“How long can we bask in its old glory? We need to grow and catch up with times,” said JP Jarial, 67, a retired officer in this distant town of Himachal Pradesh.
The millennium gate erected on one side of Chaugan (here) in 2006 when Chamba completed 1000 years of its existence is a majestic reminder of illustrious past of the area. But the picture on ground is a contrast.
Rich in art, culture and natural beauty, Chamba district, which was once ahead of times having its own hydro electric power project a century ago, has visibly lagged behind in development in independent India owing to ‘political neglect’.
It is referred as one of most backward districts in the country, with poverty; unemployment and illiteracy still its bane.
Chamba district is located at one corner of Himachal Pradesh, on Jammu and Kashmir border, at a distance from the state headquarter Shimla. It has five Assembly segments, including one tribal constituency of Bharmour.
Most of the people here earn livelihood with subsistent agriculture. The area has not produced many officers compared to other areas of Himachal.
The literacy rate here is 72.17 per cent against state’s 83 per cent. The female literacy rate is 62.57 per cent against state’s 76.60 per cent.
The successive governments did add up infrastructure like schools, health institutions and roads in Chamba town and other sub-urban areas of the district, but the interiors of district have not been given attention.
The students in villages in Chamba have to trek long distances to reach their schools and it often leads to drop outs, especially girls.
The facility for higher education is limited to Chamba town (it got a medical college recently).
The vacancies in schools and health institutions in the district are always high, with not many officers keen to serve in remote areas in the event of ‘weak’ government policy on postings. Not much effort is seen to promote tourism in Chamba (despite rich heritage and nature’s bounty) to generate employment.
“The implementation of schemes is bad here and the district almost functions in isolation, with none interested to keep a watch from Shimla. Corruption too is high for lack of vigil, especially in far off tribal belt. The health institutions in Chamba are in bad shape. The poor people suffer in routine, “said Om Prakash Sharma, a local activist.
“It may not come as a surprise, if you see a government office in interiors of Chamba locked on a working day — There is none to question,” he hastened to add.
Locals believe that lack of interest and ailing vision of political leadership from the area is main reason for Chamba’s neglect.
“So many senior leaders are from Chamba and they got prominent positions in successive governments. But they never united for the cause of their district and remained busy with their own priorities,” they said.