Rs. 1134 crore Horticulture project for revitalization: Smt. Vidya Stokes


Taking strong exception on the news item appeared in some section of press related to the Import of Planting Material, Horticulture Minister Smt. Vidya Stokes has today categorically denied and described it as false and misleading to have been planted with malicious intention at the instance of vested interests involved in malpractices such as sale of non-certified plant material and bud woods.


Smt. Vidya Stokes said the news item was aimed at sabotaging the unique efforts of the Government to bring about paradigm and radical change in the horticulture sector through the implementation of externally aided World Bank Project worth Rs. 1134 crores for the transformation and revitalization of Horticulture Sector in this hilly state. Horticulture Minister said the project design was to address the constraints which Horticulture sector is presently facing such as low productivity, lack of assured irrigation facilities, fierce competition from abroad due to free international trade and more frequent weather related shocks etc.


Major focus of the project interventions is also to undertake agglomeration of small and marginal farmers, to improve economies of scale in production, marketing and processing. Smt. Stokes said that in this endeavor, CSIR lab at Palampur in its report categorically and clearly reported that viruses which were suspected as per visual observations in few plants (5 numbers only) in one variety at PCDO Duttnagar had been ruled out.


She clarified that earlier the report issued by  the Designated Agency for the State was based on the procedure which was less precise as compared to techniques being used by the CSIR Lab. Hence it was absolutely wrong to spread such ill founded and baseless rumours in public and the propaganda made is ill founded and not based on the scientific facts. It is envisaged to introduce the best germ plasma which interalia included the root stocks and varieties of different temperate fruits in the State.


For this purpose, preference of growers, views and suggestions of Horticulture University were the key considerations for the finalization of the kind of varieties and root stocks imported during the year 2016. The Government imported latest improved varieties and root stock suitable for agro-climatic conditions of the state following competitive bidding process of the World Bank. We ensured that planting material was disease free and for that these plants remained under quarantine for one year under the strict supervision of designated inspecting authority. The authority issued advisories which were followed in letter and spirit.


As regards, the second point raised in the news report regarding the training not being imparted to the farmers, it is clarified that this project is a comprehensive one and period of implementation is seven years. The training and capacity building of the farmers is a major component and is taken care of. There are districts in the state where 80% of suitable land is not yet covered under fruit trees like Chamba, Sirmaur, Lahaul & Spiti and in few blocks in districts of Shimla, Mandi, Kangra and Kullu. These plants were basically imported for these areas and not for re-planting the old and senile orchards.


It is, therefore, unfounded claim by the few people that no efforts are being made to solve out the problem, in fact the persons quoted in the paper  seems only concerned with their  orchards. Clarifying allegation of “tearing hurry” shown by the project authorities without  getting the feedback from the farmers. It is mentioned that wider consultations were made  with the growers, various stakeholders  agencies and farmers bodies  and written feedback was also  taken by the Department of Horticulture from all its districts agencies regarding importing of various varieties and root stocks before the import process was initiated.


As a result of this assessment, almost 60000 plants have already been distributed to the farmers  in various clusters  across the State. Had there been no demand for these varieties, the situation would have been otherwise. It is therefore, absolutely false to say that wider consultations with farmers were not undertaken.  Bidding process as per World Bank guidelines were followed while procurement. spreading false propaganda was detrimental to the betterment of the horticulture. She reiterated that our state was also late by 40 years in introducing and establishing clonal root stocks as the seedling based technology elsewhere in apple growing countries seems to exist  about 40-50 years back. It was due to this reason that such a big project had been conceived  by the State Government and approved by the World Bank on merit.


Smt. Stokes clarified that during the bidding process, the requirement was mentioned for EMLA and Geneva root stocks but for the information of all, no nursery was ready to supply EMLA and Geneva root stocks. As regards, Geneva root stocks was concerned, it is informed that no plant material of Geneva root stocks is available in the market which is clear from the bidding process. As regard to Department has made pre mature deal with a shady importing company  through a commission agent to benefit few people. , she said that no import had been made through any commission agent as offers were invited from only registered and recognized nurseries in the world.


Three companies participated in the bidding process and order was placed to L-1 suppliers as per the World Bank and State Government guidelines. She said that before dispatching the material from Italy, a competitive and technically sound Professor Dr. Satish Sharma of Department of Plant Pathology of UHF Nauni visited Italy and report was submitted by him about quality and competitiveness of the material. The plant material was inspected by the Plant Protection Department at Mumbai Port also. Therefore giving baseless statements was just to betray the interests of the horticulturists of the State, she asserted.

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ML Verma is a Senior journalist, with more than a decade of experience of active reporting for electronic media, news agencies and fast paced online media.

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