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Irregularity in import of apple saplings from Italy puts Himachal horticulture officials under lens

The officials allegedly purchased thousands of apple saplings at an unfavourable time that led to these plants drying up before reaching the orchardist.

punjab Updated: Aug 20, 2018 10:32 IST
Gaurav Bisht
Gaurav Bisht
Hindustan Times, Shimla
apple,import of apple,apple saplings
Italy-based Vitafruit Nurseries has written to the Himachal government that the plants were purchased in an unfavourable season.(HT File )

The role of half-a-dozen officials of the horticulture department has come under scanner after irregularities have been found in the import of apple saplings from Italy.

The saplings were brought to Himachal Pradesh under “unfavourable” climatic conditions that has reportedly resulted in them getting dried up.

The officials allegedly purchased thousands of apple saplings at an unfavourable time that led to these plants drying up before reaching the orchardist.

Himachal’s horticulture department over the past two years has imported more than seven lakh plants from Italy and most of them were dried up before they reached the farmers.

Sources in the horticulture department have revealed that Italy’s South Tyrol-based Vitafruit Nurseries that supplied the saplings, has written to the Himachal government that the plants were purchased in an unfavourable season when the temperature soared above 40 degrees Celsius in the subcontinent and there was no possibility of saplings surviving the harsh climate. In the letter, company said the purchase order was delayed by over three months.

The most favourable time of apple plantation in Himachal is between January-end and mid-February. However, the saplings have been sent as per the order which was received three months later, the company has maintained.

The officials responsible for the import include director of horticulture department, managing director of nursery management, additional technical expert, project expert and financial expert besides other low-rung officials.

This year, apple saplings from Italy reached the state in June, while the university of horticulture and forestry received 500 saplings just three days ago for mandatory quarantine to check and these were found to have dried up.

Horticulture minister Mahender Singh Thakur had two days ago himself inspected the saplings imported from Italy.

What horticulture minister says

Mahender Singh, when contacted, said he was surprised why the officials delayed the import order.

“The Italian company has written to the Himachal government about the unfavourable timings of the purchase that should have been made in winters. The saplings dried up as these arrived during the harsh summer weather,” he said, adding that the responsibility will be fixed for negligence that also cost heavily on state exchequer.

Not the first such incident

In 2017, imported apple cultivars under the World Bank-funded project had raised serious concern as those were found infected.

The cultivars were planted at different places and some of them were tested positive for virus.

However, the then government authorities had termed the plant’s mortality as “natural” but reports of Dr YS Parmar University of Horticulture and Forestry suggested to destroy some of disease-infected lots.

Around 2.25 lakh plants were imported from the Italian nursery at ₹250 per plant.

First Published: Aug 20, 2018 10:32 IST