HPMC: The white elephant


    The past one week or so has some good and bad news for the state. While, the annual ‘State of the States’ issue of India Today put Himachal on top on health and education fronts and fastest mover on the consumer market front, it was an irony to see HPMC (Himachal Pradesh Horticultural Produce Marketing & Processing Corporation) plan to sell a plot of 13 bigha (about 20,000 sq mts) land located on Delhi border because of its grim financial condition.

    The land in Kundli has been reportedly sold to a private company for Rs 55 million. One solution offered by Jairam Ramesh earlier this year was to sell 51 per cent of HPMC’s share to the private sector to revive the company, but the idea didn’t seem to go well with the politicians and the vested interest holders. Privatisation would not only have saved the sinking company, but would have brought in professionalism in the system in terms of marketing, advertising, and distribution of the processed fruit. I believe, annually, HPMC suffers losses in crores for shelling out money for the minimum support price it pays for fruits and produce that can be called as “market-rejected”. Apples, which wouldn’t be bought for 50 paise a kg in the open market are bought by HPMC for Rs 3 to Rs 4 a kg – the minimum support price fixed by the government. The government has its own reasons and compulsions – to keep happy the growers and keep its vote bank warm – to have a minimum support price. In the process, most of these fruits, which already are bad in quality, get damaged during transportation as they find place only in gunny bags and are thrown from here and there, unlike the fruit boxes that go to compete in the open market.

    By the time, they reach the processing factory, 30 per cent of it already would have worked itself into a jam, err pulp, not fit for consumption. So what does the company gain? Then, HPMC doesn’t have big time advertisements like Frooti, Appy or Jumpin.

    But don’t think then that the grower is getting benefited. He gets the price after six to eight months of waiting and sometimes only in the next season. Then too, he is not paid in cash but is handed over bottles of jam, pickle, squash, juice, marmalade, etc, not at subsidised rates but at the MRP. The grower has no choice. Oh yes, he has a choice. He can also buy fertilisers, pesticides, fungicides or agricultural equipment – which can be of sub-standard quality – worth his fruit bill from HPMC. So what does the grower gain? Both HPMC and the grower have been in for losses.

    With the private players coming in, professionalism could be brought in. Transportation can be better, and thereby loss incurred during transportation can be minimised. Growers too can hope to get cash for their produce. I hope to see HPMC being divested and private players taking over its reigns.

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    A perfect story-teller, who is madly in love with the hills. Shimla is his first love, and probably the last too. Won't get tired reading Rudyard Kipling. Hopes to pick up poetry again soon.

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