Mountaineer on mission green
Anmol Jain
Tribune News Service

At a height of 12,500, Harshvanti find Bhojpatra (Betula utilis) is the ideal species for plantation at this altitude.

In 1993, Harshvanti established a nursery at Chirbasa, at a height of 11,700 feet.

In 1996, 2.5 hectare land was taken up and 2,500 saplings were planted at Bhojbasa while in the second phase over 10,000 saplings were planted on an area of 5.5 hectares.

Mussoorie, November 14
For most mountaineers, mountains are only meant to be conquered but for Dr. Harshvanti Bisht, a mountaineer and a recipient of the Arjuna award, mountains are also meant to be revered, loved, cared and protected.

To her goes the credit of undertaking the first successful Bhojpatra plantation in the Indian Himalayas for eco-restoration of the Gangotri-Gaumukh region.

Her transformation from a mountaineer to a conservationist began in the year 1989 when she conducted a study to assess the impacts of tourism and pilgrimage on the ecology of the region.

Speaking to The Tribune, Harshvanti said that she was appalled by the extent of environmental degradation in the area at that time.

"The accumulation of huge amounts of garbage, mushrooming of dhabas for pilgrims and large-scale deforestation were threatening this highly fragile ecosystem," said the ace mountaineer who is also a reader of Economics at a college in Uttarkashi.

And while fellow mountaineers were busy conquering newer heights, Harshvanti, a member of the 1984 Everest expedition, was chalking out strategies to address the ecological problems in the Gangotri-Gaumukh area.

Subsequently, with the help of Rattan Singh, a fellow mountaineer, she organised several environmental awareness campaigns and garbage collection expeditions in the area and at the same time decided to take up afforestation activities.

However, while the thought of planting trees at a height of 12,500 feet seemed preposterous to most people, Harshvanti had the gritty determination of a true mountaineer. She soon found out that Bhojpatra (Betula utilis) is the ideal species for plantation at this altitude.

In 1993, after getting permission from the forest department, Harshvanti established a nursery at Chirbasa, at a height of 11,700 feet.

Later, she got permission from the department for afforestation on a 12 hectare area at Bhojbasa, inside the Gangotri National Park.

"Although funding was a problem initially but some local NGOs came forward to support our initiative," Harshvanti said.

In 1996, 2.5 hectare land was taken up and 2,500 saplings were planted at Bhojbasa while in the second phase (1997-2000) over 10,000 saplings were planted on an area of 5.5 hectares.

Most notably, at each plantation site post plantation activities like manuring, gap plantations have been taken.

"We take care of each site for a ten year period so that the plants are properly established," Harshvanti said. Barbed wire fencing has also been constructed to protect the plantations.

According to Bisht, rugged topography and extremely cold climatic conditions made the work more difficult and the progress slow.

She says that cold dry alpine desert conditions severely hamper the survival and growth of the plants.

Harshvanti laments that, "the growth rate of the plants has been only 6 to 8 inches per annum with a survival rate of 60-65 percent".

However, this has been an uphill task. Apart from grappling with forces of nature, Harshvanti has also been battling with the oppressive tactics of forest officials.

"In 2004, Rattan Singh and myself were falsely implicated in a criminal case and later in 2006 eviction notices were issued to us," Harshvanti complained.

"I have found this task much more challenging than climbing any mountain peak," she said. But in spite of all odds, her hard work has reaped rich dividends.

"Saplings planted in 1996 have grown to a height of around four to five feet," an elated Harshvanti informed.

Meanwhile, she has not only been cleared of all charges levied by the forest department but also granted permission to continue plantation work till 2011.

"This is the first successful plantation of Bhojpatra in the Indian Himalayas," beams Harshvanti. Hopefully, the mountaineer will continue on her green mission since she still has a huge mountain to climb.



DMC allots land for graveyard for Muslims
Jotirmay Thapliyal
Tribune News Service

Dehradun, November 15
In a major decision, the Dehradun Municipal Corporation has finally allotted 15 bighas of land in Lohiyanagar and Rs 10 lakh for the construction of a graveyard for the Muslims.

Councillor Abdul Aziz had put forward a proposal before the board meeting, which was unanimously, passed at the board meeting today.

“Welcoming the board meeting’s decision, the councillor said the need for a new graveyard for the Muslims was being felt for quite some time and was a matter of urgent concern for the community”, Abdul Aziz told the Tribune.

Mayor Vinod Chamoli said this was a long standing demand of the Muslim community as the available graveyards in the city had no more space left for the burials and was causing inconveniences.

Echoing similar sentiments, leader of opposition Ashok Verma said a long-standing genuine concern of the minority community had been fulfilled.

Another councillor Allahuddin, who had been raising the issue time and again, too expressed happiness over the development.

“With no place for burial left in the existing graveyard, the Muslim community was facing a tough time. The DMC decision to allot new graveyard has come as big relief”, he said.

Another Councillor Arun Valmiki too welcomed the development terming it as very genuine decision of the DMC.

Earlier, the Muslim community in Doon was facing a piquant situation they were unable to bury the dead due to space crunch in the city.

There have been cases when after a grave was dug it was found that an earlier grave already existed in that place.

The community has already formed a committee on the issue and suggested a moratorium on the use of Chandernagar graveyard, the biggest Muslim graveyard in the city that is more than a 100 years old.

“We have decided not to use the Chandernagar graveyard for next 10 years,” Qari Abdul Samad, a senior clergy member said. He added that the community members have been advised to bury their dead in another graveyard in Dharampur area.

“We were trying to persuade the community not to use the main graveyard due to acute space crunch,” Afzal Rana, a senior journalist and a community leader said.

Since the Chandernagar graveyard is in the heart of the city and accessible from Muslim localities of Inamullah and Dhamawallah most of the dead were being taken here, he added.



With no support from any quarter, Yashpal single-handedly set up Mandkini Magpie Bird Watchers Camp at his village
Jotirmay Thapliyal
Tribune News Service

Dehradun, November 15
For Yashpal Singh Negi, a hill youth, it was certainly a tough decision to take to bird watching, especially when he had four kids to support.

Venturing into an unknown profession and a new region was not easy in the remote hilly village of Kankra Gad in Rudraprayag district of Uttarakhand.

Yashpal often came across the rich avian fauna in his day-to-day treks and this inspired him to switch to bird watching.

He underwent training at the nature guide camp at Corbett in 2000 and passed out with flying colours.

With no support from any quarter, Yashpal single-handedly set up Mandkini Magpie Bird Watchers Camp at his village.

In the beginning, there were instances when he had to forgo the fees of his children, as financial returns from the camp were minimal.

Yashpal still remembers when his efforts were often laughed away by people. But soon they realised that bird watching benefited both the village and conservation efforts.

In the past few years, things have changed in his favour with the camp fast turning into a bird watchers’ delight.

And what was once a humble beginning, today stands as Mandkini Magpie Bird Watchers Camp, a most sought after destination for bird watchers from across the country.

Interestingly, in 2007 Mandkini Magpie Bird Watchers Camp was witness to sighting of Ashy Wood Pigeon, the 624th bird specie to be recorded in Uttarakhand.



Deepti Omcherry, a rare combo
Tribune News Service

Dr Deepti Omcherry Bhalla, a renowed dancer, performs at Army School, Clementown in Dehradun.

Dehradun, November 15
Dr. Deepti Omchery Bhalla, a distinguished Mohiniattam dancer, performed at the Army School, Clementown near here today.

The programme was held in collaboration with
the Dehradun chapter of SPIC-MACAY. Anita
Sethi, Army Wives Welfare Association (AWWA),
inaugurated the show.

Dr. Deepti Omcherry Bhalla is a rare combination of a dancer, singer, researcher and author. Recipient of the Central Sangeet Natak Akademi Award, she is a Professor of Karnatak Music and the Faculty of Music and Fine arts at University of Delhi.

Her dance was followed by an interactive session with school children. There was an overwhelming and enthusiastic response from the students who had the opportunity to learn directly from her.
Dr Deepti Omcherry Bhalla, a renowed dancer, performs at Army School, Clementown in Dehradun. Tribune photo: Vinod Pundir



HOPE for the marginalised
Neena Sharma
Tribune News Service

Volunteers of HOPE use traditional folk medium to propogate message of good health and family welfare.
Volunteers of HOPE use traditional folk medium to propogate message of good health and family welfare. A Tribune photograph

Dehradun, November 15
The difference is stark, as the row of neat houses end, their living quarters begin near the railway station, there is a pucca road also side by side filth and grime pervades, as the night descends all illegal activities takes place.

Of the 6000 families that live there, most of them are engaged in Kabadi business others take up petty jobs, there is virtually no hope for the children who have no role models to look up to.

Even if they pursued education in government schools, returning home they would still be tempted to take up the activities that their parents pursue, to ensure that the change is permanent the entire focus of Horizon for Prosperity and Education (HOPE) is to work with the marginalised by setting up a school in their midst.

The families face multitude of problems, from drug addiction, to unemployment and indulging in petty crimes.

It is here that the volunteers from HOPE come in, they establish communication with children and their families, “encouraging them to pick up education, using traditional methods of communication like the puppet show that is so popular among children that they come enlightened and want to pursue education,” informed Philip Nag, Social Worker HOPE.

HOPE a brainchild of Lawrence and Manju Singh was established in 2002 with the aim of providing education and health facilities to the deprived and marginalised families.

“Our organisation is funded by private individuals and a mother NGO, it is difficult to wean out children who see their parents leading a life of uncertainty, and they have no fixed jobs, except maybe petty jobs that does not bring in much money, how can they expect to educate their children, it was with this thought we set up a school in the vicinity of the slum so that at least children can be picked at the age of four and encouraged to join our school, till fifth standard they study here, then we try to send them to other school with which we have a tie up, informed Lawerence Singh, who is in the Merchant Navy and tries to contribute the maximum towards the School.”

A total of 300 students study in the schools, they are provided three meals a day besides getting free education and tuition.

“They do not get homework most of the time is spent in school and tuitions so that they have less interaction with their families,” informed Nag.

The girls students are provided vocational education that ensures a steady job, few among them are trained beauticians and contribute to their home expenses.

Besides there is another programme for the children who are in their adolescent, they can take up education through the National Open School.

In 2007, 12 boys passed the 10th and are now undertaking computer education at HOPE. A total of 40 boys have already been provided placement. The medical needs of the parents are looked after, an OPD also runs in the school premises.

“We were illiterate, but when I see my little son rattling names of our leaders in English, I am happy and thank the volunteers for looking after my child, informed Neelu Bhatt a resident.”

In 2007, 12 boys passed 10th and are now undertaking computer education at HOPE. A total of 40 boys have already been provided placement. The medical needs of their parents are also looked after, an OPD runs in the school premises.



Brahmaputra river bed on rise, says IIT studies
Vikas Vasudeva
Tribune News Service

Roorkee, November 15
The ongoing studies at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Roorkee on Brahmaputra River have revealed that the average river bed of Brahmaputra is rising sharply, besides the braiding intensity of the river is also increasing, consequently posing a serious threat of channel avulsion.

"The major channel avulsion has occurred near Dhola-Hatighuli area near Saikhwaghat in which case the two main-streams of Dibang and Luhit of the Brahmaputra have started flowing in the erstwhile Dibru-Dangori course. This radical course change of the Brahmaputra main-streams has triggered severe erosion problem in Rohmaria near Dibrugarh, Dibru-Saikhwa reserved forest and many tea growing areas near Dumduma and Tinsukia. The erosion at Rohmaria near Dibrugarh is a major potential site of another channel avulsion, which poses threat to Mohanbari Airport and Dibrugarh medical college," says Prof. Nayan Sharma, Department of Water Resources Development & Management, IIT-Roorkee.

"The Phulbari area of the Brahmaputra downstream of Jogighopa is in the grip of another major avulsion or course change phenomenon. Another major erosion site of the Brahmaputra is the Panikhaity-Khankar area in the Guwahati district, which has threatened the main broad gauge railway line and the state highway linking Guwahati with Upper Assam. In this site more than 400 metres bank erosion has taken place since 1962 causing loss of 300 bigha prime urban land," he adds.

Notably, similar to the combined channel process of bed rise and bank erosion phenomena of the main stem Brahmaputra, most of the major tributaries have also displayed alarming loss of discharge and sediment carrying capacity in recent years due to unabated sediment erosion from the catchments.



First Person
‘Consumers need to be aware’
Brig. K.G. Behl (retd)

The shopkeepers are required to display rates on the products so that they do not charge from customers more than the listed cost and those could be easily compared with prevailing rates in the market, before purchase.

There are no checks on rates of vendors, when they sell articles that are available in Mandi (wholesale dealers) for half the price.

Vendors in streets are being allowed to sell articles at more than double the cost. Where are the profits going as the vendors vouch for the limited profits.

There appears to be some organised corruption that is going on in connivance with the concerned officials and agents.

If you see the trend in the market, especially eatables, only limited number of articles are released daily and if one needs articles other than those one has to purchase those at higher rates from some selected shops who happen to store those.

Why cannot the government purchase those from the Mandis and supply the consumers at lower reasonable rates at shops already established under the Public Distribution System.

The high prices are really breaking the back of the consumers and poor people are becoming more poor as they are finding difficult to make the two ends meet.

No wonder some of the persons are resorting to unscrupulous means and the increasing number of thefts may be one of the causes which is forcing them to resort to such practices.

If these trends are not checked in time and controlled immediately, these may create situations which may go beyond control.

Secondly, there should be an organised movement to have fixed prices and also impose checks to ensure that those are strictly followed.

When MRP (Maximum Retail Price) was printed on articles it was presumed that it was an effort in this direction and it was presumed that the price was being fixed in consultation with all involved at different levels, after giving them their due, with the approval of the government.

But now the Dept. of Consumer affairs in their efforts to awaken consumers have brought to light that the MRP printed on different products not only includes profits of the manufacturer, whole sale distributors and the retailers but also includes lot of disproportionate profits where one can bargain and can get discounts.

It is happening because government has not ensured that the MRP is fixed after adding only reasonable profits at different levels.

To arrive at MRP, the government must ensure that it includes reasonable cost of manufacture and commissions/ profits at intervening stages before it reaches the market or customer. The customer need not bargain on that printed price(MRP) and should happily pay.

The trouble starts when the stock holders or the distributors start selling products at discount without bothering for other retailer.

They discount equivalent to the retailers profit and the customer feels happy, but when things are not made available to customer at retail shops on the same discounted rates they feel frustrated and complain about the disparity in rates and doubt the authenticity of printed MRP

Even at times the retailers offer discount out of their profits, to attract customers, where the profits are quite high at times, especially in Hotels and Restaurants, some of the items are sold at more than the printed MRP on the plea that they have to keep those in air-conditioned premises and have to serve those in their own style in glasses or other attractive and costly containers.

Moreover service tax adds to the cost further. But now the question is of fixing the MRP by the government keeping the profits to the minimum, so that the customer need nor bargain on the price (MRP).

The whole sale distributors, under some banners are resorting to such practices and sell products at cheaper rates but actually thet play with rates as explained above.

They should not be allowed to play with the retailers price and should not be allowed to sell to public at reduced rates than the MRP printed on the containers and be prosecuted if found disobeying the rules. Standard products should be available at fixed rates at all the outlets.

Showing on TV to bargain on MRP is creating doubts in the minds of people not only about the cost but the quality as well as weight.

The government should verify all these aspects before releasing the products for public sale. Standards should also be laid like ISI, Agmark etc be stamped so that the consumers have not to bother about the quality and rates and should happily pay rather than bargaining.

The companies should also ensure that their products are sold at fixed rates and no one plays in between to dupe the customers.

The profits added with the cost should also be reasonable so that no one doubts their integrity and also leaves no room to play with.

A product which costs just Rs. 2.50 should in no case be allowed to print Rs. 25/- as MRP as is being done by some of the medical firms where original salts are the same but prices vary too much causing doubts in the minds of users as to which is genuine or more effective.

Most of such medicines are found to have side effects which the producers do not mention or care and cause users troubles at stages.

Consumers are yet to know the effects of various taxes being levied and how these fixed MRP is going to effect those.

The shopkeepers may get back some of the taxes already paid but how will those be shared with consumers.

It is a matter which need deep study and government has to intervene to set the prices right so that the consumers are not fleeced.

The Consumers want fixed rated and standard products without any adulteration and request government. to ensure it. Consumers do not wish to bargain either on cost, weight or quality.

Whenever we approach concerned authorities express their helplessness by stating the stock answer that there are short of staff and there are not sufficient staff provided to carry out checks for all these purposes.

It is one of the factors which leads to corruption, which needs to be eradicated. Govt (the minister concerned) must look into this aspect and create checks, so that people get good quality of food stuffs at reasonable rates which is essential for day to day life.

The writer is President of the All India Consumer Council, Uttarakhand.



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