THE Himachal Government has initiated strong measures to alleviate the poverty of the poorest. Health and education are two prime movers as long term strategy. On one hand it is fighting diseases and on the other it is popularising science and education. The government is making its best effort to harness the bounty of flora and fauna with which Himachal is richly blessed. Teju Sharma, an officer in Chief Minister’s secretariat, lucidly explain the aims of the government as six ‘S’- Sadak, Shiksha, Swasthya, Swarojgar, Swablamban Swabhiman (Roads, Education, Health, Self-employment and Self-reliance). He sounded highly enthusiastic in explaining the top priorities of Dhumal Government-Child Welfare, Women Empowerment, Backward classes advancement and development of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. The highest priority has been assigned to improve the socio-economic conditions of the farmers.
The Himachal Government gives not only housing subsidy for construction of houses for the SCs/STs and OBCs, it is also helping them even to repair their old houses. Purchasing and maintaining cows, lambs and goats bring good remuneration to women. Loans amount worth Rs three lakh is available to purchase of cows by individuals or self-help groups. Out of this 50 per cent loan is interest free and even rest 50 per cent is subsidised against timely repayment of loans. Fish culture helps farmer to augment their income.
We went up to the last village on the borders of Tibet viz Kaurik. There river Sutlej barely enters from Tibet at that point. On banks of that ice cold river many hamlets are bristling with activities of livestock cultivation. Many co-operative societies run by women have been established with the assistance of the government. They are engrossed in manufacturing woollen goods. They produce tweed woollen jackets, coats, caps, shawls, stoles, mufflers, blankets, scarves with angora and pashmina wools.
We met Smt. Sunila Sharma, an executive member of the Shikhar Handloom and Handicrafts Weavers Cooperative Society in the village of Rampur (dist Kullu). More than one hundred women are working under her. She showed us how the wool is sheared from lambs, sheep and rabbits. She took us to various centres where wool is processed through carding, spinning, dying, weaving, finishing, quality assurance, merchandising and finally marketing. The best thing I noticed was the confidence among the workers. They have come to enjoy monetary freedom through dignity of labour.
Himachal’s tea production has not received wide renown. But its history of tea cultivation is perhaps longer than that of Assam or Darjeeling. Tea cultivation in Kangra district dates back to 1849. The first commercial tea plantation began in Hailey Nagar tea estate at Holta (near Palampur) in the year 1852. Roughly 4180 hectares area stretching from Jogindernagar (dist Mandi) to Shahpur (dist Kangra) came under cultivation by the end of 1880. Quality of Kangra tea won gold and silver medals in Amsterdam and London markets from 1886 and 1905. But 1905, severe earthquake struck the region, ruining tea plantations. Panic stricken British planters sold their plantations to local people and left the country. Local people could not maintain plantations profitably due to lack of technical knowledge.
But lately there is initiative on part of Himachal Government Central government and Tea Board to revive the sick industry. To improve the quality of Kangra tea, four cooperative tea factories at Palampur, Baijnath, Bir and Sidhwari have been set up by the Himachal Government. As a result of these efforts Kangra tea is ready to be repositioned at international level.
At present, the state is earning between Rs. three to five crores out of tea industry. There is scope for new plantations in non-traditional areas. During the course of my travel, I visited Surinder Dharma of village Mohan ka Bag (Tehsil Kumarsain, dist Shimla). Aged around 40, he is an educated farmer and a knowledgeable person. He owns an apple orchard spanning 85 bighas. There are more than 2300 plants in his orchards. The main variety of apple cultivated is Royal Delicious. He incurs an amount of Rs seven and eight lakh per year is incurred over the maintenance of the orchard. Besides this, Rs five lakh is required for protection from heavy winds, labour, cleaning, polishing, packing, transporting to markets. Total expenditure per year is around Rs 15 lakh. The total return from his orchard ranges from Rs 20 to 25 lakhs.
Apple is the most recognisable fruit crop of Himachal Pradesh. Apple plantation constitutes about 48 per cent of total area under fruit crops. In recent years, mango has emerged as an important fruit crop. Litchi is gaining ground in certain parts of the state. Mango and Litchi are fetching better market prices. In the mid hill zone, the agro climatic conditions are optimal for successful cultivation of fruits like kiwi, olive, pecan nuts and Strawberry. Elaborate arrangements are made for making available the packing material to fruit growers for quality packaging.
The Himachal Government, in November 2008 started ‘Atal Bijli Bachat Yojana’ (Atal Electricity Conservation Scheme) under which a pack of four CFL bulbs, two each of 20 watts and 15 watts were distributed free to each household across 16.5 lakh households. During 2009, it was able to save 270 million units worth Rs one billion. Households experienced drastic reduction in electricity bills. The state has also imposed a voluntary green tax on all vehicle users.
I concluded my HP visit on a happy note. I found the BJP government making sincere efforts to secure life, liberty, empowerment, health and happiness for the inhabitants of the state. It is easily visible in the enlargement of employment and enhancement in the standard of living. There are many leaves one can take out of governance in Himachal Pradesh. Although temperature wise a cool state, the warmth of hospitability oozes out of it. I ended my HP tour merrily, with blessings of Devi Shyamla, after whom Shimla is named like I had entered the state by blessings of goddess Kalika.