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Promises for future on historic occasion

Darjeeling, Oct. 15: The golden jubilee celebrations of Himalayan Mountaineering Institute (HMI) may have been held two years too late, but they did throw up a number of promises for the future.

To begin with, the Indian government has decided to institute the Tenzing Norgay International Mountaineering Award for lifetime achievement, announced defence minister Pranab Mukherjee at the programme held here today. He is also the HMI president.

“The award will comprise a cash prize of Rs 1 lakh and a citation,” said Mukherjee. Likely to be given from 2007 onwards, it would be the first award given by the Indian government which will be open to mountaineers from across the world.

The executive council of the institute, led by Mukherjee, has also finalised and passed a proposal for a joint India-Pakistan expedition to K2, the second highest peak in the world.

“We are waiting for the secretary-level talks between the two countries next month, after which the proposal is likely to be made,” HMI principal Col J.S. Dhillon told The Telegraph. The plan for the expedition is inspired by the Prime Minister’s recent proposal to foster peace between the two countries.

“Joint expeditions are a novel way of fostering peace between nations through the medium of adventure sports,” Dhillon said. “We are hopeful of a positive response from Pakistan. If it materialises, it will be a historic occasion.”

K2, also known as Mt Godwin-Austin, is one of the most treacherous peaks in the world.

The defence minister, during his speech, also gave enough indication to suggest that the government was now looking to project the HMI in a big way internationally.

“The institute should be able to attract foreign trainees in large numbers and should consider organising international seminars and competitions,” he said. So far, the HMI, which was set up on November 4, 1954, has trained 2,49,66 individuals, including 1,000 foreign students.

There was good news for the employees of the institute too. “We will give an increment to the civilian staff of the HMI (to mark the golden jubilee year),” said the defence minister.

HMI also plans to make a documentary film on its 52-year history. This was decided at a meeting held last evening and attended by both its secretaries, Bimal Jhulka and K.N Behera, and other office-bearers.

“Once complete, it will be screened for tourists at the HMI auditorium on a regular basis,” said Jhulka, who is also a joint secretary in the ministry of defence. The idea of the documentary came during the screening of a collection of 25 rare adventure films from 12 countries as part of the celebrations.

From the Bengal government’s side, funds would not be a problem, said Behera, who is also the secretary of the state sports and youth affairs department. “We have already allocated over Rs 1 crore to the institute in our annual budget, while the defence ministry has promised to finance several new proposals from the HMI,” he said.

The HMI is funded by both the Centre and the state government.

During the celebrations, Everesters like Nawang Gombu (the first man to climb the peak twice), Nima Tashi, Dorjee Lattoo and Nawang Topgay, who was part of the historic Tenzing Norgay-Edmund Hillary expedition in 1953, were felicitated along with six other employees of the institute.

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