THERE was a traffic jam in the heart of the Kalka town. It was Navaratri time, and there was a surge of devotees in the ancient temple of Goddess Kali, in the foothills of the Himalayas. The town, in Panchkula district of Haryana, is the gateway to Shimla and Himachal Pradesh. Most people take the toy train to Shimla that passes through more than 100 tunnels amidst a vista of stunning natural beauty. Choosing to travel onwards by road, I had to sacrifice much of it. The Himachal Pradesh government had courteously provided me with an official car accompanied by a protocol officer. Barely, had we proceeded forward, another traffic jam awaited us. About one thousand lorries were waiting in queue for unloading of apples brought from orchards of Himachal. These would then reach the marts of Jalandhar, Chandigarh, Delhi, etc. Himachal is known as the fruit basket of India; and apple constitutes 40 per cent of fruit produced in the State.
It took us around three hours to reach Shimla. My watch showed 3 pm. I was well received by some BJP functionaries and activists of affiliated organisations. A guest house was arranged for me. After freshening up, I was driven to the Secretariat.
The Chief Minister, Prof Prem Kumar Dhumal, who was waiting for me, received me with warmth. Referring to the BJP National Executive Meet at Patna in June last, wherein I had desired to visit his State, he apprised me that all arrangements for my visit and tour were put in place.
The BJP government in Himachal Pradesh is running its third year. It has taken many significant decisions and initiated many people oriented schemes.
Recently the Himachal Pradesh Government has received the State Agricultural Leadership Award, 2010 for promoting innovative practices in agriculture. The State spends 12 per cent of its budget allocation on agriculture, percentage wise highest in India. But Himachal’s achievements span from agricultural field, to the field of Information Technology. In April, Himachal government projects won Web Ratna Gold Icon Awards in three categories. These annual awards are given by National Informatics Centres, Government of India. HP government has the most comprehensive presence on the web. It is ahead of all other states in matter of providing citizen centric service through the Internet. The most prominent option one comes across on visiting the HP government website is ‘Write to the Chief Minister’.
The Himachal Pradesh government has assigned high priority to health, education, investment, tourism and cottage industry. It has won the national award for its outstanding performance for best enrolment under Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojna. In 2008, it got the national award for protecting the environment. The CM told me that his government was concentrating on development of industries, roads and power generation schemes. On being asked whether the HP “government is doing anything for the weaker section of the society, Prof. Dhumal said, social security pension to the aged, widows and physically challenged people have been enhanced by 55 per cent. This has benefitted over 2.52 lakh vulnerable persons. “We are taking special care about the development of scheduled caste and tribes of the State,” he said. I also learnt that 50 per cent of the seats in Panchayats have been reserved for women.
Afterwards, the Chief Minister called his Principal Private Secretary Dr Arun Kumar Sharma and instructed him to help me in my exploration. Dr Sharma who is a scholar explained me about the geography, topography, natural resources and agricultural profile of the State. Himachal, he said, being a small State has relatively abundant water resources from five major Himalayan rivers i.e. the Chenab, Beas, Ravi, Satluj and Yamuna. They cover 90 per cent of the geographical area of the State. Rock formations, grassland, shrubs and forests cover nearly 55 per cent of the land surface. Land cultivated for agriculture covers only 13.1 per cent (5.41 lakh hectares) and its potential for expansion is limited due to topography and environmental concerns. The marginal and small farmers constitute 86.4 per cent of total land holding. Occurrence of hailstorms, heavy rains, storms and unusual rise in temperature frequently cause loss to crops. “Our government is providing maximum support to farmers despite these odds,” Dr Sharma said.
I wanted to know the specific thrust areas. “We are encouraging organic farming bypassing costly chemical inputs. Organic farming promotes healthy relationship amongst soil, environment, flora and fauna. It recognises the importance of indigenous knowledge and traditional farming practices. Organic farming enables sustained productivity by restoring the natural fertility of the soil impaired by use of chemical fertilisers,” said Dr Sharma.
He further apprised me that the HP government was giving special emphasis to production of high value crops like off season vegetables, vegetable seeds, potato, ginger and tea. Emphasis is being laid on increasing productivity of major grains like wheat, rice and maize. The object is to ensure remunerative returns to the growers. The marketing network is being promoted, besides post harvesting, handling, grading, packing and value addition.
A senior official who was quietly observing us said that Himachal Pradesh produce is a brand in Delhi. Whether it is apple, capsicum, peas or cabbage, being of Himachali origin is a guarantee of purity and freshness.
Himachal Pradesh wants to keep the idea of freshness alive. So the authorities have banned the use of plastic and polythene carry bags. Smoking in public places is prohibited. Cutting trees is banned. Tea estates can neither be sold, nor converted to any other use. Small is beautiful seems to be the message of Himachal Pradesh.
(To be concluded)