Bonded in loneliness
Purva Grover
A selfless group has emerged as a family for the lonely. The club now seeks an extension of their unit in Shimla

Chand Kapoor and Ajit Singh.
Chand Kapoor and Ajit Singh.

‘One smile begins a friendship, one touch can show you care, one laugh will conquer gloom’, is how Chand Kapoor and Ajit Singh, the founder members of Sharan - The Loner’s Family Club sum up the mission of the club. Found in November the family members of Sharan bid goodbye to loneliness and gloominess the day they got together.

It all started when Chand and Ajit who had been living in seclusion for a long time started interacting on a regular basis and realised that just a two-minute chat every day brought a positive change in their outlook. “We thought why not get all the lonely hearts together and form a group,” reminisces Ajit. And, next the club was formed and today it boosts of a family of 25, which includes retired DIGs, colonels, professors, principals, businessmen and working women. The senior most member of the family is Professor Sansar Chand who is 89 years old, and most of the other members are in their late 50s.

A social organisation with a difference, as they like to call it; they officially get together once every second Sunday to share their lives and problems. Well, while the formal meets are all about making plans for the month ahead, it is the birthdays and the festivals that see them in a celebration mood. Interestingly, this Valentines the members dined together. The members are already looking forward to the ‘Loner’s Day’ that they have decided to celebrate on the 2nd October every year.

While sharing happy moments is the part of the club’s activities, their essence lies in service. At Sharan, meaning shelter; the idea is to look after each other’s mental and physical health. “Most people find it the toughest to tackle feelings of dejection and hence develop a negative attitude towards life,” feels Chand. Unfortunately, there are many people who are lonely even with their family and friends around; they too are welcome to join the club. The members visit each other’s homes frequently for a cup of tea and have also exchanged their numbers to stay in touch all the time. “We no longer face lonely moments, for we have each other,” they chorus. Says Chand, “One of the senior members of the club is physically handicapped and I visit her once every day just to bring a smile on her face.”

The club wishes to spread its wings across the cities and also the nation. And, they have already made a beginning; with a three member extension of their Chandigarh family in Jalandhar and another five in New Delhi. Says Chand, “We want many more hands to gather and wipe each others tears.” They sign off with a message for the residents of Shimla, “ The town holds a place of pride for all of us, as it is home to a huge number of retired people from the forces; they have served the nation their entire lives – we now call them to join hands to spread the message of love and care.”



Age big BAR
Kulwinder Sandhu

The decision of the Bar Council of Himachal Pradesh about not giving a licence to a person above 45 years of age has raised a debate among the legal fraternity. The question is whether the council has the powers to curtail the Fundamental Rights and specify class or category of a person who wants to practice law.

Is the rule reasonable or arbitrary and unreasonable? The rationale for the rule may be to maintain the dignity and purity of the profession by keeping out those who retire from various government, semi-government and other institutions who as advocates may use their past contacts, and thus bringing a bad name to the profession.

The rule does not debar only such persons from entering the profession, but all others also who have completed 45 years of age on the date of seeking enrolment.

The Section-7 of the new rules states that ‘a person who is otherwise qualified to be admitted as an advocate but is either in full or part time service or employment or engaged in any trade, business or profession, shall not be admitted as an advocate’.

What about those who were enrolled as advocates while they were young and had later taken up some other job in any government, semi-government or any other institution, but had not renewed their membership? Whether their membership would be revived after they had completed the age of 45 years?

The new rules are silent on this. Therefore, the new rule seems to be discriminatory, unreasonable and also arbitrary as the choice of 45 years is made keeping in view only certain group in mind ignoring the vast majority of other persons who were in the service of government, semi-government or any other institution at any point of time, feels many people.

As such another matter debate comes to the fore that whether this new rule violates the principle of equality enshrined in the Article-14 of the Constitution?

The Himachal Law Graduate (Professional) Association while condemning the new rule has maintained that the rule violates the Fundamental Rights and virtually amounts to amending the Advocates’ Act of 1961 that is beyond the powers of the Bar Councils. The only power to amend any act vests in the hands of the Parliament not any other body, the association maintains.

The new rule is going to affect the post-retirement avenues, particularly those from the short-service commission of the armed forces.



Old is truly gold
by Shriniwas Joshi

New Circuit House
New Circuit House

There’s no way to reach the balcony over the portico at the new Nahan Circuit House!

When Raja Karam Prakash founded Nahan in 1621, a notorious dacoit named Bera was ruling the roost in the Shivaliks. Locals would say, “Bera lai na chaure, kaunta aur saher (cattle seized by Bera would never return; the owner should buy fresh ones)”


“Hey receptionist, there is a rat in my room”
“Please send him down, he has not signed the register!”

Nahan, during the times of Raja Fateh Prakash, had grown to be a smug town and Emily Eden, sister of Lord Auckland wrote in 1838: “Nothing can be prettier than the scenery, and altogether Nahun is the nicest residence I have seen in India.” It had always been a welcoming sojourn for the visitors. Raja Shamsher Prakash (1856-1898) had built Shamsher Villa for European guests, which got burnt down during the reign of Raja Rajendra Prakash.

Shamsher Prakash gave police administration, judicial and revenue courts, education and health systems, post offices, district boards and public works department besides the first Indian municipality in Nahan town to the state. His farsightedness had made Sirmaur state owners’ pride and neighbours’ envy. The Rajas of neighbouring states like Raja of Kalsia (Chhachroli) started coming to Nahan to study court manners and the rules of administration.

When Raja Surendra Bikram Prakash succeeded to the throne, he got a building constructed in 1898-1900 for VIP guests to stay there. It was done in The Craftsman Bungalow style of architecture that prevailed in England from 1890 to 1940. It has low and compact design with long sloping roofline and wide sheltering overhang that makes the house appear to nestle into the earth. I have stayed in that circuit house several times and I could talk to the building and hear it whispering sweet nothings to me.

There is a row of columns supporting an entablature used as independent feature to support a covered walkway around the main building. Connaught Place of New Delhi made this style known but much later in 1913 to 1931. The aesthetics of this colonnade walkway was disturbed when in the fifties addition in the rear part was done to increase accommodation. A portico in the front was added in the eighties. During the Raja’s time, it was named ‘Guest House’ as I found it written in a weather-beaten page of a book The Other Mrs. Jacobs by Campbell Praed published in 1903.

There are about thirty novels of archival value in an almirah here — quite a few had come from Hyderabad Contingent Mess Library, Ellichpur. I am told that much of the antiques from the Circuit House stood pilfered. Two baroque lamp-stands on the walls of the walkway, three paintings, a British landscape by Edmund Wayten, 1889, photograph of a sketch by R. Pleminson and attractive portraitures depicting a girl playing on piano, her mother eagerly watching her hang in the main lounge and two paintings of pond and swans by E. J. Dullol and one with haunting eyes of a lady holding an anchor and two girls clinging to her are displayed on the walls of the dining room. These are all the relics left in the building besides the four chairs cushioned with printed English muslin lying in the office.

This time I stayed in the New Circuit House completed in 2006 that has features of Queen Anne Revival architecture with slant and cones in the roof, sun-friendly modern American flat windows, 12 guestrooms and an open balcony over the portico to which there is no entry. One has to jump a window of the security room to reach there. That reminded me of a two-storey building where the architect had forgotten to provide a staircase. Only Superman could reach the first floor!

Ezra Pound had once said: “A real building is one on which the eyes can light and stay lit.” I missed that here. The retaining wall of the building has 14 well thought of niches that display 8th century sculptural reliefs brought from the ruins of Sirmauri Tal, the ancient capital of Sirmaur.



Laughing away to small screen
Gautam has the unique ability to laugh away the blues
D. P. Gupta

Hoshiar Singh Gautam, who is quietly making a place for himself in TV film and serials, has traveled a long way from village Ram Lilla stage to the tinsel town.

Gautam, who is now known to viewers by different names of the character he has enacted, has about 10 tele-films and a serial to his credit.

Born in a small village, Nalti near Hamirpur, Hoshiar Singh has humor in his blood, which helped him in making an entry in the small screen.

He says “I became motherless when I was a toddler. Life was a great tragedy but I realised if I continued with a gloomy face, it will not help me. Instead I used my sense of humour to make people laugh.” In 2004, he made an entry in the film when director Baba Kamal at Palampur approached him. He was there in the location to watch a film being shot. He says late Bolywood actor Smita Patil who had met him in Chennai in 1979 and inspired him to enter the industry. He still feels indebted to her for her encouragements.

The role of a comedian in Faujian Di Family brought him appreciation and his character of Reedku Ram was liked by the cine-goers. Gautam has worked for T-series’ album Raunka Himachal Diyan, Sham Himachal Di, Geeet Himachal De and Geet Pahadan De. His role of Budhia in tele-film Fauji Chala Sasural had established him as a known comedian in the region.

He is also appearing in 28 episodes of a TV serial called Vishwas, which will be telecasted on Doordarshan soon.

Gautam is leaving for Shimla, where he has been invited by Bolywood artiste Rajeev Sharma to play a role in a film to be shot there.



Fun Ride
Ambika Sharma

Driving is fun, especially when one can sit back and admire the bountiful natural beauty of the pine whipped hills, the serpentine roads, steep cliffs and deep gorges, instead of maneuvering the steering. Not always! About 21 drivers of Vintage and Classic Car Club of Chandigarh drove up hills from Chandigarh to Kasauli on the occasion of the Baisakhi, and going by their words the experience was exhilarating.

‘Baisakhi Drive’ as the event was called, was organised by Kasauli Resorts. It saw the old beauties owned by the members of the vintage car club ascend in style up to 1,700 meters high hilly-terrain.

The onlookers were left appreciating these grand cars as their proud owners drove in passion. It was a yellow blue 1933-model Ford Tourer owned by the club’s president Brig. J. S. Phoolka was the oldest in the league. Sharing the credit was another 1933-model Dodge in bright red. Among others were a 1970 model Mercedes owned by Balwinder Singh, 1938 model Citreon owned by former ADGP of Himachal, Bhupinder Singh Thind. 
Thind confided it was the pleasure of driving for fun, which made the drive an enjoyable experience. With the car lacking any speedometer and suffering a minor breakdown in the form of breakage in the hose- pipe, it was a piece of cello-tape which kept the car going all the way.  A 1982-model beige Mercedes, 1936 Dodge and a 1951 Fiat were the other cars which tested their performance by taking part in this uphill drive.

Brig Phoolka while appreciating the efforts of the Kasauli Resorts, said such events go along way in promoting tourism and they provide an opportunity to these car owners to showcase their prized possession. The club is now planning another rally in September where these cars would traverse the steep slopes of Chail.

The owners who had problems getting spare parts for their cars, the members said it was a welcome step of the Government of India to allow import of spare parts.

The club’s founder secretary General Baljit S. Manco said the support extended by the CII had immensely helped the club in showcasing these cars. Billy Gill and Major A. B. Singh added that holding of regular events would dissuade certain surreptitiously deals of these valued cars whereas in the past, heritage vehicles had been lost when smuggled out in parts. As many as four esteemed cars including a 1948 model Rolls Royce, Convertible Bluike, a 1940 model Packard and a French car Swan had been shipped out through a apparel container in 1970s, they said.

Lady drivers Sheena, Sherry Bhugia and Natasha also took part in the drive. The resort’s director Capt Chimney and general manager Rocky Chimney said such events would boost tourism and a little support from the state tourism department would go a long way in promoting such events.



The man-monkey ratio in the state is 18:1
Invasion of the highways
Ambika Sharma

The efforts of the state forest department to make feeding of monkeys a punishable offence has helped little in deterring the people from indulging in this habit. The step was necessitated after the monkey population registered a sharp rise on the various National Highways.

While packs of monkeys are found sitting all over the Kalka-Shimla highway from Parwanoo to Dharampur, they make commuting difficult for a rider of a two-wheeler. Villagers commuting on foot face attacks. Since there is no dearth of people feeding them, they have given up the habit of going to the forests to look for food. Places like Datyar, Jabli, Sanwara, Koti, Barog and Dedgrat now have a huge population of monkey. They do not hesitate to attack men and children for food and eatables.

Though a project for sterilisation of monkeys is underway in Shimla, such an approach is also required on other places. The rapid rise in their population has made it difficult for the tourists, who fear stepping out of their vehicles to relax in the cool climes. The monkeys can be often seeing munching bread, biscuits, bananas and chips while comfortably perching on the road parapets.

The wildlife experts, however, see this as a wider problem. They feel their presence on the roads is a reflection of the decreasing forest cover causing loss of their habitats and erosion of the floral diversity due to monoculture plantation of chir, deodar and khairs. This has left little option for the monkeys but to move towards the human habitations.

Further, the decline in the population of carnivores like leopards, snow leopards, wild cats, wolves, jackals and hyenas have failed to keep the simian population within a certain limit. The imbalance in the predator-prey has led to the simians grow beyond capacity. This forces them to look for alternate source of food, which is either attack on fields or by camping on the highways where there is no dearth of liberal donors.

The present population of primates in the state is estimated to be around 3,17,000, according to the Forest Department sources. This number is much more in comparison to the state’s forest cover. The population density worked out for these simians is about nine monkeys per square km, while the man-monkey ratio is as high as 18:1, which is quite alarming.

The monkey attacks have also likewise increased throughout the state. While as many as 3,243 panchayats have been affected adversely where the entire crops have been destroyed. In Solan district alone, 182 of the total 211 panchayats have been effected. While as many as 142 of them are facing about 40 per cent damage to their crops the remaining 42 are facing almost 80 per cent destruction of their crops. The situation in the neighbouring Sirmaur is equally pitiable with 181 of the total 228 panchayats facing damage to crops.

Since nearly 92 per cent of the state’s population resides in the villages and at least 70 per cent of them are into farming. The matter needs urgent attention. More so since the state’s economy suffers losses estimated at Rs 325 to Rs 375 crores solely due to destruction of crops by wild animals every year.

Himachal Gyan Vigyan Samiti, a voluntary organisation opines that the Wild Life Protection Act, 1972, needs to be amended. Its chairman Kuldeep Singh feels the monkeys should be included in the Schedule 5 of the Wildlife Protection Act. They presently fall under Schedule 2 of the Act. The monkeys should be declared as vermin as this would enable their shooting down in case they damage crops.

Singh emphatically feels that mere sterilisation would not help, as it was a long drawn process. Though the government planned to take this process to the highways, but it is yet to begin. The main problem, however, is to lift the export ban on monkeys which was impose in 1978. This will help control their numbers effectively. Monkeys ranging from 40,000—80,000 were earlier exported to countries like the USA and U.K for medicinal research every year. But this was stopped after the ban. This ban should be lifted in view of the uncontrolled monkey population here, he insists.



It better be good
As Renuka Dam project awaits the Centre’s approval, villagers get ready to fight for their rights
 S. R. Pundir

Work on much-awaited Renuka Dam project has not yet started. Residents of Renuka valley, who have been waiting for the past 20 years for the project to start, are now frustrated.

In fact, the government had recently placed this project under the Pabber Valley Power Corporation and posted two superintending engineers along with other staff for the execution of the work. This development has once again raised the hope for the local residents for the commencement of construction work. Most of the people in the area see this Rs 4,000-crore-project as a source of employment for thousands of unemployed youths in this remote Trans Giri 

However, there is another group of the people who feels insecure about their future. People living in 12 villages of Renuka valley, which include Seiun, Sheou, Bagh, Banol, Khech, Anu, Khurkana, Malan, Mathana, Mand Bagh, Jaincha Majhai, Chaminana, Motu, Lohara, Tikkri and Tanoshi, will have to be displaced as this area will be submerged under water once the dam is constructed.

The residents say that till today the government has not decided about their rehabilitation despite the fact that research work on the project has been going on for the past twenty years. “We really do not know where will we go after being displaced from our native villages. Or what will we do for a living,” says Ran Singh of Seiun village.

According to the record of the State Electricity Board, around 300 families of these villages will have to be displaced from their villages. However, Yoginder Kapila, convener of the Renuka Bandh Sanghrash Samiti, refutes the figures given by the board officials. He claims that over 1,000 families of the area will face displacement. He says the samiti has already prepared a memorandum to be presented to Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh representing their demands.

He says until they do not get proper houses and agricultural area with all basic amenities, they will not leave their villages. He demands the list of families to be affected by the dam should be amended as per the Panchyat record. He further says the samiti has passed a resolution that as their land is irrigated and highly valuable, so they get the cost, which is fixed for industrial land. One member of every affected family must also be given a government job.

He says compensation must include every tree and hut and the amount should be decided by taking the samiti members into confidence. He also warns that if their grievances are ignored, they will launch an agitation.

A spokesman of Renuka Dam project says the rehabilitation process is to be processed by the district administration of Sirmour. He claims that the Electricity Board has furnished all the requisite documents years back to the administration. He, however, says maximum funding for this project will come from the Delhi Government, as this project will provide drinking water for the Delhi residents.

Sources say a new revised detail estimate costing around Rs 4,000 crores has been forwarded to the Delhi government by the board for its approval.



Reading is fun now
50 more schools in Nerwa and Chopal come under Pustak Project
Pratibha Chauhan

The number of government primary schools being covered under project Pustak in Himachal is likely to go up to 100 as 50 more educational institutions in Nerwa and Chopal are being brought under the project. The project aims at removing the disparity in male-female literacy ratio and provides an adequate learning environment.

With the Sarv Shiksha Abhiyaan signing a MoU with Room to Read, India Trust, for covering government primary schools under the project, more government primary schools in the state will be covered in a phased manner during the next three years.

The agreement was signed last year in August and libraries have been set in all 50 schools currently being covered in Shimla and Kasumpti blocks. Incidentally, Himachal happens to be the fourth state after New Delhi, Rajasthan and Uttrakhand to be covered under this project.

To begin with libraries and reading rooms have been set up in each of these schools with focus on providing a variety of reading material, which will enable them to develop a passion for reading. Though majority of the books are in Hindi, there are some in English as well.

Three voluntary associations—Association for Social Health in India, Himachal Pradesh Voluntary Health Association and Hind Seva Sangthan—have been entrusted the task to reach out to the rural children and provide them with reading material, which never reaches government educational institutions and that too at the primary level.

“The focus is not just on reading as other activities like quiz contests, story telling, drama and skit, art and craft and some sports activities are also undertaken by the volunteers of the organizations,” says Dr Pawan Kumar Banta, project coordinator, HP Association for Social Health In India. He says libraries have been set up in all the schools and books on wide ranging topics from mythology, science, cartoons and other areas of interest to the children are provided.

Under the project appropriate books, resource material, technical expertise, training of teachers and academic resource personnel have been involved to make it meaningful and beneficial to the children.

“The fact that children are encouraged to frame stories with a particular word, picture or object, giving end to an incomplete story, participate in debates and recitation, helps them to be more creative and developing their mental faculties and skills,” he elaborates.

With most of the government educational institutions, especially in rural areas, lacking facilities like libraries, students can benefit under the project. One of the main objectives of the project is to focus on girl’s education, an area, which was overlooked till some time back.

In fact, the disparity in male-female ratio is addressed by awarding long-term scholarships to underprivileged girls, which in turn can produce dramatic and positive results.

Volunteers of the NGOs involved with this project point out that the families who can afford to send only one child to school, usually chose a son, leaving the girl to do household chores and take care of their siblings.



Shimla Diary
Taxi drivers get more time to install meters
Rakesh Lohumi

The deadline to implement metered-taxi scheme now has shifted to April 24 from April 11. The government had notified the scheme almost six months back and also fixed the tariff to save the tourists from fleecing at the hands of taxi operators. It was announced that the scheme would be implemented from March 11 in Shimla and Dharamsala and a notification had also been issued in this regard.

With taxi operators reluctant to install meters on their vehicles the government was forced to extend the deadline to April 11. However, even the extended deadline has expired and taxis continue to ply without meters at the tourist places.

According to Rakesh Sharma, joint commissioner, transport, the department did not enforce the scheme so far as the weights and measures department did not have the machines to calibrate the meters. However, now the calibration machines have been installed and license issued to dealers for sale of meters. The department has also addressed the issues raised by the taxi operators and it will start enforcement of the scheme from April 24. Action will be taken against the taxis plying without meters.

In the past the government has not been able to break the monopoly various transport unions representing truck operators, taxi operators and bus operators. This time it will have to act firmly as the scheme has been introduced on the directions of the High Court. The scheme is to be extended to other tourist town later.




Tourists are not harassed and exploited by taxi operators alone. Those driving down to the hill capital are being fleeced. With very few hotels offering parking, tourists either park vehicles along narrow roads and end up being challaned or in authorised parking lots run by the Municipal Corporation.

The MC has outsourced parking lots to private parties for huge sums — the corporation’s total income from the auction of parking lots this current year will be Rs 72 lakh as against Rs 20 lakh last year. The parking fee for small vehicles has been fixed at Rs 30 for less than six hours, Rs 40 for six to twelve hours and Rs 50 for 24 hours. Similarly, the fee for bigger vehicles is Rs 40, Rs 50 and Rs 60, respectively, for the three time slabs.

The corporation has put up boards displaying the parking fee but by coincidence, or design, posters have been pasted on these boards. At some places, the amount has been scratched and is illegible.

Consequently, contractors are having a field day. The greater the tourist rush, the higher the parking fee — visitors have shelled out Rs 100 for 24 hour parking as against the stipulated Rs 50.

Assistant commissioner Ashwini Sharma admits that reports of overcharging were received often. A mechanism for constant monitoring, particularly during the tourist season, would soon be put into place, he said.



Roping in the lifetime award

Ramesh Kumar Garg, chairman of Asia Resorts Ltd, has given with Life Time Achievement Award from the Ministry of Defence. Governor V. S. Kokje gave way the award to Garg during a function held in Shimla recently.

Earlier, Garg had received the Himachal Ratna and Udyog Ratan awards in the year 2001 for his contribution to the tourism sector in the state. Garg is seen as the pioneer in introducing the state to ropeway tourism. Garg has come a long way from owning a small shop to the Timber Trail Resort at Parwanoo.

— J.G.



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