Central funds not benefiting us, say J-K small fruit growers

5 June 2008
The Indian Express
Mir Ehsan

Srinagar: All’s not well with the horticulture industry in Jammu & Kashmir. Even as the state Government claims to have spent Rs 88 crore for the promotion of horticulture, the benefits are yet to trickle down to the poor fruit growers. In 2003, the Central Government had announced the launch of a Rs 100 crore technology mission for the promotion of horticulture, the biggest industry in J-K. What is more, some of the farmers are still unaware of such an announcement. Despite tall claims of the state Government, the farmers complain that only influential growers and “big guns” could avail the benefits of the scheme. Officials claim that the scheme was aimed at helping the fruit industry, tipped to be worth around Rs 2,500 crore with a yearly production of eight crore apple boxes in Kashmir. Around three million people are directly or indirectly associated with the horticulture industry. “This scheme has been of no help so far,” says Ghulam Rasool Bhat, president, Fruit Growers and Dealers Association. “Out of Rs 100 crore, only Rs 20 to 30 crore has been spent so far, that too, with only the rich and influential growers availing of the funds. The poor farmers are still waiting.” The official figures of fund untilisation are exaggerated, he adds. Under the technology mission scheme, the Horticulture Department announced that it would spend the Central funds on creation of satellite mandis, juice plants, expansion of orchard lands, greenhouses, irrigation facilities, cold stores, refrigeration vans, sheds, water tanks and distribution of of saplings and trees to growers. “For us, the scheme is only on papers,” says Haji Abdul Rashid Mir, an apple grower from North Kashmir. “In 2003, the drought had damaged all trees in my 30 hectares of land at Janbazpora. Since then I regularly visited all officials for assistance under the technology mission scheme, but in vain. My orchard has turned into a barren land,” says Mir. Even those doing well have the same story to tell. “I am waiting for the day when growers will have access to all modern equipment and latest technology,” says Abdul Rashid Wani, who owns two big orchards in Binner village, North Kashmir. Wani’s good earning is a result of his own efforts and not beacuse of the department’s assistance. And in case there is a bad crop, Wani claims, he has no other option but to seek help from relatives. “I don’t know about any such scheme.” Last year, the J-K Government appointed a high-level Assurance Committee with CPI(M) Assembly member Mohammad Yosuf Tarigami as its chairman and four other members. In its report submitted to the Government, the Committee criticised the department for the mismanagement of funds. Contrary to the claims, Horticulture Minister Dilawar Mir says the scheme was successful. “We have spent every single penny we received from the Centre. So far, Rs 88 crore has been spent on different projects. Recently, another 21 crore was released by the Centre,” he adds. Official figures show while a major chunk of money has been transferred to the Horticulture Department, Rs 3.5 crore was kept at the disposal of Horticulture Planning and Marketing Department for marketing and promotion. However, Director Horticulture and Marketing Showket Mir says, “We received money for creation of eight satellite mandis in Kashmir and four in Jammu. We have spent only half the amount due to various bottlenecks. The money is safe in the bank and will be utilised soon.”