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Posted at: Feb 11, 2018, 1:43 AM; last updated: Feb 11, 2018, 1:43 AM (IST)

Chamba’s woes rediscovered, doubts linger over solution

Lalit Mohan in Dharamsala
The district, one among 115 across the country, is a laggard in terms of major development indices identified by the Centre. The question is when and how the govt machinery would move to change the fate of the area
Chamba’s woes rediscovered, doubts linger over solution
Inaccessible: More than half of the 3,257-km road length in Chamba district is single-lane. Only 251 km can be trekked by a four-wheeler. Photo: Kamaljeet

Lalit Mohan in Dharamsala

When the Central think-tank NITI Aayog tagged Himachal Pradesh’s Chamba as ‘backward’ along with 114 other districts spread across the country, policy analysts quickly dusted off a 1960 government report by Committee on Dispersal of Industries that had identified 100-odd districts for the same purpose. Over five decades later, Union government’s Vision 22 has come wrapped in ‘Aspirational District Yojana.’

The first review meeting for chalking out a plan for developing this backward district took place last month.  Health minister JP Nadda and BJP MP from Kangra and former CM Shanta Kumar were among the attendees. As per plan, Chamba will be assessed and developed on various parameters such as health, education, road connectivity, industry, tourism development, clean water availability and affordable clean energy.

As various government data show Chamba remains backward on various developmental indices as compared to other districts of the state. Consider the following: 

  • A statistical report of the state government says the district has the lowest literacy (72%) in the state. Its adjoining district Kangra has 85%. 
  • The district also lacks in terms of tourism facilities. Dalhousie is the only developed tourist town in the district. The district has only 172 registered hotels and guest houses compared to about 500 in the adjoining Kangra. 
  • Out of the total 3,257-km road length in the district, more than half is single-lane while 251 km can be trekked by a four-wheel drive. 
  • The industrial facility in the district is among the lowest in the state. Only tribal districts of Lahual and Spiti and Kinnaur lag behind Chamba in industrialization. Chamba has just 83 registered factories that provide employment to 2,304 people.
  • The area under fruit cultivation is 7.74% of the total available land whereas its adjoining Kangra has 17.58% under fruit cultivation. There was no canal, tank and tubewell irrigation facility available in Chamba district. The adjoining Kangra district has 35684 hectare irrigated area. Maize and wheat are primary crops and are grown in most of the area under cultivation.
  • The silver-lining is that over 99% of households in the district are electrified.
Assistant deputy commissioner Hem Raj Barrwa says under the Aspirational District Yojana, all government departments have been asked to chalk out their action plan for developing Chamba district under the Union government scheme. The overall action plan would be sent to the Centre after reports from all departments are received. For the time being, only government departments are being involved. Elected representative could be involved at a later stage, he said.

Prominent citizens of the district are not very enthusiastic. Pankaj Chowfla, an entrepreneur, says the district was largely insulated from the rest of the state because of poor connectivity. “While the rest of the state has adapted and changed to horticulture and offseason vegetables over decades, the farmers of Chamba are still sticking to maize and paddy. There is an urgent need to train farmers to change their traditional cropping patterns,” said Chowfla.

Cottage wool and making bronze sculptures are traditional industry of Chamba. The government should make efforts to revive these industries so that more jobs are available.  PC Oberoi, president, District Senior Citizen Welfare Society, says the backwardness tag is not a matter of happiness but a matter of concern for the people.

There are others who would like a rail link with Pathankot and heli-taxi service linking the district with major airports such as in Dharamsala. “If we can improve connectivity, we can make Chamba developed,” says Dharam Singh Jaryal, former vice-chairman Chamba Block Development Committee. 

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