Buried under toothless law
Rakesh Lohumi
Tribune News Service

Unauthorised excavations in Shimla have been posing a threat to existing buildings. The authorities, as usual, remain a mute spectator

Shimla, October 21
Numerous landslides triggered off due to reckless excavations carried out for raising new constructions in various localities has put the Shimla municipal corporation in the dock.

A number of buildings have been either extensively damaged or rendered unsafe for living due to debris brought down by huge hill-slides.

According to sources, about 200 such cases have come up during the recent monsoon and in all those cases owners of the affected buildings have filed complaints with the corporation.

A number of the aggrieved landlords have moved court against the builders to get the work stopped. There are several cases where such manmade landslips have damaged roads, electric poles, telecom lines, forests and other public property. Besides, there were 47 major landslips that caused 33 road blockades.

Maximum landslides have been caused in lower Kaithu, Fingask, Aanadale area. Massive landslip in Fingask has buried the approach path to North Bank Building and the tenants have complained, to both deputy commissioner and the municipal commissioner, and requested them to get the debris cleared.

One of the tenants, Jagdish Chug, points out that removing the debris would cost Rs 1.5 lakh as it has to be first manually lifted and then transported in trucks to a proper dumping site. In another case in Kaithu, the lawn of Deep Niwas building and approach road to an adjoining building has caved in due to digging for construction of a new building.

An electric pole has been tilted and now hangs precariously. Debris generated from ongoing construction in the Lal Bagh area has brought down several trees in the forest downhill.

The affected people run from pillar to post for the restoration of the damaged property. They are invariably forced to move court to settle the issue.

However, the corporation seems quite helpless in the matter. Officials maintain that not much could be done as long as a person carries out excavation in his own land.

Even for unauthorised digging a fine of Rs 50 could be imposed up to a maximum of Rs 500 that is hardly a deterrent. The corporation comes into picture only when such an activity poses a threat to surrounding structures that too only on the complaints of affected residents.

The builder is asked to stop all other construction activity and take up restoration on war footing, says municipal commissioner Amitabh Awasthy.

A stringent law is needed and the corporation has already sent a proposal to the government for increasing the fine for haphazard excavations to Rs 5,000 per day and also providing for one month’s imprisonment. The Municipal Corporation Act would have to be amended to incorporate these provisions.

Interestingly, some landslides on the road leading to Annandale from the police lines have become a permanent feature. The one near M.G. Chitkara Park has not been cleared since the past four years as a result of which a good portion of the road has been virtually reduced to a heap of rubble. The sliding boulders are a permanent threat not only to the passing vehicles but also to the pedestrians.



Khajjiar Lake to be protected
Balkrishan Prashar
Tribune News Service

— Photo by the writerChamba, October 21
The famous Khajjiar Lake in Chamba district has been listed in 94 wetlands covering 23 states and one union territory, which have been identified under National Wetland Conservation Programme (NWCP) for carrying out conservation activities.

Khajjiar is one of the tectonic wetlands that also include Nainital and Bhimtal in Uttarakhand. In order to maintain the ecological significance of wetlands of the country, the government of India has earmarked Rs 210 crore in the 11th plan, sources reveal.

The government has taken various steps for controlling the shrinkage of wetlands, its management and identification for conservation under NWCP.

The wetlands are lands transitional between terrestrial and aquatic systems where the water table is usually at or near the surface or the land is covered by shallow water, sources inform.

The famous Khajjiar glade is a saucer-shaped plateau with small lake at the centre and is enfolded by dense forests of deodar forests of Kalatop-Khajjiar wildlife sanctuary.

Nestled on the northwestern end of the mighty Dhauladhar ranges at a height of 2150 m, it is about 22 km away from the famous hill station of Dalhousie, which is visited by lakhs of tourists every year.

The lake is also a resting place for migratory birds that normally fly from the famous Pong Dam wetland and cross over to China through the mountainous region of Chamba district and rest for some days at Khajjiar wetland, which has salubrious climate for these migratory birds.

It is a crater lake perhaps formed due to the impact at a shallow angle of a small asteroid or comet 25-50 m across. According to experts, the depth of the lake is not more than 25 ft. The layers' sedimentary deposits may constitute another 25 ft to the depth.



Info doesn’t come cheap here
Lalit Mohan
Tribune News Service

Dharamsala, October 21
When Babu Ram, a labourer, wanted to exercise his right to information, he had to cough up Rs 200, his two days’ income as per the minimum wages, for the documents he had sought from a government office, which comprised of 20 pages. Besides, he also had to pay Rs 10 while submitting his application.

The reason why Babu Ram had to pay so much is that the right to information in Himachal Pradesh is five times costlier than the other states. For instance, in Himachal, an applicant has to pay Rs 10 per page of information whereas in Punjab the people have to pay just Rs 2 per page.

Officials say the rate has been fixed by the government. However, the high charges are keeping many people away from exercising their right to seek information.

Under the Right to Information Act, the government can charge the cost of copying the material. In Punjab, the cost of Rs 2 per page is being charged, thus confirming to the charges of copying.

However, some of officials, on the condition of anonymity, revealed that the cost Rs 10 per page had been fixed after taking into consideration all costs, including labour of government officials in generating the information.

However, the judgments delivered by various state commissions have made it clear that under the Act, the government officials cannot charge anything else than the cost of copying documents. In a famous case in which former wildlife warden of Hoshiarpur district in Punjab Gunraj Singh had sought information of more than 10,000 pages, the officials had initially asked him to deposit salaries for the number of days his staff had to put in generating the information. However, the state information commissioner had held that salaries of staff or any other expenses could not be charged.

Himachal Pradesh is comparatively a poor state. The people especially in the rural areas have meager sources of income. And to enable them to exercise their right to information, the government must reduce the fee.

When contacted, chief information commissioner Prem Singh Rana admitted that the rates for seeking information were fixed by the government. He also said the government was now considering reducing the charges.

He said awareness should be created regarding the act. In many cases, the information is not provided in a time-bond manner, as questions asked are arbitrary. The government should spend more on creating information.

Meanwhile, sources say the government might issue a notification in the near future to reduce per page rates for seeking information.

The cause also found support from political leaders. Maj Vijay Singh Mankotia (retd), said he would take up the matter with the government as empowering people with the right to information was required for eradicating corruption from the society.



In Palampur, health service ails
Ravinder Saini

The local civil hospital, which caters to over four lakh people every year, is ill-equipped

Palampur, October 21
Despite the fact that the state government has been spending crores of rupees to provide better health cover to the people, the health services in this town are in a shambles.

The 100-bed local civil hospital looks after the medical needs of over four lakh people every year. This is the only hospital to cater to three subdivisions i.e. Palampur, Baijnath and Jaisinghpur. Over 500 to 700 patients visit the hospital daily.

There is an acute shortage of doctors, paramedical staff, nurses and other class IV employees in this institution. Though the government had upgraded this hospital about 15 years ago and raised its capacity to 100 beds, the hospital lacks all basic amenities.

The posts of surgeon, eye-specialist, radiologist and child-specialist have been lying vacant for the past many years causing inconvenience to the public. Likewise, a number of posts of nurse and para-medical staff are also lying vacant. There is also no pathologist in the hospital.

While blood transfusion has come to a standstill, the operation theatre, too, is in a bad shape.

In the present situation, there is no provision to attend to emergency cases. Serious cases are now being referred to the RPG Medical College Tanda, or PGI, Chandigarh, or CMC in Ludhiana, which is beyond the reach of poor people.

Recently, a patient brought from this subdivision lost her life as she could not be given medical-aid in time. Likewise, most of the accident cases are also not attended to in the hospital and are straightaway referred either to Dharmsala or Chandigarh.

The sanitary conditions in the hospital are pathetic as heaps of garbage could be seen lying in the compound. Bathrooms, too, are not cleaned regularly.

All internal walls are full of dampness as these have not been whitewashed or cleaned for ages. The general complaint of patients is lower-staff’s rude behaviour.

The hospital is ill equipped, too, and there is a perennial shortage of life-saving drugs, cotton, bandage, X-ray films, bed-sheets and blankets.

According to sources, medicines worth crores of rupees have been piling up in the stores, but doctors working in the field and subdivisional hospital do not lift the medicines despite repeated reminders.

All types of medicines are available in the stores reveal the sources. Doctors prescribe particular brands of medicines that are only available in the market as they get incentives from pharmaceutical companies.

Though the government has constituted the Rogi Kalyan Samiti (RKS) in the hospital, which collects funds for poor patients who have to undergo operations and other medical check-ups in the hospital.

In the past three years, over Rs 50 lakhs have been collected by the RKS. Unfortunately, most of these funds are spent on the purchase of furniture, signboards, and for the renovation of hospital complex, which amounts to misuse of the funds collected.

The previous government had announced to add one more block to the hospital and also sanctioned Rs 5 crore for this project. Despite this, the construction of new hospital building is going at snails pace, as the government has no funds.

Over 90 per cent of the construction work was completed during the previous regime but since the new government assumed power in the state the construction of new complex was suspended.

Earlier, it was announced that the Chief Minister would inaugurate this complex in October, but in the absence of adequate funds the building could not be completed, causing inconvenience to the general public.



Floodlit cricket is here
Ambika Sharma

Solan, October 21
Taking cricket to a new high in residential schools where it has no longer remained a tournament, the first-ever floodlit stadium at Pinegrove School in Dharampur has set a tradition unmatched in the annals of school cricket.

Located in the perfect ambience of majestic pines, the stadium witnessed its inaugural tournament where girls from as many as nine schools from different parts of the country put their sporting skills forward. It was sheer pleasure to watch girls in coloured dress flip the white ball on a pitch which appeared so inviting and endearing to the vibrant players.

The sprawling stadium spread over 100 m which in itself is a rarity in hills that are dominated by deep vales and lofty gorges and availability of flat land is a luxury. “Explaining the concept of this idea, headmaster of the school Capt A.J. Singh says, “The idea behind this floodlit stadium was to provide a facility which could promote cricket among schoolchildren. Cricket is played everywhere right from the streets to big and small grounds in every place but there is no facility for girls available. They cannot play in the streets and hence it was imperative to give them a facility par excellence so that they can display their talent and do their best in the game.”

Being the first institute where such a facility is available anywhere in the state, the stadium and the tournament were a thrill both for players as well as the spectators and the spirit was so magnanimous that even spells of rain did not dampen the spirit of the game. And to top it all, the advent of the floodlit stadium saw girls perform their best. Ably cheered by their male counterparts who presented a lively bhangra in the stadium, the atmosphere exuded a stupendous aura making one and all cheer the performers.

The tournament saw nine teams perform their best. These teams were: Mody College, Rajasthan; Maharani Gyatri Devi, Jaipur; Mayo College Girls’ School, Ajmer; YPS Patiala; YPS Mohali; Lawrence School, Lovedale, Tamil Nadu; Daly College, Indore; Ashok Hall, Uttrakhand; and Pinegeove School, Dharampur.

The Final match was held between Pinegrove and seven-time winners Mayo College Girls’ School. The match began with the Mayo girls’ put into bat by Pinegrove. The Mayo girls made 116 runs in the allotted 20 overs. The Pinegrove girls were bundled out for a paltry 53 runs.

There was more in the offing with the prizes, which were sponsored by Adidas and makemytrip.com. The winners were: best batsman — Jyoti of Ashok Hall, best bowler — Shruti of Mayo Girls; best fielder — Harleen of YPS Mohali; and best wicketkeeper — Rukaiya Arif of Mayo Girls. They were each given cash vouchers worth Rs 6,000 each. The man of the match was won by Nimrit of Pinegrove School, who was given cash voucher worth Rs 11,000.



In the service of mankind
Ashok Raina

Kangra, October 21
Vivekananda Kendra, a spiritually oriented service mission with its headquarters at Kanya Kumari in Tamil Nadu, is proving to be a boon to the people in Kangra, particularly the poor, through its different programs under the plank of ‘serve man serve God’.

The center has been running a number of programs, including yoga and meditation camps. It also holds declamation contest on universal brotherhood day of September 11 every year, besides quiz competition for school and college students that attracts nearly 2,000 students every year. All participants are given certificates by Kanaya Kumari Kendra and 12 meritorious students are warded on January 12 every year on the youth day either by the Chief Minister or Governor of the state.

A weekly satsang on Bhagwat Geeta in collaboration with the Chinmayanad Mission is another feature of the Kendra, which also organises tours to religious places for the elderly for free. The centre has a library in the municipal building. A blood bank with kendra has 1500 blood donors at disposal.

The center has started a monthly ENT camp where Dr Sanjay Sachdeva, director, Fortis, Delhi, attends the OPD and carries out surgeries, which are not undertaken in the state.

The Tanda Medical College authorities have offered theatre facilities to the centre for such surgeries, a move that has benefited a lot to the local people. On Sunday last during one such surgeries a big stone of rare entity was recovered from the tonsillitis of a 35 year old person, a resident of village Bhala.

Dr Sanjay Sachdeva, did the surgery under local anesthesia through endoscope and recovered the stone unusually big   and was of rare entity. He said, “ During my entire carrier of an ENT surgeon such a big stone has never been recovered from the tonsillitis so far”.

Vipin was admitted in the Dr. R.P.Govt. Medical College Tanda in May this year and was waiting for specialized surgery. It was because Vivekananda Kandra service activity of ENT camp at Kangra every month it came as a blessing for Vipin.

On September 28, four complicated ENT surgeries, which were not under taken in the state, were performed   by Dr. Sachedeva. Doctors of department of ENT and Anasthesia of the Tanda Medical College also render their services at the camp.



HRTC awarded for high fuel efficiency
Jagmeet Y. Ghuman

Kumarhatti, October 21
In a significant development, the Himachal Road Transport Corporation has bagged three prestigious national awards. The awards have been given for highest fuel efficiency, maximum improvement in KMPL, and minimum operational cost among all hill states of the country.

T.C. Janartha, MD, HRTC, was awarded the trophies by union surface transport and national highways secretary Braham Dutt at a function in New Delhi.

The HRTC runs a fleet of about 1,900 buses on 1,967 routes daily in and outside the state. It covers about 1,601 lakh km every day. The km per litre has improved from 3.70 to 3.71 during 2007-08. The accident rate of the corporation buses has been registered at 0.10 per lakh km, which is lowest among all hill states.

The corporation added 269 new buses in its fleet during 2007-08. There are about 631 zero book-value buses in the fleet. According to Janartha, the corporation pays about Rs 32 crore as taxes to the state government.



Exotic vegetables lose appeal
Lalit Mohan
Tribune News Service

Dharamsala, October 21
Farmers of the state who had diversified to growing exotic vegetables had to suffer losses this year. The lack of adequate guidance, planning and infrastructure are the main culprits.

In fact, the government has been taking pride that coloured capsicum from the state has fond its market in five star hotels of North India. Since the price of coloured capsicum ranged between Rs 100 and Rs 150 per kg, a large number of farmers started growing it in the state. This led to the fall in its market price, and thus losses.

The dejected farmers say coloured capsicum has market in just high-end hotels. “Its demand is limited, but due to false propaganda about huge profits, a large numbers of farmers went for its cultivation this year which lead to crash in its market price”.

Investigation also reveals that many farmers also burnt their fingers trying to grow broccoli and cut flowers. Both the crops fetch good price in off-season. The price of broccoli varies between Rs 10 per kg and Rs 60 per kg depending on the demand.

Farmers who went for its cultivation without any guidance had to suffer losses, says Shiv Paul Singh, a farmer engaged in growing exotic vegetables and flowers for more than a decade now.

The farmers say till the government raises infrastructure for exotic crops at par with apple crop in the state, experimentation would only lead to more losses.

“The government must guide the farmers regarding the market conditions for growing such crops. Experts should be hired to look for its market in advance. Infrastructure for transporting crops to markets is another challenging task”.

Meanwhile, farmers are apprehensive over the recent endeavour of the Kangra administration to promote floriculture. They allege that one such project was started in 2000, which failed.



shimla diary
Shimla’s infamous suicide point
Rakesh Lohumi
Tribune News Service

Shimla, October 21
The bridge on the circular road has become notorious for suicides. Early this week, an 18-year-old girl Neelam, a resident of Maili, jumped to death from the bridge. It was not the first case.

Over the past six years around 12 people ended their lives in this fashion. The bridge has come to be known as suicide point. Somehow, nobody had thought of taking any preventive measures.

It would be worthwhile if the public works department provides high wire mesh fencing on the valley side to make it difficult to jump the railing.

Respite for motorists

At last the 4-km-long Sanjauli bypass has been opened to traffic. It has provided the much-needed alternative to the single lane Dhalli tunnel, which had become a major bottleneck on the main road connecting the city with upper Shimla.

While the motorists would be saved from unending traffic jams, the residents of Sanjauli would not have to live with the constant din and vehicular emissions. The public works department had plans to have another tunnel alongside the existing tunnel to pave way for two-way traffic.

Now that an alternative road is available the work could be taken up on the project but it is not being given the due priority.

The residents are eagerly waiting for the completion of the widening of the Aukland tunnel and bridge project that would reduce distance by 1080 metre.

However, it is not likely to be completed by the stipulated deadline of March 2009. Unplanned construction has brought huge landslides at the tunnel site endangering some old government buildings. Much time and resources would be required to clear the debris and carry out protection works to save the structures.

Karva Chauth moon on the Ridge

Famous Karva Chauth on the historic Ridge was a low-key affair this time as compared to previous years. Draped in shimmering sarees, colourful bridal suits and laden with glittering jewellery women did turn up for the collective celebrations but the number was less.

The rising inflation, crashing stock market and overall economic slowdown seem to have cast a shadow on the festival season. 

However, weather was kind and the sky was clear of clouds. The women assembled on the elevated ground, a vantage point from where the moon is visible much earlier than the low-lying areas, got a clear view of the celestial lord.

It was a unique experience to see thousands of women offer prayers en masse and perform aarti with resplendent oil lamps to seek blessings for the long-life of their spouses. The offering of water during the prayer gives a thorough wash to the Ridge.

Over the years the festival of fasting and feasting has acquired a special significance in the queen of hills. The Ridge actually divides the watershed of the Satluj and Yamuna basins.

It is transformed into a huge Karva Chauth angan as thousands of women from the Lower Bazar, Ruldu Bhatta, Lal Pani, Kanhlog and Kaithu and other low-lying localities from where the eastern horizon is not visible converge for an early glimpse of the moon.



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