U'khand losing British Raj fruit crown

  • Neha Pant, None, Chaubattia (Ranikhet)
  • Updated: Jun 25, 2015 15:43 IST

A British –time state fruit garden at Ranikhet in Uttarakhand is losing its fame owing to a long spell of government apathy, unleashing a number of factors which are hitting the fruit production in the garden, according to horticulture experts.

Popularly known as Chaubattia Garden-- growing 21 varieties of fruits, used to produce 2000-3000 quintals of fruits during the British Raj. But, now the fruit production has come down to around 45 quintals, officials say, attributing it to the ageing trees and the shortage of staff and water. Besides fruits, the garden is also a major source of fruit saplings to nurseries.

Picturesque place

Chaubattia garden, which is situated around 350 km southeast from Dehradun, is a picture-perfect, government-run fruit orchard, which was famous for its apples during the British time. What makes it worth watching is that it is located at an altitude of 6940 feet amidst verdant expanses of the hilly terrain.

The garden was established by the British in 1869 and named it ‘Company Bagh’. Today, it has over 18,000 trees of plums, kiwis, apricots, walnuts, cherries, almonds and apples among others.

The apple saga

But, the quality of apples here made the orchard more famous than any other fruit. Even today, it has 10,493 apple trees (about 58% of the total trees), which shows how very popular these apples have been in the past. However, official figures reveal that barely 1447 kgs of apples were produced during 2014-15 out of the total fruit production of 4543 kgs. Officials attribute the low production of fruits over the years to a mix of problems, including the shortage of water for irrigation, staff crunch, lack of snowfall, ageing trees and damage caused by birds and animals-- especially monkeys.

Garden superintendent BL Verma says, “We have planted about 2000 new plants in 2014-15, including some imported varieties from the United States and Europe that will begin to show results in four-five years.”

Low production has consequently affected the revenue generation through the orchard fruits. Official figures put the average annual income through Chaubattia fruits at R1.30 lakh over the past six years. In 2014-15, the figure stood at R 1.58 lakh.

According to the horticulture directorate officials, there is a proposal to plant around 4000 more apple saplings, including the varieties like super chief, early red one, oregon spur, and gale gala, which will further help increase apple production in future.

Water woes

The garden gets an average supply of about 3,000 litres of water per day against the daily requirement of 30,000 litres during the non-rainy season. “Water is a huge problem for us. At present, we mostly depend on rain and store it in our tanks that are covered with plastic sheets to prevent seepage,” says senior horticulture inspector Chandan Angari. Around 20 tanks of about 90-litre capacity each have been constructed for storing rain water besides consuming natural resources (such as occasionally-occurring natural springs) and seeking Jal Sansthan’s water tankers.

As per officials, a proposal was sent to the state government to set up two tube wells in the garden in November 2014, which was followed by two reminders in January and February this year. The directorate has submitted proposals worth R 60.76 lakh for development of irrigation facilities at the garden. A revised estimate is being processed and sent to the government for approval, officials said

Staff crunch

Against the sanctioned strength of 102 posts, only 65 are filled up while the rest 42 posts are lying vacant. As per the records, only 36 gardeners are deployed at present against the sanctioned posts of 58. “Many of the gardeners are nearing retirement and are unable to do rigorous field work,” Verma says.

In November 2014, 29 youths were appointed as gardeners through Uttarakhand Poorva-Sainik Kalyan Nigam Ltd. (UPNL) outsourcing. However, the number is still quite low to cover around 64 hectares under direct cultivation. “Thanks to garden’s (geographically) difficult terrain, the work load increases even further,” says Kheem Singh, 26, a local youth hired through UPNL.

Addressing the issues

Harak Singh Rawat

Horticulture minister, Uttarakhand government

What’s the government doing about low fruit production?

We are replacing old plants with the new and high yielding varieties. Some imported varieties are also being used to increase the yield. We will soon address other challenges too.

What are your plans to meet water and staff shortage?

A revised staff structure (for horticulture directorate) is in the final stages of approval. It will soon be rolled out. I will ask officials to ensure swift budget approval so that tube wells can be installed soon.

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