Parties fight snowfall in Himachal

Parties fight snowfall in Himachal

Campaigning yet to heat up as 1,000 hamlets remain out of reach

Persistent snowfall in over 1,000 hamlets spread across the higher reaches of Himachal Pradesh is threatening to snowball into a major challenge for political parties in the general election in this state. More than 1,000 hamlets are still marooned.

Poll officials say these villages are located across Kinnaur and Lahaul-Spiti districts and interiors of Chamba, Kullu, Sirmaur and Shimla districts. The political scene in entire Lahaul-Spiti and in most parts in Kinnaur is yet to heat up as the areas are cut off with heavy snow cover piled on roads, Lahaul-Spiti legislator and Congress leader Ravi Thakur told IANS.

He said freezing temperatures and continuous snowfall has been forcing the locals to stay indoors.

Thakur, vice chairperson of the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes, said election rallies of Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh have been planned in the first week of May when the snow-clearing work is over and a majority of roads reopen.

Lahaul-Spiti and Kinnaur and some areas of Chamba are part of the sprawling Mandi constituency that covers almost two-thirds of the state. It will see polling May 7 along with three other constituencies – Shimla (reserved), Kangra and Hamirpur.

“I have toured the entire tribal areas on a number of occasions, both as chief minister and a Lok Sabha member,” Virbhadra Singh told IANS.

“I will again go there once the area is accessible by road,” he said. The Congress has retained Virbhadra Singh’ wife Pratibha Singh in the Mandi constituency and the BJP is yet to announce its candidate. The Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) has fielded Kushal Bhardwaj.
Poll officials say 20 booths in Lahaul and Spiti and 25 in Kinnaur are located at an altitude of 9,000 feet to 15,000 feet above sea level. The Pangi segment in Chamba district has over a dozen such stations.

In these areas political parties have to traverse distances ranging from 10 to 25 km on foot, or sometimes on horseback, from the road-head for electioneering.

Around 350 voters will exercise their franchise at Hikkam in Lahaul and Spiti, the world’s highest polling station located at an altitude of over 15,000 feet.

The Hikkam polling station caters to three villages – Komik, Langche and Hikkam – where the night temperature now hovers 10 to 15 degrees Celsius below freezing.

Neeraj Sharma, officer on special duty with the state election department, said the state’s remotest polling station in Bara Bhangal in the Baijnath segment in the Kangra parliamentary constituency has been shifted to Bir owing to administrative reasons. As per electoral rolls of the 2012 Assembly elections, the Bara Bhangal booth has 45 voters, including 19 women.

The meteorological office in Shimla said most of the higher reaches in the state experienced moderate to heavy snowfall March 23 and 24 and the western disturbances would be active again in the region from March 27 onwards. 

The Lahaul Valley, comprising over two dozen small, scattered villages some 350 km from state capital Shimla, is entirely cut off owing to heavy snow accumulation in the Rohtang Pass (13,050 feet) – the only connection with Manali in Kullu district.

The Border Roads Organisation (BRO), a government agency that maintains strategically important highways that pass through rugged Himalayan ranges, has started the snow clearing operations and set an April 30 deadline to connect Keylong with Manali.