inadequate. “Natural disasters like fire and flood are hitting the state on a regular basis every year”.

Deputy Commissioner of Mandi Subhashis Panda says he will convene a meeting of the firemen and shopkeepers in order to put in place the preventive measures under the fire manual.



Political browbeating ‘upsets’ change
Ambika Sharma

As recognition for his services, a local doctor, Dr Bhupinder Bhardwaj, has been awarded with the National Achievement Award for Health Excellence by the Delhi-based All-India Business and Community Foundation.

Dr Bhardwaj received this award on the occasion of a national seminar titled “Outstanding Contribution to National Development”, held on November 6. He is the director of Bhardwaj DNSD Memorial Medical Centre. A postgraduate doctor, he spent 28 years serving the Himachal Government till 2003, when he left to open his own diagnostic centre.

Jubilant at this achievement, he says, “I have always strived hard to provide cost-effective, qualitative and easily accessible diagnostic facilities to the rural masses. Health awareness in the masses is far less than expected.” Giving credit to the values inherited from his father, who was also a doctor, he said, “It was his dedication, which prompted me to take up this profession.”

He occupied significant positions like general secretary of the Himachal Chapter of Radiology and Imaging Organisation for as long as 18 years. He also remained the district tuberculosis officer at the local regional hospital and was also a member of the sixth advisory committee of the prestigious AOCR. Advocating the need for a social audit, he said it should be carried out so that some reasons can be identified for the large-scale exodus of doctors from government services and also incidents where doctors have committed suicide.

“There is frustration among the medical fraternity due to very limited avenues of promotion and little freedom because of which the doctors today feel stressed. This has led to an exodus of doctors from government services to private jobs. It is more difficult to effect changes in the government set-up as each move is met with political browbeating,” he said while recounting his experiences as a radiologist. The increasing number of incidents of doctors committing suicide is an indication of how stressed they are in the present working conditions. He feels any doctor whose medical reimbursement bill exceeds Rs 5,000 per month should be examined for fitness and should be allowed to work only if found fit.





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