In view of reservations expressed by the Punjab's horticulture department and farmers, the state government has for the time being put on hold the disinvestment of two multi-purpose processing units.
The government had, in January, started selling its entire shareholding in Punjab Agro Juices Limited (PAJL) through competitive bidding but sources said it had been put on hold.
The PAJL established two multi-fruit and vegetable processing plants in Hoshiarpur and Abohar districts with a processing capacity of about 80,000 metric tonne (MT) per annum each for Rs 84 crore to give a fillip to diversified crops but the plants failed to live up to farmers' expectations.
In a last-ditch effort to save the plants from disinvestment, the government has decided to run the units through an autonomous body. The PAJL has got over the financial blues and the government had paid the Rs 30-crore bank loan, sources said.
On Wednesday, a meeting of officials of horticulture and agriculture departments, PAJL, citrus estates of Hoshiarpur and Bhunga, pear estate of Amritsar, litchi estate of Pathankot, and progressive farmers was held here to discuss ways on how to run the plants.
Gurkanwal Singh, joint director (horticulture) and nodal officer (citrus), said extensive studies and consultations with stakeholders had concluded that the plants could be run for 200 to 250 days in a year. A report in this regard had been submitted to the government for consideration, he said. "Due to a limited mandate, the desired results were not achieved. After a wide-ranging study, we have concluded that the plants can reap huge profits and encourage farmers to bring more area under fruit and vegetable production," Singh said.
"The study has concluded that the units have the potential to generate an annual income of up to Rs 25 crore to the government and give farmers their due share if operational area is extended," the joint director claimed.
The plants are capable of processing different varieties of fruits and vegetables such as tomato, carrot, melon, mango, guava, pear, sweet gourd, bitter gourd, aloe vera and amla. They have the technology to de-bitter citrus fruits and switch from one raw material to another in a few hours.
In 2008, when the plants became operational, the PAJL received contracts of repute. PepsiCo India got kinnow processed at the Hoshiarpur plant for juice concentrates for its Tropicana range. Yoga guru Swami Ramdev availed the facility to prepare his own range of products. These days, tomato crushing is underway in both plants for Cremica and Fun Foods companies.