Mission 2020
Crusader on Wheels
Kuldeep Chauhan

Eight gun-totting ULFA ultras in the jungle of North-East pointed guns at him. A drunken cop at a police station in Sikkim kicked him. LTTE terrorists in Srilanka beat him up. Sex workers tried to entice him. For, all of them mistakenly perceived him as an intelligence man in the garb of an anti-AIDS campaigner on the bicycle.

But all this has failed to deter 24-year-old Somen Debnath from doing what he calls a lifelong mission— touring India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Kazakistan and Russia on his bicycle to convey a message, as professed by his hero Swami Vivekananda. He hopes to accomplish his mission by 2020.

Coming from the country’s prized Royal Bengali tigers’ reserve Sunderbans, in West Bangal’s 24 Pargana, this young left B.Sc. Zoology and painting to embark upon his mission on May 27, 2004. Somen’s toured 26 states and even countries including Sri Lanka, Bhutan and Myanmar on his bicycle covering 36,000 km. He’s paddled his bicycle (carrying an AIDS message) and met lakhs of people including 23 chief ministers and 25 governors in the course of his journey. Somen drove his bicycle through Solan, Shimla, Mandi, Kullu and Manali and is now on his way to Ladakh.

Somen is cagey about his future plans for sex workers, children with AIDS and orphans, but he shares his experiences during the course of his ride, “The AIDS message is not reaching where it is needed the most— sex workers on the highways in cities and tribals in North-East. The NGOs and various state-level AIDS control societies I have come across are there just to mint money. They are not bothered if the AIDS awareness has reached the vulnerable people in the states.”

Before this crusader continues his mega journey, he informs that he has met over 10,000 sex workers and their only lament is that they didn’t want to enter flesh trade, but they have no other means of sustaining them. “They know about AIDS, but their clients never allow them to use condoms,” he discloses, pointing out towards the hazards of AIDS among the youth. The situation in the North-East is going from bad to worse.
“The clients including army men from Indian mainland and policemen visit the simple tribal women and they are an easy prey for sexual activity. “The AIDS message remains buried in files of AIDS control societies. They have taken to guns as they have seen how their families or relatives were killed in an encounters between security forces and the ultras’,” says Somen and adds that he wants to do something for tribal people after he will complete his mission in 2020, the year in which ex-president Dr A.P.J. Kalam’s mission of India will also commence.

“I was kicked by a cop at a police post. But terrorists pointed guns on me after they spotted my army shoes, which were given to me by the Assam Rifles. They were pacified when I showed them documents and told them about my mission. I met similar threats from Maoists and LTTE. I told them that safe sex and use of condoms can prevent them catching the virus,” he informs.

Somen comes from joint family and is in touch with his parents and friends he’s made during the course of his journey.  His inspiration comes from an incident when a girl AIDS patient in a nearby village at Basanti died and nobody knew about the deadly virus spreading in the country. “Since then, I worked on AIDS and spread awareness about it in my school and locality. That is how this mission was born,” he quips.

“I will come back to India in 2020 and start something that I don’t want to share with anyone as of now. I want to become a karmyogi like Vivekananda, my hero and an example of a perfect man in the world,” Somen signs off.



Wizard of Knowledge
Pratibha Chauhan

All of five, this child prodigy’s blessed with more magic than Harry Potter!

Photo by S. ChandanComing from a five-year-old, a lecture on AIDS is bound to surprise you. What’s more surprising, though, is this young one’s knowledge about various sections of law, his fluency in six languages and much more that would leave anyone awestruck.

Yet to attend any formal school, whiz kid Naitik Sunta is all set to take the Class III exam, provided the education department allows it. Seeing his brilliant memory and high IQ, one is forced to call him a child prodigy.

Thanks to his exceptional talent, he was picked up by the National AIDS Control Organisation to be part of the nationwide AIDS awareness campaign. He’s toured 10 states, speaking about the deadly disease, its causes, precautions, treatment and the associated social stigma.

Notwithstanding his age, Sunta skillfully manages his family’s fruit wholesale business single-handedly at the Dhalli fruit market in Shimla, with clients from Mumbai, Kolkata and Chandigarh. Son of a civil engineer Sanjeev Sunta and a lecturer mother, this boy is already a powerhouse of knowledge.

Knowing mathematics tables upto 30 is a child’s play for him, as is reciting the names of world leaders and their countries. He is quite comfortable with not just English, Hindi, Pahari and Punjabi but even German and Nepali. His extraordinary oratory skills had made him the star campaigner during his maternal grandfather’s panchayat election.

“Right from birth, he has given indications of being an exceptional child but everyone was surprised when he started talking at the age of seven months,” avers father Sanjeev, presently handling the family business. With the family making frequent business trips to Mumbai, Naitik already has offers from some television channels to feature in their serials. Star Plus and IBN 7 channels have even made documentaries on this child prodigy.

Naitik’s parents say that it is his own curiosity, which gets Naitik to learn new things much beyond his age. “We have never tried to teach our child more than what every parent does but he has exhibited a brilliant talent,” smiles the proud father.

On his part, Naitik is quit busy extending a helping hand in the family business, “I’m not too keen to attend school but I want to go to Mumbai and meet Bobby Deol, who is my favourite star,” he signs off with child-like innocence.



The Sleeping Beauty
by Shriniwas Joshi

Ignored by man, endowed by nature, the sleepy Bharari Bazaar brims with old-world charm

Bharari is a spur of Elysium Hill and most tourist guidebooks use the adjective ‘ignored’ to qualify it. The bazaar of Bharari was and still is a sleepy conglomeration of a couple of shops. Had Thomas Hardy seen it, he would have called it ‘a little one-eyed, blinking sort o’ place.’ The fate of Bharari was such that it remained in the princely Koti State till Himachal was formed in April 1948. Along with Sanjauli, it merged with Punjab, in lieu of Kotgarh and Kotkhai that were transferred to Himachal from Punjab on January 25, 1950. Hence, it remained shut to development. Till 1914, there was only a stretch of three-kilometer kachha road called the Bharari road, which connected this suburb with the main town.

Unlike man, however, Mother Nature had not ignored the area and had endowed it with beautiful Himalayan Oak trees spread in verdurous slopes. The British eyed it and came up with Brance Peth, the first building on this lonely, jungle-infested side around 1911. It houses the Laureate Public School today. An Englishman from Durham is believed to have constructed it because Brance Peth in the South-West of Durham meant ‘the site where wild boar once lived.’ In 1930’s, it was rented out to two Norwegian missionary nuns who used to hold Sunday morning prayers in a small shop at Bharari bazaar. The nuns got tutored in Hindi while living in Brance Peth and used magic lantern, then a marvel for the simpletons, to show the life of Christ.

The next building to come up on this side was Cloverly that got merged in Brij Mandal when Maharaja Kishen Singh KCSI of Bharatpur got the Mandal constructed in 1919. He was a reformist who had introduced Hindi as Bharatpur’s state language, established Panchayati Raj and bank credit system in this area. The HP police lines building complex that started developing here in the 50’s, gradually dug out all the structures of Maharaja’s buildings except the Guard Hut, which is still called Mandal Building. Petersfield on the same location was either Brij Mandal renamed or a separate building. It requires further probe.

However, adjacent to police lines, North Wood, the Chapslee School was constructed in 1918 by an architect Ronald Hotz, and was sold to Hermione Montagu in 1920. She was an extremely beautiful lady married to Captain Jerald Montagu. The marriage did not deter her from playing coquette to many a gentleman including the high-ups of Jaipur. To the locals, she was ‘kutte waali mem’. Her dogs were furious. She died in 1985. Yet another bungalow near the present police lines is Nanak Kuti owned by Rita Suri today. It was named Groombridge by its first owner Kate or Catharine Waller and was probably constructed in 1917 because the Municipal Committee gave sanction for its construction in June 1916. Her husband Herbert Waller was also an architect. Catharine was the quarrelsome type and would construct or excavate without the permission of the Municipal Committee. Once she was fined Rs 15 for unauthorised excavations. Kanwarani Prithvijeet Singh purchased it in 1963 and named it Nanak Kuti after the first Sikh Guru. The second road to Bharari, now called Lower Bharari Road, was built in 1914-15 by the side of which the British raised three villas —Hermillena, Garshui and Dawlish.

Pre-independence Bharari bazaar had four chief grocers — Jagannath, Sita Ram, Rama Mal and Khempu. Musaddi was the goldsmith, Tyulu, the tailor master and Ramma, the barber. That completed the bazaar. A Lakshmi Narain temple was built here due to the untiring efforts of Kanwar Shanker Singh and B.D. Joshi in the forties. It was here that the people heralded the ‘tryst with destiny’ on that auspicious night with the blowing of conches and tolling of bells. These well-meaning sounds emanating from the pious instruments have now brought a bank, a hotel, public schools, a teachers training college, metalled roads and transport facilities to Bharari but the camaraderie has been lost somewhere in the past.


Progress is merely the substitution of a complicated nuisance for a simple nuisance.

— Sydney J. Harris



No feel for folk theatre
Promoters are clueless when it comes to providing the right platform to folk theatres

Kuldeep Chauhan

Himachal’s rich folk theatres—Mandi’s Banthara, Shimla’ Karyala, Kangra’s Bhagat, Kullu’s Haran and Chamba’s Harantar—are barely alive as the state art, language and cultural department, which is responsible for the promotion folk arts, seems clueless. Despite best efforts put up by artistes, all forms of folk theatre are fighting for the survival. The culprits are lack of funds and also real focus.

The central and state agencies like the Indian Council of Cultural Relations (ICCR) and the state art, language and cultural department have done precious little to promote and encourage folk artistes in the state and outside. “A folk festival was held way back in 1990 in Jaipur, but thereafter nothing was done for the promotion of this art form, “ rue folk artistes. Even popular cultural events like Kullu’s Dusshera, Mandi’s Shivratri, Chamba’s Minjar, Rampur’s Lavi and Shimla’s Summer Festival have no place for folk theaters. The reason is that the committees are dominated by people who have ‘no feel for folk arts’. “Most of the money goes to pop stars and middlemen,” say artistes.

Noted theater performer and the secretary-organiser of the Himachal Cultural Research Forum, Satohal, Seema Sharma says it is a pity that those who make cultural policies show little interest in promoting folk theatre.

“There is no audience for such shows and even folk artistes do not take part in workshops and seminars. We need to improvise folk theater and tailor it to the tastes of the present-day audience,” says an artiste. Another renowned artiste Tara Pandit vents out his frustration, “I had been associated with Banthara. But not any more. The ‘modern artistes’ have their own agenda and they are responsible for the sad state folk theaters. They interfere and have distorted this powerful medium. This has nearly killed real folk theater.”

”We need funds and more folk festivals to showcase our talent. But the agencies are only documenting folk arts and theaters in the name of preserving and promoting them, “ lament artistes. Lavan Thakur, convener, Indian Peoples’ Theatre Association (IPTA), who is conducting workshops on folk arts and theatres says, “The modern promoters of arts are groping in the dark. They are trying to find folk arts in towns and in colleges and they have failed. Real protagonists of folk theatres still live in villages. We have to identify them, work with them and then give them a platform to perform.”  

He says there is no patronage for folk theaters in the state. “Earlier, local kings used to patronise folk arts but now nobody does that. IPTA is working in villages, identifying artistes and organising workshops. It is the only way to revival folk theatres,” says Murari Sharma, author of Banthara.

Banthara is a satirical play performed spontaneously by artistes, ridiculing bad governance, prevailing social evils and ongoing fashion and trends in society. Kuldip Guleria, convener, Mandavya Kala Manch, says folk festivals are not being held for long. Officials claim the department held workshops and seminars for the promotion of folk arts time to time. But the art, language and cultural department needs to wake up from its slumber and reorients its focus on the real cultural issues, feel the artistes.



Solan sets a record
Loans worth Rs 511.77 cr disbursed
Jagmeet Y. Ghuman

Solan district created a record of sorts by disbursing loans worth Rs 511.77 crore in the past fiscal against the target of Rs 414.44 cr.

Every year the district administration launches a loan scheme through nationalised banks to give jobless youths self-employment in agriculture, horticulture, small irrigation and dairy industry.

Under the scheme, Rs 787 lakh crop loans were disbursed to farmers in the district. Besides this, Rs 143 lakh was given for small irrigation projects, Rs 139 lakh for daily farming and Rs. 110 lakh for land reforms.

In 2006-07, under the Prime Minster Rozgar Yojana, 349 youth were given loans of Rs 320 lakh to become self-employed, while under Swaran Jayanti Yojana, 104 people got loans of Rs 87 lakh.

Farmers were given 793 credits cards in the last financial year. Till date, 21,599 credit cards have given to farmers in the district.

Similarly, 191 self-help groups were formed and linked with banks to start their own work and 3,928 are working in the district, of which 37,212 are linked with banks.

Keeping in mind the district’s phenomenal growth in loan disbursement, a Rs 440.33-crore annual loan scheme has been sanctioned for the current fiscal. Of this, Rs 75 crore would be disbursed in agriculture, Rs 106 crore in industry and Rs.178 crore in the service sector.



Shimla Diary
Mankotia set to join BSP
Rakesh Lohumi

With former minister Vijay Singh Mankotia all set to desert the Congress and join the BSP, the wheel appears to be turning a full cycle. He has been in a rebellious mood for the past two years and attacking the government, particularly chief minister Virbhadra Singh, by raising the issue of discrimination against the Kangra region and corruption.

It is not for the first time that the soldier-turned–politician is quitting the party. He has been in and out of the Congress. He had charted a similar course in 1989 to form the Janata Dal in the quest of a third political force in the state. After an unsuccessful attempt at the 1989 Lok Sabha poll, three months later he joined hands with the BJP and the BJP-JD combine swept the 1990 Assembly poll. He returned to Congress after the dismissal the Shanta Kumar government in the wake of the Babri Masjid demolition. Not only that he sided with Virbhadra Singh in the factional war with the rival camp headed by Sukh Ram, which helped him earn a ministerial berth.

A maverick, as his bete noir chief minister Virbhadra Singh dubs him, Mankotia knows his cards well. That he had made up his mind to quit the Congress became apparent when he released an audio CD allegedly containing conversations regarding money transactions as evidence in support of the charges of corruption he had levelled against the chief minister days before the Hamirpur by-poll. He has found the right platform to launch the third front in the BSP. The party has been keen to repeat the social engineering experiment, which brought it to power in Uttar Pradesh the pulse of the people.

Mankotia has been raising the issue of discrimination against Kangra to exploit regional sentiment. The BJP has been making political capital by raising the issue but things changed after 1998 when the BJP ministers and legislators from Kangra revolted against the then chief minister P. K. Dhumal alleging discrimination as a result the BJP also earned the anti-Kangra tag. It remains to be seen whether or not Mankotia succeeds in his endeavour to raise a third force. It is certain that the battle for power in the ensuing Assembly poll will be fought in Kangra, the biggest and politically most significant district.

HPC a non-starter

Set more than 10 months ago, the Himachal Power Corporation (HPC) has been virtually a non-starter so far. The government had constituted the corporation on the pattern of the Sutlej Jal Vidyut Nigam, which executed the country’s largest Nathpa Jhakri hydroelectric project, specifically for taking up big projects. The government had 60 per cent equity and the state electricity held the remaining 40 per cent in the new special purpose vehicle. It was also decided that in case of projects to be executed in the state sector those up to 25 MW would be allotted to the board and the bigger ones to the HPC. However, so far the corporation has been existing only in papers. It is still without an office, staff and other paraphernalia.

Initially the chief secretary was made the ex-officio managing director of the corporation. S. K. Baldi was giving the charge following the retirement of S. S. Parmar on June 30 as the chief secretary. Other directors are yet to be appointed. The government had withdrawn the 775 MW Luhri project from the SJVN and allotted it to the new corporation. But recently chief minister announced that the project would be allotted to the SJVN as the Centre had agreed to increase the state’s share in the project.

It is the fourth public sector power corporation to be set up in the state over the past two years. The other three are the Himachal Jal Vidyut Nigam, the Pabbar Valley Power Corporation and the Kinner Kailash Power Corporation, all subsidiaries of the state electricity board. Experts feel that instead of setting up so many special purpose vehicles, the government should create an independent generation corporation by merging the three subsidiaries into the HPC.

There are indications that the government may merge the Kinner Kailash Corporation with the HPC, which will enable it to start work on the 400 MW Shong Tong Karcham and 243 MW Tashang projects.

Farmers’ nightmare

Erratic and rather weak monsoon has been giving sleepless nights to both farmers and fruit growers. The monsoon arrived three days ahead of the normal time, which saw most parts of the state receive rain in June. So far the average rainfall recorded is 142 mm as against the normal 170 mm. Moreover, the precipitation has been uneven. However, the first three weeks of July virtually turned out to be dry and there was hardly any precipitation. This is the time when the apple crop needs rains the most as it helps improve both the size of fruit and the juice content.

Worse, in lower and mid-hill areas direct exposure to sunlight has caused sunburns to the fruit, affecting the quality. With 50 per cent of the crop already affected by hailstorms, the growers fear that the returns may not be good. The lack of rain at the crucial time may also being down the production estimated at 2.40 crore boxes by 10 to 15 per cent. 



Struggle for survival
In the land of man, 21 sanctuaries to be reorganised
Rakesh Lohumi

The ongoing exercise to reorganise the sanctuaries is an indication of the increasing pressure of human population on protected wildlife areas. The main objective of the exercise is to reduce human interference to the minimum by identifying sanctuaries in hugely populated areas. At the same time it is feared that the manner in which the exercise is being carried out, it may happen that some of the sanctuaries will be too small to sustain wildlife.

Though, new areas will be added to compensate for the excluded areas as required under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, it would not serve the desired purpose. A huge part of the new area, about 640 sq km is proposed to be added in Kibber in the cold desert area, which has scant and entirely different wildlife species. As per norms, the new area is to be added in the same sanctuary to ensure that it is enough to support the existing wildlife. In fact, the government has not been fulfilling the commitment made to the centre for adding new areas in lieu of diversion of protected wildlife area.

For instance, in case of Majathal sanctuary, the government in 1992 had allowed the state to divert a part of the Darlaghat sanctuary for a cement plant, on the condition that 20 sq km of adjoining land will be merged in it to make up for the diverted land. The truncated sanctuary was renamed as Majathal Wildlife Sanctuary, and a move was initiated to merge 17.50 sq km of adjoining forest area in it. A notification under section 18 of the WPA was also issued in March 2002 and the process to settle the rights of the local people in certain pockets of the area proposed for merger was started. The final notification for merger of the area was to be issued under section 26 of the act after settlement of the rights.

However, later it decided to withdraw the move in view of the objections of the local people who opposed it on the grounds that their forest rights will be affected. According to sources in the department, almost 90 per cent of the area to be merged in Majathal was free from forest rights and should have been made part of the sanctuary. But the government succumbed to local pressure and withdrew the notification. The matter was later put up before the National Wildlife Board, and now it is one of the 21 sanctuaries the boundaries of which are being reorganised.

The Majthal sanctuary will be further truncated due to construction of Kol Dam. In all 125 hectare of the sanctuary area will be submerged but the approval for diversion has not been obtained under the WPA so far. In fact, the department had concealed the fact that protected wildlife area was involved and taken forest clearance only for 80 hectare. As per WPA, 125-hectare area will have to be merged into the sanctuary to make up for the diverted area.

It remains to be seen that after failing to merge 17.5 sq km, what course of action will the government adopt in this case. The matter is already before the central empowered committee (CEC) of the Supreme Court that deals with the forest diversion cases. It had taken a serious view of the same and had directed the government to fix responsibility of the lapse and take action against the errant officers.

The committee set up by the central government to examine the state’s proposal to reorganise the protected wildlife areas carried out a spot examination of the Majathal sanctuary recently. Environmentalists maintain that it is the responsibility of the department to settle the rights of the people as had been done in case of various other projects. Bringing additional area under protection elsewhere, will not help the cause of existing wildlife in the sanctuary, which will be struggle for survival in the truncated habitat.



Simian Killings
Animal rightists take up cudgels for monkeys
S. R. Pundir

File photo Even as monkeys continue to be killed in the Renuka area of Sirmour, a representative of environmentalist Maneka Gandhi arrived Tuesday to take stock of the situation. Shooters have killed nearly 100 monkeys in the past fortnight under the campaign launched jointly by the state forest department and Kheti Bachao Sangharsh Samiti (KBSS).

Public outrage got more pronounced after the killings were highlighted in these columns last week. After going through reports published in the media, Maneka Gandhi strongly condemned the campaign and sent her representative, Sonia Ghosh, a senior office-bearer of Citizens for Welfare and Protection of Wildlife to mobilise support against the

Ghosh reached Nohra Dhar and met hundreds of residents. On Wednesday, she met Panchyati Raj representatives, local NGO leaders and social workers to persuade residents to build pressure on the state government to find a permanent solution.

“Not only are the killings barbaric and a threat to the ecology, these are illegal. It is sad that ammunition for the campaign is being provided by the custodians of wildlife (the forest department),” she said, adding that the action is in violation of the provisions of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, and the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960.

However, eminent Nohra Dhar residents Surender Chauhan, Ramesh Verma, Bhagat Ram Verma, Satya Pal, Kaushalya, Shakutla, Vijay Chauhan and Sunder Singh apprised her of the damage caused to standing crop by gangs of marauding monkeys. “A permanent solution is needed. The simian population has increased manifold in the state and poised a serious threat to agriculture, but killing the animals will provide only temporary relief. The only way out is to set up a sanctuary in the state,” Ghosh said

Several NGOs, environment protection and religious organisations, including Nature Watch India, are up in arms against the permission to kill simians, and have threatened legal recourse if the killings were not stopped immediately.

J. S. Jamwal, project coordinator of Himalayan Region Snow Leopard Conservancy, USA, has shot off a letter to Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh suggesting five ways to a humane end to the problem. He said that he had submitted several memoranda right up to the Prime Minister, but no project was planned.

The state government had sought the Centre’s permission to declare monkeys as vermin in 1999, but the same was denied. However, wildlife officers were given powers to allow killing of monkeys. Monkeys fall under Section 2 of the Wildlife Protection Act and their hunting is prohibited. Also, people do not cause them any harm as the simians are considered avtars of Hanuman.



Bearing the Brunt
Vishal Gulati

Overexploitation of flora by local herdsmen is depleting Chamba’s biodiversity, threatening the endangered brown bear

Overgrazing by livestock and unscientific extraction of various species of flora by locals and migrants in and around the Kugti Wildlife Sanctuary in Chamba district has left biologists worried. The sanctuary is home to a large number of endangered species, including the Himalayan ibex, the Himalayan thar, the leopard, the wild goat and the brown bear. Particularly, the small population of the brown bear has made environmentalists think about its conservation.

Bipan .C. Rathore of the Zoology department of Chamba’s Government Postgraduate College, who is also a part of the Dehra Dun-based Wildlife Institute of India’s study team, says that four species of bears are found in India. These are the sloth bear, the Asiatic black bear, the Himalayan brown bear and the sun bear. The Himalayan brown bear and the Asiatic black bear are found in Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir and Uttarakhand. No wonder this team is studying “Behaviour and ecology of brown bear” in the Kugti sanctuary. The three-year study (2006-2009) is funded by the Ministry of Environment and Forests.

In the 379 sq km Kugti sanctuary, Rathore’s sighted the brown bear 28 times at different locations in May this year. The maximum number of sightings was recorded at Kinnaur dhar, Dughdhar dhar, Dhamel dhar, Nanaun dhar and Sami dhar (the sanctuary has 22 grazing pastures, locally known as dhars, with its rocky cliffs ranging from 2,200m to 6,000m). In May 2006, the sightings of the bear were just 18.

Threats to bear

According to Rathore, the brown bear in the sanctuary is mainly threatened due to habitat degradation. Grazing pressure by livestock results in competition among animals. The hazards for the wild animals have increased as the park is used by migratory graziers (from June to September) whose livestock are potential carriers of diseases. The dependence of the villagers on the park for wood, fodder and cultivation is degrading the habitat.

He also laments the use of certain shrub species like rhododendron for cooking food and keeping wild animals at bay, which is also depleting the flora species.

“Since the bear hibernates for many months, its eating capacity after waking up from hibernation is phenomenal. We have seen a single bear devouring an entire corn field or an orchard in a few hours,” says Rathore, adding, “The brown bear is an intelligent predator. It knows that there is easy, enough food in the sanctuary with the migration of sheep and goats. Every night there is a close encounter between shepherds and the beast, resulting in rise in man-animal conflicts. Sometime, the desperate shepherds even kill the bear,” informs Rathore.

Man-animal conflict

The biologist suggests that the only way to lessen the man-animal conflict is to educate the shepherds about the importance of wild animals in nature. The shepherds have been using the area for centuries. Rough estimates say that between June and September, nearly 20,000 livestock used the park for grazing.

Rathore attributes the straying of predators into agricultural land to declining prey-predator ratio and human interference. The baby bear are often killed due to human ignorance and fear. Mother bears are very irritable as they are always suspicious of intruders over their cubs. If some baby bear is noticed near a human habitation, the villagers should inform the area range officer rather than catch it themselves.

Though the brown bear is protected under Schedule 1 of the Indian Wildlife Protection Act, it is occasionally poached for its gallbladder and skin. Sometime it is also killed for protecting crops and livestock.

Bear census

However, Rathore believes that there is need for conducting a brown bear census. The government should fund research on habitat, genetics and behaviour of the brown bear to understand what’s exactly happening within the sanctuary. Other sanctuaries near the Kugti sanctuary should also be studied to know the status of flora and fauna.



How green is your power?
Manshi Asher & Prakash Bhandari

Himachal Pradesh, like Uttarakhand and other North-Eastern hill states for the past decade, now has been viewed as the ‘power state’ with hydro power potential to the tune of approximately 21,000 MW. The pressure is not just to make power, but make ‘clean’ power, using the run-off river technology, propagated as less damaging, socially and environmentally, compared to damming the river. But experience from the ground and large-scale local protests in all the hill states has indicated that these projects, involving diversion of rivers and streams, are also damaging local livelihoods, and leading to the destruction of forests in different ways, even if direct displacement is minimal.

While the large and medium Hydel Power projects have been in the line of fire for their environmental impacts, the smaller projects of less than 5 MW capacity seem to have escaped the lens. Of the 21000, 750 MW potential is being looked at under the small hydro sector—run off the river projects, promoted as eco-friendly, renewable energy, cost effective and decentralised structures. The Himachal government has taken several initiatives to encourage private sector participation in small hydro-power development. The state claims to be among the few states, which has streamlined and crystallised the various procedures to minimise the bottlenecks and has also finalised the implementation agreement and power purchase agreements for small hydro projects. Attractive incentives in the form of easy land acquisition procedures and speedy clearances are being ensured now.

The process of exploitation of hydel potential in small hydro sector through private sector participation began during 1995-96. Since then, the till December 31, 2006, MoUs for 299 projects have been signed. As many as 56 small hydel projects, having a generation capacity of 155 MW and investment of Rs 270 crore, have also been entrusted to the private companies last year.

But small is not necessarily beautiful, as is evident with growing protests against many of these projects in the state, the most recent being the Hull Nala (I and II) projects in Chamba. As local protest against these projects built up over the past few months, the government was pressurised to set up a district level committee for addressing the grievances of the affected people and assessing the impacts of the proposed projects. As a part of this, a public hearing was held at Jadera, one of the three Panchayats to be affected, on the June 6 and more recently on the June 25, the entire review committee under the chairmanship of the additional district magistrate visited the affected sites to study the possible fallouts of the project for the area.

The ADM at the end of the visit stated, “We have observed that the concerns of deforestation and livelihoods are real. Loss of watermills, felling of trees with diversion of forest land, impact on irrigation channels as well as the threats to drinking water supply to Chamba are the possible impacts of these two projects.”

As is the case in all mountain regions, it is the small streams which sustain local livelihoods of remotely located poor communities and fragile but bio-diverse ecosystems in numerous ways. What is worse is that since these are small projects, no environmental clearance from the Ministry of Environment and Forests is required. The critical clearances that are required at the state level include the techno-economic clearance, forest clearance and one by the Irrigation and Public Health (IPH) Department. But there are no mechanisms in place at the state level to ensure a cost benefit analysis with an environment and social impact assessment of small hydel projects, neither are NoCs from Gram Panchayats mandatory.

Involvement of private entrepreneurs in these projects, looking for incentives, quick and easy profits, has further enraged the local populations—who do not stand to gain much in these investments. Says Akshay aJasrotia, a Zilla Parishad member in Kangra at the forefront of the movement against Binwa Phase II on a tributary of the Beas River, “It is the subsidies, which attracts the small players into these projects. On one hand the Ministry of Non-Conventional Energy at the Centre with global environment facility funding is subsidising up to 40 per cent costs of each of these projects. On the other, many of these are going in for the clean development mechanism under which they gain large subsidies for saving carbon emission in energy generation. While the total cost of setting up a 1 MW Project stands at around Rs 3 to 5 crores, the returns are massive at around Rs 60,000 a day for a single MW. If we take into account the subsidies the profit margins are huge. “No wonder that small entrepreneurs from as far as Andhra Pradesh as making a beeline for Himachal.”

In the Hull Nala case, a doubt has also been raised about the over estimation of the proposed capacity of the project, considering low level of discharge into the stream. This could mean that the government is not really going to get the power promised in the MoU or the implementation agreement. However, this does not necessarily translate into losses for the companies floating the project, who have their subsidies in place for the proposed capacities as per the project plans or detailed project report (DPR). Adds Akshay Jasrotia “Even if the project does not generate electricity though the year, the breakeven point can be reached within 100 days of functioning.” The point that needs further investigation is whether the small projects are actually delivering what they propose in their DPRs and MoUs since the livelihood and environmental damages are sizeable, with more than one project located in each stream.

Nevertheless, it is rather ironic that the subsidies garnered in the name of eco-friendly and environmentally sustainable power generation are actually for projects which are causing destruction, which is invisible, because it is at considered to be at a small and local level.

(The authors have been working on issues of livelihood and environment rights)



Mission Possible
Dharam Prakash Gupta 

Vimla Bahuguna, on the uplift of women, dignity of labour and Tehri dam  

Vimla BahugunaAt 76, noted environmentalist and women activist Vimla Bahuguna feels that her age gives her the strength to work and fulfill commitments towards the women in the hills. She has been working with the people of Tehri for the past six decades and at present is involved in the rehabilitation of Tehri dam oustees in Tehri. She’s carrying forward the work along with her husband, Sunder Lal Bahuguna, a known environmentalist. She says, “The women of oustees of Tehri dam face many problems. They are the ones who get most affected by displacement which disturbs the hill life, leading to sustained agony.”

Vimla is involved in motivating women of the oustees to plant trees in rehabilitated areas to find fodder, developing employment avenues and also finding a solution to other problems. She says, she has no remorse for losing the battle of Tehri dam. “Though, the work on the dam could not be stopped, it definitely started a new debate on the efficacy of big dams in the country and outside.”

It was the tender age of 14 that she came in contact with Sarla Behn, a disciple of Mahatma Gandhi in 1953. Later, she worked with her for seven years at Laxmi Ashram run by Kasturba Mahila Uthan Mandal at Kasuani in Almora. She tells “We were born in a princely state where the condition of women was worst, even though the family was dependent on them for everything they were treated like animals.” It was during this time that she was influenced by Gandhiji, which changed the course of her life and she decided to work for the upliftment of women and finding dignity of labour for them. She tried to make the women aware of her rights through night classes, by fighting caste discrimination, entry of schedules castes in temples and fighting against obscurantism and blind beliefs. She looks up to her brother, Late Budh Singh Nautiyal as her inspiration.

She has also played a very active role in the movement against sale of liquor, which has now been banned in this area.  Vimla feels that a lot more has to be done for these women and they still have a long way to go to attain the position of equality and comfort in our society. She is however happy to see the women in the hills gathering the courage to fight for themselves and raising their voice.



Mucky Mess
Ambika Sharma

A truck finds its way through the sludge.
A truck finds its way through the sludge. Tribune photo

The rains this season spelt doom for scores of villagers residing in the precincts of a cement plant at Baga in Arki tehsil. Tonnes of muck from the plant inundated the houses, fields, water sources as well as the common paths of the villagers. The agrarian community residing in villages of Sehnali, Baga and Bhalag were forced to trudge kilometres to fetch water and procure flour.

It all started when heavy rains washed the muck dumped at the cement plant from the nullah to the villages downstream. Tonnes of muck flowed into the field bearing crops of ginger and tomatoes and even inundated the traditional kuhals, which are the natural source of water. The rains that followed created further havoc and damaged the conventional chakkis (watermills). “We couldn’t sow rice this year as there was very little water available in the damaged kuhals. Since our fields had met the same fate even last year there has even been erosion of the fertile soil. Though, earlier our irrigated fields could bear three crops each year, it has now changed due to the large quantity of flowing muck,” said Nand Lal, general secretary of Mangal Vikas Parishad.

The muck blocked the village roads virtually restricting the movement of schoolchildren. It is a mockery of the system, which let the situation go out of control, despite the fact that the muck had damaged the building of a government primary school last year. “ The school was shifted to two private buildings last year due to the tragedy. While a single teacher manages one school, the other has failed to get any teacher from the government. It is being voluntarily run by some enthusiastic youth,” informed a villager. With a similar situation arising again this year, the children have been forced to miss school situated at Kander. All this has failed to wake up the administration and they are content by merely calculating the loss and granting compensation to the villagers in lieu of standing crops.

At least twelve farmers have lost either their standing crop or have their houses inundated with muck. The muck also flowed into a nearby private building, which houses a telephone exchange and damaged its first floor very badly. Two check dams built by the cement plant last year were also completely damaged and another one is on the verge of a collapse. If the situation is not brought under control, it is likely to damage the underlying Kol Dam and other villages including Bhumag, Chamiattar, Samtyari, Bagechru, Dondu and Padyar.

SDM Arki, Rohit Kumar, said, “ A compensation of Rs 36,000 per bigha has been announced to each farmer whose standing crop has been damaged. In addition, Rs 12 lakh has been disbursed to those whose construction material was flown away along with the muck. The compensation had been announced after due consultation with the officials of J.P. Associates and the villagers.”

A vital question, which has arisen after this environmental havoc, is whether ecology can be allowed to bear the brunt of industrial development. Is it sufficient to shrug off the onus by merely announcing compensations? Pradhan of the concerned panchayat, Deep Chand, suggests that the cement plant should devise a full-fledged mechanism to save the villagers from the fury each year.




The principles of Buddhism are getting diluted in the melee of tribal culture
Divine dilemma

Kulwinder Sandhu

The Dalai Lama seeks blessings from Naag Devta at Sangla.
The Dalai Lama seeks blessings from Naag Devta at Sangla. — Photos by Kulwinder Sandhu

The principles and values of Buddhism seem to be only surface deep as far as the tribal people of Kinnaur are concerned, despite the fact that this religion had strong roots in an otherwise Hindu-dominated society since centuries.

There may be many reasons behind this—like the tribal customs best practiced in accordance with the nature and the changing lifestyle of Buddhist preachers, who are commonly known as the Lamas. Native divinities to a great extent have also come on the way of the propagation of the original beliefs and practices of Buddhism.

It is a fact that a majority of the tribal people in Kinnaur are non-vegetarians, which is against Buddhism. Though there are some believers who strictly follow the teachings of Buddha and are vegetarians.

The changing lifestyle of the Lamas is another reason that had affected the legacy of Lord Buddha. The original form of animistic faith and worship has faded away in the religious mosaic of the local people.

Intermingled with various ritualistic practices, the teachings are now a blend of localised version of Hinduism. It is certainly not the Hinduism of Vedas or Buddhism as propagated by Lord Buddha.

Native divinities are also important in day-to-day life—social, cultural, emotional or economic. No tribal person can think of starting activity like house building, marriage, birth or death rituals without the benediction of the local deity.

The local deity is indeed considered the one who gives the lease of life, prosperity and wards off misery and distress.

It is worth mentioning that most of the local deities (Maheswar Devta, Nag Devta, Narayan Devta and many other local gods and goddesses) of the tribal belt are recognised with Hinduism. Therefore, there is more influence of Hinduism on local customs and beliefs.

There are few Tibetan deities like Nam Chhra, Langan-Darge, Tarema, Dukar, Paldan-Lamo, and Dolma also but they are restricted to certain villages in Hungrung valley and upper Kinnaur only. The most important thing is that the Hindu Devtas also exist parallel to the Tibetan deities in these villages.

The basic reason of Hinduism having more influence or the absence of the originality of Buddhism in the local society is that the tribal people offer sacrifices of goats and sheep and consume local-made liquor as prasad. This custom is being practiced almost in all parts of the tribal belt unabated.

Moreover, for some people, the harsh weather conditions during winter season force the people to eat meat and drink liquor. The nature has thus played a great role against the very basic principles of Buddhism.

Over the years, Buddhism has got mixed up with the native culture of Kinnaur but the faith is still going on.

Religious tolerance

The religious system of the people of Kinnaur is a seemingly harmonious blend of various different traditions and religions. The religious practices of the people of this remote mountainous belt of Kinnaur, adjoining Tibet, have made for a religious tolerance unknown in most other parts of India. Hindus and Buddhists freely worship in each other’s temples and consult each other’s priests. In Kinnaur, where most people keep Hindu names, it is customary for all villages to have both a Hindu a well as a Buddhist temple.

Each Kinnauri house, whether Hindu or Buddhist, has at its entrance a long pole fluttering with flags containing sacred Tibetan Buddhist mantras to ward off evil spirits. In the Sangla valley in eastern Kinnaur, Hindu villages all have little Tibetan-style canopies at their entrance decorated with images of Buddhist protector deities in addition to those of the Buddha in various poses.

This remote Himalayan realm, cut off from the rest of the world by a mountain range, has a message for all of us that it is indeed possible for the people of different faiths to live and worship together in communion and harmony.



Act of Insolence
Kulwinder Sandhu

RTI needs effective execution in state

There is an increasing awareness on the Right to Information Act (RTI) in the state, but the state government seems to have closed its eyes on the arbitrary functioning of the departments, boards and other statutory bodies of the state government. The problems in effective implementation and spreading awareness about the RTI are manifold. There is no uniform postal fee in the state to provide information, no display-boards set-up in the offices highlighting necessary information related to the RTI like the names of public information officers and above all no single window system to deposit requisite fee in the treasury or in the concerned office.

To look into the matter, The Tribune applied for information to the public relations department, the Kangra Red Cross Society and the Dharamsala Municipal Council. In the absence of uniform rates, all the three organisations demanded a different fee as postal charges. Surprisingly, Red Cross demanded Rs 200 as postal fee for the information, in addition to the fee for printed/typewritten cost of material. The public relations department and the Municipal Council of Dharamsala demanded Rs 40 and Rs 30, respectively.

Undoubtedly, the demand for high fees will keep applicants away from seeking information under RTI. Also, often the public information officers return back the applications with queries regarding the period for which the information is sought or simply stating that the desired information is not related to their office. All of the above seem to be unwarranted excuses for delaying or denying the information.

Ajay Bhardwaj, a local activist involved in creating awareness on RTI, alleged that in most cases he had seen common people running from one floor to another in the local secretariat to get information about the RTI, but failing to do so as they were not allowed to meet any senior official. It may be mentioned that Bhardwaj has set an example in the state by pursuing the illegal construction of a hotel at McLeodganj through the RTI. Later, he got the case moved to the Supreme Court for demolition of the illegal construction. The Union government has cancelled the permission granted and the construction work has been stopped on the site. In many other cases the chief commissioner of the state also imposed a fine on the officials on account of denying information to the people.



Partners for life
CII focus on private-public partnership for industrial development
Jagmeet Y. Ghuman

In its endeavour to strengthen the industrial activities, the CII HP State Council has proposed to constitute a state steering committee for the empowerment of the Institute Management Committees (IMCs).

Elaborating the CII future plans, Rajender Guleria, chairman of the council, said they had been consistently working towards the empowerment of the IMCs.

The 13 Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs) were short-listed for the public-private partnership by the government, out of which CII was committed to upgrade nine, he asserted.

Acknowledging the pivotal role of providing service to its members, he said there was scope for designing, developing and delivering CII professional services to enhance internal competitiveness of member companies.

And the council envisioned to achieve these through interactions, technology missions, SME clusters, interactions on procedural issues with the local authorities by organising focused major events, including the Consumer Fair at Mandi and Brand Himachal Fair in Chandigarh, with an effort to promote the state as a tourist destination.

Elaborating further, Gulerai said to enhance industrial competitiveness, the council would also work in close collaboration with the government on major issues like ESI Model Hospital at Baddi, upgrading of ESI Hospital at Parwanoo, functioning of ESI dispensaries at other industrial areas and issues of road and railway infrastructure with the state and the Centre.

Holding the partnership between the public and the private sectors as the key to balanced growth, the council will be working on a shared vision for the industrial development. The council is also planning an Ayurveda Summit to draw the attention to this neglected sector with huge potential for investments.

The council will also retain its focus on the rural economy by campaigning for the setting up of rural business hubs in the state, HIV/AIDS awareness programmes, water harvesting, environment, women’s empowerment, community development and youth livelihood options programmes.



Palampur Peg

After wines, it’s time for tea-wines, at least in Palampur. Situated in the Kangra district of Himachal Pradesh amidst the majestic Dhauladhar ranges of Himalayan ecosystem, Palampur is a natural habitat of tea plants. However, the beautiful valley is all set for the production of red herbal wine named as Palam Queen from ripe berries of Berberis lycium.

A self-preserving nutritive herbal health drink of high valuation, this tea-wine has much commercial value and applications. It is unique with respect to must composition, fruit, water quality of the region, temperature, acidity and duration of fermentation carried out, process for activation and maintenance of the yeast culture and the unique climate and soil conditions of the region offer for producing fine bouquet and maturation to the product. — TNS



Shimla must grow, but systematically

Apropos to the write-up ‘Misssion Restoration’, I would like to add that mere holding of meetings and conferences is not enough to restore the past and the rich heritage of Shimla. It is necessary to comprehend the rootcause of all the problems being faced by the residents of the town and to make and execute plans accordingly.

In recent years, the influx of tourists has increased. Thereby putting pressure on the living population of the town. The town is witnessing a haphazard growth of concrete structures. One hardly finds any open space to relax or to park a vehicle.

The tourists visiting Shimla are taken for granted. When one lands in the bus stand or the railway station, he is at the mercy of the coolies or of the hotel agents. The tourists are forced to walk long distances to reach their place of lodging. After visiting Shimla, the tourists have nothing to appreciate except the weather. We must thank the weather god for still being on our side.

There is an urgent need to develop some parks with fountains in and around the town. The work on the restoration of Ladies Park has come too late, which speaks of the apathy of all concerned. It’s time the authorities took some concrete measures for the restoration and preservation of whatever is left of the town. The authorities should involve other like-minded people and organisations in this endeavor. Shimla must grow, but systematically.

Bimal Gupta, Bilaspur

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