Himachal Pradesh has witnessed an increase of nearly 1,200 per cent in its road network during the 50 years of its existence as a state, the government on Monday said. The total length of metalled roads in the hill state has increased from 2,218 kilometres in 1971 to 28,588 kilometres now, it said on the occasion of golden jubilee of Himachal’s statehood.
“Remember those times, when we had narrow foot tracks and there was no such thing as a road. When someone seriously sick, village residents would carry him/her on a charpoy and walk for many kilometres to reach a health centre,” said BJP president Jagat Prakash Nadda while speaking during a function to mark the golden jubilee day at the Ridge Maidan in Shimla.
Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur said that road connectivity was the topmost priority of Himachal’s first CM Dr YS Parmar, also called the architect of Himachal. “During a meeting of the Planning Commission, when Dr Parmar was asked what should be the priority for Himachal’s development, he replied in three words – roads, roads and roads. People back then carried a heavy burden on their backs wherever they had to go because of lack of roads, and he believed that removing this burden would bring a quick development in every sector,” said Thakur.
He said that though connectivity has vastly improved in the state, it still remains one of the biggest challenges. Around 50 out of 3,615 panchayats are yet to be connected by roads, and the state needs a major airport where big airplanes can land, he said. A major airport is already proposed to be built in Mandi, and Nadda said that he, too, would make efforts towards getting an airport built in the state.
Past CMs remembered
Talking about advancement in other sectors in the last 50 years, Thakur said that per capita income of the state has reached Rs 1.95 lakh per annum, there are now more than 4,100 health institutions in the state compared to 587 in 1971, and the literacy rate has jumped from 32 percent to 86 percent during this time. Electricity and drinking water has been made available across the state, he added, and recalled the contributions of former chief ministers YS Parmar, Thakur Ram Lal, Shanta Kumar, Prem Kumar Dhumal and Virbhadra Singh in the state’s journey. He described Shanta Kumar as ‘paani wala mukhya mantri’ and Dhumal as ‘sadko wala mukhya mantri”.
Nadda said that Parmar, after years of serving as a chief minister, lived like a common man. “He carried a backpack and took a bus home from Shimla to his village when his tenure as a CM ended,” he recalled.
He and others paid tributes to former Prime Ministers Indira Gandhi, who declared Himachal the 18th state of India amid snowfall at the same venue 50 years ago, and Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who often lived in the state and gave it an industrial package, while also envisioning the tunnel at Rohtang now named after him.
Thakur said that the state government will be celebrating the golden jubilee year by organising 51 programmes throughout the year, and said that residents who had made contributions in sports, culture, arts, social service etc would be honoured.
‘Tourism will become state’s biggest employer’
The CM said that an uncontrolled rush of tourists has been witnessed in Lahaul after the opening of the Atal tunnel. “We’re promoting newer destinations and during the next 50 years, tourism is going to become the biggest employer here. We’re also aggressively bidding for the allotment of a bulk drug park under the central scheme, which may bring an investment of Rs 70 thousand crore and employ 15 to 20,000 people,” he said.
Union Minister of state and corporate affairs Anurag Thakur, also present at the function, said that the Assembly must discuss ways to chart a roadmap for the state during the next 25 years. “How to become carbon neutral? How to promote tourism and the use of clean and green energy? How to raise the per capita income? These issues need to be discussed now,” he said.
Nadda said that Himachal is now one of the developed states. “When we celebrate 75 years of statehood, we may well become the number one state,” he said, adding that the simplicity and honesty of Himachalis are their biggest strength.
Governor Bandaru Dattatraya, who was the chief guest, said that the rich culture, high traditions and values of life are still alive in the hill state. “People must continue to work towards building a clean, strong and self-sufficient Himachal,” he said.
During the function, a postage stamp and a coffee table book commemorating the golden jubilee were released, and a documentary titled ‘Himachal Tab aur Ab’ screened. Troupes from various districts also staged cultural performances.