Primary Education
Coverage YES Quality NO
Rakesh Lohumi

Upgrading of physical infrastructure and deployment of more teachers has not brought about the expected improvement in the standard of education

The rapid expansion of the school network and an exceptionally high teacher-pupil ratio notwithstanding, the quality of education, particularly at the primary level, continues to be a matter of concern in the hill state.

With 10,682 primary and 4,237 upper primary institutions, elementary education is accessible to all and children do not have to walk more than 1.5 km to attend school. As per the latest data, the teacher-pupil ratio has further improved to 1:17 from 1:22 in 2004-05 as against the norm of 1:40. The average of slightly more than three classrooms per primary school is also quite reasonable. In fact, infrastructure-wise the state is ranked seventh in the country.

However, the upgrading of physical infrastructure and deployment of more than adequate teachers has not brought about the expected improvement in the standard of education. A recent survey conducted by the NCERT found the achievement level of the class V children to be 47 per cent. Compared to the survey conducted five years ago, there has been an improvement of about 12 per cent, but a learning level of less than 50 per cent is unacceptable, given the huge investment on infrastructure and human resources.

The main reason for the poor learning levels is that the government does not have requisite funds and trained manpower to appoint regular teachers. The high teacher-pupil ratio indicates that successive governments have opened far too many schools than actually required on political considerations. They have been coming out with ad hoc schemes like voluntary teachers, vidya upasak, para-teachers and the controversial PTA (parent-teacher association) appointments to fill the posts.

The teachers under such schemes are mostly recruited on political recommendations and they do not have any commitment to the profession. For most of the well qualified recruits it is a stopgap arrangement till they get a better job. Still a large number of posts remain vacant. Worse still is the fact that the available teachers are not deployed evenly as a result of which schools in the remote and difficult areas mostly remain without teachers whereas there is surplus staff in urban schools. To cap it all, transfers of teachers continue round the year.

The difficult hill topography also poses a challenge. Schools have to be opened in tribal and other hard areas, which have sparse population. In tribal areas, a number of schools have a strength ranging from 10 to 30 students. All this has led to a situation where the government is not in a position to have a mono-grade system despite a high teacher-student ratio. Under the multi-grade system, only two or three teachers are available to teach five classes. There are other deficiencies too. Only 44 per cent of schools have toilets and the remaining 56 per cent lack this essential facility.

The poor academic standards are leading to a decline in enrolment in government schools. The last survey showed a declining trend in nine out of the total 12 districts and there is no appreciable improvement in the latest survey, with the people in the rural areas too prefer to send their children to private schools.

Inclusivity at fault?

n There are 10,682 primary and 4,237 upper primary institutions in the state
n Elementary education is accessible to all and children do not have to walk more than 1.5 km to attend school
n The teacher-pupil ratio has improved to 1:17 from 1:22 in 2004-05
n The average of slightly more than three classrooms per primary school is also reasonable
n Infrastructure-wise, the state is ranked seventh in the country



Birthplace of adventure
M.C. Thakur

Vashisht village is not only known for its hot sulphur springs and Vashisht Rishi temple but also for several adventure-related activities in which many firsts go to its credit.

Vashisht Rishi temple and its hot water springs have made this low-profile village famous around the world. The village lies 3 km from Manali on the left bank of the Beas at the foot of a laterite and conglomerate rock hill covered with deodar and pines.

The Western Himalayan Mountaineering Institute in Manali has played a vital role in promoting adventure activities. It has produced many skiers and mountaineers of national as well as international standards. This institute was established at Chadiyari (Vashisht) village in 1961. It was later shifted to Aleo Bihal in 1976.

Sherpa Guide School, a private adventure school, which was also established at Vashisht by Wangdi Sherpa in 1966, to train local boys in mountaineering and skiing for generating self-employment. During sixties, the Kulu-Manali region was quite popular among foreign mountaineers. Many expeditions were organised by European, Japanese and American climbers in the region.

The school provided trained local mountaineers for these expeditions. Inspired by its successes, youths of the village took mountaineering and skiing as a profession and today a large number of youths are self-employed in the field of adventure tourism.

Recently, the local Blue Sky Ski Club celebrated its annual function during which pioneer and veteran mountaineers and skiers from the village were honored. Their contribution in the field of adventure-related activities and guidance to the young generation to promote eco-friendly adventure tourism was applauded.

Besides, the club also honored its members who had represented the country in various international competitions. Muralidhar Negi, Roshan Lal Negi, Chuni Thakur, Praveen Sood, Shwatanshu Sharman and Shiva Keshvan were among them. Shiva was the only participant who represented India in the Olympics of 2006 held in Italy in the event of luge. Apart from this, many firsts are associated with local youths like Sanjeev Sharman was the first to introduce snow scooter, Vivek was the first qualified river rafting guide and Chuni Thakur the first heliskiing guide.

Col Prem Chand (retd), chief patron of the club, admired the club for its achievements. He said Vashisht village was the first to initiate adventure activities in the area. Vinay Singh Thakur, sub-divisional magistrate, Manali, who was the chief guest of the function, also hailed the efforts of the club. Others present on the occasion included Tara Chand Thakur, Dharm Chand Thakur, Gupat Ram Thakur, and Mehar Chand Thakur. 



Anaganwari Centres
42 pc kids still not getting nutrition
Pratibha Chauhan

Almost 42 per cent of children below the age of six years in the state are still not being provided supplementary nutrition in the anaganwari centres, many of which do not have safe drinking water and toilet facility.

This fact came to light in the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report till March 31, 2007. The scheme was being implemented in the country on the directions of the Supreme Court, where 300-calorie diet along with 8 to 10 gm of protein had to be provided to each child below the age of six years.

Out of a total of 5.76 lakh identified children below six years, only 3.33 lakh were being covered under the supplementary nutrition scheme in the state. There are a total of 7,354 anganwari centres in the state where children below the age of six years are being provided nutrition under the integrated child development services (ICDS).

The CAG report had also pointed out that 24 per cent of the anganwari centres (1,783) in the state still do not have safe drinking water provision while 94 per cent of them (6,885) do not have toilet provision. “These basic facilities should have been provided in all anganwaris, especially, in view of the fact that food for children below the age of six years is being prepared here,” the CAG report said.

Even though the Department of Social Justice and Empowerment had decided to open 10,894 anganwari centres in the state during 2005-06 but these were still in the process of being set up.

Another fact highlighted in the CAG report was that the insufficient provision of funds was made in the budget for providing supplementary nutrition to the identified children and expectant mothers. In 2006-07, an amount of Rs 45.99 crore was required but only a provision of Rs 21.58 crore was made.

Another area where the CAG had expressed concern is the constant increase in the salaries, wages and administrative expenditure under the ICDS scheme. In 2006-07, 68 per cent of the total amount (Rs 36.49 crore) was spent on administrative expenditure while only Rs 17.25 crore was spent on implementation of the scheme. A total of Rs 53.74 crore was spent under the ICDS.

“The fact that administrative expenditure has been on the rise points to the fact that all beneficiaries have not been able to get total benefit which was meant for them,” the CAG report points out. The report suggested that the expenditure being made on staff and administrative set up must be brought down.



Quality Farm Produce
Technology holds key: Parmar varsity V-C 
Ambika Sharma

Though the government is spending crores in devising new technologies to improve agriculture and horticulture, the technological adoption has remained a mere 10 to 15 per cent. There has been much talk of enhancing this score by scientists, but nothing appreciable had been done so far. Hence, there is an urgent need to identify gaps and enhance this percentage.

These views were expressed by Dr K.R. Dhiman who has taken over the reins of Dr Y.S. Parmar University of Horticulture and Forestry, while interacting with The Tribune. Priding itself to be the lone such varsity in Asia, Dr Dhiman joined here as its seventh VC on April 10.

Located in Solan, the university lies in the stone fruit belt where pear, peach, apricot and plum are the main cash crops. While agreeing to the blatant neglect of the agrarian community involved in its cultivation, Dr Dhiman said, "With less than one per cent of the fruit being processed by way of jams, squashes and other products and that too through the cottage industry, it was unfortunate that no suitable technology has been devised for these horticulturists".

"What is more unfortunate is the fact that owing to limited shelf life these products, which are the livelihood of hundreds in the region, have failed to become a viable option for the growers. Being a highly perishable commodity the university would endeavour to devise value addition so that proper processing could enhance their shelf life and provide better remuneration to the growers," he observed.

As a step towards enhancing technological dissemination from lab to farm, Dr Dhiman emphasised that he would make use of four krishi vigyan kendras spread across the state for this purpose. He professed the need for using these KVKs as information technology centres where different growers can be suitably guided for developing items like seeds, multiplication of seed varieties etc.

Narrating his experience as joint director of ICAR at Tripura, he said a village was given the onus of growing a pest-resistant mango variety "Amar Pali". While all other varieties faced pest attack this variety not only survived but today the village produces one of the best mangoes there.

He advocated the need to adopt a demand-driven product system and said instead of blindly growing medicinal plants or adopting floriculture and horticulture it was essential to devise a chain system where farmers are encouraged to grow those products that were required by the industry. He said there was a need to change the hitherto high volume and low value produce to low volume and high value product system. This alone would ensure assured returns to the farmers. 



Shimla diary
'Victimised' teachers hope for justice
Pratibha Chauhan

Prof Sunil Gupta, the newly appointed vice-chancellor of Himachal Pradesh University, had been vociferously demanding the reinstatement of those teachers who had been made political victims. Now, when he occupies the hot seat, it remains to be seen how he tackles the issue.

Those close to the BJP are pinning hopes on Prof Gupta who had been seeking justice for those who were allegedly targeted by the previous Congress regime. The case of termination of three teachers and chargesheet being filed against some other officials are issues which are likely to be dealt by the highest decision making body, executive council (EC).

On his appointment to the EC, former Rajya Sabha MP Kripal Parmar has already raised the issue and demanded that the entire details of the cases of political vendetta be placed before the body. Those who have been chargesheeted by the EC include Jagat Bhushan Nadda, brother of forest minister J.P. Nadda.

Giri water scheme

With the Queen of Hills being plagued by a permanent water shortage problem, residents are eagerly awaiting the launch of the Giri water supply scheme as they hope that it will finally put an end to their woes.

The previous Congress regime had set a number of deadlines for making the ambitious scheme operational, but due to the early announcement of elections they could not do it. Now, the BJP regime too has been harping that the scheme would be launched in April, but even now no fixed date has been announced.

IPH officials, on the other hand, claim that the scheme is on a trial run and it would be launched soon, but the residents, who are being given supply on alternate days even before the start of summer, have no clue when this would happen. The situation gets even worse during the peak summer months when the town is flooded by a huge population of tourists.

Disappointment for art lovers

The much-hyped Pratyaksh Kala Mahotsav, touted as an international art festival and scheduled to begin here on April 15, has been postponed.

The organisers have cited reasons like delay in visa clearances of foreign delegates and the preoccupation of participants from within the country for religious purposes. "We have now decided to hold the mahotsav from May 2 to 10," said Sanjay Veer Saagar, the man behind the show.

The SVS Art Empire had announced the holding of the festival on the Himachal Day with participation from six countries and almost 20 states from within the country. Saagar said the festival would be held as per schedule except for change in dates.

Special events during the festival will include dance, drama, folk music, documentary, painting, photography, costume exhibition and film exhibition.



Locals firm on govt medical college
Kuldeep Chauhan

The demand for opening a government medical college in Mandi is fast catching up in the central region. More than 35 organisations have gathered under the banner of the Mandi Medical College Sangarsh Samiti (MMCSS) for mobilising more support.

The MMCSS held a "mass hunger strike" at the historic Seri Munch here on April 11 as a mark of protest. When quizzed by mediapersons in Mandi recently, Chief Minister P.K. Dhumal had said, "The government intends to open private medical colleges in Mandi, Hamirpur and Una, as it has limited funds and privatisation is the only way out. We will ensure better facilities and seats for locals. But if Mandi people insist on their demand, the project may linger on as government will not be able to allocate more than Rs 60 lakh on yearly basis for it".

MMCSS representatives alleged that the state government was discriminating against the central zone of Mandi, Kulu, Lahaul-Spiti and Bilaspur by withdrawing the October 8 notification issued by the previous government.



Promoting culture through performance
Dharam Prakash Gupta

The Shriram Centre for Art, New Delhi, has been doing a great service to the Indian culture and art through the presentation of Krishna Leela for more than five decades at national and international levels.

The presentation, based on the life of Lord Krishna from his birth to the period of The Mahabharata, has been so persistently presented by the artistes trained by the institute that it has now become synonymous with it.

A group of 35 young artistes have been trained by the centre for the fine depiction of Krishna Leela in the most artistic manner.

So impressive is this presentation that when former President of US Bill Clinton visited India, the only cultural performance shown in New Delhi was Krishna Leela presented by the artistes of the Shriram centre.

Film director Meera Nair is the present director of this cultural sequence while famous artist Papul Jaykar is the art and costume designer.

The episodes from the life of Krishna are presented in dance sequence in such a manner that spellbinds the audience. This two-and-a-half hour presentation is so mesmerising from the beginning to the end that audience just can't get distracted for a single moment. One wonders how the artistes change their costumes several times without any interval.

The present artistes, Shiv Ram Mahato in his role as Krishna as a child, Rakesh Sai Babu in the role of adult Krishna and Shweta Shukla as Radha are all performing their roles in a well-crafted manner.

While hundreds of successful shows of Krishna Leela have been organised in India and abroad, the effort to present Indian culture through this performance goes on and on.



Outdoor kitchen
Eating well on camping trips is essential & possible with a bit of proper planning & packing
Yana Banerjee-Bey

TOO often I have seen hikers not paying enough attention to the food they pack and take along on camping trips. They try to make do with instant noodles, chocolates, biscuits and bread-and-jam sandwiches. As a result, their enjoyment of the outdoors experience is diminished. You need nutritious, warm, cooked meals when you are ravenous after strenuous outdoor activity. Apart from filling your concave stomach and giving you a feeling of satisfaction, the food will also replenish the body’s reserves that you have used up. So please pack some decent food even if you are going on a short trip. Pre-cooked dishes, which come in foil packets and tins, are nutritious and convenient. Throwing some packets of Maggi into your rucksack is definitely not the way to be!

Of course, instant noodles are very convenient and you can plan one or two meals of these. I prefer Wai-Wai and Cup O’Noodles. Wai-Wai can be eaten out of the pack if cooking is a problem and Cup O’Noodles includes pieces of dehydrated vegetable and chicken and so is better than plain noodles. And cooking it is easier because you just have to pour boiling water into the cup and eat from the cup itself. However, please do repack the empty cups and plastic bags and bring them back to the roadhead for disposal.

When we pack for long mountaineering expeditions or multi-day, self-supported trekking and rafting trips, lots of food is packed into cartons that are carried by porters or mules. However, most of you go on short, camping trips and carry the small quantity of food yourself. For such trips, use zip-lock bags to carry rice, dal, milk powder, sugar, salt, tea leaves, and spices. These bags are easier to carry in your rucksack than bottles. Even jams and sauces can be packed in these, but don’t overstuff.

When it comes to tinned food and cooking oil, always carry in the original packaging. Buy tetrapacks of cooking oil (choose a size according to the length of your trip and the group size).

To cook, you will have to carry a camping stove and gas cartridges. Gone are those days when trekkers would use local wood or buy kerosene from villagers. Environmental awareness is seeping into trekkers. Many of them still say it is okay to use dead wood. It is not. The dead wood must be left on the forest floor. It will turn into compost and provide nourishment to the living wood. And the reason we no longer buy village kerosene is that the community needs the stock. Their supply comes at intervals. If they have sold their stock to you, they will then turn to the forest and deprive it of both dead and living branches for firewood. So, if you still use kerosene stoves, please carry your own kerosene.

As for utensils, many people prefer mess-tins. Camping utensils with folding handles are not yet widely available in India. If you don’t have a mess-tin, take small steel utensils from your kitchen but remember to carry along a pair of pincers.

How do you carry what is perhaps the single most important item for meals – matches? You may have with you the most expensive and delicious camping food but if you cannot light the stove to heat and boil water, you will taste a depth of misery that you will not wish on your worst enemy! A foolproof way to keep matches dry is to carry the matchsticks and the masala strips from the matchbox in the plastic containers in which film rolls are sold. Some people prefer lighters but they can malfunction.

Next time: Camping recipes

(This column appears fortnightly)



Our Mystical Kinnaur
by Shriniwas Joshi

A statue of Thakur Sen Negi (TSN), the first Himachali chief  secretary  of the state
A statue of Thakur Sen Negi (TSN), the first Himachali chief secretary of the state. — S. Chandan

It was my second visit to Kinnaur in 12 months. March was different from May. Snow was closer to my feet at places, and temperature was zero degrees Celsius. It looked beautiful all around, snow amidst tall deodars, and when I peeped towards the snow-clad mountains from the ice-cold panes of the windows amidst the cosy comforts of Kalpa circuit house, I sensed as if I were two finger breadths away from heaven. Did God decide to build it close to his heart? But I have never met God.

On way to Kinnaur from Shimla lies one of the ski resorts of the state, Narkanda. It lies at an altitude of about 2,470 m, and the surrounding hills produce luscious apples and cherries, making it one of the pleasantest settlements with a clutch of sights, both within town and nearby.

Right on the highway, there is a temple of Devi Mahamaya in Narkanda. The story that goes with it and is an accepted folklore now is that when the highway was being constructed in the 1960s, officers of the PWD refused to touch the temple due to certain beliefs. The then chief engineer (L.N. perhaps) Nangia decided to intervene and reached Narkanda to stay at the PWD rest house. At night, "invisible forces brought him down on the floor from his bed and a shadow appeared before him saying enough for the moment, but more may happen if I am touched". Nangia returned to Shimla the next morning.

Excellent engineering

Moving ahead on the grand Hindustan-Tibet road, conceived by Lord Dalhousie in 1850, is Chaura, a small hamlet, the first village of Kinnaur district. The present highway is in itself a marvelous piece of competence of civil engineering put together with lots of blood and guts. The road about Taranda is a long stretch chiseled out of hard rocks almost like a tunnel with a missing sidewall.

TSN's vastness

At Kalpa, I was pleased to see a 2007 addition, a life-size statue of Thakur Sen Negi (TSN), the first Himachali chief secretary of the state and three times Speaker of the Vidhan Sabha. It is a praiseworthy work done by TSN Smriti Nidhi of Kinnaur. Born on the September 5, 1909, at Shong village of Sangla tehsil, he graduated in agriculture from Layallpur and did LL.B from Lahore. His educational expenses were met by Bushahr state. He remained a naval Lieutenant in the Royal Indian Navy during the World War II and served the erstwhile Bushahr state as secretary (revenue). He was inducted into the IAS and retired as the chief secretary in 1965 to stay as adviser to the state government till 1967.

The people of Kinnaur confided in him to the extent that he secured over 88 per cent votes when he first contested assembly election in 1967 as an independent candidate. He won again with huge percentage of votes in 1972 and was leader of the Progressive Front comprising eight independent members till 1977. He became Speaker in 1979. His second tenure as Speaker was unceremoniously cut short in 1984 when a vote of no confidence was passed against him. His third tenure was from 1990 to 1993. He had implicit faith in the loyalty of the tribal people that was shattered by his defeat in the 1993 elections. He vowed not to enter Kinnaur till he avenged the defeat and spent time at Salogra near Solan. He fielded his protégé Chet Ram Negi as a BJP candidate in 1998, and the tribals abided by the last wish of the veteran made Chet Ram victorious. He withstood the ripples of almost the entire 20th century and bade farewell to the world in 2001.


A minister once sarcastically remarked to TSN, "A buffalo is more useful than an IAS. Both cost the same but a buffalo gives milk". TSN retorted, "I do not know but I can be a minister one day, you can never be an IAS". And he did become a minister in the Thakur Ram Lal's cabinet.



An ace blood donor
Balkrishan Prashar

While donating blood for the record 156th time, an eminent blood donor of Chamba region, Abdul Ghani resolves to be amongst the top blood donors of the country who have donated their blood for the well being of suffering human beings. "I will continue to donate blood for poor and needy patients till the Almighty bestows good health and long life upon me," Ghani gladly expresses his desire, at the same time intending to break records too.

Ghani last week donated blood to the local blood bank in the regional hospital for the 156th time in his life under the aegis of specialist doctors of the hospital.

Ghani (53), who is also a well-known social worker of the region, has set a record of donating blood measuring 49,350 ml in the past 31 years.

He was honored for his services by various state and national-levels NGOs on several occasions as well as by former Governor of Himachal Pradesh Vishnu Kant Verma. Ghani, who is an honorary secretary of the district blood donors' council, is also working for bringing awareness amongst the masses with regard to health and environment programmes launched by the government.

"For me, donating blood is the best way of infusing the instinct of communal harmony and national integration into the people of all walks of life all over the country thereby paving way for disseminating the sublime national slogan of unity in diversity," Ghani says.



Rivoli not so riveting

One visit to Rivoli Hall gives one a fair idea of how it fares. The seats are in a dilapidated condition. They are uncomfortable, rickety and lack alignment. The balcony is just an elaborate arrangement of seats on wooden benches. It seems that the hall has not been cleaned for ages and has insects. The audio system is poor and emits more noise than sound.

Priya Dogra, Shimla

HPAS prelim's contention

HPAS prelim examination 2006 has been at the centre of criticism ever since its result was declared. Some dissatisfied candidates moved the court. When matter was put under the lens, the answer key of a particular subject was found infested with plethora of wrong answers. Not even this, every subject contained at least five wrongs with the result some contending candidates were allowed to take mains examination. Some of the candidates even appealed in the apex court. Having gone through such controversies, the selection procedure would certainly undermine the confidence of the candidates.

Dr Himender Him, Shimla

Root out corruption

The rising number of scams in various government departments is shocking. It is anybody's guess that all this cannot happen without the connivance of the higher authorities. Unfortunately, probe is entrusted to those very officers who themselves are not clean, which makes it a daunting task to bring the culprits to the book. The inefficiency of the system can be judged by numerous media reports which highlight issues like failure of government schemes, poor maintenance, non-development etc. The termite of corruption is eating up the whole system. The situation seems very scary, but the authorities are least bothered.

Ashutosh Sharma, Dadhol, Bilaspur

Readers, write in

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