White new year eve, hopefully
Endless wait? Shimla last experienced a White Christmas in 1991

Santa Claus entertains children near the Shimla Church on Tuesday.
Santa Claus entertains children near the Shimla Church on Tuesday. — Photo by S. Chandan

A crystal clear sky, bright sunshine yet a palpable chill in the air — residents and thousands of tourists woke up to a snowless Christmas, disappointed, yet again.

Hopes of a White Christmas had soared after the hills received a few spells of snow earlier this month. Last year also, tourists had to return home without enjoying the snowscape. The phenomenon has led many residents and tourists to wonder whether White Christmas in Shimla is an illusion after all.

Punjab and Haryana High Court advocate-cum-regular frequenter to Shimla Raman Kumar Sharma says you actually have to meticulously turn the pages of memory’s album for snaps of snowcapped fun on Christmas.

“Everyone in the country speaks of White Christmas in Shimla, though I am sure only a few can recall hurling snowballs at each other on Christmas more than thrice in their youth,” Raman asserts.

The concept of White Christmas comes from the 1954 Bing Crosby-Danny Kaye starrer White Christmas. The classic, directed by Michael Curtiz, featured Irving Berlin’s songs including the titular White Christmas.

The flick ended on a happy note with snow falling on pine trees and people raising glasses in honour of the romantic twosome. Since then, some of the travel agents and hoteliers in Shimla have been selling the concept to the people in the plains for attracting them to Shimla during holidays.

On an average, about 50,000 tourists arrive in Shimla around Christmas.

Chaos reigns

As was expected, it was a chaotic time with haphazardly parked vehicles, traffic jams and hooliganism by ‘high spirited’ Christmas revelers.

While those who planned their Christmas celebration and came with prior bookings did enjoy, many enthusiastic crowds who arrived without reservation had to spend the night in rain shelters and verandahs as all the hotels were full to capacity.

The police as usual had a tough time keeping the mob, especially on the Mall and Ridge under control. For the locals, of course, it is one time of the year when they dislike the town the most for the unwanted crowds who sustain the tourism industry.

(Inputs from Pratibha Chauhan) 



Let the celebrations begin
Kuldeep Chauhan

With New Year round the corner, tourist places in Himachal are all geared up — dance parties, bonfires, local cuisines, snow sports, a plethora of options are available for the entertainment of guests from outside the state.

And, revellers are also making a beeline to get hotel bookings in Manali and its surrounding areas. It is expected that the show will indeed be houseful in a couple of days!

Hoteliers have spruced up their ‘arenas’ to make the celebration all the more different this year. On offer are Christmas balls on December 24 and 25, skiing trips and a host of other activities. With early snow this year, tourists are hopeful that they can witness a ‘white’ New Year this time round.

The mania has also caught up amongst youngsters, especially executives, who are flooding areas like Manali, Shimla, Kufri, Dalhousie, Narkanda and Dharamsala for the New Year.

Even the state-run HPTDC hotels are all agog. The Club House in the snowy environs of Manali is set to organise dance parties for the revelers. “We will choose ‘A Winter Queen’ during the nightlong celebrations,” said HPTDC marketing manager K. D. Sharma. “All the accommodation in hotels is booked from December 29 to 31. We are expecting around a 200 couples this year,” he adds.

The HPTDC is offering packages of Rs. 2,000 per couple and Rs. 500 for children between eight to 15 years of age.

“For children below eight years it is complimentary,” Sharma informed. In addition, folk song evenings, dance parties and various competitions for children will be held at the Club House.

Private hoteliers are also looking forward to the New Year Eve. ”We hope that it will snow that day. This would make it more memorable,” said S. C. Sharma, a hotelier from Manali. Revellers can also visit the Solang Nullah and Kothi for snow sports. 



HP Votes
The final countdown
Counting begins Dec 28
Kuldeep Chauhan

Election din is over. But the countdown for counting of votes for the first and second phase — on December 28 — has begun. People of the state are eager to see the new incumbents in power. Will Virbhadra Singh be the chief minister for the sixth time or will it be BJP’s Prem Kumar Dhumal, are questions doing the rounds.

Hectic campaigning drew top BJP, Congress, BSP and LJP national leaders to the 65 assembly segments for the second phase of polls in the state.

However, Virbhadra Singh, BJP CM candidate Prem Kumar Dhumal and Shanta Kumar emerged as star campaigners. Virbhadra Singh enjoyed the unique distinction of not even campaigning for a single day in his home constituency Rohru and he cast his vote in Rampur Bushair.

Local issues dominated the show. And although national leaders participated full throttle, they are unlikely to have an impact on the voters, opine poll pundits.

Even as BJP’s two former CMs — Prem Kumar Dhumal and Shanta Kumar (national vice-president, who is not fighting election this time) — addressed maximum numbers of public meetings all over the state during the 17-day long election campaign, the Congress had to only bank on Virbhadra Singh. Congress leaders Vidya Stokes and Viplove Thakur hardly campaigned outside their home segments.

A senior political scientist at the HP university, on conditions of anonymity, said: “National leaders campaigning, as observed in the past elections, does not make much impact on the electorate as polls are fought on local issues. But certainly they raised the pitch by gearing up part cadres, which play a major roll in polls.”

Meanwhile, top national campaigners for the Congress included AICC chief Sonia Gandhi, who addressed two meetings at Una and Shimla, AICC general secretary Rahul Gandhi, who held a road show in Kulu-Mandi, prime minister Dr Manmohan Singh, at the last day at Palampur and Bilaspur, state minister for foreign affairs Anand Sharma, Satpal Maharaj, and younger leaders like Sachin Pilot.

For the BJP, there was prime ministerial candidate LK Advani, Rajnath Singh, both of whom addressed over a dozen meetings, Sushma Swaraj, Venkiah Nadu (one meeting), ex-finance minister Yashant Sinha, filmstar-turned politicians Shatrughan Sinha and Hema Malini , Navjot Siddhu and Satpal Jain. BSP supremo Mayawati and LJP chief Ram Vilas Paswan also addressed meetings in lower, middle and upper segments of the state, but failed to woo the voters as had been expected earlier. However, the BSP could make or break the chances of both BJP and Congress in the final outcome, opine experts. 



It’s raining complaints in Kangra
Kulwinder Sandhu

Kangra district saw a host of complaints related to the recent polls. One FIR has been registered and many other complaints have been noted in the daily dairy register of respective police stations in the district. So far, more than 45 complaints have been received by the district administration and more are expected.

On the complaint of Ashok Kumar, resident of Dadassiba village, an FIR under sections 341, 323, 506 of the IPC and 3 (1) (10) of the SC/ST (POA) Act 1989 was registered in Dehra police station against Miayan, resident of upper Balwal village, for making casteist remarks against the complainant.

The complainant, a BSP worker, had alleged that the accused had insulted other party workers also. Dehra DSP Sita Ram investigated the matter and recorded statements 13 witnesses before substantiating facts. The alleged accused was immediately arrested and produced before the local court. He is presently under judicial custody, police sources revealed.

In another complaint, Pyara Lal, resident of Bir village falling under Baijnath constituency, had alleged that the name of former MLA Sudhir Sharma was mentioned wrongly in a poll-related poster. Police prepared a kalandra under section 127-A of Representation of People Act 1951 against Ashutosh Chabra, resident of Paprola village, who got the matter printed and the same was put before the local court. A report in this regard was also sent to the district magistrate-cum-district returning officer.

Chain Ram Chauhan, a sub-inspector posted at Palampur police station, complained that the BJP candidate violated the model code of conduct during filing of nomination papers. Balbir Chaudhary, resident of Kalyara village falling under Shahpur constituency, had complained that a supporter of local BJP candidate Sarveen Chaudhary had pressurised him not to contest elections and even threatened to kill him.

Although police did not find any cognizable offence, a complaint has been lodged in the daily dairy register at Gaggal police post.

State secretary of Congress SP Katyal had also lodged a complaint before the district magistrate-cum-district returning officer that BSP was putting up their flags and writing on the walls of rain shelters in and around Dharamsala. Balbir Chaudhary, a resident of Kalyara village, had complained that Ashwani Kumar, chairman of the block samiti, and his associate Joginder Singh, a panchayat member of village Makloti, had threatened to kill him.

But, during inquiries, the allegations were not substantiated. In yet another case, the BJP had complained against sitting Congress legislator GS Bali, fighting the election from Nagrota Bagwan constituency, that on the last day of campaigning he did not allow the helicopter of their senior party leader Sushma Swaraj to land in a ground where he had intentionally organised a public gathering.

On the other hand, Bali claims to have got the requisite permission to hold the rally in that ground. The matter has been referred to the magistrate for inquiry. 



Needed: A policy on disaster management
Kulwinder Sandhu

Albeit most of the districts in Himachal are prone to natural disasters such as earthquakes, landslides, avalanches, cloudbursts and floods, the state government still lacks an effective disaster management policy to protect life and public property.

In August 2007 when entire Ghanvi village was destroyed in a cloudburst that killed 53 persons and wiped out many houses, disaster management became a serious topic of discussion in official and academic circles.

Due to such disasters, hundreds of lives are lost, major road links remain blocked for weeks during the rainy season and infrastructure worth crores of rupees gets destroyed every year. This also causes irreparable damage to the Himalayas ecology.

The resources of Himalayan region face continuous devastation owing to topographic and climatic factors, loss of vegetal cover, uncontrolled grazing, fire, disproportionate construction of buildings, roads and quarrying etc. Wrong policies, faulty land use practices, lack of involvement of local people in management of natural resources further aggravate the situation.

Although finding an immediate cure to natural disasters is not possible on account of limited resources, tough topographic conditions and poor communication systems, the situation can be tackled well with mechanical and biological methods. Concerted efforts of the government and Non Government Organisations (NGO’s) are required for chalking out a well-planned strategy to deal with any situation on a long-term basis.

The state government should make special efforts to prepare a rehabilitation plan for shifting people in endangered villages to safer locations. For this, recommendations of various experts in the field of earth sciences and geology should be properly studied and implemented.

Local leaders should take a keen interest in this matter and create pressure for immediate formulation of an action plan. In fact, spending money on developmental activities in the hilly areas would be futile unless this core issue is dealt with.

One of the accelerating factors of these tragedies is the gradual damage to drainage systems. Drains get damaged due to heavy rains thereby causing landslides in which roads are spoilt beyond repair, bridges are washed away and river embankments are breached. Action for repair of roads and irrigation canals will only be a temporary measure, unless the drainage system is tackled simultaneously.

State government officials should immediately restructure district annual plans and prepare schemes which should deal with preventing damages to roads, buildings and other public/private properties through integrated land treatment plans with the help of Public Works Department, Soil Conservation Department, , Irrigation and Public Health Department, Agriculture Department and the Forest Department.

This will help in making special arrangements for developing a proper drainage system, specific soil conservation with technical advancement measures, suitable water harvesting techniques and promotion of local herbs and shrubs before going in for tree planting activities on the vulnerable degraded slopes. Afforestation programmes should also to be focused on promotion of local shrubs, which bind the soil firmly and retain moisture.

Further, the state government should create awareness among people for construction of earthquake resistant houses. For this, all possible help should be taken from the Central Building Research Institute, Roorkee, which has already developed world’s best technology of making earthquake resistant houses.

The Natural Disaster Management Cell of the Government of India and the state government should together formulate a long-term forecasting, prevention and control system.

Steps should also be taken to bring awareness among people about the way physical features of hilly areas are getting disturbed. For this, teams of volunteers should be formulated at the village level, which would help mobilise public opinion and get the drains cleaned before the onset of monsoon. The media should also play a positive role in this regard. 



Kalka-Shimla track record
One of the marvels of the world, this rail route completed in 1903 has a host of stories attached with its making
by Shriniwas Joshi


Former third-class bogeys of the Indian Railways had no attached toilets. Credit for these goes to the following letter written in 1909 to Divisional Office, Sahebganj, West Bengal:

Dear Sir,
I am arrive by passenger train at Ahmedpur station and my belly too much Swelling with jackfruit. I am therefore went to privy. Just I doing the nuisance the guard making whistle blow for train to go off and I am running with ‘lotah’ in one hand and ‘Dhoti’ in the next when I am fall over and expose all my shockings to man and female women on platform. I am got leaved at Ahmedpur station. This too much bad, if passenger go to make dung that dam guard not wait train five minutes for him. I am therefore pray you honour to make fine on that guard for public sake. Otherwise I am making big report to papers.
Your’s faithfull servant
Okhil Ch. Sen

Kalka-Shimla Railway (KSR) is one of the most surveyed lines. The Delhi Gazette of 1847 with a proposed sketch route of KSR reads, “We might then see these cooler regions become the permanent seat of a government daily invigorated by a temperature adapted to refresh an European constitution and keep the mental powers in a state of health alike, beneficial both to the rulers and the ruled.”

The extension of Ambala-Kalka strip of East Indian Railway in 1865 initiated various surveys for KSR — of 1884, 1885; project report of 1887 and another survey of 1895. A contract, nevertheless, was signed between the Secretary of the State and Delhi-Ambala-Kalka Railway Company on June 29, 1898, for construction of a two feet line with no government grant but provision of land in gratis. Military authorities pressurised the government to agree to two-and-a-half feet line.

A fresh contract signed on November 15, 1901, resulted in re-doing the already laid portion of the line. Lord Curzon inaugurated this 59.44-mile long track, constructed under the supervision of chief engineer H.S. Harington on November 9, 1903, the date on which the first train pulled by a locomotive built by British firm Sharp Stewart arrived in Shimla.

The company, despite the jacked up fare, suffered financial crunch and sent an SOS to the government that purchased KSR on January 1, 1906. Besides Barog, the longest tunnel (3,752 feet) named after the engineer who constructed it and committed suicide for laying wrong alignment, KSR now passes through 101 tunnels (not 102, one is non-functional) and over 869 bridges representing about three percent of the line. A couple of bridges are three or five-stage ‘arch-galleries’ that resemble ancient Roman aqueducts.

The Guinness Book on ‘Rail Facts and Feats’ included KSR as the greatest narrow gauge engineering achievement in India. Robert Lee and Ian Walker of UNESCO inspected its track and visited several railway stations in September 2007. They were impressed by its age-old communication system, the use of ancient block phones and functional ‘stop and go signal lanterns’ of the British period, hence recommended its inclusion among the ‘world heritage sites’. A final word is awaited though.

KSR and its legends are many, including that of ‘illiterate genius Bhalkoo from Chail, with matted hair full of lice fed on flour and sugar poured by him on his head because his devta conversed with him through these fleas, telling him the exact sites for tunnels or bridges. He would point out these to authorities through a long staff that he always carried with him. The British believed in his supernatural powers.

Raaja Bhasin writes a story of a drunken passenger who travelled by a railcar in 1940s. Already inebriated, he was refused another drink by the bartender at Barog. He stretched himself on the rail-track and refused to budge till he got the drink. He was requested, warned, intimidated and threatened but to no affect.

The railcar had jumped the departure time. The bartender then brought an open bottle of beer near him. Like a donkey after a carrot, he tottered after the moving waiter. The passengers were hastily pushed into the seats. The driver started the engine and pushed off.

Doz wrote in 1913 about “sharing the compartment with nine hat boxes and a lady: hat boxes were then privileged parcels. There were probably four hats in each box, in all six-and-thirty hats — but the lady had only one head.” 



Voices against regional bias
Dharam Prakash Gupta

The issue of regional discrimination has often been raised during the assembly elections, and by a few other leaders of the lower regions at other times. There is a feeling among people that the issue of balanced regional development has not been taken up seriously.

On the other hand, the Congress government, presently in power, has vehemently denied all such charges. Emphasising his viewpoint, leader of opposition in the state assembly I.D. Dhiman said: “The Congress government has always discriminated against the lower areas. During the previous year while south zone, including Shimla district, got 86 crores and 124 crores as PWD and IPH budget respectively, the central zone, including Hamirpur district, got 23 crores and 92 crores respectively.”

However, chief minister Virbhadra Singh has denied the allegations: “For us Himachal is one and budget allocation depends on the schemes forwarded from a particular area. BJP has always tried to create a regional divide for political gains but Congress has been able to counter this by bringing about uniform development in the state.”

District Congress spokesman Deepak Sharma elaborated: “The Bamsan– Mewa drinking water scheme, being implemented in Hamirpur district at a cost of Rs 68 crores, would not have been taken up by the present government if they had any regional bias.”

Reacting on the issue, local advocate Sushil Kumar says, “If any area has lagged behind in development, it is failure of the local MLA or MP. It does not look like if any government deliberately discriminates against any area.”

Marketing managers Vikesh from Mulana village in Bamsan constituency and Kamlesh Kumar from village Ratiyal opined that it may be any government, only the people having close connections are in a better position to get things done and carry out development works.

Pawana, from Putrail village under Nadaun constituency, is of the opinion that discrimination is there in every field,. “Every politician prefers his own men and area. Regional discrimination does take place,” she says. “Whichever CM is in power, he prefers his own men,” says Vivek Sharma from Lamblu. 



Crying for attention
The four-century-old town fails to find a place on the tourist map of Himachal even after 60 years of Independence
S. R. Pundir

A Tribune photograph

Four-century-old Nahan, which is among the oldest six towns of Himachal Pradesh, is still out of the tourism map of the state. Residents here claim that this town has everything nature has to offer — a number of ancient temples, water bodies, historical buildings, a fort and other places of tourist interest. However, due to official apathy most of these places are in a dilapidated condition.

Nahan, situated on the top of Markanda hill of the Shivalik range and at a height of 960 metres from the sea level, is two hours drive from Chandigarh. The town is surrounded by more than 80 square kms of Sal and Cheer forests, out of which 36 square kms falls under Nahan municipal council. The forest is home to several species of flora and fauna.

Nahan’s temperature ranges between two degree Celsius to 34 degree Celsius. However, it is gradually increasing due to unscientific felling of trees and alteration of the landscape mainly to establish factories in Kala Amb and Trilokpur areas, around 20 km away from this town.

Mr Digvijay Gupta, president Nahan Nagrik Sabha, alleges that the government has done nothing to attract tourists to this beautiful place. He added that no efforts were made to persuade successors of the last ruler of Sirmour Riyasat, who were engaged in fighting legal battles for property, to open the four-century-old Palace for the tourists. Gupta said Nahan had over 12 water bodies during olden times but most of them are in a bad shape now.

However, a grant of Rs 15 lakh was received from the erstwhile Dhumal government for the upkeep of three of these water bodies during the tenure of deputy commissioner Rakesh Kaushal. He made efforts for rejuvenation of Pucca Taalab, in the heart of town, and did Shramdaan in Kalishthan Taalab. Cleaning work of Ramkundi Taalab was also initiated. The fund-starved Nahan municipal council manages one of the water bodies, Ranital Taalab.

Other places of tourist interest such as the Shanti Sangam are also in ruins. Big iron gates of the Villa Round remain locked. Many other projects, including construction of a tourism hotel, a tourist centre and a sports stadium are hanging fire since several years. 



Simian snag
A glimmer of hope for farmers: Poll manifestos of political parties promise a check on the growing monkey menace
Pratibha Chauhan

There is a glimmer of hope in the form of election manifestos of the main political parties for thousands of farmers in the state, who are suffering huge damages due to the havoc being wreaked by monkeys, wild boars and other stray animals in various parts of the state.

With monkey menace becoming a major problem for farmers, whose crops are being ravaged by monkeys, the farming community has been desperately looking for relief for quite a while now. However, some hope has finally arrived in the form of election manifestos of BJP, Congress and the CPM, which prominently mention about taking effective steps to check increasing population of monkeys.

“During the maize, wheat and other seasons we have to keep round the clock vigil as herds of monkeys attack the fields and cause devastation,” says Het Ram of village Darel, near Hanogi temple, in Kullu district. He says until a permanent solution is found, farmers will continue to suffer.

About seven panchayats of this belt in Kullu, including the villages of Thachi-Murah, Kukhoh, Khol Naal are badly being affected by monkey menace. In addition, farmers in the entire pine belt, right from Sirmaur, Solan, Bilaspur, Hamirpur and Kangra are also suffering. According to the December 2004 census of the Wildlife wing of forest department, monkey population in the state is estimated to be around 3.17 lakh.

According to the data available with Himachal Gyan Vigyan Samiti (HGVS), which has launched the Kheti Bachao campaign, 2,300 of the 3,243 panchayats in the state are under attack from monkeys and other wild animals. “According to our survey, monkey population in the state should be around five lakhs,” says Dr Om Prakash Bhureta, spokesperson of the Kheti Bachao Sangharsh Samiti.

“It is a very welcome development that at least political parties have taken note of the problem and figured it in their election manifestos, but unless and until a policy is framed by the government or some concrete steps are taken the situation will not improve,” says Dr Kuldeep Singh Tanwar, state president of HGVS.

Although the forest department has agreed to scientific culling of monkeys and permission was granted to people in Nauradhar area of Sirmaur on an experimental basis in the month of July, since then there has not been much headway. However, around 180 farmers took permission from the forest department and eliminated over 100 monkeys.

“It is perhaps for the first time in the last decade that our maize crop could be saved to a great extent due to killing of these monkeys,” says Rajesh Kumar of Nauradhar area. The forest department has allowed scientific culling of animals even in Dharampur area of Solan, but no policy has been framed in this regard so far. It is being felt that instead of farmers being issued the license to kill, trained staff of wildlife department should take the task into their own hands.

Organisations like Maneka Gandhi’s People For Animals and Centre For The Welfare And Protection of Animals have been putting forth their viewpoint in which they are totally opposed to culling of monkeys or any other animals. However, some of the representatives of these organisations had to face the wrath of people in Nauradhar, who even ‘gheraoed’ them.

Several steps like lifting of the ban on export of monkeys, imposed in 1978, their scientific management by declaring them vermin and undertaking scientific culling have been suggested. It has also been suggested that watch and ward staff should be deputed under National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme so that people get work and along with that they can protect the crops.

As of now, farmers are hopeful that after formation of the new government, some effective steps will be taken to find a permanent solution to the menace. 



Shimla Diary
Pratibha Chauhan

It seems to be a perfect case of neighbours envy, owner’s pride. The powerful Congressman of Indira Gandhi days, R.K. Dhawan, AICC general secretary and incharge of party affairs in Himachal, seems to have made his BJP counterpart, Satya Pal Jain jealous.

“He is a very lucky person, in that he has a chopper at his disposal,” remarked Jain, while commenting on the breach in PM security due to the chopper, which landed in Bilaspur to ferry Dhawan to Palampur for the next rally.

  In sharp contrast to Dhawan, who confined himself to the Peterhoff hotel here, Jain might have done a good job for his party by keeping the media busy and interacting with partymen all over the state but the fact that Dhawan had a chopper at his disposal sure made him envious.

Star cost

Having a Bollywood actor campaign for elections can be a costly and cumbersome affair with their starry airs and demands.

‘Dream Girl’ Hema Malini devoted two full days for campaigning in Himachal. There were huge crowds to get a glimpse of the ageless beauty who addressed rallies in Rampur, Arki, Shimla and Kasumpti.

It became practically difficult for her to take a stroll on the Mall, where she has shot for several of her movies including ‘Kudrat’ with Rajesh Khanna. Beyond a point it became difficult even for the police personnel to handle the crowds, which forced her to enter a showroom. Having liked the expensive Kashmiri shawls and other handicraft stuff at the showroom, she made quite a few purchases. The party leaders accompanying her were chivalrous enough to not let her foot the bill, despite her offer to make the payment.

It was after the polling day that the BJP leaders remembered that they had yet to pay the hefty amount of the shopping done by the star, even if it was per force to avoid getting mobbed by the crowds. 





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