By Vishal Gulati
Himachal Pradesh government’s ambitious plans to help locals weave livelihood out of forest produce pine needles and farm-raised bamboo by making baskets and other household items has virtually been locked out because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Officials told IANS on Sunday that a scheme to train the locals to reuse the pine needles, which are found in abundance in nature in low hills and are also mainly responsible for forest fires, has been postponed indefinitely.
Likewise, training has been rescheduled for fast-regenerating and versatile resource, bamboo, which can make important contributions to strengthening the local economy.
“We got Central government-funded projects for training women and unemployed youth for making toys and other household items by using pine needles and bamboo,” Sanjeev Katwal, Vice-Chairman, Himachal Pradesh State Handicrafts and Handloom Corporation, told IANS.
He said this pine needle project would not only enhance their income, but also help in preventing forest fires, particularly in the summers.
Katwal said for the first time a training project was planned for a bamboo-based livelihood in rural communities on the pattern of northeastern states. This too has been postponed till the pandemic is over.
The bamboo is available in huge quantity in the state and its species grow much faster than most of the hard woods.
In some parts of the state, bamboo is also being used to channelise the water flow, besides manufacturing other useful products.
The training was planned for substituting bamboo products for wood-based or manmade materials like furniture.
“Bamboo is a substitute for wood and even plastics. Since it is available in plentiful in the state, the training in bamboo manufacturing goods can turn into income generation for the rural communities,” Katwal said.
The handicrafts and handloom corporation is also conducting special training for artisans in the art of embroidery on the Chamba ‘rumal’ (handkerchief), Chamba and Kangra schools of miniature paintings, metal artefacts and leather products, mainly Chamba ‘chappals’.
All these training projects that promote the interests of the poor weavers and artisans have been hanged in the balance owing to the pandemic.
Nearly 550 people, mainly rural women and unemployed youth, undergo training for three months in each batch for 14 such projects.
During the training, a stipend of Rs 7,500 is being provided per month to each participant.
Katwal said the pine needle and bamboo training projects would be launched again in potential areas, especially in Kangra, Hamirpur, Chamba, Solan and Bilaspur districts with the pandemic getting controlled, adding both could become a source of livelihood support to the rural community.
The handicrafts and handloom corporation is also known for marketing hand-knitted woollens like shawls, stoles, mufflers, socks, gloves, pullovers, caps and carpets, Kangra paintings and jewellery items made by its artisans and weavers.
The Kullu and Kinnauri shawls with intricate borders in bright colours are made on traditional looms by tribals and are sold all over the country and abroad.
Officials told IANS that the corporation faces several challenges in the wake of the coronavirus crisis. Its revenue loss from the sale of woollens and artefacts is pegged roughly Rs 3 crore due to the lockdown.
The handicrafts and handloom corporation is operating eight sales outlets, including one in Delhi. One can also place orders for the products through e-shopping.
“We will definitely get a big boost with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s slogan ‘Vocal for Local’ as it aims to help develop local manufacturing and businesses,” Katwal added.
Pine needles are blamed for the most of the forest fires.
Records of the Forest Department say 22 per cent or 8,267 sq km of the total forest area in the state is fire-prone.
A majority of the fires were reported from the pine forests since during summer, the trees shed pine needles that are highly inflammable due to the rich content of turpentine oil.
(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)