Hail storm damages apple crop in Himachal Pradesh, locals fear it is God’s wrath
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Hail storm damages apple crop in Himachal Pradesh, locals fear it is God’s wrath

Three anti-hail guns were installed in the state. Villagers believe that the Goddess Kali is annoyed “as attempt is being made to play with nature”.

india Updated: May 27, 2017 23:55 IST
Saurabh Chauhan
Saurabh Chauhan
Hindustan Times, Shimla
Apple orchards in Himachal Pradesh,Apple farming in India,Apple farming in Himachal Pradesh
A worker sorting apples at an orchard on the outskirt of Kullu in Himachal Pradesh.(HT File Photo)

It is Goddess Kali’s wrath. That’s what some apple orchard owners believe after hail this month damaged around 60% of the crop including in areas covered by imported anti-hail guns, each costing Rs 1.20 crore.

The previous BJP government had installed three anti-hail guns in the Shimla district under a Rs 3.29-crore centrally-aided project. The machines were imported from an American supplier. As the guns were thought to be effective against hail, some farmer cooperatives in the district installed the imported machines without any government help to protect the crop that is biggest money grosser for the state. Over 1.7 lakh families depend on the apple crop harvested once a year.

What is anti-hail gun
  • Anti-hail cannons are a shock wave generator intended to disrupt the formation of hailstones in the atmosphere in the beginning stage
  • How it works- An explosive charge of acetylene gas and air is fired in the lower chamber of the machine and the resulting energy passes through the neck and develops a shock wave. Shock wave travels at the speed of sound through the cloud formations.
  • Why it could fails- If there is delay firing and hail formation in clouds is completed, the firing cannons are of no use.
  • Cost of an anti-hail gun; Rs 1.20 crore
  • Operational cost for 3 months: Rs 5-7 lakh
  • Total guns installed; 7
  • First gun installed by the government in 2010-11

This year, their faith in the machines has been shattered.

Villagers believe that the Goddess Kali is annoyed “as attempt is being made to play with nature”. “Goddess Kali told us when she was looking after interests of people why was there a need to do something else,” said Narayan Singh, who was among villagers of Jubbal in Shimla district who went to a local Kali temple after hail destroyed their crop.

In the hills of Himachal, an age-old tradition of asking questions to the priest who answers them on behalf of the local deity, still plays out. On Kali’s “direction”, locals have forced government to shut down the anti-hail gun. Ironically, the region has highest literacy rate in the state.

Apple production
  • 5.50 lakh tonne production in 2016
  • 8.93 lakh tonnes higher ever in 2010.
  • 1.7 lakh families are dependent on apple production

No impact assessment

The state government and the Centre have allowed the guns to operate without any assessment of its impact on the local atmosphere. “These cannons are run by the horticulture department and we have not studied its impact,” said S S Randhawa, senior science officer at the state’s Centre on Climate Change.

Shimla Meteorological Centre director Manmohan Singh said, “I don’t know whether these machines are successful or not. But, if some waves are generated to disperse cloud, surely there will be no precipitation.”

Two horticulture department officers admitted the guns have failed in some areas. “We have reports that hail pounded apple orchards in Baghi and Ratnari area where the farmers have installed anti-hail gun,” said an officer. Another officer said the guns were “pseudo scientific machines” incapable of preventing formation of hail in clouds.

Principal secretary, horticulture, JC Sharma said there is some technical issue with cannon which they would address.

First Published: May 27, 2017 23:48 IST