Paradise Lost
Haphazard construction in Sangla over the past three years steal the beauty of the valley
Rakesh Lohumi

— Photo by S. Chandan
— Photo by S. Chandan

Surrounded by snow-capped mountains and known for its scenic splendour and tranquillity, the Sangla valley in the tribal Kinnaur district is the latest tourist destination to fall victim to haphazard constructions.

The picturesque valley, which is a major attraction for foreign tourists, has undergone a complete change over the past three years. There has been a spurt in construction activity and concrete structures are fast replacing the traditional timber and stone houses, which were a unique specimen of the hill architecture with their slate covered steeply sloping roofs. The grotesque structures do not blend with the local architecture at all. They stand out like concrete monsters, looking totally out of place. Worse, the new buildings are coming up without any development plan.

Until recently there were no hotels and private tour operators provided tented accommodation to visitors.

The increasing demand for hotel and guesthouses has encouraged the local people to go for multi-storeyed concrete structures. Another reason for discarding the traditional architecture is that it requires a huge quantity of timber which is no longer available, says Prem Lal of Chitkul, the last village close to the China border, which has not remained untouched by concrete invasion.

New buildings are coming up all over place, along the narrow roads, amidst the apple orchards and on the precipitous hill slopes. Over the past couple of years, about two dozen hotels have come in the area. The disposal of garbage is already becoming a problem.

With no system for scientific disposal the waste is being thrown on slopes. Proper Sangla already gives a congested look and the foreigners no longer like to spend time in the village. Instead, they head straight for Rakchham and Chitkul, which still retain the pristine glory.

The subcommittee of the state heritage advisory body, headed by the director of the town and country-planning department, has taken notice of the haphazard constructions in the valley. Expressing concern over the issue, it recommended that the town and country planning act should be extended to the valley to curb unregulated growth. However, there has been no follow up action in the matter.

The authorities seem to have leant no lessons from the destruction of Manali, Mcleodganj and of course the most famous hill station Shimla due to haphazard growth. The same follies are being repeated



Damning facts
Good news for Majathal Wildlife Sanctuary: SC halts work on Kol Dam, tells state govt to first seek forest clearance
Rakesh Lohumi

Taking serious view over the action of state’s forest department of concealing the fact that a large part of the Majathal Wildlife Sanctuary was to be submerged in the 800 MW Kol Dam project, the Central Empowered Committee (CEC) of the Supreme Court has directed the government to stop work immediately and seek mandatory forest clearance from the Centre for the left out protected area.

The CEC came into picture after a PIL was filed on the basis of the news report and later they sought details from the department. A fresh demarcation was carried out by the revenue department and it was confirmed that an additional area of 125 hectare falling in the sanctuary would be submerged. It included 23 hectare of the thickly wooded Harshang forest that was completely overlooked. Other forests accounting for a total of 102 hectare include Mandrech, Majathal, Chilla and Kiari. Trees worth over Rs 2.5 crore standing on the thickly wooded forest areas have been left out of the diversion plan.

The state has now been asked to respond to its directions within a fortnight. The department had obtained the clearance for the diversion of just 954 hectare of forestland, whereas the land actually to be submerged is about a 130 hectare more and around 40,000 trees stand on it.

The lapse on the part of the department was highlighted, but it was maintained throughout that no wild life area was to be submerged. A survey conducted in 2005 had clearly indicated that 130 hectare had been left out, however, the then principal chief conservator of forests ignored it. And, only 80 hectare had been diverted under the FCA (Forest Conservation Act) and not under the WPA (Wildlife Protector Act). As a result, the protected area was left out from the diversion plan that was submitted to seek mandatory clearance. The faux pas made the forest clearance granted by the centre redundant, as trees could not be felled without permission.

The CEC had not only taken the department to task for concealing facts and submitting incorrect information, but also, directed it to take action against the officers responsible for the same. However, so far the department has been trying to protect the errant officers and has not initiated any action into the matter. Forests principal secretary Ashok Thakur said that he had not as yet gone through the latest order but the government was moving a fresh case for obtaining clearance for the left out area. Also, he said that the department has been asked to identify the officers responsible for the lapse.

Unhappy over the department’s attitude, the CEC has decided to conduct a thorough scrutiny of not just this case, but also look into the diversion of Majathal sanctuary land for setting up a drinking water supply scheme under the second phase of the Ambuja cement plant. The latter involves diversion of just 0.2-hectare land, but the CEC upset over the department has tied up the two cases.



Caught up
Commuters hope for a solution to the traffic congestion on Kalka-Shimla highway
Ambika Sharma

THE need of the hour is to find a permanent solution to deal with the frequent traffic jams on Kalka-Shimla NH-22, especially at Parwanoo. And though, a committee instituted after directions from the High Court has come up with observations and solutions to sort out the problem, it will be long before something translates into reality.

The ray of hope is the direction from Punjab and Haryana High Court that requires the district administration of Panchkula to ensure smooth flow of traffic on the worst traffic prone area of Pinjore-Kalka. Perhaps one of the first massive drives, it has directed all shopkeepers that fall within the purview of the acquired width of the road to either remove their encroachments on their own or face action by the government agencies. And though this has invited immense flak from residents of Kalka, once completed, it would serve as a permanent solution to the long-standing problem of traffic congestion.

It would help streamline the traffic movement in Parwanoo that often faces spillover of traffic congestion from Kalka. The problem assumes an acute proportion especially in summers when the movement of trucks increases due to the apple season. Also, during the tourist season there is a rise in the number of vehicles that enter the state.

There have been frequent jams during summers when traffic has been held up for hours together causing inconvenience to the commuters. Sadly enough there have been situations when patients heading to PGI have lost not just their precious time but also lives due to traffic congestion.

Though, the local administration has been making plans to deal with the problem nothing substantial has happened till now. It has been observed that the space created in Parwanoo to deal with increasing traffic gets exhausted within no time. Influx of industries in Parwanoo as well as other areas on the Kalka-Shimla NH has led to an increase in the demand for trucks too, as a result, one can spot hundreds of trucks parked all around the town.

Further, frequent landslides occurring on the highway also create problem in the movement of vehicles. What is required now is speedier work on the four-laning of the stretch between Kalka and NH. (near Timber Trail Resorts)This would bring some relief to the motorists. And, also once the work on the stretch is completed, the widening of the remaining road would solve the traffic problem permanently.



shimla diary
Shatranj Ke Khiladi!
Rakesh Lohumi

THE annual chess tourney introduced last year by global IT education company, NIIT, has evoked overwhelming response from school students. Nearly 18,000 students from 282 schools participated in the meet organised by NIIT Mind Champions Academy as part of its effort to spot new talent.

The three member-team of Government High School, Jhatwar (Hamirpur) comprising, Vishal Sharma, Neeraj Kumar and Ashish Kumar won the inter-district contest held here early this week. The team will take part in the zonal final to be held at Delhi later this month. With World Chess Champion Vishwanathan Anand as the brand ambassador; NIIT is conducting the tournament in over 5,000 schools across the country using the brain game to hone mental skills.

The very first year of the tournament revealed that the hill state has talent waiting to be discovered. Govind, a class VII student, not only excelled at the state level but eventually went on to become the first runner’s up last year at Hyderabad, a big achievement for a child from an interior village.

Regional director of NIIT Anil Bhardwaj said, “Besides spotting talent the idea was to familiarise children, particularly in the rural areas, with computers.” His organisation supplied computers with the chess game software in all 282 schools where it was involved in teaching computer science. Besides, it also gifted chessboards to these schools. The computer-learning programme was a part of the Sarv Shiksha Abhiyan.


Rationalists may debunk astrology as ‘unscientific and illogical’ but politicians think otherwise. Their strong faith in the ancient science was evident during the filing of nomination papers for the 65 seats for the second phase of assembly polls due from November 23 to 30. Out of the 434 nominations as many as 231,more than half, were filed around noon on November 29 to take advantage of the shubh muhurta (auspicious time). According to astrologers the combination of the date, tithi (lunar date as per Hindu almanac) and the constellation, formed the sarvarth siddhi yog (most auspicious for success in endeavours).

However, one wonders what purpose will the muhurta serve when most of the contestants, including archrivals, have filed nominations on the same day and time. For instance, chief minister Virbhadra Singh and his rival for the top office, P.K. Dhumal of BJP filed their nominations on the same day from Rohru and Bamsan constituencies, respectively.

Astrologers explain that apart from the muhurta there are several other factors too that affect the individuals. The position of moon in the natal chart and the running dasa (period of influence of a particular planet) also play a major role. Since the position of the natal moon and dasa of rivals contesting from the same seat will be different in all probability the result of the muhurta will also be different. The candidate whose natal moon is relatively better placed than rivals will be most likely to win the election.

What a spoilsport!

THE ice-skating season began on a disappointing note with weather playing spoilsport. Everything seemed fine as the ground staff of Asia’s oldest natural ice-skating rink after a week’s hard work managed to spread a sheet of ice, even though thin. The trial session on November 27 went fine and there were two more sessions on the following two days.

However, inclement weather interrupted the season even before it could officially get underway from December 1. Due to overcast sky and intermittent rain there could be no ice-skating from November 30.

Meanwhile, the national ice-skating association met here and decided to hold a national training camp from December 23 to January 3 in which three skaters from Kazakhstan will also participate. Two coaches from Switzerland will impart training. It was decided that the national ice-skating championship would be organised from January 5 to 7.



Glory of theatre
We trace the journey of how Shimla earned its nickname, Mecca of Theatres
Shriniwas Joshi

THE first written account of English theatre in Shimla is available in the diary of Emily Eden, sister of Lord Auckland. She writes on June 9, 1838, “We went to the play last night. There is a sort of little theatre at Shimla, small and hot, and somewhat dirty, but it does very well.” This theatre was in the Royal Hotel complex situated at the present Rani Jhansi Park. The English then erected assembly rooms for Shimla community in a quadrangle-building close by Sabzi Mandi; a portion of the building was to be used as theatre. Its roof crashed in 1852 and the theatre was moved to Abbeville, a nearby house built by a French gentleman. The Gaiety Theatre was inaugurated on The Mall on May 30, 1887 with Time Will Tell. Since then the popularity of English plays earned Shimla the nickname - ‘Mecca of theatres’.

This stimulated the Indian clerks to dramatics, who formed a theatre Association in 1893. Good religious plays are to courtesy the Bengali and Hindustani Samaj founded in 1897. The Tamil clerks formed a Madras Club in 1914 at Nabha locality while Daksha Club, another group of South Indian clerks, started performing at Phagli. Punjabi babus established their own theatre company. The Gaiety theatre was rented out to each of these clubs once a year till 1897. Thereafter the Club Committee refused permission to these on the plea that their huge stage props spoiled the performing arena.

The Parsi theatre, which toured Shimla till 1925-26, used to perform in ‘Prince of Wales’, now Regal, and ‘Elphinston Theatre’, now Ritz, cinema halls. When the Gaiety closed its doors to Hindustani theatre, these halls were used. Their owners welcomed the advent of silent movies in 1926, followed by the talkies and so converted these theatres into cinema halls. The Hindustani Theatre was left with no performing arena. Durga Dass, a known writer, was a councillor in the Shimla Municipal Committee where he successfully fought for lifting the ban on the performance of Hindustani theatre and the municipal committee-owned Gaiety Theatre was, once again, thrown open for it in 1928. This motivated Hindustani Theatre.

Immediately four prominent dramatic clubs, namely, Indian, Edward, Premier and National sprang up here. Religious plays were in great demand then and people would crowd the theatre to see their gods and goddesses live on stage. Historical plays were their second choice. No doubt, Ganesh Janma by Indian was an outstanding success. The directors of the plays were ranked in high esteem then. Shiv Charan Dass alias Kaka Babu and Shahadat Khan were the great directors of Edward and Premier respectively. Anarkali written by Sayyed Imtiaz Ali Taj produced by Edward at the Gaiety in 1928 made Shimla audience go gaga. Salim played by Z.A. Bukhari, later the first director general of Radio Pakistan, and Anarkali played by S.S.S. Thakur, producer emeritus of Akashvani, are equated with gem and jewel roles.

Males then used to slip on the petticoats as the females shied away from the stage. Pandit Vijay Kumar, who played lead role in Aaseere Hind by Aga Hashra Kashmiri, belonged to Edward ADC. He was the first himachali hero on silver screen. Starting from a silent movie Dukhtare Zamana, he switched over to the talkies entitled Sanjivmurti, Azadi and Abhagin of New Theatres, Mumbai. Ajamil Uddhar and Krishna Avatar were Premier’s laudable productions. National introduced social issue of educating women through Parivartan and also Kundan Lal Sehgal singing a song Sayian more, laye de batashe ki jori in a play. The song charmed the people so much that every youth in lower bazaar used to hum its tune. The contagious dramatics made the princes of neighbouring states of Junga, Koti and Dhami to pick up the baton to direct and stage plays within their princedom. (See photograph).

‘Three Arts Club’, which earned name in Delhi later, was formed here in 1943-44. ‘Erin Villa’ at Kaithu was its office cum rehearsal place. Its director Murtaza Ali Khan Kazmi produced Rajkumari Latika and Aurat to be staged at Kalibari. Chaudhri Din Mohammed of Government Press ADC earned name through self-directed Chandragupt in 1945-46. The play was to open on the night of Eid. Din Mohammed got his head shaved and sported a pigtail to play Chankya. The Muslims, especially his family members, got furious but he set aside all comments by saying, “Drama has no religion.” Those were the days when commitment towards the plays was exemplary.



Nature’s own
Fruit growers in Shimla & Solan turn to organic farming

Pratibha Chauhan

With more and more people opting for chemical-free food, organic farming is catching up fast with more than 6,000 progressive farmers in Shimla and Solan bidding goodbye to chemical farming. The fact that a 20 kg organic apple box fetched Rs 3,000 in Bangalore as compared to Rs 1,000 ordinary apples last year, explains the preference of the farmers, though organic farming is quite cumbersome with rather rigid norms.

It is the state agriculture department and the district rural development agency (DRDA), which is jointly executing the organic agriculture project with the help of Jaipur-based M.R. Morarka Rurla Research Foundation. The farmers are being guided to ensure that their produce and seeds are able to clear the certification tests.

About 4,200 farmers and fruit and vegetable growers in Shimla and over 1,500 in Solan are currently in the conversion process, where they are strictly adhering to the norms laid down for organic farming. “So far only 56 farmers have received organic certification from the Delhi-based agency, One Cert Asia,” says Ashish Srivastava, project manager at Theog.

Various fruits like apples, apricots, peaches, vegetables, pulses and grains, including wheat and maize, are being produced organically. Though the number of farmers who have received the organic certification so far is small but gradually as production increases, marketing problems would also be overcome,” he asserts.

The organic agriculture project in Shimla is likely to be over by March 2008. All the nine blocks of Mashobra, Basantpur, Theog, Narkanda, Rampur, Jubbal, Rohru, Chirgaon and Chopal have been covered under this project. “The cost of production in organic farming is less and the returns are far more which in itself is a major attraction for the farmers,” says Nand Kishore Mahajan, deputy director in the agriculture department.

He says even pulses like rajmah, which fetches about Rs 50 per kg, can get Rs 80 per kg when grown organically. “We will guide farmers in techniques of organic farming and establish market linkages,” says Ashish.

Dispelling notions about fall in yield when switched over to organic production, he says this would under no circumstances be more than 10 per cent. “The premium prices that organic products fetch will be more that sufficient to cover the loss on account of marginal decrease in production,” he opines.

With farmers showing keen interest in organic farming, the government is considering bringing three more districts under its cover. With this the number of farmers into organic farming would cross 15,000. “When production rises, transportation cost will automatically come down,” says Ashish.



Running into glory
Long-distance running queen Rita Kumari is now eyeing the Asian Games
Kuldeep Chauhan

At 20, Rita Kumari is the queen of long-distance running, second only to Arjuna awardee Suman Rawat. Barely a week after turning 20, she stormed her way into the Paddal Maidan at Mandi. She was chosen Best Athlete at the recent 33rd Himachal Pradesh Inter-college Athletics Meet.

After clinching the title, Rita and her coach Bhupinder Thakur say their next target is to take part in the National Games and the Asian Games. Rita aims to make her mark in the 10,000 and 5,000 m races.

Rita has won over a dozen medals in state and national level championships over the years. If athletes are provided good facilities in the state, they can excel at nation and international level, she feels.

Her major success came last year in Bangaluru, when she won the gold medal in the 10,000 mt race and silver medal in 5000 mt race in the All-India Athletics meet held there. She also won a bronze at the women national championship in 3 km marathon at Chhatisgarh last year. It was a great haul of medals for Rita at the HP university meet at Mandi last week. She won two gold medals in 10,000 and 5000 mt race in which she made a new record in the championship. She won a silver medal in 800 mt race, giving her stunning performance. She owes her performance to her coach and her parents.

Her coach Thakur says if she gets the best facilities, Rita can excel in the national and Asian games. She is a talented athlete with the promise of a bright future, he adds.



Cheers for Ma’am!
Australian scholarship for Hamirpur teacher

Dharam Prakash Gupta

A Hamirpur teacher has brought in laurels for her school as well as the entire teaching community. Himanshu Sharma, vice-principal of Him Academy Public School-Hamirpur, is one of the six teachers from the country who have won the Endeavour Programme scholarship.

The development programme instituted by the Australian government will provide training to teachers to improve their skills in the student assessment programmes and is valued at $25,000. Says Himanshu, “A large number of teachers had applied for the scholarship because student assessment techniques are now an essential part of the modern education system.” Himanshu has been involved in implementing NCERT’s reforms for the past three years. An M.Tech in computers she is making full use of her computer skills in developing student assessment programmes. Talking about the importance of these programmes she says, “It is important to implement these in the country. And, people who’ve been selected for this scholarship would be holding workshops throughout the country to train teachers in student assessment.” The Australian government would also organise seminars and workshops.



Double trouble?

About 25 per cent voters in HP are registered at more than two places according to a recent media report. This is due to some specific conditions in the state that should be properly understood before equating with Bihar and UP.

People in service class and their families have major concern with their villages. They do not find accountable representatives at the places of work, where elected members also do not take these people seriously because most of them are transferred before the next election.

Sometimes, factors like bad weather, election duty, lack of enough leave for travel etc make it difficult for these families to travel to their native villages to caste their votes. In such conditions, it is better to exercise their franchise at some place than totally abstaining from this democratic exercise.

Moreover, during the Parliamentary elections it is impractical to move to villages, if the place of posting also pertains to the same constituency. An exercise to curb such a practice in Shimla district will certainly snatch the voting right of many people during this election, which may result in chaos.

Rakesh Kumar Sharma

Readers, write in

Make Himachal Plus your very own forum and do yourselves and your neighbours a good turn. Here is an opportunity to highlight civic and other public issues, and air your grievances about government negligence and ineffectiveness and the apathy of the officialdom. Send in write-ups, not exceeding 200 words, to Himachal Plus, The Tribune, Sector 29, Chandigarh. E-mail:



HOME PAGE | Punjab | Haryana | Jammu & Kashmir | Himachal Pradesh | Regional Briefs | Nation | Opinions |
| Business | Sports | World | Mailbag | Chandigarh | Ludhiana | Delhi |
| Calendar | Weather | Archive | Subscribe | Suggestion | E-mail |