Cinema houses lose business
Ambika Sharma

Solan, December 23
Like other parts of the country, cinema halls in the state have been going through rough patch, thanks to the high running costs and low turnover of audience, which has made the business almost uneconomical.

Himachal, which has a few sources of entertainment, had a total of 31 cinema halls in majority of its district headquarters, but only about nine have managed to survive the competition posed by satellite channels and low-priced VCD/DVD players.

“In order to compete, we had to invest heavily in renovating our old cinema hall. The audience is no longer content with the old halls and comforts like more leg space, digitally-fitted modern audio and video systems and even the basic ambience are what audience demands,” says Sahil Sharma whose family has been in cinema business for the past 50 years.

He says, “What has made the business less lucrative is the swelling maintenance costs. It has sky rocketed to an almost 500 per cent in the past almost a decade. Those who failed to introduce innovations have been wiped out and survival means an exorbitant proposition”.

Even after a heavy investment in renovating the old halls there is no guarantee of reaping ready benefits. What has added to the sagging business is the release of fewer movies and ones with popular star cast being even fewer. The biggest blow to the cinema halls is the pirated CD market and the low-priced VCD/DVD players.

“Earlier, the cinema halls had a huge audience from the labour class where the ticket cost was a modest Rs 25.

But the easy availability of pirated CDs has almost wiped out their presence from the cinema halls further leading to decline in the business”.

Further, the advent of cable television has taken away the charm of viewing old movies in the halls. This has made it difficult for the cinema hall owners to remain operational for 52 weeks.

Vishal Anand, who runs Anand Cinema in Solan, while dwelling on the dismal scenario says, “Reeling under financial crunch a majority of cinema halls have closed down in Kangra, Una, Nahan, Mandi, Solan, Parwanoo, Kasauli etc. Out of the three cinema halls here i.e. Mayur in Parwanoo, Sunder and Laxmi in Solan, none is operational today.

The owners thought it prudent to convert them into commercial complexes and earn ready income”.

He, however, adds that, “There are people who are ready to invest and had also moved their applications for seeking permissions, but the economic slowdown has forced them to defer their plans”.

Similarly, Besant and Ranbeer cinemas in Nahan were closed down some years back. Kunjana Singh, who owned Besant Cinema, says the running costs and low turnover made them shut the hall altogether and replace it with a banquet hall.

“What is required is some subsidy or easy loans to upgrade to the latest technological requirements as being an entertainment industry we have to refurbish our premises regularly,” opines Vishal Anand.



State handicrafts for international fairs
Pratibha Chauhan
Tribune News Service

Shimla, December 23
Artisans all over the state are currently engaged in preparing handicraft and handloom articles, modified in terms of texture and sensitivity, to suit foreign skin and catch the fancy of the western world with its first-ever foray into the international arena.

Armed with an aggressive marketing strategy, the Himachal Handicraft and Handloom Corporation will exhibit Kinnauri and Kullu shawls, stoles and caps, Chamba rumaals, thanka paintings, Kangra miniatures, leather works from Chamba and intricate tribal silver jewellery from Kinnaur at the two international fairs in Toronto and Birmingham soon.

Despite all these handloom and handicraft items being very popular with foreign tourists, serious efforts have not been made till now to market them at the international level. Thanks to the financial assistance of Rs 35 lakh provided from the Central government, the exhibits from the state will get international exposure.

“This is for the first time that we are stepping into the international market and our endeavour will be to later provide exposure even to our artisans who are the spirit behind our exquisite handicraft and handloom items,” said PS Kingra, managing director of the Handicraft and Handloom Corporation.

Having been closely associated with the Commonwealth Games held earlier at Melbourne and Doha, Kingra is keen that Himachal handicraft items will be presented in the form of souvenirs and gifts for the participants from all over the world when the Games will be held in New Delhi in 2010.

In fact, the details of the ‘Chamba rumaal’ that the state government intends presenting to Queen Elizabeth, who is likely to inaugurate the Commonwealth Games , are already being worked out. “Rather than the traditional themes and motifs we will prepare a ‘rumaal’ which has the Commonwealth Games logo and the mascot done in the intricate Chamba embroidery,” explained Kingra.

It is being felt that there can’t be a better platform than that of the Commonwealth Games to exhibit the handicraft items from Himachal and popularise them world over. “Even the best marketing strategy cannot bring the desired results which can be achieved if a Chamba rumaal finds a place in a British museum,” says Kingra. The Chamba rumaal to be presented to the Queen is likely to be six by two feet.

The corporation has already set the ball rolling to ensure that by 2010, when the Commonwealth Games will be held, there are sufficient stocks to meet the demand. Care is being taken to ensure that the material used for making items like caps, shawls, mufflers and other woolens is of soft material which does not cause irritation to the western skin.

Efforts have been made at the government level in the past few years to get geographical indications (GI) registration for the Chamba rumaal and the Kullu shawl to prevent the sale and marketing of imitations, which are often sold in the name of original. Efforts are on to get GI registration for Kinnauri shawls and other traditional Himachali items to ensure exclusivity and benefit to the artisans who toil to produce these exquisite items, which are a treat to eye and a collector’s item.

The corporation has also been making efforts to provide exposure to the artisans as 73 skill upgradation training programmes have been organised for the rural artisans. In view of the dwindling art forms, efforts are being made at various levels to encourage and provide incentives to such artists to keep the traditional art forms alive, which could also help provide self-employment opportunities.



Sarus crane losing habitat
Lalit Mohan
Tribune News Service

Dharamsala, December 23
The endangered bird species, Indian sarus crane is losing its habitat in the state. The said bird variety is found in the wetlands of the Swan river in Una district.

Prabhat Bhatti, an amateur ornithologist, has been keeping watch over the sarus cranes visiting the Swan wetland since last many years. Talking to The Tribune, he said about 16 pairs of sarus crane used to visit the wetland areas of the Swan near Santoshgarh area of the district.

These pairs of birds also used to breed here during the monsoon. The people of the area after being sensitised to protect the bird species are tolerant towards them. However, it is loss of habitat that is endangering the sarus cranes living in the wetland areas of the Swan.

The government has initiated a project in the state for canalisation of the Swan. Already, a 15- km stretch of the river from Jhalera to Tahliwal has been canalised. Though it has helped save thousands of acres of agricultural land, it has also destroyed the natural wetlands created by monsoon floods in the river. To add to it, the government is allowing industries to come up on the banks of the river. In Una district, a paper industry is coming up in the wetland area on the banks of the river. This area is a habitat of these cranes. When the unit will start functioning, the habitat of the endangered bird is likely to be destroyed totally.

Over the years, the number of sarus crane pairs has been reducing. This monsoon just four pairs were sighted in the Swan wetland area.

Though the canalisation of the river cannot be stopped as it is benefiting hundreds of farmers, the government can help save certain spots which the cranes visit regularly. The forest department with the help of the non-government organisations working in the area can identify certain spots in the wetland area of the river that are essential for habitat for the crane. These areas can be protected from urbanisation as habitat of the endangered birds. The development of such pockets can be inculcated in the multi-crore swan canalisation project.

Sarus crane is the tallest crane species that can be about 6 feet high, with a wing span of 8 feet. In Indian sarus crane white feathers form a collar in between the bare reddish skin of the lower neck. The female sarus cranes are slightly smaller than the males.

These cranes generally breed in the wetland areas or paddy fields during the monsoon. The female generally lays two eggs and the male takes the responsibility of defending the nest.

Sarus cranes are omnivorous. They eat everything ranging from tubular plants, insects, small invertebrates and vertebrates.



Development eludes Chamba
Balkrishan Prashar

Chamba, December 23
Set in the salubrious climate and magnificent prospect, Chamba is endowed with vast hydropower and tourism potential as well as rich forest wealth. The availability of perennial assets like forest wealth with plenty of medicinal herbs, wildlife, hydroelectric and tourism potential provide a wide scope for the development and promotion of these major industries. This in turn can generate employment opportunities for the upliftment of the poor living in the high altitude ranges of this district.

However, the government has failed to harness these potentials and it appears that the growth of Chamba has been put on the lowest ebb.

The Chamba Welfare Association, a local body, has been highlighting the tale of “Chamba’s neglect” since long. It states that the government is earning 12 per cent royalty from hydropower stations owned by the National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC). This royalty amounts to more than Rs 150 crore per annum, but even 5 per cent of this amount is spent on development activities.

It further says, “Most of the offices, rest houses and bungalows existing since the erstwhile princely state of Chamba are being occupied by various government departments”.

The beautiful barrack ground has been taken over by the police department, which was once used for holding various state and national level events. While other district headquarters like Hamirpur and Una have gone far ahead with the establishment of educational institutions, hospitals, and national highways, Chamba has become one of the most backward districts of the state.

Even the Chamba-Bharmour road leading to the famous Manimahesh shrine, which attracts lakhs of tourists every year and has four major hydroelectric projects, has not been declared a national highway. In comparison, Hamirpur and Mandi towns are surrounded by two-three national highways.

While professional institutes are out of question, there is hardly any government senior secondary school affiliated with the CBSE.

The grouse of various organisations and trade unions is that the successive governments have failed to live up to the expectations of the people of this region.

The revenue subdivisions of Churah, Bhattiyat, Bharmour and Pangi are devoid of sub-judge courts. Even there is no division of the PWD, irrigation and public health and the state electricity board in the Churah and Bhattiyat areas.

Owing to neglect, cottage and small-scale industries have vanished from the region. No wonder, Chamba figures among the 51 most backward districts of the country.

An official spokesman, however, maintains that the pace of development is constantly picking up as over Rs 100 crore are being spent annually on the development of the district under various state and centrally sponsored schemes.



The Clarke’s roller-coaster ride to fame
by Shriniwas Joshi

Mohan Singh Oberoi (MS) was the proprietor of The Clarke’s Shimla and Delhi in 1934. He said to his daughter Rajrani, “Just wait, when you grow up, wherever you go, there will be an Oberoi hotel”. Today, with about 35 luxury hotels in India and five in other countries, his words echo loud and clear. MS is to India what Conrad Hilton is to the US.

He started his journey as a hotelier from The Clarke’s in Shimla making a beginning as a hall clerk in Faletti’s Cecil here at the age of 20. Though The Clarke’s announces that it is a heritage hotel since 1898, evidences are that it existed as Harding Hotel in early 1890s.


When Felix Von Goldstein pointed out certain shortcomings in the letter of engineer, roads and buildings, MC, on the construction work to be carried out in Clarke’s, the latter wrote a note on the file, “I wonder if the applicant, a civil engineer (degrees not shown-possibly possesses none) could at all assume the position of a judge of my technical qualifications.”

A letter dated July 26, 1893 from Hermitage, Mashobra, seeking permission from the Municipal Committee, Shimla, for construction work by the owner of Charing Cross Hotel and the sanction in the favour of Harding Hotel by the MC shows that Charing Cross was Harding earlier and was known as such. The popular name always gets stuck. Even today, the “official Lala Lajpat Rai Road” is accepted as The Mall.

Charing Cross was renamed as Carlton Hotel when P.W. Fitz Holmes purchased it by 1910. Holmes was a hotelier of repute and was the owner of Grand in Kasauli and Ambala. Carlton Hotel was handed over to the Army Department for Indian Munitions Board in 1917 and Khan Sahib Khowaja Abdul Ahad, executive engineer of the PWD, was to look after the building.

The hotel turned to such pathetic conditions that in 1922 a tenant wrote to the MC about the utter neglect towards its maintenance, endangering the lives of residents. The health officer of the MC, Maj J.R.D. Webb, visited the place and expressed anxiety about its dilapidated condition. His note of 1926 is interesting, “A wire gauze fowl-run has been made at the back of the hotel. Fowl-runs in the centre of the town are not advisable. When loose, they scratch the hillside down on the head of the pedestrians passing along the main road below”. The hotel became completely run down.

Ernest Clarke, late manager of The Cecil, Shimla, and Maidens Hotel, Delhi, then had it on an annual lease of Rs 9,000 in 1927 and renamed it as The Clarke’s. He appointed Hotz and Benson, associated chartered architects for Shimla and Delhi, to prepare a detailed plan for the rejuvenation of the building. The MC agreed to most of the proposed plan but refused to approve a latrine for servants by the side of kitchen. Instead, it recommended the use of the MC public latrine nearby provided the proprietor of the hotel pays the salary of two additional sweepers.

It was agreed to but Clarke later refused to make the payment. The case ended with a simple money decree passed against Clarke by a senior sub-judge, AR Cornelius, in 1931 for the payment of the due amount plus Rs 82 as the cost of litigation.

By 1933, Ernest Clarke was in financial trouble and MS came up with a plan to save the hotel. Clarke died shortly after and MS bought his shares from his widow for Rs 20,000, loaning money from a relative and mortgaging his wife’s jewellery. In 1934, he became full-fledged proprietor of The Clarke’s.

The MC, in 1939, took serious objection to certain additions and alterations done by MS in his hotel. MS, designated himself as managing director, wrote from Kolkata that the deviations are of harmless nature and the rooms are “at present occupied by Major and Mrs. Rosenbloom, IMS who are quite comfortable there.” He requested for getting the case compounded, which was done after a long exchange of correspondence on 24.2.1943 when the MC subjugated MS to pay Rs 350.

Today, The Clarke’s with 32 suites, deluxe and superior rooms has an average occupancy of 65-70 per cent and is one of the favourite destinations because it breathes in Tudor-framed structure in the most happening area of the town - The Mall.



Herbal state
Not much headway in efforts
Rakesh Lohumi
Tribune News Service

Medicinal plants of Himachal. A Tribune photograph

Shimla, December 23
Efforts of the government to make Himachal Pradesh the herbal state of the country are not making much headway because of the lack of a comprehensive policy for the propagation of medicinal plants, particularly on non-forest land.

The ‘jan jan sanjivani’ campaign under which over 15 saplings of a medicinal plant were given to each household in the state in the past year did help create awareness among the people but a number of bottlenecks like lack of know-how, transportation and marketing infrastructure are still to be removed.

In fact, the state is far behind the neighbouring Uttrakhand which has not only framed a policy for taking care of all aspects of medicinal plant propagation from cultivation to marketing, but has also put in place the required infrastructure. In the absence of a policy, there is no coordination among different departments which are promoting cultivation of medicinal plants under different schemes.

The state medicinal plant development board is under the department of ayurveda, which has no mandate or resources for cultivation of such plants and is only the end-user of the product. Besides, the forest department and the horticulture department are also associated with medicinal plant cultivation. The biggest impediment is that the forest department is charging royalty on the medicinal plants being grown by farmers in their fields for which there is no justification as it could be charged only on the wild herbs extracted from the forests. For instance, Rs 700 per quintal is being charged for chirata (swertia), which is being grown by a number of farmers in the Chachiot area of Mandi. The farmers are subjected to unnecessary harassment even for the produce grown on their own land.

In Uttrakhand, there is no such problem as the government has set up a nodal agency, Herbal Research and Development Institute, under the horticulture department to take care of all aspects of medicinal plant production and marketing. The farmers engaged in cultivation of herbs are registered by the agency and provided transit permit certifying that the produce was grown on agriculture land so that they are not harassed and no royalty is charged from them. It has also set up three centres under the forest corporation where medicinal plants are being auctioned twice a month. The buyers were issued transit permits on spot and they face no problems in taking the produce out of the state.

Principal chief conservator of forests Vinay Tandon said the department had sent a proposal to the government that royalty should not be charged on herbs grown on non-forest land. He said in the second phase of the ‘jan jan sanjivani’, herbs would be cultivated through community plantations on forest land under the join forest management programme. The effort would be to have big plantations from 10 hectare to 50 hectare through the village forest development committees so that the local people would gain from it.

The national medicinal plant board has sanctioned a Rs 4-crore project under which 1,200 to 1,500 hectare land would be brought under medicinal pants over the next three years. The department has decided to promote only those species which have an annual demand of over 500 tonne so that the growers do not face any problem in marketing their produce.

However, experts point out that the plan will not succeed as there is no set-up for systematic training and providing technical know-how for growing plants which is a specialised job. The government should set up a nodal agency on the pattern of Uttrakhand under the horticulture department or the forest department for the purpose. Even the medicinal plant board should be under the control of the horticulture department which has the requisite mandate, infrastructure and technical manpower for carrying out the job effectively.



Shimla diary
Wait for two Cabinet vacancies continues
Pratibha Chauhan
Tribune News Service

Shimla, December 23
Even as the BJP regime in the state completes one year in office on December 30, the wait for filling two vacancies in the cabinet continues for aspirants.

The meeting of Chief Minister P.K. Dhumal with Governor Prabha Rau last week brought a glimmer of hope to many as they felt that the much- awaited expansion was finally on the cards. However, that proved to be a false hope as Dhumal has still not made up his mind about the timing of the expansion.

What is even more agonising for the contenders for the two posts is that Dhumal has several times said that representation will be given to Una and Mandi districts. While a section of partymen feel that Dhumal might go ahead with the induction of two ministers before the December 30 rally marking the completion of one year of the government, others feel he is too astute to take such a step which will create trouble for him.

Whatever be the reasons the wait is proving to be too long for some of the MLAs from Mandi and Una, who feel their names are sure to find favour with the Chief Minister.

NSS camp

A 10-day NSS camp was organised at the local Rajkiya Kanya Mahavidyalaya with a special focus on environment and cleanliness. Over 100 volunteers participated in the camp which started with the cleaning up of the college campus itself. Later, the students interacted with the residents of Parechi village falling under Pagog panchayat, which has been adopted to sensitise the community about various social and environmental issues.

The students impressed upon the villagers the need for protecting environment and conserving other resources like water, fuel and power. Special sessions were held to educate the villagers about issues like female foeticide which had led to an imbalance in the sex ratio. The volunteers also educated the villagers about the precautionary measures against HIV and AIDS which was spreading its tentacles and its testing facilities and treatment.

Surprise visit

The surprise visit by the Chief Minister to many ongoing construction works in the state capital has put officials of various departments on the alert.

The visit to works like the erection of retaining walls and repair of roads has come as a major relief to the residents whose plea to the authorities for these minor works fell on deaf ears.

Much to the relief of everyone, the progress of work in the last fortnight on these works in areas like Khalini and New Shimla has been far more than over the past several months. It is an indication to the effect that work can be undertaken at a much faster pace to save the public from inconvenience than the speed at which it is delayed by the employees.


Dr D.D Gupta from Indira Gandhi Medical College (IGMC) has been nominated vice- president of the National Scientific Body of the Indian Pharmacological Society.

He happens to be the first person from the state of Himachal Pradesh to be nominated to a national- level post. He has earlier worked as executive committee member of the scientific body.



Getting recognition for farming achievements
Dharam Prakash Gupta
Tribune News Service

Rajinder Prashad being awarded by Chief Minister P.K. Dhumal during Hamir Utsav. A Tribune photograph

Hamirpur, December 23
A progressive farmer from the district has not only become a role model for many other farmers of the area, but has also won several awards for his produce from government agencies.

Rajinder Prashad from Harsor village was awarded the Kirishi Doot Samman 2003 by Agricultural University, Palampur, for expanding and implementing technology developed by the university.

It was in 1984 that Rajinder Prashad, after his college education, adopted farming as an avocation with inspiration from government agencies.

He started growing seasonal and off-season vegetables on his ancestral land with an initial investment of Rs 10000. After succeeding in his effort, he started growing vegetables like broccoli, garlic , capsicum and other seasonal vegetables which fetched him a good price in the market through the quality produce.

At present, he is growing vegetables on about 20 kanals using hybrid seeds modern techniques of farming.

He told The Tribune that “during the year 2000, I earned Rs 45000 by growing vegetables on 2 bighas and got a government subsidy of Rs 4000 on the inputs also.”

“After my success, the entire village has started growing vegetables,” he adds.

Recently, Rajinder Prashad has been attracted to floriculture too and produced very good variety of decorative flowers. His entry in the flower bouquet competition during the Hamir Utsav this year bagged him the first prize, which was given to him by Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal.



Residents seek regularisation of houses
Kuldeep Chauhan
Tribune News Service

Mandi, December 23
For over 60,000 residents awaiting regularisation of their houses, ‘unauthorised houses’ in the eyes of the government across the state, the proposed sixth retention policy has turned out to be another “pre-election eyewash.” They instead demand a one-time relaxation on an “as and where basis.”

Most of these houses “do not qualify for regularisation under the proposed 40 per cent deviation on the building setbacks under the Town and Country Planning (TCP) Act. A feeling of resentment has started brewing up among residents and villagers who cannot pay hefty conversion fees for using agricultural land for non-agricultural purpose at the rate of Rs 1.75 per sq feet to build new houses in the TCP areas.

Besides, they rued that they would have to pay architects for preparing maps even for cowsheds according to the TCP Act as the government had mulled a move to bring the entire state under the Act. The TCP had no system in place to guide them and is passing the buck on other government agencies like the PWD, which is builder of government buildings in the state.

The residents built their houses much before the government created Special Area Development Authority (SADA) areas at Ner Chowk, Mandi, Manali and Shimla. The SADA areas of New Shimla, Tutu, Dhali have been merged with the Shimla Municipal Corporation (SMC) last year.

SADA areas have several panchayats where villagers still depend on cows and sell milk and vegetables in the nearby markets. The government has been encouraging the Himachal Urban Development Authority (HIMUDA) to acquire the villagers’ land, but no relief and rehabilitation policies for them.

The five retention polices have turned out to be an eyewash for residents who have put in their hard-earned money to build their houses in towns like Shimla, Mandi, Kullu, Sundernagar, Bilaspur, Solan and Dharamsala.

“Present proposal to regularise 40 per cent deviation is an eyewash as none of unauthorised structures qualify for regularisation under this provision”, residents rued.

The sixth retention policy is in the offing because the Lok Sabha polls are round the corner. The policies are being framed more to help “the moneyed individuals” who can manage sanction than to help out common residents in the state.

The residents alleged the government had two different kinds of laws and bylaws for HIMUDA, government buildings and private house owners.

They alleged laws and bylaws like “the floor-area ratio and a sanction” that were being applied to local residents under the TCP Act did not apply to these government buildings. The residents said while several government offices, HIMUDA flat-owners, most of them moneyed outsiders, were getting subsidised electricity and 24-hour water supply, they were paying hefty commercial charges for the same.

They further pleaded that most of these “unauthorised houses” had come up in areas in panchayats, notified areas committees, nagar panchayats and councils and newly merged areas in the SMC.

They claimed: “The Act is being applied to them retrospectively which residents are opposing as it goes against the principals of natural justice.”

“I approached the TCP six times and made six new maps costing thousands of rupees but still waiting for the sanction of my commercial complex”, rues Ravi Rana, a resident of Ner Chowk, SADA.

The villagers cannot rebuild and renovate their houses as the TCP norms are strict and made as per the norms prevailing in the plains. The bureaucrats copied the TCP Act, 1977, from Punjab, ignoring the hilly terrain in the state, the residents rued.

The TCP has neither the staff nor proper guidance for residents in the SADA notified area committees, council and nagar panchayat areas. Even villages who have a biswa of land to start some dhaba along the highway cannot do it as the TCP act is stringent, the villagers said.

General secretary of the Upnagariya Residents Welfare Samiti Hemraj Sharma said they had been pleading that the TCP buildings bylaws should not be applied to houses made in the newly merged areas retrospectively. “The retention policies are helping a few individuals, private contractors and not the common man”, he asserted.

However, TCP officials are tight-lipped saying they do not have enough staff to check and ensure proper guidance system as other government agencies are also equally responsible to check mushrooming growth in each town.





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