Villagers for awareness drive to avoid fire mishaps
Subhash Sharma

Kullu, December 30
The politicians always take benefits of the short memory of people and forget the promises made during elections or at the time of natural calamities. Repeated fire accidents in the villages of Malana, Tosh, Mohini, Kais, Kothi, etc, and now Solang involving gutting of almost the entire village were never considered a serious matter. The government cannot provide fire stations in all villages and people understand that constraint. But, awareness campaign could be initiated to avoid such accidents. No such workshops, seminars or camps were ever organised to make the people aware of the causes of the fire ever since fire accidents involving destruction of entire village started two decades before. The distribution of relief amount and expression of a little sympathy ends the show and the next village on fire is awaited.

The government should initiate some action plan and chalk out awareness campaign among the villagers to take serious thought on the issue. Stacking of fodder, firewood and using of substandard electricity implements and overloading of the sanctioned electricity load always proved fatal in the villages and the practice still goes on. One could also see the rotten wooden poles and mutilated service wires of the HPSEB in the rural areas. It is also pertinent to say that many villagers in Kullu district were also involved in distilling liquors at their houses situated in the middle of the village.

These fire accidents were not only causing loss of life and properties but also rich cultural heritage and age-old “Kath-Kuni” architecture of the area. The centuries old architecture of Kath-Kuni, the religious beliefs of the villagers and the historical temples where research scholars had been doing researches, could not be restored.

The village of Malana, known for having the oldest form democracy in the world, had lost that attraction for scholars due to the devastating fire that razed more than 400 houses and the century old temple in 2007. The structures could be rebuilt but the heritage cannot. The rehabilitation of people is possible but not of the sentiments bonded with the conventional dwellings.

Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal during his visit to Solang village recently has expressed concern over “not learning from history” (referring to fire accidents) and said the villagers should deviate from the conventional methods of stacking fodder and firewood. His concern had to be taken seriously and executing agencies should be given master plan to deal with the situation. Though literacy rate of Himachal Pradesh has reached its top in the country but awareness among the literate was still lacking.

The government should chalk out a comprehensive plan to identify the “heritage villages” and initiate insurance scheme for these villages. The government of India could be involved to wear the financial help. Some volunteers could be given firefighting training with minimal equipment so that the fire could be controlled at the beginning. The government should also encourage NGOs to join hands with the administration for awareness campaign and save the age-old architecture and the beliefs, besides the cultural heritage of Kullu valley.



Lifeline to industry faces cuts
Ambika Sharma

Solan, December 30
With industrialisation being at a nascent stage in the state occupying a share of mere 0.5 per cent nationally, repeated attempts of the central government to curtail its industrial package have adversely affected its growth.

Though the state along with the neighbouring Uttarakhand, Jammu and Kashmir, and Sikkim was initially granted a central industrial package for 10 years in 2003, its period was later reduced to 2010 for Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand.

The five-year package period brought industrial investment worth Rs 4,300 crore and this industrially backward state was being gradually recognised as a developing state. But the growth has been marred by undue pressures from the industrially forward states, which failed to appreciate any development in Himachal Pradesh.

Though the BJP government has taken up the issue of this undue curtailment with the centre, there was little gain in getting it restored. The “discriminatory” attitude of the centre towards Himachal Pradesh was clear from its clarification issued by the Ministry of Finance in response to the state’s initiative to restore the package for its original period.

The ministry has quoted the observation of the Economics Advisory Council that advocates the need for ensuring uniform development of all regions. It also takes note of the tax administration becoming needlessly clumsy and complex with such special tax concessions and adds that since the overall responsibility of uniform development rests with the government of India, it could not have showed extraordinary favours to Himachal Pradesh. The ministry also stated that unavoidable objections raised by the neighbouring states also forced the centre to withdraw these concessions.

Taking stern note of these objections, the state government has stated that it should have made reason prevail over the states objecting this package, as its withdrawal has dealt a severe blow not only to the industrial progress belatedly ushered in by the concessions but also to the federal protective shield which ought to be available for the economically backward states. Besides, such withdrawals did not augur well for the centre-state relationships.

The state has further pleaded its case on the plea that the Parliamentary Standing Committee on finance has also referred to exemption in exceptional cases and withdrawal in case of Himachal Pradesh was unfair.

“The state’s case for extending the package has received a boost from the abysmally low industrial output rate of -0.4 per cent nationally and under such circumstances there was an added need to promote industrialisation and not decelerate its growth by curtailing such concession packages,” opined a realtor, A.J. Sharma.

With just a year remaining for the package to expire and the industrial growth being at an all-time low, investors felt the state had little to achieve in the remaining period.

This was also manifest from the number of units applying to the department of labour and employment to either lay off its workers or close its operations altogether. Though nearly 11,400 units had provisionally got themselves registered, about 4,300 had managed to initiate their operations after the package further lending credence to the slow pace of growth in the state.

A section of investors said all plans to set up ancillary units had been suspended for the moment in the BBN area and with supply orders shrinking all they did was invest time in finding ways and means to keep the units running.

Director, industries, Manoj Sharma while agreeing that this was opportune time for seeking extension of the package, said the state government had already put forth its case before the centre.

Moreover, with more and more units closing down, the state would have to deal with an additional problem of unemployment and with little opportunities available in the public sector, the government had to make all efforts to seek extension.



2008: A year of political developments
Rakesh Lohumi
Tribune News Service

Shimla, December 30
The hill state is witness to some important political developments during the year 2008, which will have a bearing on the electoral scene in future.

The eclipse of Vijay Singh Mankotia who announced ‘sanyas’ from politics and virtual decimation of the BSP, the party he was heading, shattered the dream of Mayawati to have a foothold in the state. The hopes of a third political force emerging in the state, where the Congress and the BJP have been traditionally occupying the centre stage, were dashed once again. The party had performed creditably in the Assembly polls cornering over 7 per cent votes and winning one seat. However, the party neither had a solid political base nor the organisational set up to play a long innings. It was more of a conglomeration of disparate leaders who were either sidelined and denied tickets or feeling suffocated in their parent party.

They saw an opportunity in the BSP and chose to ride the elephant on the eve of the Assembly polls. With the euphoria of election over these leaders started looking for a more secure political future and started disembarking the elephant one after the other. While most of the prominent leaders of the party like Karan Singh and Dharamvir Dhami joined the Congress, its lone legislator Sanjay Chaudhary joined the BJP towards the end of the year. Not surprisingly, the Congress, which suffered the most due to emergence of the BSP, has gained the most from its fall. A former minister Vijay Joshi has been made the state convenor of the party in the place of Mankotia. He has a daunting task to revive the party at hand and it will almost like starting from a scratch.

The ruling BJP received a serious set back when Narinder Thakur, son of the party stalwart late Jagdev Chand, joined the Congress. He was considered to be a natural successor to carry forward the political legacy of Jagdev Chand, one of the architects of the Jan Sangh and the BJP in the state. Narinder had even contested the byelections from the Hamirpur Assembly seat after his fathers death in 1993. The sudden rise of Dhumal’s cricketer son Anurag Thakur, who was given ticket for Hamirpur parliamentary byelection, has forced Narinder to quit the party and join the Congress. With senior Dhumal in command in the state and son taking over the mantle of MP from him, the fate of Narinder Thakur had been virtually sealed. The Congress is now banking on its prized catch in Narinder to give a fight to the BJP in the Hamirpur parliamentary constituency, which has been traditionally its stronghold.

The defeat of the Congress in the Assembly poll saw a change in the party leadership with the high command opting for the second-generation leader Kaul Singh as party chief. Arch-rival of former Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh and veteran party leader Vidya Stokes became the leader of the Opposition. However, Virbhadra Singh remained politically active through the year to give sufficient indication that he was down, but certainly not out.

The year also saw some veteran Congress leaders like Sat Mahajan, Sukh Ram and Rajkrishan Gaur pale into political insignificance. A host of senior leaders in the ruling BJP like Roop Singh Thakur, Mohinder Singh, Dile Ram, Rikhi Ram Kaundal and Rajan Sushant were denied ministerial berths. There is still some, as two vacancies exist in the ministry, notwithstanding some more serious aspirants like the state BJP chief Jai Ram Thakur.

The impact of political churning that has been going on through the year will be visible to an extent during the ensuing Lok Sabha poll as the state has only four seats. However, the developments have provided some indication, which way things are moving.



Climate change in Hindu Kush Himalayas
Scientists call for devising joint strategy
Kuldeep Chauhan
Tribune News Service

Mandi, December 30
Scientists from different countries in the Hindu Kush Himalayas (HKH), the world’s “third largest water tower”, have urged the political leaders of the HKH countries, including India, China, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal and Myanmar, to evolve a consensus on devising joint strategy to tackle the “climatic change”, which is impacting the economy and life of the people living in this region in a big way.

Scientists said average temperature in the HKH valleys was increasing over the decades. Even the glaciers were receding over the decades. But there was no exact scientific data available with the scientists on these phenomena in the HKH region.

For instance, Kullu valley has registered a rise of about 1 degree centigrade in its average temperature for the past 50 years. Himachal is facing threat to its downstream population and hydropower projects in the Satluj basin from the Parechu lake in the Indo-China border.

At stake is not only the fate of country’s food bowls like the Indo-Gangetic plains and Punjab, which depend for its survival on the snow-fed rivers emerging from the HKH, but also the fate of over 1.5 lakh MW hydropower potential that is being tapped in a big way in all HKH countries, including Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Uttrakhand and Arunachal Pradesh, the scientists said.

What has raised concern of scientists is the fact that there is no exact scientific data available on the climate change taking place in the melting HKH water tower with scientists to propose an integrated approach to deal with the climate change.

“We are groping in the dark about the 

changes that can hit economy and people in the HKH region”, the scientists said.

The scientists from top institutes from the HKH countries, including International Centre for Integrated Mountains Development (ICIMOD), Kathmandu, the GB Pant Institute of Himalayan Environment and Development (GBPIHED), the Indian Institute of Remote Sensing, Dehradun, expressed their concern over the cataclysmic climate change at a recent 11-days long workshop held at ICIMOD, Kathmandu.

The scientists agreed that the depletion of glaciers, biodiversity and gene pool were among the factors that need attention of the HKH countries. They must reach out on political consensus on the issue and share the data. Scientists have urged the governments to evolve a political will to invest in research and evolve plans to deal with the climate change.

The HKH also supports world’s majority of the population and is the third largest “water tower” after the Antarctica and Polar region, they stressed. Giving details of proceedings of the historic workshop in an exclusive talk with The Tribune, a senior scientist at the GBPIHED Dr JC Kuniyal, who attended the workshop, said, “The software for the common inventory for research to map the climate change in the HKH has been developed. Now, major challenge remains how to get support of political leadership to invest on these things and agree on commonly shared principles”.

“The scientists have proposed to get the support from each country to develop research infrastructure. But we are trying to press upon the governments to share data on climate change and then propose a strategy to deal with it”, Dr Kuniyal said.

He said after the governments in the HKH countries agree on the common issue, the scientists would gather data for over decade and then come out with a common strategy to deal with climate change and receding glaciers, depleting biodiversity and gene pool in the entire HKH region. As of now scientists have no exact data available on this, he added. 



Akashvani Bhawan stands on ashes of Himachal Dham
by Shriniwas Joshi

The present Akashvani Bhawan built in 1975 stands on the ashes of Himachal Dham that housed the Himachal Pradesh Secretariat on the formation of the state. Himachal Dham, burnt in 1956, was known as Foreign Office during the British times and its architect was Henry Irwin. He was in Shimla from 1881 to 1888 and had designed many buildings that still exist. His major input had been in the making of The Gaiety, Railway Board building, DDU Hospital, Catholic Church, Foreign Office and the Indian Institute of Advanced Studies. The Foreign Office building had also distinction of being the seat of the exiled government of Burma (Myanmar) during the World War II.

Since June 16, 1955, Shimla Akashvani started functioning in the Council Chamber, which, at present, is the Vidhan Sabha Bhawan. The word ‘Akashvani’ was coined by professor MV Gopalaswamy for his radio station in Mysore during 1936. Later, it was accepted at the national level and replaced All India Radio (AIR). Shimla radio station was a small one of only 2.5 kW and its transmitter was at Chadwick, Summer Hill, where Mahatma Gandhi had stayed in 1946. The transmitter shifted to Windcliff and then to Baldyan.

Himachal Pradesh had only five districts at that time, but the dialects were many because the dialect here changes like the winter’s wind. SSS Thakur, a known drama producer emeritus of AIR, was given the charge of carving out a programme that would cater to the cultural hunger of the people of the state. He scouted for it and discovered the talents of the state who made use of their dialect in such a way that the programme became understandable to any listener. He himself portrayed an honest, well-meaning rustic with a naïve sense of humour. Vijay Kumar, a former film hero, represented the literate hill man; Ram Kumar Kale from Solan played an exponent of hill art and culture; holding the qualities of love, sacrifice and compassion, the prized virtues of hill women, Kalavati, lent her voice to a female character; Bhoop Singh of Sirmaur represented the princely class, which was on the verge of being extinct; Vijay Saraswati from Kotgarh was the emancipated modern youth; Khem Raj Gupt from Chamba spoke for the more advanced people of Chamba-Mandi region; Sonam Palzar Lama depicted the Buddhist culture and exposed Kinnauri dialect and Diwakar Dutt, a Sanskrit scholar, was an enlightened idealist. These were the first voices that Himachalis had heard from their own station and they unhesitatingly gave the celebrity status to the performers. Surat Ram and Bala Ram were the musicians playing almost all musical instruments common in the hill areas. There used to be a dress code for the artistes then.

The group used to assemble every evening in black ‘loia’, a long coat made of homespun wool, a brown woollen waistband and a churidar. Kalawati used to wear white salwar-kameez with black coat. The outline of the topic for discussion for every evening was decided in advance, still the informality of the group used to lend spontaneity that charmed the listeners.

The days moved ahead. The AIR, Shimla, on January 25, 1971, was upgraded to 100 kW medium wave station. May 18, 1975, saw the functioning of new studios in the new building with much improved technical facilities. Earth station, uplinking, digital recording, 50 kW transmitter, peripheral stations have all added to the quality and outreach of the programme. It celebrated its 50th anniversary on June 16, 2005, the date that was ‘the date with you’ for FM channel from this station.

If one assesses the greatest contribution of Akashvani, Shimla, towards the culture of the state then one can say without glitch that it has rejuvenated folk songs of the state that needed support after princes lost their sceptre and crown. Its involvement in promoting agriculture and horticulture in the state on its own or through its radio schools is also commendable. Its laurels are many but the two national awards in the field of drama- Lasa Kaul Award for ‘Roshani ki Ore’ in 1999 and Technical Excellence Award in 2006 for ‘Dagyali ki Raat’ written by the author of this piece blow distinct triumph notes. No wonder Mahatma Gandhi’s words, “I see power in radio” are inscribed on the main entrance of the present building.


Subhash Chandra Bose used to call pre-independence AIR as Anti India Radio.



shimla diary
VVIPs’ visits cause inconvenience to tourists
Pratibha Chauhan
Tribune News Service

Shimla, December 30
The visit of VVIPs can be quite a spoiler for the common man. With the completion of one year of the Dhumal regime on December 30, coinciding with the New Year celebrations, the rally on the Ridge was quite a damper for the thousands of tourists who are here for a holiday.

With Advani being placed in the Z plus category, the entire Ridge area had been fortified by the police and barricades erected four days prior to the holding of the rally. As such all celebrations and festivities on the Ridge were hampered, spoiling the fun of the visitors.

Even though the police had made tight security arrangements in view of the Mumbai blasts for the New Year festivities, with Advani’s visit, the vigil and checking became even stricter, causing much inconvenience to the tourists.

However, the movement of Advani was kept to the bare minimum and he stayed in the Peterhoff most of the time. The route he took to reach to the venue of the rally was also the shortest.

Politics on terrorism

When it comes to lashing out at fundamentalists, the visit of the international secretary of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), Pravin Togadia, is way ahead of others.

During his visit to the hill state, he lashed out at all political parties and did not even spare the BJP, of failing to combat terrorism effectively. “I do not wish to get involved in the BJP and Congress politics but the entire Indian polity has failed to address the issue of terrorism effectively,” he said.

He even went to the extent of saying that all of us should resort to economic boycott of all those who were even remotely associated with “jehaad”. He said this would starve the “jehaadi movement” of the funds that they were getting from all over the country. He added that this would also affect local contacts of the militants and their sympathisers.

No snow on Christmas

Even as a white Christmas eluded the Queen of Hills once again, the tourism industry is desperately hoping that at least the weather God is kind on New Year’s Eve.

The tourists who come here hoping to enjoy snow are pleasantly surprised when they are greeted by warm balmy days in sharp contrast to the foggy and cold days in the plains.

It was an unusually warm and bright day on Christmas, dashing all hopes of celebrating a white Christmas. It was way back in 1991 that a white mantle covering the town greeted the locals as well as the tourists. Ever since there has never been snow on Christmas.



HIMUDA colony residents rue poor civic anemities
Pratibha Chauhan
Tribune News Service

Shimla, December 30
Recently developed colony of New Shimla set up by the Himachal Pradesh Urban Development Authority (HIMUDA) has failed to emerge as a well planned area with basic civic amenities of modern living.

The residents who chose to settle here face great inconvenience as the area is plagued with problems like congested roads, inadequate sewerage, poor street lighting and drainage system. Despite coming up as a planned colony, the area has narrow roads with no parking provision resulting in traffic jams and inconvenience to commuters.

What is worse is the fact that rather than creating these facilities, most of the green areas, parking spaces and open areas have been covered to create plots.

The residents rue that despite promising all these facilities at the time when the houses were advertised, HIMUDA never bothered to create them nor has the municipal corporation bothered to improve the condition.

On the contrary, the house owners of Sector III and Sector IV in New Shimla have been asked to shell out huge amounts ranging between Rs 1 lakh to Rs 1.75 lakh so that the enhanced compensation awarded to the original land owners by the High Court could be given. The house and flat owners have been asked to pay at the rate of Rs 613 per sq metres as the amount to be given as enhanced compensation to the original land owners.

With most of the house owners refusing to pay this amount, HIMUDA has now issued eviction notices to many persons. The enraged residents have made up their mind to challenge the matter in the court.

“Way back in 1996 we have already paid the enhanced amount of Rs 1,940 per sq metres, which included the cost escalation factor so asking us to pay an extra amount on this account is absolutely wrong,” asserts Dr Kuldep Maria, president of the Resident Welfare Association of Sector IV.

The residents say that practically none of the facilities which are promised to them through the advertisement have been provided. “To our utter surprise, HIMUDA has itself admitted through a query under the Right to Information Act (RTI) that no master plan of the modern colony is approved and it has simply provided us with a guide map,” says chief engineer, A.K. Mahajan (retd). He says majority of the facilities which are indicated on the guide map like a primary health centre, shopping complex and parks are totally missing.

On the basis of the information collected by the residents under the RTI Act, they say that a sum of Rs 14.32 crore has been transferred to the government as profit. “When the government has made enough profit why should the burden of cost escalation be borne by the house owners who have already paid up,” says Dr Maria.

Vice-chairman of HIMUDA Ganesh Dutt when contacted said representation had been received from the house owners.

“Since the enhanced compensation has been awarded by the court, the directive will have to be followed but we can look into the issue of excess charges being demanded from the house owners,” Ganesh said.

The area does not have public toilets, proper garbage disposal system or well maintained parks. Locating a house in the area is an arduous task with no signage’s indicating the sector, lanes and house numbers.

The entire colony lacks greenery with the entire hillside being turned into a concrete jungle with haphazard constructions.



APPD Assembly in Vietnam
State Cong leader leads Indian delegation
Rajiv Mahajan

Nurpur, December 30
Congress leader and former MP Sat Mahajan has recently led Indian delegation of five MPs in the ninth general assembly of the Asian Forum of Parliamentarians of Population and Development (APPD) in Vietnam.

The assembly discussed issues relating to climate change and food security. The two-day brainstorming session of Asian parliamentarians organised by the host country in Hanoi and delegates from 25 countries of Asian continent participated.

After returning, Mahajan, who is also a former minister of cabinet rank in the state, said major concern expressed by Asian parliamentarians was fast population growth and its adverse impact on climate in Asian subcontinent. The concern was also expressed on poor snowfall and melting of glaciers resulting in fall in hydel power generation and increasing global warming.

Mahajan said delegates of different Asian countries also extended their suggestions to conserve water, control population growth and check global warming. The session was presided over by former Prime Minister of Japan.

Mahajan revealed that Indian delegation included Congress MPs F. Sardina from Goa, Mable Reobello from Chhatisgarh and Viplove Thakur from Himachal Pradesh; BJP MPs Laxman Singh from Madhya Pradesh, and Avinash Khanna from Punjab; and Man Mohan Sharma, executive secretary of the APPD.

Sharing his experience of hospitality extended by the host country, he said the country showed immense love and affection towards Indians and expressed its desire with Indian delegation to send more delegations to Vietnam to strengthen ties between both countries. 





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