High construction higher environmental toll
Unscientific and rather ill-planned construction of roads
in the ecologically fragile hills has emerged as a serious
environmental hazard
Rakesh Lohumi
Tribune News Service

Shimla, July 15
Indeed, the large-scale construction activity being carried out under schemes like Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yozna is causing more damage to the environment than the “maligned” mega hydroelectric projects and cement plants. The new roads being constructed across the state appear like deep gashes on the verdant hill slopes, the veritable trails of environmental destruction.

There has been a spurt in road construction activity, particularly after the introduction of various schemes under which huge funds have been made available for the purpose. The average length of new roads being constructed annually has more than doubled over the past decade. In all, 8,587 km of new roads have been built during the past 10 years and the total road length in the state has crossed the 29,000-km mark. Further, 800 km of roads are being widened and upgraded under a World Bank project.

However, the construction boom has been a mixed blessing, as it is taking a heavy toll on the environment.

Cutting the hills almost vertically and dumping the debris on the slopes on the valley side is a normal practice being followed for the construction of roads by contractors, who are least bothered about the environmental safeguards. Improper disposal of huge debris generated from excavations not only devours the vegetation on the slopes but also mars the aesthetic charm of the beautiful hill cape.

The rubble rolls down the hill slopes and ultimately washes into nullahs and rivulets, which often get choked and cause flash floods. There have been several instances where human settlements had been buried under construction debris brought down by storm water. At times, the nullahs change course, transforming vast tract of fertile agriculture fields into wasteland.

Further, the vertical cutting of hills destabilises the slopes that become prone to landslides. The exposed slopes keep eroding and even a drizzle is enough to cause landslips. The sliding strata also bring down trees by hundreds. The problem is aggravated due to the fact that side drains and breast walls to stabilise the hill slope are not provided. The adverse fallout of the reckless construction activity is becoming evident from the increasing silt load in the rivers that is affecting the operations of mega hydroelectric projects like the Nathpa Jhakri plant.

Belatedly though, the attention of the department of environment has been drawn to the problem. It recently carried out an exercise to have an assessment of the damage being caused in the environmentally sensitive districts of Chamba, Kulu and Kinnaur. The pictorial evidence of the extensive damage, particularly in the interior pockets, was presented before the senior officers of the public works department to sensitise them about the issue.

Principal secretary (environment) Harinder Hira has already held meetings with senior officers of the PWD and asked them to take corrective measures to ensure that roads are constructed without damaging the environment. She has asked the department to make environment impact assessment and environment management plan mandatory for all road projects. The department plans to use digital photography to strictly monitor the road construction activity so that action could be taken on the basis of pictorial evidence.

Director of the department Nagin Nanda said in the second phase detailed reports was being prepared for Sirmour and Mandi districts. The entire state would be covered in a phased manner and corrective measures would be put in place, she added.

The Cause…

  • There has been a spurt in the construction activity, particularly after the introduction of various schemes under which huge funds have been made available for the purpose
  • Under way is the work for mega hydroelectric projects, cement plants and new roads for which numerous private companies have been roped in
  • The average length of new roads being constructed annually has more than doubled

… And the effect

  • Cutting the hills almost vertically and dumping the debris on the slopes on the valley side is a normal practice being followed by private companies and contractors
  • Improper disposal of huge debris generated from excavations not only devours the vegetation on the slopes but also mars the aesthetic charm of the beautiful hill cape
  • The rubble rolls down the hill slopes and ultimately washes into nullahs and rivulets, which often get choked and cause flash floods At times, the nullahs change course, transforming vast tract of fertile agriculture fields into wasteland
  • The vertical cutting of hills destabilises the slopes, which keep eroding and become prone to landslides

Yes, there is a way out

In European countries, engineers use cut-and-fill method. The earth excavated from the hillside is used as filling material on the valley side by raising retaining structures. It minimises damage to environment, as there is no dumping of debris on slopes and the cost of construction is also reduced as the quantum of earth to be excavated is reduced drastically. This practice can also be followed here



Suharghat barrier bane of motorists
Our Correspondent

Bilaspur, July 15
Suharghat barrier on the National Highway no. 21 between Chandigarh and Bilaspur, which is located near the Punjab border with Himachal Pradesh, has been proving a bane of travelling public and tourists.

Marred by frequent traffic jams which continue for hours together, the barrier is no less than a death-gate for accident victims and patients with medical emergency who are sought to be rushed to PGI, Chandigarh, but fail to get timely assistance.

A number of local residents have urged the police to look into the matter and ensure arrangements for free flow of traffic at this point so that motorists are saved from unnecessary ordeal of waiting for hours.

Residents allege that this spot is not suitable for a barrier due to the lack of space on the road, this barrier should be shifted to some other suitable place due to heavy traffic load on this road. They also demanded that the use of pressure horns by trucks and buses should be banned. 



Annual tribal area plan for Bharmour
Balkrishan Prashar

Chamba, July 15
An annual tribal area plan of Rs 30.73 crore for Bharmour tribal subdivision has been approved in the project advisory committee meeting held recently at Bharmour under the chairmanship of Vidhan Sabha Speaker Tulsi Ram, who also represents this area. 

With the result of various tribal development schemes, these areas nowadays are buzzing with development activities. Some rural areas have been linked by roads and provided with other basic amenities. However, a lot is yet to be done to make life easy for the tribals.

Way back in 1985, the government conceived a plan to develop the tribal areas of the state where the living is tough and it is difficult to trudge the cliffs of these terrains. The formation of integrated tribal development projects (ITDP) came into being the same year. These five ITDPs comprise Bharmour, Pangi, Lahaul, Spiti, and Kinnaur. Each area is administered by a resident commissioner who acts as the government in himself, for and on behalf of all heads of the government departments. Therefore, it is known as the single-line administration.

In Bharmour, the office of the resident commissioner is housed at the top floor of the tribal mini-secretariat where meetings and conferences are also held.

In this beautifully located four-storeyed mini-secretariat building, almost all tribal subdivisional offices are housed besides PWD, HPSEB, forest, animal husbandry departments etc.

Sources reveal that since the inception of ITDPs, the state government has been spending crores of rupees for the overall development of these areas under the annual tribal area sub-plan in addition to assistance received under the centrally sponsored schemes. 



Old road cries for repair
Jagmeet Y.Ghuman

Kumarhatti, July 15
The condition of the Dharampur-Subathu road has gone from bad to worse. This has caused resentment among local residents, who have alleged indifferent attitude of the PWD in repairing the road.

Water logging on the road is a common sight in the absence of proper drainage. Besides, crater-shaped potholes has turned the road into a nightmare for motorists.

Built in 1814, the 15-km long road is the oldest link connecting Shimla with the rest of the world. It carries traffic of the 14 Gorkha Training Centre at Subathu besides vehicles of a cement plant at Darlaghat.

In the 19th century, the road was used by the British to reach the summer capital before the Kalka-Shimla road was built in 1856.

After 1998, no meaningful repair has been carried out on this stretch. Even though traffic on the road has increased manifold, its width has remained the same since 1814. Owing to the lack of proper maintenance, motorists face a tough time covering the distance especially when the road has many blind curves.

Moreover, recent measures of the PWD to repair and widen the road has only added to residents’ woes, thanks to the abandoning of work in midway by the department. In fact, the 3-km stretch of road from Dharampur market to Dagroh bridge has turned from bad to worse. In order to widen the road, the PWD has filled the portion of road with loose earth till road berms.



shimla diary
State set to welcome its third woman Governor
Rakesh Lohumi
Tribune News Service

Shimla, July 15
The historic Barnes Court, which houses the Raj Bhawan, is all set to welcome the third woman incumbent, Prabha Rau, who is likely to take over on July 18.

V.S. Kokje, who has completed his five–year term, was the only Governor to survive the large-scale gubernatorial shakeup after the UPA came to power at the centre. In fact, he not only completed his term but also continued even after its expiry on May 8, 2008, which is quite unusual as incumbents to the Raj Bhawan are mostly appointed on political considerations. Perhaps, the fact that he came from a judicable background and had nothing to do with politics helped him complete his tenure. Even otherwise he conducted himself well all through and there was no controversy involving Raj Bhawan all this while.

Prabha Rau is the 17th regular and third woman Governor of the state since its inception in January 1971. The two earlier women incumbents had short stay in the Raj Bhawan. While Shiela Kaul had to quit in the wake of her indictment by court in some land case after just 14 months, V.S. Rama Devi was transferred midway.

Change in Cong set up

The change in the Congress set up in the state after the party’s defeat in the assembly polls has been completed with the appointment of veteran leader Kaul Singh, who had lost the race for Congress legislative party (CLP) leadership to Vidya Stokes six months ago, as the state Congress committee chief.

The senior-most Congress leader in the state after Virbhadra Singh and Vidya Stokes, Kaul Singh has been in the reckoning for top party position for the past some time. He was the frontrunner for the post earlier also but the high command favoured Stokes. His name cropped up every time there was a talk of change in leadership in the state as the high command considered him as a leader with potential to steer the party.

Apart from being senior, Kaul Singh has also proved his mettle as a leader by winning all assembly polls, except the 1990 election, since he made his electoral debut in 1977, when he won as a Janata Party candidate. A parliamentarian of high calibre, he has been putting his experience as advocate to good use in the house to put present his point of view logically, forcefully and convincingly. The immediate challenge before is to unite warring factions and rejuvenate the party for the crucial Lok Sabha elections.



Women and child care units for each district
Ambika Sharma

Solan, July 15
With a sharp increase in the crime against women in Himachal Pradesh, the police department has now decided to reorganise the women cells as “women and child support units.” This is supposed to ensure protection of their rights by effective implementation of laws.

As per figures procured from the police headquarters, various offences against women, including rape, cruelty to women, kidnapping/abduction, molestation, abetment to suicide and eve teasing, have registered a spurt in the past five years. While rape cases have gone up from 126 in 2003 to 159 in 2007, cases of cruelty against women have increased from 221 to 343 in this period.

Similarly, cases of molestation have increased from 250 to 324 and cases of abetment to suicide from 50 to 69. There has also been an increase in the cases of eve teasing from 11 in 2003 to 40 in 2007. The newly set up units would assist the district SPs in the monitoring of proper implementation of laws related to women and children. These units would also provide them counselling.

According to directions issued by the director-general of police to all SPs, the officials posted in these units would be specially trained on laws related to women and children. As a step ahead from the earlier women cells, these units would also enquire and investigate cases assigned to them by higher authorities. They will function as special juvenile police units to enforce the provisions of Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000. 

However, what has added to the peril of the district police is the positioning of adequate staff, including an inspector, sub-inspector and an assistant sub-inspector each along with three head constables. The district police is also supposed to provide these units a light vehicle along with a motorcycle.

With staff being already scarce, the districts officials said the re-constitution of the women cell had been reduced to eyewash. According to an estimate, Solan district has a shortage of at least 70 constables and other staff and even the availability of vehicles is scarce vis-à-vis the workload. Interestingly, industries in the Baddi-Barotiwala-Nalagarh area donated a vehicle to the police as all requests to the government had fallen on deaf ears.

Officials, while supporting the step, opine that it is important to create resources to match the new directions or else it would be reduced to routine notifications.



Voices raised against gender bias at temple 
Dharam Prakash Gupta
Tribune News Service

Hamirpur, July 15
Lakhs of devotees pay obeisance at the Baba Balak Nath temple at Deothsidh in Hamirpur district. However, the fact that women devotees are not allowed to worship inside the shrine is now being debated.

The issue was raised some time back by health minister of Punjab, Laxmi Kant Chawla, during her visit to the place. She strongly demanded that women should be allowed inside the shrine. But people who oppose worship by women claim, “Since Baba Balak Nath was the reincarnation of the Hindu God Kartikeya who was averse to women, the entry of women in the shrine cannot be allowed. Besides, there are a few other reasons.” However, one of the trustees of temple trust, Dharampal, said: “It is strange that a woman who is progenitor of man and is worshipped in different forms is being discriminated here. Women should be allowed to worship in the shrine.”

Former BJP MLA and vice-president of the state Hindu Math Mandir and Dharmik Pratishthan Ram Ratan Sharma argues, “Since the shrine could only be reached by clinging on to a hanging branch of a tree during old times, it was physically and practically difficult for women to reach. But now the time has changed and a separate entrance should be created to allow the entry of women.”

DC Hamirpur and commissioner of Baba Balak Nath temple trust Nandita Gupta said: “There should not be any gender bias but it takes time to change traditions. We would soon organise a public debate and a seminar on the issue and try to create a opinion against such discrimination.”





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