Arboretum for flora conservation
Rakesh Lohumi
Tribune News Service

Shimla, January 13
Famous as an eco-tourism destination, the verdant Potter’s Hill Van Vihar near here will be soon transformed into a living repository of the Western Himalayan flora.

The forest department is in the process of establishing an arboretum at the site, which will not only help conserve the rare and threatened plant species of the region but also from Himachal Pradesh. Though located just 7 km from the state capital, the site has survived the onslaught of urbanisation and still retains its unusually rich reserves of temperate flora. Spread over an area of 100 hectares, the Van Vihar harbours more than 360 species of flowering plants.

The Temperate Arboretum and Botanical Garden (TABG) will be the first ex-situ plant conservation facility in the region and one of the few conservatory type gardens in the North Western Himalayas. It will provide a home port, research and propagation facility for amateur as well as professional gardening community in the region. Even otherwise there are very few botanical gardens and ex-situ plant conservation facilities in the western and north-western Himalayas.

“The basic purpose of the arboretum is to conserve the gene pool and it will have a vital role in the rehabilitation of species affected by developmental projects,” says Mohinder Pal, director, Himalayan Forest Research Institute, which is providing consultancy for the project. Whenever rare species of plants and animals are identified in the area affected by a project, Environment Management Plans (EMP’s) necessarily call for the provision of ex-situ conservation for recovery and rehabilitation of such species and their reintroduction into natural habitats. A large number of hydroelectric projects are coming up in the state for which forestland is being diverted affecting a host of plant and animal species. Hence there is need for an ex-situ plant conservation facility, he explains.

In fact, the EMP for the Parbati Stage-II hydroelectric project, for which forestland was diverted, stipulated both in-situ and ex-situ projects for the state in consultation with the Wildlife Institute of India. Ex-situ component of the project includes improved zoo management, captive breeding of selected threatened species of fauna as well as exploring prospects for setting up a TABG for display, education and propagation of wild plants and their subsequent reintroduction in the wild.

Plants from the entire Western Himalayan region will be raised in the arboretum which will have a number of theme gardens, botanical trails, nurseries and glass houses and a sale and exhibit centre. As the area is rich in terrestrial orchids and rhododendrons, the arboretum will have an orchidarium and dedicated rhododendron section. Similarly, theme gardens have been planned for ill-medicinal plants, non-timber forest species, grasses, wild flowers, cryptogamic garden (non-flowering plants) and exotic species. Plants in the arboretum will be grouped into separate habitats. The information like natural habitat, local use, ecological importance, threat status, morphology, and other attributes of the species planted will be maintained in a register as well as in electronic form documented in full at the time of planting. The arboretum will house almost all representative tree species of temperate region (over 160 species belonging to 50 families) in a phased manner. The seedlings will be collected from various nurseries, spread over the state. Rare and uncommon species will be raised in the nurseries at the site or through some research organisations. It is proposed that in the third year of implementation, a seed certification and sale centre for rare, endangered and threatened plant species of the Western Himalaya will be developed. Adequate linkages and networking with other such centres will be carried out in the preceding years to facilitate the establishment of such a centre.



Consumer movement yet to gain ground in state
Kuldeep Chauhan
Tribune News Service

Mandi, January 13
The consumer movement is yet to gain ground in this hill state as awareness about the consumer redressal forums and consumer rights remains low even in major towns like Shimla, Mandi, Solan, Kullu, Dharamsala and Hamirpur, leave alone other townships in the state.

There is no active NGO spreading awareness about the consumer rights and redressal forums in the state. Those who work in the field, including government agencies, do not go beyond the ritual of organising a function or two during World Consumer Rights Day on March 15.

Even the educated people who lodge complaints in the forums find the legal procedure complex. The consumers who file complaints hire lawyers in most cases while a few plead their own cases.

There are only four district consumer forums-Mandi, Shimla, Dharamsala, Una catering to 12 districts in the state. The consumers from district towns which have no forums have to travel long distances to the forums to file complaints. In many cases, the expenditure incurred on travelling and hiring lawyers is much more than the complainant is supposed to get as compensation from the forums, rue consumers.

Even the consumers who approach the forums have to wait, on an average, for two to three years or even more to seek the redressal of their complaints as the pendency rate remains as high as 6 per cent.

Eversince the starting of the state consumer commission in the state, as many as 14, 932 cases have been filed with it out of which 920 cases are pending while the rest were disposed of till January 31, 2008. The pendency rates in other district consumer forums varies from 5 per cent to 7 per cent.

According to a study on consumer awareness in Shimla city done by Dr Mamta Mokta, a Reader in the Department of Public Administration, HP University,in the city, a majority of respondents (70.90 per cent) knew about malpractices, but only over 45 per cent moved the complaints in the forums in 2007-08.

The study gives different reasons for the consumers not registering their complaints with the consumer forums. They lack initiative and find the problems not so serious, Dr Mokta observes.

The majority of consumers do not understand the significance of cash receipts, a pre-requisite for the filing of a complaint against the product and the services they buy or get from sellers and private and government agencies, Dr Mokta notices.

More than 58 per cent of the consumers, most of them educated and young, do not know about the Food and Adulteration Act, the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940,the Drug Inspector and the Black Marketing and Maintenance of Supplies of Essential Commodities Act, 1980.

The study finds that a majority of the educated respondents do not know about the consumer protection laws and consumer rights and World Consumer Rights Day.A large majority does not know about the existence of the state consumer commission and the district consumer forums.

The state government started the district consumer forums in four district headquaters in 1989 and notified the Consumer Protection, Rules in 1988. Dr Mokta says there is need for consumer education and awareness programmes to make the movement a success in the state. 



Flesh trade rackets expose police inaction
Ambika Sharma

Solan, January 13
The exposure of two flesh trade rackets in the district in a span of 10 days has exposed the lack of police action in arresting the trend.

The arrest of as many as 22 people in two separate cases from two private resorts, Zurich and Kapcon, under the Immoral Trafficking (Prevention ) Act has proved that this nefarious trade has been thriving since long.

While it was the crucial information provided by an alert media which helped expose this racket, it has raised questions about why the police didn’t have any such information and had failed to book anyone in such cases for quite sometime.

The lone case where such an operation was conducted was way back in 2005 when a group of men and women were caught red-handed from a private hotel at Kumarhatti. The area has earned the dubious distinction of being a safe haven for such illegal activities.

This was manifest from the findings of a survey conducted by the Operations Research Group (ORG) Centre for Social Research where they had undertaken mapping of the high- risk group population vulnerable to HIV/AIDS for the state’s AIDS Control Society some years ago.

The survey report, a copy of which was available with The Tribune, revealed that sex workers, which comprised 23 per cent of the target group vulnerable to HIV/AIDS , were thriving in the region. In Solan district alone, there were as many as 59 sites where the activity flourished and the district had the second highest population of sex workers in the state.

The survey clearly pointed out the fact that flesh trade proliferated in the urban areas with the activity being non-brothel based and not confined to any distinct geographical boundary. While the activity was being practiced from hotels and resorts at various sites, it has clearly established the fact that the hoteliers too were found to be having links with the agents who operated this trade through cell phones. Further, the report has also highlighted the fact that some of the clients came to such resorts or hotels with call girls from Chandigarh and Delhi. At times, even residential units like clients’ or agents’ houses are rented for the purpose. The survey has also pointed out

specific sites where the trade thrives, including the state and national highways.

The survey report has give rise to a crucial question as to why the police has failed to arrest the trend. Though the SP, Solan, SPS Verma agrees that such activities might have taken place earlier too at Kapcon Resort located near Kumarhati where 12 people were arrested on the night of December 30, whether any concrete steps would be taken to put an end to such activities remains to be seen.

It is lamentable that the Health Department had now shared this survey report with the law- enforcing agencies. It would have provided the latter with some authentic input to take some effective steps as the police often pleads non- availability of credible information to check the adverse trend.



Sturdiest landmark of Shimla
by Shriniwas Joshi

The Railway Board building on the Mall was raised as secretariat building for the public works department (PWD) in 1884, and even today houses several central government offices but the Railway Board.

It was built on the site of Herbert House and Lowville. These houses were purchased and demolished by the government and a beautiful brick and timber structure (architect: Henry Irwin) was erected in their place for the PWD.

One J Decrug owning Helene Lodge and Ellingham Villa just below this building had on September 8, 1884, complained to the municipal committee (MC) that the spoil from the excavation of the new building was shot down the ravines resulting in the carriage of a great deal of earth at the sides that had damaged his property.

A committee presided by R Tyndall, superintending engineer, H Irwin, the architect and superintendent of works, and Major J Robertson, a member of MC, was constituted that considered how to save the buildings on the lower hill slope from damage by the debris of buildings being constructed on the top.

The committee presented a 10-point report on October 15, 1884, to the MC. It also assessed a damage of Rs 300 to the property of Decrug. The purpose of mentioning it here is to show the efficiency of the then MC, which on a complaint of an individual, constituted a committee of experts and within a month, it gave its report and the complainant was compensated.

Today, there are no dumping sites prescribed by the MC in the town with the result that the traditional water sources on the lower slope get choked by debris, the property and open spaces of the individuals on the foot of the hill are in danger of being dented, but nobody bothers.

The attractive PWD secretariat building so erected was burnt to its foundations on February 12, 1896. It was decided to construct on the same site another building that would be fire-resistant, earthquake-proof, towering and spacious and so W Macdonald, executive engineer, wrote to the MC on 2.6.1896, “We have commenced the work in connection with the foundation of the PWD secretariat building.”

This building was designed by the engineers who worked on Crystal Palace, London. It is a unique colonial style cast iron structure, which was fabricated by Bombay-based Richardson and Cruddas firm. The building shares the unique frame block style with the only other of Raffles Hotel in Singapore. The heavy consignment of cast iron columns and beams for its construction reaching Shimla were to be stacked at a nearby place, so the executive engineer on 19.8.1896 requested the MC to let these stacked along the edges of the Tonga Road, the road that goes to the railway station today, and the Gorton Castle-Kennedy House road (GCKH). Permission for stacking these on GCKH only was given within a week provided 12-ft road is left free for traffic and a railing is erected on the Annandale side. The huge building with three basements and four floors was ready in August 1897. The building of the present post office opposite the Railway Board was constructed in 1905.

A reference of 1914 shows that the name of this building was changed to commerce and industry secretariat building and a report of the engineer, roads and buildings, sent to the MC in November 1923 reads,” Mounds of snow fall on the Mall from over the eaves of the Railway Board building, so they may be directed to provide snow-guards for the safety of the general public.” That is the first available reference when the building was found baptised as the Railway Board building. It is continuing with that name since then. What’s in a name? It is the sturdiest landmark of Shimla that withstood the fire that engulfed the upper-most floor of the building in February 2001.


Horace B. Goad, secretary, MC, was the force behind the construction of the beautiful building that was erected prior to the present Railway Board building and that got completely burnt on February 12, 1896. It was a coincidence that he committed suicide in Ambala the same night. It was said, “The PWD secretariat building committed ‘sati’ out of sheer respect for Goad”.



shimla diary
Olympic body wants Annandale Ground back

The State Olympic Association has once again raised the demand for taking back the Annandale Ground back from the Army. The only ground in the state capital suitable for building an international standard stadium was earlier given on a lease to the Army . The lease expired in 1992 but the ground has not been given back to the state.

Efforts have been made by successive governments to take it back and the matter had been taken up with the Centre repeatedly, but to no avail. The Dhumal government during its earlier term made some progress when George Fernandes was the defence minister, but the issue could not be clinched. The State Cricket Association headed by Anurag Thakur, MP,is keen on having an international cricket stadium at Annandale.

However, taking back the sprawling glade which also has a golf course, mostly used only by army and state government officers, will not be easy as the army authorities have set up a war museum near the pavilion. The ground had a training school two decades ago. However, it is not being used much eversince the Western Command was shifted from here to Chandimandir. The Army Training Command which was shifted here subsequently has a small strength comprising mostly officers.

A possible alternative is that the Army sets up a cricket stadium or multi-sports facility which could be used for holding national and international events. At present, the Army has only one cricket stadium in Delhi.

Bad year

It has been a bad year for revellers and sports enthusiasts so far. Shimla has been denied the thrill of a good snowfall much to the disappointment of both the tourists and local residents. Normally, the lack of snow is made up by a good ice- skating season as clear skies help water freeze naturally at the Asia’s oldest rink. However, this year, the weather conditions have remained unfavourable throughout as clouds hovered but it didn’t snow. The wide variations in temperature, particularly the abrupt rise in the day temperature made things worse. As a result, there was no proper freezing of water at the rink and only 24 skating sessions could take place during the current season. In a good season, more than 60 sessions are held till January 15.

The National Ice- Skating championship scheduled to be held from January 9 to 11 had to be cancelled. Even the ski slopes at Narkanda remained barren during the peak season denying the much-needed opportunity to the lovers of the fascinating winter sport to hone their skills.

Secretary of the Shimla Ice- Skating Club Bhuvanesh Banga still hopes that the weather gods will oblige with a belated snowfall to help bring down the ambient temperature and provide some thrill to the enthusiasts by making some more skating session possible towards the fag-end of the season which normally ends on January 31.

LS candidates

The ruling Congress and the BJP have started an exercise for the selection of candidates for the Lok Sabha polls. The Congress has more or less decided to field the sitting MPs from the Kangra and Shimla constituencies. There is a strong possibility of party supremo Virbhadra Singh entering the fray from Mandi, the seat held by his wife, Pratibha, though veteran party leader Sukh Ram is also in the zone of consideration.

A victory for Virbhadra Singh from Mandi will mean that the Rohru assembly seat will be vacated. Since the byelection will beheld for the un-delimited constituency, Pratibha Singh will be a natural choice for the seat.

In the Hamirpur constituency, Narinder Thakur, who quit the BJP to join the Congress , is considered to be a strong contender for the party ticket, though a number of other leaders including , Mukesh Agnihotri, Sukhwinder Singh and O.P.Ratan,are being considered.

Rakesh Lohumi



State to usher in greenhouse revolution
Pratibha Chauhan
Tribune News Service

Shimla, January 13
With fluctuating fortunes of the farmers hit hard by vagaries of nature, more and more small and marginal cultivators in the hill state are abandoning agriculture, a trend which the government is trying hard to revert.

It is with the objective of sustaining agriculture that the government has launched the Rs 352.92 crores Pt Deen Dayal Kisan Bagwan Samridhi Yojna, which is expected to guarantee maximum returns with minimum investment. The main objective is to increase productivity, farm income and rural employment through special assistance programmes for cash crops.

Setting up a poly house for undertaking cultivation of cash crops might seem a good proposition but keeping in view the huge investment not too many in the state had so far adopted this technology for farming under controlled conditions. However, under the scheme, 80 per cent assistance will be provided to the small and marginal farmers.

The advantage of having poly house cultivation is that the crop season can be enhanced as well as advanced keeping in view the market position. As such crops of farmers can be insulated not just from rain, hailstorm, frost and drought but also from market fluctuations as the crop season can be controlled.

Interestingly, to ensure that even a marginal farmer goes in for at least one low-cost small greenhouse, the state agriculture department has decided to use locally available products like bamboo for installing greenhouses. “We want that every farmer has at least one greenhouse so that he is guaranteed a minimum annual income of about Rs 60,000,” said JS Rana, director, agriculture.

So far it is only a few farmers who can afford high investment, who have set up poly houses mainly for undertaking floriculture and growing exotic off-season vegetables under the Horticulture Technology Mission. “In the mid hills, there is even the problem of disposal of bamboos so it can be utilised in making low-cost poly houses,” says Rana.

A team of the high-level officials of the agriculture department had visited the rural areas of China to see how they have taken to poly house cultivation. “It was amazing to see how they even have grape and olive orchards completely under greenhouses,” says Rana. He added that production under greenhouses is almost five to 10 times higher and even the quality is better.

The authorities this time are focusing on providing quality seedlings to ensure better yield. A new concept of having nurseries under poly tunnels will be propagated.

Under the poly house scheme, 50 per cent assistance for developing a water source, whether it is a shallow or deep well, lifting water or a pumping set, will be provided to the farmers. 



Public funds being wasted on political whims
Lalit Mohan
Tribune News Service

Dharamsala, January 13
The funds distributed by politicians on whims have led to the wastage of public funds in many parts of the state. The Tribune team located two spots where the public funds have been wasted as they were spent on political whims rather than proper planning.

A hospital building was brought up in Ghat Jarot village near Nagrota Surian town of Kangra district. The uncompleted building of the hospital is still standing on the Nagrota Surian-Ryat road. The foundation stone of the building, which was laid by Shanta Kumar then Union Minister on August 16, 2002, is now engulfed by shrubs and is hardly visible from the road.

The residents of the area, when contacted by The Tribune, said Rs 10 lakh was spent in the building that was proposed to be developed as primary health centre. The amount was provided by Shanta. However, later the state government did not provide any funds and building has been lying incomplete. The primary health centre has not been brought up in the area.

Another such incomplete building is standing at Mubarakpur-Chintpurni state highway in Una district. The sources available at the spot told that the building was brought up for the facility of pilgrims coming to famous Hindu shrine at Chintpurni. The government had proposed to create temporary halting facility of pilgrims. About Rs 15 lakh was spent on the building by the government.

However, later a former revenue official of the government said the land belonged to him and the government had illegally raised a structure on it. He obtained stay orders on the construction. The incomplete building has been since reduced to shackle and the government money spent on it is going waste. No action has been initiated against the officials who did not verify the ownership of the land before spending public money on it.

Another hospital building was brought up in Khaniara village by the local panchayat. Before the mining of slates was banned by the High Court, the village was one of the richest panchayats of the country owing to the royalty of slates that was charged by the local body. The sources available here told that owing extra money it had, the panchayat constructed a hospital building in consultation with the then state government. The idea was that the panchayat after constructing the building would hand it over to the health department of the state. The government had promised to start a hospital in the building. However, later the government did not start it in the building.

Most of the state-of-the-art building built by the panchayat had been lying unutilised. The government had failed to even put it to some other use. The locals have demanded that the government could also run an institute in the building in which vocational training could be provided to Khaniara residents most of whom are now unemployed after the closure of mining.



Work for national development, Kalam tells students
Tribune News Service

Hamirpur, January 13
While the National Institute of Technology (NIT), Hamirpur, is ranked among the few top NITs of the country today, the student community and the faculty has been put to test by former President APJ Abdul Kalam by urging them to become a partner in national development.

Dr Kalam, who was the chief guest here at the third convocation of the NIT, envisioned the institute to put its skills into practice starting from the district itself.

He asked the students of different streams to systematically study the products and processes in 940 small-scale industries and 140 khadi and village industries and come out with an action plan within six months to enable them to increase their production and exports.

When Dr Kalam envisioned the institute as a partner in national development, he wanted specific work by the Hamirpur NIT for the district first.

Dr Kalam exhorted them to work out strategies for increasing the per capita income of 4 lakh employable people of the district by knowledge, empowerment and facilitating the creation of small and micro industries based on the raw material and core competence available here.

Another area he wanted to be taken up by the NIT was to find out the possibility of jatropha plantation in the area since the altitude of the area, ranging between 400 and 1,100 meters, was most suitable for it, which would enable the creation of a centre for producing biodiesel.

For making an energy independence plan for the district, he suggested generation of electricity through micro-hydroelectric plants, solar energy, wind power, plants run by biomass and all other sources of energy. He also suggested exploring possibilities for dense afforestation and making the district free from fossil fuel.





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