Alarm bells for forests

The ever-depleting green cover in the hills is facing a serious threat from the newly emerging phenomenon of forest diseases, reports Rakesh Lohumi

Over the past few years, the state has witnessed the outbreak of a number of forest diseases, which were virtually unknown in the Himalayan region until recently. Worse, the viral infection and insect attacks were not confined to a particular species of trees or area. They covered a host of species across the state, even the land locked tribal areas, which were known for their disease-free environment.

In the cool alpine zone, the most important commercial species deodar (cedrus deodara) and kail (blue pine) have been infected, while in the lower hills shisham, kikar and sal are under attack. In the tribal Lahaul Spiti, it is the salix that has become vulnerable to diseases.

First a fungal disease caused by phytophthora cinnamomi, a deadly fungus known for its destructive potential the world over, inflicted a patch of deodar trees in Chail. It led to drying up of about 900 trees. Fortunately, it was a localised infection detected well in time by the Himalayan Forest Research Institute (HFRI) with the help of Himalayan Research Group, a non-government organisation engaged in forestry research.

Then, it was the turn of shisham, which grows in the lower hills of the state. Almost 40 per cent of the trees have been affected by the twin attack of fusarium and genoderma fungi in Bilaspur, Una, Hamirpur and Kangra. The disease has broken out in epidemic proportions and other states in the northern region have also been affected. In Paonta, the sal trees have come under insect attack.

The sturdy conifer, blue pine (pinus wallichiana), has come under pest attack causing hundreds of trees to dry up in Shimla district in patches. Scientists of HFRI identified the pest, which devours the sapwood, rendering the stem hollow, as pityogenes scitus blanford.

In the cold desert of Lahaul-Spiti, over the past four years a large number of salix trees have dried. There is little vegetation in the area and it was the only species, which the tribal people had managed to grow in the harsh conditions over the years.

The scientists hold the ongoing climatic changes responsible for the large-scale outbreak of forest diseases in northern India. The rise in average temperature due to global warming, particularly in the hills, has created conditions conducive to the growth of pathogens. According to Mr Surinder Kumar, director of the HFRI, the ongoing environmental degradation has started taking its toll. The microclimate has changed as evident from the shortening of winter, declining snowfall and receding snow line. The average temperature has been increasing. Further, the moisture in the subsoil is declining due to expanding human habitations, which are covering more and more land affecting absorption of water and reducing soil fertility. All this has made the trees, particularly in the hills, vulnerable to diseases.

The environmentalists are concerned, as forests will be subjected to increased onslaughts of disease-causing organisms in future. More so, because the state Forest Department does not have the infrastructure to detect and manage such diseases. It was largely dependent on the HFRI for detection and management of diseases. It is high time that the department came out with a comprehensive plan to tackle the situation, failing which it might find it difficult to protect the forests, which are increasingly becoming susceptible to diseases. Any laxity on this front could spell doom for the fast-depleting forest resources, which are already under strain due to increasing pressure of population.



Shining Star
Pratibha Chauhan

Having got a hatrick which enabled India to win the Cricket World Cup for Special Children held in Mumbai recently, Deepak, the highest wicket taker in the event, now wants to buy a fancy car like his hero Sachin Tendulkar as he feels cricket brings in a lot of money.

Sachin has emerged as the star of the Indian cricket team that won the Special World Cup for children with various disabilities at Mumbai last month. It has added to his confidence and transformed this 17-year-old. Despite the 50 per cent hearing and talking disability due to mental retardation since birth, this boy has been quite independent, like his normal sibling right from childhood.

“The appreciation and exposure he got by participating in the world cup, has added immensely to his confidence and now his ambition is to earn loads of money by being a cricket star, which he already is in a way,” says the proud mother, Ms Kamlesh Sharma. Hailing from Dharmour village in the Karsog area of Mandi district, he has been living with his family in Shimla as his father, Mr Hari Ram Sharma, is employed with the HIMUDA. He emerged as the highest wicket taker at the World Cup in which eight teams participated and was responsible for India’s victory against the Australian team in the finals.

Prior to this, his performance at the Demonstration Games in which 40 countries participated at Shanghai was widely appreciated by participants from world over. Cricket being his passion right from childhood, there is not a ball that he misses during any cricket match, sitting through the night. Despite not attending any institute for special children, Deepak does all his personal work without help and is more than happy attending a regular school even if it is just for the fun part and company of other children.

Deepak idolises Shane Warne as he himself is an off spinner and loves Sachin whom he considers the best in the world.

“Oblivious of the fact that the big money cricket has is missing when the sport is played by special children, it bothers him that despite such a fantastic performance he hasn’t got any money,” says his mother.

However, had it not been for the support and guidance provided by the voluntary organisation, Special Olympics Himachal, headed by Ms Mallika Nadda, Deepak wouldn’t have got the opportunity to shine at the World Cup and the games in Shanghai. Being very possessive about the thick file of newspaper clippings and photographs of his that have appeared in international and national papers he shows each one of them with great pride. Despite not having learnt the sign language he has mastered the art of lip reading and can convey everything very aptly which is obvious from the way he explains the thrill of flying as it was his first air travel when he went to Shanghai. “Deepak has no problem mixing around with people as he enjoyed every minute of our stay at various places like Shanghai, Mumbai, Gandhinagar and Baroda, where he has been travelling with me during selection camps and events,” says Mr Sunil Dharma, the coach to whom the credit goes for honing Deepak’s talent. Mr Dharma, who is doing his Ph D in Physical Education from the Himachal Pradesh University, says he loves guiding and playing with special children, who have immense talent.

Though Deepak had been playing cricket like any normal boy in the neighbourhood but it was the Special Olympics Himachal Pradesh, which shaped his career in cricket. It was on the basis of his brilliant performance at the national selection camp at Baroda in April earl this year that he was picked up to be part of the 15-member-Indian cricket team of special children. Ever since there has been no looking back as he has bettered his performance, making everyone proud.

“When we got several telephone calls from people in Mumbai that your son is a wonder boy, we felt that God has given us a very talented boy who is very special for all of us,” said Ms Kamlesh Sharma, with glint of pride in her eyes.



Shimla Diary
Monitor seismic activity
Rakesh Lohumi

A highly earthquake-prone hill state like Himachal Pradesh must have a separate authority comprising technical experts to closely monitor the seismic activity and give scientific advice to the government, says Dr Arun Bapat, a noted seismologist who was in the state in connection with the state Children’s Science Congress. He said at present the disaster management machinery comes into action only after the worst had happened. Similarly, experts like him were also called in after the quake and they only conducted post mortem and gave advice, which did not help save lives.

An earthquake does not kill anyone. It is the collapse of man-made structures that takes a heavy toll of life. As such, the focus must shift to preventive measures and preparedness to face the disaster. More so because recent scientific advances in seismology indicate that it is possible to pick up warning signals, which emanate from active fault before a devastating quake hits a region. However, this will require a permanent authority comprising experts who could monitor the scientific data to give a timely warning about the impending disaster. Incidentally, the Gujarat Government, which appointed Dr Bapat as its advisor after the devastating earthquake, has already set up such an authority.

The parameters like the temperature of the earth sub-surface, which starts rising due to tectonic activity, provide a good indication. Similarly, there is spurt in radioactivity, which could be measured at places as far off as 200 km from the epicentre. The magnetic filed starts decreasing as a result of which the telecom system comes under strain leading to disturbances and the fault rate of telephone lines increases suddenly. All these precursors are effective indicators of the earthquake, he explains.

He was particularly concerned about the uninterrupted line of high-rise structures along the road that have come up in Shimla. No rescue operations could be carried out in such a situation, as the debris of collapsed buildings will block the roads and pathways. What to speak of rescue vehicles, it will not be possible to carry victims even on stretchers.

Places Delhi and Noida will see a lot of devastation because of collapse of high-rise structures, which did not have the quake-resistant features. While the earthquake in Gujarat claimed about 30,000 lives, not a single person was killed in Seattle in the USA, which was rocked by a tremor of same intensity because the building had been designed to resist quakes.

Awards galore

J. P. Negi
J. P. Negi

By conferring the Life-Time Achievement Award on Mr J.P. Negi, the Confederation of Indian Horticulture has recognised his contribution as a senior bureaucrat in promoting horticulture.

Hailing from the tribal Kinnaur district of the state, Mr Negi has been aware that horticulture, which has been the mainstay of farmers in the hills, has not been getting due attention. He was quick to notice that to realise the full potential, horticulture has to be promoted on a commercial scale. When he got an opportunity during his stint at the National Horticulture Board, he introduced a new concept of “commercial horticulture” and came out with a number of schemes, which transformed the horticulture scheme. An important aspect was that the schemes covered a wide spectrum taking care of the BPL (below poverty line) farmers to associations of growers, non-government organisations and research and development institutions.

The back-ended subsidy provided for integrated projects and construction of cold storages yielded desired results as over 6,000 cold storage projects were implemented within two years. An additional capacity of 2,700 lakh tonne with a back-ended subsidy of Rs 207 crore and the projects attracted a private investment of Rs 8,000 crore. Besides 504 commercial horticulture projects were also implemented.

“When I joined in 1997, the Planning Commission and the Ministry of Agriculture had decided to wind up the board in view of its poor performance. I reviewed its working, framed schemes covering every aspect of horticulture. The result was that the board not only survived but flourished with the annual budget shooting up from a meagre Rs 12 crore to Rs 120 crore”, says Mr Negi while speaking about his efforts which earned him the award along with a gold medal.

Earlier, the Government Leadership Award-2001 was conferred upon him by the International Association of Refrigerated Warehouses (USA) for his pioneering efforts in the development of cold chain in India. He also received the All-India Food Processors Association Special Award for distinguished services to the food processing industries and silver plaques and certificates of appreciation from the Confederation of Indian Industry.

Theatre workshop

Delhi Kala Karam, a non- government organisation, held a theatre workshop during the Children’s Science Congress at Nahan. Saroj Vashisth, general secretary of the organisation, along with theatre personality Shekhar Battacharjee helped the children to write scripts for skits based on the assigned theme “Nurture nature for future”. The objective of the exercise was to enable the children to learn science. The participants were also given tips for improving the performance of actors.

They also visited the Nahan jail and distributed books and stationery to prisoners. The literate inmates are being persuaded to teach others by the organisation which has been working with inmates in various jails. They were also being encouraged to write and paint show so that their hidden talent could be uncovered. In fact, Sanjeev and Dine Ram, two inmates, have penned poems, which will be published by the organisation.



HIllside view
Folklore as a key to mindset…
by Vepa Rao

Waxing eloquent on culture has become both fashionable and profitable. The social and political climbers use it to whip up public sentiment; the foolish ones mouth a lot of vague stuff about the glory and richness of the culture, tradition, heritage concerned etc. Basically, we have reduced the public reference to culture to pathetic populist levels. Culture has become a commodity for both the petty-minded politicians and the useless fellows trying to impress their light-minded bosses and the indifferent public. A tamasha that brings in cash.

Big cities have coined many terms for such parasites on society: “Culture-vultures”, “heritage-wallahs”, “tradition- merchants” and so on. Ask them what our culture is all about; you are likely to get some high-sounding stuff with academic pretensions. They may also smile benignly at your puzzled face.

That has been my experience of over four decades in big centers like Mumbai, Kolkata, and Delhi. Sadly, this has started happening in Himachal too. Just mention about our glorious traditions etc—you will see a foggy, beatific look on the listener’s face. Followed of course by vigorous nodding of heads, and a few vague noises of appreciation. Nothing more.

Banal comments about our hospitality, religious bent of mind, and superficial gestures of “good behaviour” are repeated in every forum. How long shall we keep patting ourselves merely for belonging to the “land of gods and goddesses”—without caring to know the way Himachal’s collective psyche has been evolving over centuries? And without understanding the deeper interplay between the human factor and the perception of divinity here?

That’s where efforts of serious scholars like Dr Meenakshi Faith Paul who teaches at Shimla’s famous St. Bedes College appear as a silver lining. Unlike some armchair researchers who manufacture both the so-called data and insights, she undertakes strenuous travels to remote spots to study the local situations. Her dynamism is infectious! Dr Paul’s work on Himachal’s folklore and traditions will bring some clarity into the scene. You will have to read her many papers and publications (some in the pipeline) to appreciate the full context. She is also backed by Himacahal Pradesh University’s Centre for Himalayan Studies.

Apart from translating numerous Himachali short stories into English, Dr Paul has been gathering and studying tales (kathas) told at various temples. “Scores of these tales, which vary from place to place, give us insights into the “the different local systems of traditions, beliefs and perceptions” that go into the making of their mindsets.

For instance, the images of Sita in different versions of Lok Ramain (as Ramayan is pronounced in pahari) help us to understand the moorings of the rural mindset better. In many kathas, it is made clear that Sita allows herself to be carried away by Ravan for the “greater good of humanity”. She is neither duped by, nor helpless before, Ravan. In another version, Ravan does not desire Sita for her beauty or grace, but because she is “an excellent cook and by extension, a good wife and homemaker”. These qualities are highly estimated in the hills “where a woman’s charms are secondary to her competence in running the household”.

Folk songs and tales, carrying the mores and “the local dimensions”, indicate a community’s attitudes—they should be integral to formulation of policies and implementation of welfare programmes. A folk song describes how a stray she-dog begs food from door to door—the misfortune was caused “because, in her previous life as a woman, she had the audacity to eat food before her husband did”. In contrast is cited a folk song from another region—an unwed single mother successfully fights for her child’s rights. In the end, the impressed king himself offers to marry her. A creative challenge for promoting women’s rights and welfare—without disturbing the ethos.

“The few custodians of the temple narratives are very old… the younger generations prefer jobs. This is a strictly male domain and an oral tradition of communication. It is considered blasphemous to write down these temple-tales. We must act determinedly to preserve this wealth of folk wisdom.”

Meenakshi Paul recounts an interesting sidelight. The introduction of Jersey cow was not successful in many areas. Being very big, they couldn’t negotiate the narrow hill-tracks and slipped down frequently. They ate huge quantities of fodder. Since it’s an imported breed, the villagers called it “auntie” instead of mother cow ( gau mata ). “Usko paalne se punya nahin milta …” (not pious enough for worship).

If only our development planners appreciate such ground realities in advance…

Small points!

Sensitivity is best seen in being sensitive to other people’s needs. Not in being touchy and blowing the fuse at the slightest excuse.

Sit in a corner of a busy restaurant and watch people picking up saunf while leaving. I have done this recently. Nine out of 10 customers used their fingers, dirty or not—instead of the spoon available there.

Similarly, we shake others’ hands involuntarily—even if we had just wiped our running noses, dug into our ears, or scratched a less visible part of the anatomy. Worse still, we pick up with fingers and pass to guests eatables like biscuits, wafers etc—even if the wretched fingers had just been busy otherwise!

Remember the campaign on DD several years ago to discourage village women from bringing water to guests with their fingers dipped in the tumblers? It was effective. We need similar campaigns to sensitise the “educated” urban gentry. Fashionable clothes, heavy perfumes and accented English can’t hide our unconcern for others.



Yearnings of a woman

The Irrigation and Public Health (IPH) Minister, Mr Kaul Singh Thakur, released Kokh Se Kabr Tak, a collection of poems written by a Mandi-based poetess, Rupeshawari Sharma, at Mandi on Sunday. The poems voice the writer’s concern for women in the present age, depicting their yearnings.

It is the first book on Nari Vimarsh in Himachal.

Critics have censured the poems for their rather erudite expression for the common Hindi reader. Rupeshwari Devi has used erudite expressions that hide the real meaning of the stanzas, comment critics. This may be because it is her first book.

Commenting on the book, Mr Thakur said the writer had touched on different issues that concern women in the present social set-up. The government was promoting writers and gave funds to the HKSLA from time to time.

Mr Vashsiht, Mandi-based poet Dinu Kashyap, Dr Prem Bhardwaj, a Hindi writer and critic, Dr Vijay Vishal, a Mandi-based writer, also spoke on different aspects of the poems and the writer. —TNS



Log in for spouse
Kuldeep Chauhan

Those who are seeking a prospective bride or groom for their wards now can log in to the matrimonial website, exclusively devoted to the alliance-seekers from Himachal, including the Himachali NRIs. It was formally launched by the Deputy Commissioner of Mandi, Mr Subhasish Panda, on Thursday.

Though many matrimonial websites exits in the country, but the new website- here is the first of its kind dedicated only to the alliance-seekers from Himachal.

Devised by three local entrepreneurs the website will cover all the 12 districts in the state, offering district wise matrimonial choices to its clients.

Talking to The Tribune on the sidelines of the launch, Mr Sudhir Sharma, who is also an astrologer said that the website would provide complete privacy to the alliance-seekers till the “match-making” did not materialize.

“They would verify the information from both parties seeking documents like birth certificates and the basic information on types of partners they are looking”.

Mr Sharma said they would first confirm the right match-making through horoscope and would charge Rs1000 per client only after the alliance materializes.

“The websites give district-wise choices to the clients. we will give at least five different “prospective choices to the alliance -seekers in a month time”.

The two entrepreneurs Mr Yash Raj and Lalit Sen said that they had received over 300 queries.

“We will verify the credentials of the brides/groom to the best of their ability and keep the information confidential and transparent. We have dedicated two helplines for the purpose to the benefit the alliance-seekers”, they explained.



Nehru’s statue faces neglect
Ambika Sharma

The quantum of respect commanded by the country’s first Prime Minister Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru in the district town of Solan is manifested in the deplorable condition of his lone statue erected on the Mall Road.  Erected on October 26, 1965 by Lt Governor Bhagwan Sahay in the Children’s Park, it had been ignoraned for the past several years.

 The efforts of the District Congress Committee’s general secretary Mr Sanjay Awasthi, to celebrate his 117th birth anniversary by garlanding this statue once again revived the glory of this long lost statue. At least 100 Congress activists joined the occasion to pay floral tributes to the great leader. Even women including Ms Santosh Sharma former president, District Mahila Congress, prominent advocate Ms Sunita Sharma and others, turned up in large numbers to celebrate this occasion. A former chairman of Zila Parishad, Mr Amba Dutt Sharma was among the senior Congress leaders who turned up to garland the statue of the late Prime Minister.

The park is ideally located in the town’s heart and is barely 20 meters from the offices of the Deputy Commissioner, Sub-Divisional Magistrate, Additional Deputy Magistrate and Superintendent of Police. Despite this proximity no official ever paid attention to its upkeep.  The statue has lost its shine due to not having been polished for years together. Even the inscription engraved on its base bearing the name of the Lt. Governor was barely readable.

Lamenting about the poor upkeep Mr Awasthi said the DCC would now ensure that the statue was regularly polished and its upkeep would be taken care of. He said the youth is especially indebted to the first PM of the country as it was his vision and far-sightedness that has helped the nation progress. Congress activists vowed on the occasion to carry forward the visions of this great leader whose ability helped the nation gain independence.

The park is supposedly maintained by the local municipal committee whose representatives, municipal councilors, were present on the occasion. It is interesting to note that officials have been visiting this park to attend various functions but none have bothered to pay attention to this statue.  Fruits and sweets were later distributed by the DCC to the children of Government Primary School Punjvilla. Mr Awasthi also announced that students who will stand first in their respective classes would be given free uniforms.



Problem in paradise

Lack of safety norms and technical expertise have turned the Solang valley from a paraglider’s dream destination to a nightmarish experience, says Kuldeep Chauhan

The Solang valley, a heaven for paragliders, is no longer safe. The death of a paraglider last week and four other fatal accidents over the years have exposed chinks in the aero sports in the state.

Thanks to the lure of brilliant snow and sunshine and lush green cover of deodars, Solang Valley, near Manali, had emerged as the ‘Mecca of Paragliding’ for both tourists and the aero-sports freaks.

But this Mecca of falling into bad days as the Department of Tourism and Civil Aviation (DTCA) and para-gliders are working at cross-purpose, giving negative publicity for the aero-sports in the state.

Regardless of their age, thousands of tourists try their tentative toes, riding the thrilling thermals, the hot air-currents, which are source of flying in the valleys round the year. The professional paragliding and handgliding pilots compete for different event during pre-world cup organised at Bir-Billing in August-September every year to promote aero sports in the state.

In Solang Valley there are as many as 100 trained paragliders who assists tourist in such joyrides. They all come from nearby areas and are trained from the Himalayan Institute of Adventure Sports, Manali, which is run by Mr Roshan Thakur.

No safety norms

Though the DTCA has notified the rules to regulate the adventure sports, but its enforcement remain weak, as the department has no technical experts to enforce the rules.

Even travel agents running adventure sports give a damn to the safety norms, which are mandatory under rules chalked out by the Federation International Aeronautics (FIA), a world body that governs aero-sports around the world.

As many as four accidents-three in Bir-Biling site and two at Solang- have resulted in death of one amateur and three trained paragliders, due to what officials have described as an “error in judgment on the parts of flyers”.

In the recent accident, two weeks ago in Solang, two trained paragliders took a flight from Fatru, a high point in Solang valley site. They took a spiral turn in mid-air, but lost control of the glider, which went in one direction in speed and the men hit the ground. Ishwar Singh from Burwa village, Manali, died on the way to hospital, while Prem Chand, who was in-tandem flight with Ishwar Singh, sustained serious injuries.

In another case, a Chandigarh-based tourist tried an in-tandem flight with a trained paraglider at Bir in the Kangra valley last year, but his harness collapsed and he came down in full speed, hitting the ground and died.

These accidents have exposed the lack of ‘mandatory safety standards and regulations’ in adventure sports. As a result, the operators operate the gliders carelessly as there are no technical experts to check the equipments and the measure the ideal flying conditions at the flying sites notified by the DTCA.

The accidents have also exposed a lack of proper knowledge of the unpredictable air-currents in the mighty Dhauladhar and Rohtang mountain ranges.

The local paragliders resent the fact that the department has slapped huge registration charges of Rs 500 and Rs 20,000 per year and asked them to register themselves with the department as a travel agency. “We can not afford such huge charges as flying is seasonal and paragliding equipment costs Rs 2 lakh to Rs 4 lakh. They should charge Rs 1,000 from each pilot per year and allow the association to operate the flights at Solang,” they say.

What is even more surprising is that the Himachal is promoting the aerosports through the remote control, Delhi-based Aero Club of India, who has no stakes in promoting sports among local youth, said the paragliders.

The ‘free-flying’ is not only bringing negative publicity for the adventure sports, but the state government is ignoring a potential area that could employ the state’s over five lakh unemployed youth, says tourism experts.

Hope at last!

The Chief Minister, Mr Virbhadra Singh, has founded the Aero

Sports School in Delu in Jogindernagar this year to provide training in paragliding, hang-gliding and other aerosports in the state.

The Commissioner Tourism, Mr Tarun Shridhar, says the technical committee has been constituted that includes experts from the Western Himalayan Institute of Mountaineering and Allied Sports, Manali, to regulate paragliding.



Plans for writers
Kuldeep Chauhan

The Himachal Kala Sanskriti and Language Akademi (HKSLA) has decided to purchase in bulk 40 books written by the writers from Himachal this year. The state government has given a grant of Rs 21 lakh this year for different schemes.

Stating this at a book release ceremony held at Mandi on Sunday, the HKSLA secretary, Mr Sudershan Vashisht, said under the policy the academy purchased books worth Rs 4,000 to promote writers. “We have sought representation from the writers on books published till 2005”, he added.

He said the academy would hold a prize-distribution ceremony in December to give awards till 2002 and Kala Samman for 2003. The prizes carry a cash prize of Rs 11,000 and a citation. The award for 2004 would also be announced this year.

Under the National Manuscript Mission, the HKSLA had been made the resource centre. The academy had signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Tribal Society Language Research and Publication Centre, Baroda. Under this programme, both centers would work to promote the culture and languages of tribal areas in Himachal Pradesh.

Mr Vashisht said the academy would hold art exhibitions of artists from Himachal at Punjab Kala Bhawan, Jaipur, and in Lukhnow in December this year to promote their works.

“The academy is making cassettes of traditional folk songs, devotional songs related to all the Shaktisthal temples in the state. A film on temples of Mandi is under progress, he added.





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