S. R. Pundir

Asiatic lions at the Renuka Lion Safari in Sirmour.
Asiatic lions at the Renuka Lion Safari in Sirmour.
MY HUMBLE ABODE: Asiatic lions at the Renuka Lion Safari in Sirmour.

The lion safari spread over seven hectares of forestland on the banks of the Renuka Lake in Sirmour district is in a bad condition. The safari has almost ruined in the flashfloods and landslides caused by heavy rains and unscientific extraction of hills around it.

The heavy silt flown from the hills on both sides of the safari has been causing havoc.

A road is under construction on one side of the safari. The flashfloods brought down tons of debris last month and made homeless a family of eight Asiatic lions. Wildlife activists are surprised as to why the wildlife department did not stop the construction work being carried right on the “head” of the safari which proved disastrous.

This is not enough as on the other side of the safari two roads — one for Koti Dhaman village and another approach road for Jamdagni Tibba — were being constructed. Most of the debris from these roads was flowing into Panji Ka Khala that has also damaged a portion of the safari.

The flashfloods have completely damaged the outer iron bars enclosure of the safari. The lions for the past one and a half month have been kept in small enclosures. Seven lionesses have been chocked up in one small enclosure while a male lion has been put in separate enclosure, which has left a negative impact on the behaviour of the beasts and might prove fatal as well, say wildlife experts.

The department has failed to start the reconstruction of the damaged portion of the safari till date. However, range officer in charge of the safari Vinod Kumar Thapa informed that repairing and reconstruction could only take place after the rains were over.

The existence of lions at the Renuka safari has also been threatened by genetic ailments as a result of over 30 years inbreeding. The present eight-member lion family, which a few years back had 29 beasts, is the progeny of a pair of Asiatic lions brought from Trichur in Kerala in 1977 by the state government.

The inbreeding within the family could have been stopped long ago but it did not happen due to the alleged indifferent attitude of the authorities. The lions gradually developed genetic ailment, poor immunity to diseases and weakness. They are not able to run or play freely. In fact, they had lost most of the characteristics of Asiatic lions and immunity to even small infections. However, their further inbreeding has been stopped on the directions of the Central Zoo Authority of India.

The safari attracts lakhs of tourists and wildlife lovers every year. Environmentalists have been demanding to put lions of new breeds in the safari, but the department had no such proposal till date.



Rains upset the apple cart, literally
Kuldeep Chauhan

After reeling under severe blight attack, the fear of scourge of apple scab looms large over the apple belt of Mandi, Kullu and Shimla districts. The reason is excessive rains that have triggered premature leaf fall.

Adding to the miseries of apple growers are landslides that have blocked link roads halting transport of fruit to the markets.

The apple blight has already infested over 70 per cent of the orchards in the middle and higher apple belt of these districts in the past 20 days. This in turn has triggered premature leaf fall. Now, apple scab can strike orchards as farmers who have fewer produce or have suffered premature leaf fall have no time to control the fungal attack.

The apple growers blame the blight attack on the poor management of extraordinary situation created by excessive rains and humidity since April on the horticulture department. The department started acting when the fungus has already infested over 70 per cent of the orchards, they rue.

The produce Panjain-Thatchi in Mandi and Jaban apple belt in Ani in Kulu district is showing signs of apple scab. “The trees are without leaves in most orchards and scabbing has began,” says Dinesh Singha, a growers from Jaban.

Progressive orchard owners, Nakul Khullar (Kullu), Balbir Chajta (Jubbal), Anup Bhalaick (Kotgarh) and S.S. Bragta (Maroag), N.S. Banchta (Chopal), and Devinder Thakur (Janjheli, Mandi) have expressed their concern over the blight attack, saying that blight has infested the fruit of most of the orchards in the state. “The continuing spell of rains which is showing no signs of relenting since April have triggered premature leaf fall,” they add. Khullar says neither the horticulture department nor scientists cared to advise farmers by asking them to reduce spray schedule to the required 12-15 days. “The orchards in Janjheli-Chiuni belt in Mandi and Nagar block have been hit by premature leaf falls.”

“We stuck to the 20-day spray schedule as advised by the department, but it failed to control the premature leaf fall,” says Banchta from Chopal. The scientists are now advising farmers to reduce the spray schedule to 12-15 days when the blight has taken its toll on the trees. “The blight blooms in humid condition, affecting the size and quality of the fruit. Due to continuing rains temperature does not exceed 30 degree C in June and July, which is a must for good fruit size”, said Chajta, who has controlled blight menace in Nandpur, but failed in Sheelghat in Jubbal-Kotkhai apple belt, where over 70 percent orchards have been hit by blight fungal attack.

“The spray schedule should have been reduced to 15 days due to the rains,” rues Anup from Kotgarh. “The directorate did hold camps for farmers. But they remained at the mercy of the fungicides sellers,” who sold them fungicides on hit-and-trial basis that adversely affects orchards,” he adds.

Apple trees on steeper hillsides have started uprooting due to excessive rainfall. “Over six trees have been uprooted in my orchards,” rues Rajiv Bragta, expressing fears that apple scab may hit them hard.

“We have almost 5 per cent crop in Panjain-Thatchi apple belt due to chill during flowering. Farmers ignored spraying as they had no money to spare for expensive fungicides,” says secretary of the Mandi-Seraj Fruit Growers Association.

Prof S.P. Bhardwaj, a senior scientist of Dr Y.S. Parmar Horticulture and Forestry University, Nauni says, “Excessive moisture and humidity in orchards have caused the blight attack called ‘marssonina blotch’. The fruit size will increase in orchards where leaves are intact. We have asked farmers to reduce the spray schedule and use fungicides judicially”.

He says though excessive rains have increased the chances of scabbing, there is no outbreak so far. “But the farmers must spray fungicides so that they can have better crop next year”.



Palampur raises big stink
Ravinder Sood

Despite being the tea town of the state and having produced brave soldiers who have laid down their lives for the nation, Palampur today seems totally neglected in so far as civic amenities are concerned. Potholed roads, streets, overflowing drains and contaminated drinking water tell the tale of the town that is fast turning into a big slum.

Albeit the population here has increased manifold, the state government has failed to extend the municipal limits of Palampur.  At present, only 10 per cent area of the town, comprising a population of 4,000 people, falls under the municipal limits and around 40,000 people live outside it. 

The municipal council here seems to have turned a blind eye to the plight of the common man. Almost all interior roads are in bad shape; overflowing drains often clog them. Roads dug up for laying water pipelines, telephone cables and sewerage pipes are yet to be repaired. Ram Chowk and Cinema roads that lead to the town and the inter-state bus terminal are in the worst condition. These have been dug up since last year and not been repaired since, despite repeated requests to the municipal council. On the other hand, the MC blames the telecom companies and irrigation and public health authorities for not releasing the funds for repair of roads. 

Heaps dumps of garbage can be seen on the roadside at Ghuggar, SSB Chowk, Aima, Bundla and Chokki Khalet. Things are no better even in municipal areas. Unplanned and haphazard constructions make matters worse.

Since a number of these colonies are coming up in panchayat areas, they lack all basic amenities such as streetlights, roads, sewerage and drinking water supply.

Although the state government has brought Palampur under the purview of HP Town and Country Planning Act, the situation has not improved. A number of houses and shops have come up without the prior approval of the town and country-planning department. A parking and a shopping complex constructed in the heart of the town is the latest example where all norms have been bypassed.

Another major problem facing the town is that of stray animals that cause a lot of inconvenience to the general public.  These animals feed on heaps of garbage in different parts of the town. However, complaints filed with the MC have fallen on deaf ears.

Panchayat areas such as Ghuggar, Sughar, Aima, Choki, Bindravan and Bundla are also in a bad shape. Notably, 90 per cent population of the town resides in these areas but no funds are provided for their development.



French sadhu of Shimla
by Shriniwas Joshi

C W De Russet had moved from France to India in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. He was a deft tailor but when he started visiting Shimla with his friend T. Reincke in 1850s, he was so impressed by the natural beauty of the town that he switched over to camera-clicking and then to commercial photography that brought Shimla, along with other metropolis of the country, as a top centre of marketable photography.

When Shepherd and Robertson moved from Agra to Shimla in 1864 and established themselves as photographers of merit, De Russet withdrew from camera work and established himself as general contractor. Charles de Russet was his son and Old Cottanian Association Record shows that he was in the Bishop Cotton School in 1872. Charles de Russet had developed interest in Indian asceticism and mysticism immediately after he completed his school education. He came in contact with Baba (probably Mangal Das) of Jakhu temple and impressed by his preaching embraced the life of a Sadhu in 1880s.

He rejected his European uprising and abandoned Christianity for Hinduism. He bequeathed the property that he had inherited to his sisters keeping nothing to himself and led a life of disciple of the Baba of Jakhu. He would sleep outside in the open and take food that was given to him by his devotees. Because he was a foreigner embracing their religion, the local Hindus held him in high esteem. He then shifted to a temple near Annandale ground in Kaithu and started donning a leopard skin and wore matted hair.

Meanwhile, John Campbell Oman, born in Kolkata to Scot tea-planters, who rose to be professor of natural sciences in Government College Lahore was collecting material for his book ‘The Mystics, Ascetics and Saints of India’ happened to meet this French Sadhu in 1894.

Professor Oman has done extensive touring throughout the length and breadth of this country, interviewing many saints and has written scholarly books on Hinduism, Brahmanism and the epics of Mahabharata and Ramayana.

When he met the French Sadhu here, he found him disinclined to talk about the reasons for abandoning Christianity in favour of Hinduism.

He found out that Charles De Russet ‘did not regret the step he had taken, and that he was well satisfied with his condition and mode of life as a Hindu devotee, a sanyasi.

The professor had in one of his books quoted a passage from Sir Monier Williams’s Indian poetry that appeared fitting into the mindset of Charles, “the performance of penances was like making deposits in the bank of Heaven. By degrees an enormous credit was accumulated, which enabled the depositor to draw on the amount of his savings, without fear of his drafts being refused payment. The power gained in this way by weak mortals was so enormous that gods, as well as men, were equally at the mercy of these all but omnipotent ascetics” prof Oman wrote that Charles commanded the highest respect from natives though he found him to be of mediocre intelligence.

He used to live idly, happy and contended, even when it snowed heavy in the mountains. Discoursing about the virtues and vices, Charles had told the professor that it was not necessary to be a Christian in order to lead a virtuous life. O.C. Sud writes that this Baba left Shimla in the company of sadhus after this and was never heard of but suddenly returned here in 1926 as Baba Must Ram and took over the charge of Jakhu temple. He had, by this time, mastered the Hindu scriptures and the people were awed by his knowledge. According to Sud, he died on the December 27, 1927 and was cremated on Jakhu peak.


Raaja Bhasin wirtes in ‘Simla’ that Raja Sir Daljit Singh of Kapurthala, owner of Strawberry Hill just below Chota Simla, gave the French Sadhu a place to stay on his estate. Raja disgusted with the destructiveness of the monkeys got the Sadhu to persuade them to stay away from the building. It is said that even now, decades after this pact, monkeys may sit on the edge, but will not enter the grounds.



Shimla diary
Bollywood Calling

Project of Storm Entertainment Company to produce a feature film with its entire cast from scenic hill state would provide a rare opportunity to local artistes to display their talent at international level.

The film “Jalte Zakham” will be shot entirely in Himachal Pradesh, dubbed in English and simultaneously released in USA, England and other countries.

Eminent theatre personality Umesh Kant, who is directing the film, is impressed with Himachali talent and it is his idea to have the entire cast from the state itself.

He has staged some plays in the state capital during which he had an opportunity to interact with local artistes. He found them knowledgeable and competent.

Kant and managing director of the company D.S. Gill, who were here along with his team to hold auditions to select actors, revealed that it would be an unusual film based on an offbeat subject.

It is a story of a person suffering from psychological problems and having abnormal sympathy for women. The 90-minute film will not have any song, fight and other stunt scene, which are an essential feature of Bollywood production.

Screenplay and dialogues are written by Manmohan Singh. According to Gill, the film will be released in February 2009.

The film will also help showcase scenic splendour of the hill state and give a boost to tourism. The state has given many famous actors to Bollywood and if this unique venture turns out to be a success, then the efforts to set up a film city in the state may get a fresh lease of life. The plan of the government to set up a film city near the state capital in partnership with the private sector has not made much headway all these years.

‘Smart Class’ indeed

Auckland House School has joined the select band of schools to introduce modern technology-based education. The digital initiative based on Smart Class program has completely changed way teachers teach the students. The digitised classrooms has been set up with the help of Educomp Solutions, a global education solutions provider and the largest education company in India.

Smart Class, an internationally acclaimed learning technology provided by the company, has been installed in 13 classrooms. It is already in use in about 1,200 schools across the country. Principal of the school Sunita John says the switchover to e-education would improve the effectiveness and productivity of teachers and make learning an enjoyable experience for the students.

In the current age, cutting-edge learning technology like Smart Class would give the students of the school the advantage over the competitors.

Apple pie

The apple growers are likely to get much better returns with an increasing number of private companies procuring large quantities of fresh fruit. It all started with Adani Group that has also constructed three controlled atmosphere cold stores in the apple belt. It plans to procure about 25 lakh boxes of apple during the current season. It was followed by Reliance, Mahindra and Mahindra and the Container Corporation of India that entered the apple marketing business two years ago.

Now, telecom giant Airtel is also planning to enter the business that augurs well for the growers who have been all these years exploited by commission agents at Azadpur market in New Delhi where over 80 per cent of the produce is sold.

This year the total production is estimated at 2.74 crore boxes out of which over 50 lakh boxes are likely to be procured by big private players, which would help in maintaining prices in the market through the season.



On air On record
Pratibha Chauhan

Dream big and work single-mindedly on achieving your goal and there would be no stopping. That is precisely the reason why Pankaj could be a source of inspiration for all those who wish to dabble with something exciting and challenging but hesitate to make their dreams turn into reality.

Hailing from Shimla, this small town boy after a stint in theatre and scriptwriting ventured into the fascinating world of radio jockeying. Pankaj Sharma, along with colleague Anubhav has set a new record of being continuously on air for more than 105 hours, breaking the earlier Limca record of radio jockeying for 100 hours. A familiar name in and around Chandigarh, Pankaj has been an RJ with Big 92.7 FM for the past almost 
two years.

He began his journey with theatre ever since his college days in Shimla, landed up in Mumbai with roles in television serials. Doing considerably well for himself, Pankaj wrote scripts for shows and serials but the urge to take up new challenges made him venture into the field of radio. “I was not really keen to do it and I had no clue how to go about it but with a friend insisting that I try my luck, I just landed up for the auditions,” he says as a matter of fact.

Today this field is virtually a passion for him that is the reason why being on air for 105 hours was fun and not taxing wee bit. “The Radio Olympiad, which began on August 8th, coinciding with the launch of the Beijing Olympics was more of a challenge and we decided that over 100 hours we would be on air, the freshness should remain and at no stage should we sound dull,” he explains. The kind of response and encouragement we received from our audiences there was no way we were going to give up, he says.

It was not just the overwhelming response which kept the duo going but also the fact that they were mentally determined to make it happen. “Not that it wasn’t taxing physically as doctors warned us that our vocal cords were showing swelling but when you have the urge to succeed all this seems trivial,” says Pankaj.

He is all praise for the support team of BIG 92.7 FM that made this task possible. “The love, affection and support extended by my parents, Vidya Sagar Sharma and Leela Sharma at every stage meant the most to me,” he says.

Pankaj admits there were times when he was apprehensive about his own capabilities but his determination and grit saw him through at every stage.



Harvesting the heavens
R.S. Rana/Manoj Gupta

Rainwater harvesting offers the only ray of hope for mitigating the water crisis in the state. Several techniques have been demonstrated to farmers in this regard by various developmental agencies of the state, but it has failed to achieve its desired level.

Dr Tej Partap, vice-chancellor, CSK, HPKV, Palampur, and Dr J.C. Rana, director agriculture, Shimla, have developed a model watershed.

An opportunity towards this end was offered by a watershed development and management project funded under the National Watershed Development Project for Rainfed Areas (NWDPRA) and initiated during 2003-04 at Sarahan village in Sirmour, with a plan outlay of Rs 30 lakh. The team comprising Dr R.S. Rana, Dr Manoj Gupta and Dr H.L. Thakur, under the guidance of Dr S.C. Sharma director research, worked on the project for five years and have successfully developed and demonstrated water-harvesting options for hilly areas in Sarahan watershed.

This watershed can act as a model to follow by other ongoing and future watershed programmes in the state.

The Sarahan watershed lies in the catchment area of the Giri, a tributary of the Yamuna. The watershed lies in the mid hills sub-humid zone of the state. The watershed is located on the Nahan-Kumarhatti state highway. The watershed area is spread over 517 hectares in five villages i.e. Chadech, Sarahan, Chamoda, Chowki and Badyana.

In order to enhance the availability of irrigation water in complete rain-fed areas, silpaulin-lined tanks have been constructed in the fields of farmers. To ensure public participation, a community share of 15 per cent is given in community tanks, whereas in case of individual silpaulin-lined tanks, 50 per cent share has been given to farmers.

Generally, rectangular-shaped tanks have been constructed on the top-most terraces so that irrigation could be provided with gravitation through siphon technique. Silpaulin-lined tanks have been constructed in trapezoidal shape with depth of 1.5 m and side slopes of 1:1. For lining the tanks, a blue coloured UV stablised and multi-layered cross laminated sheets of 200 GSM are used. Since the lining material of round smooth stones was not available locally, the class-I bricks were provided for lining the silpaulin sheets. The silpaulin sheets and bricks were provided from the project funds; whereas other jobs such as pond digging, smoothening, weedicide spray, sheet laying and brick-lining (without any cementing material) have been done by farmers.

Thirty-six silpaulin-lined tanks have been constructed in the watershed area during the project period. The storage capacity of these tanks vary between 26,000 lt and 2,38,000 lt. Six cemented pucca tanks and 27 rooftop water-harvesting tanks have also been constructed. The storage capacity of cemented tanks vary between 30,000 lt and 2,50,000 lt. The storage capacity of rooftop tanks is 8,000 lt each.

Rainwater harvesting initiated under the watershed project has benefited the farmers of the watershed area in many ways.



National award conferred on Dr Majhail
Our Correspondent

Director and principal of Dagshai Public School Harjinder Singh Majhail, who is also a well-known poet, writer and administrator has been awarded the Rashtriya Vidya Saraswati Puraskar.

Dr Majhail is awarded for his achievements in the field of literature and philosophy, his contribution to social welfare, environment protection, and promotion of Indian art and culture. The award was conferred on him by former Governor of Tamil Nadu Bhisham Narayan Singh and former union minister O.P. Sharma at a ceremony held in New Delhi.

He has held educational assignments of national repute including director education of Chief Khalsa Diwan. He has also worked as press correspondent of national dailies and has a plethora of awards to his credit including Padam Bhushan Dr Bhai Vir Singh award, Saint Bulleh Shah award, Dr Ambedkar fellowship award, etc.

Dr Majhail has written several books in English, Hindi and Punjabi, including “Japuji: The Gate Way to Liberation”, “Japuji: A Psychological Interpretation of Five Khands”, “Antar Agan”, “Mann Ka Vatayan”, “Mann Atam Khashitiz”, “Jeevatiya Mar Raheiye”, et al.

He was also the first black belt in Taekwondo and at present is a member of World Hapkido Federation, USA.





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