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Apple mission: Growers miffed with sapling importer

The pilot project that aimed to boost apple production ended up in fiasco with most imported varieties being diseased.

dehradun Updated: Jan 20, 2018 21:39 IST
Deep Joshi
Deep Joshi
Hindustan Times, Dehradun
Uttarakhand news,Apple mission,sapling importer
The saplings were planted last year as part of the Uttarakhand government’s Apple Mission launched last year.(HT PHOTO)

It was aimed to boost the apple production in Uttarakhand, but about a year later the Apple Mission launched by the state government appears to be gasping for breath.

Most horticulturists complain they will face heavy losses as the high yielding varieties of imported apple saplings planted in their orchards were either diseased or have died. They blame the horticulture department and private supplier Sudhir Chadha for their plight. Chadha owns the Indo-Dutch Horticulture Technologies that imports high density and high yielding varieties of apple saplings from the US, Italy and the Netherlands.

Under the project, the high density and high yielding varieties of imported saplings were planted in five orchards in Garhwal and Kumaon. Out of the five orchards selected for the project, two are in Bulhad (Chakarata) whereas one each is in Mori (Uttarkashi) Billekh (Ranikhet) and Sundarkhal in Nainital district.

The pilot project was launched in view of the dwindling production from traditional varieties of apples due to the factors such as climate changes. The imported apple saplings are low chill varieties.

The scheme was subsidised at a ratio of 80:20. That means out of the total Rs 12 lakh per orchard budget, the state was supposed to share Rs 9.60 lakh and the rest would be borne by farmers. As per the programme, 1,000 saplings were planted in each of the five orchards.

But most farmers appear unhappy with the way the things have turned out. “About 80% of the apple saplings planted in my orchard got diseased and died. Some 200 (saplings) got diseased just two months after they were planted and Chadha got them replaced,” said Pratap Singh Rawat, an orchardist based at Bulhar. “Later, even those replaced trees got infected apart from 500 others who got freshly infected.

Chadha and his team had not visited the orchard since July. “The horticulture department and Chadha whom they have given contract should know,” he replied wryly when asked about the reasons behind the dying saplings

Gopal Upreti, an orchardist based at Billekh, said apple saplings “are imported varieties but Chadha doesn’t provide farmers the certificates of quarantine checks” carried out on those plants. “Some 500 of the 1,000 imported saplings got diseased and died just months after they were planted. Chadha got them replaced but soon even the replaced plants got infected.” Upreti said. “Clearly, the way virus indexing of imported plants is not being carried out could lead to a major virus outbreak destroying all apple varieties.”

Upreti alleged GB Pant University of Agriculture and Technology, Pantnagar, the designated institution for testing the saplings, was not cooperating. “They provided me the reports on the infected plants I submitted to them only after I took up the issue with the chief secretary.”

Chadha, however, said he had all the certificates pertaining to pre and post quarantine checks carried out on the imported plants. “I am a professional and I visit farmers to address their complaints when it is due.”

Prof Karuna Vishunavat, divisional head, plant pathology, Pant University, said her department was designated only for post entry quarantine facility check. “The agency concerned is equipped with that facility and we have provided them the certificate.” She admitted Uttarakhand being a horticulture state should have a dedicated state-of-the art institute for virus indexing of imported plants.

Sources in the horticulture department said its report based on an inspection of the five orchards “fully validates” the complaints. Agriculture secretary Senthil Pandiyan said a panel comprising horticulture officials and farm experts had been constituted to inquire into all aspects of farmers’ complaints. “Quarantine of imported apple saplings is an important issue. So, it is on the basis of the panel’s report that we will take a call on whether to replicate the apple mission or not.”

First Published: Jan 20, 2018 21:39 IST