No staff, no resources, buildings occupied by army, land encroached by farmers and disputes in court
SHOPIAN: Asia’s largest apple plantation farm, the Advanced Centre for Horticulture Development (ACHD) in Zainpora, Shopian, is going to ruin, with vast tracts of land overrun by grazing animals and official buildings occupied by the army and CRPF. There is also a gaping lack of manpower and resources. The government is treating the farm with absolute apathy, appointing no staff and giving it no funds or machinery.
The Indo-Bulgarian farm, established in 1989 on 2,600 kanals of land in Zainpora, was meant to boost horticulture in the region. Residents of Zainpora say that about 800 kanals of the farm are now lying barren, for which the “insincere attitude” of the authorities is to blame.
“There is a huge portion of land where locals take their domestic animals for grazing. The government is not doing anything about this land going to waste,” Ghulam Nabi, a Zainpora villager, said.
To make matters worse, two official buildings that include a training centre, a grading and packing centre, offices, sheds and washrooms, have been occupied by army’s 3 RR and a CRPF unit. Officials of the ACHD told reader that the occupation of buildings by armed forces has left only three rooms for staffers.
Farm manager Muhammad Iqbal said that only seven gardeners work at the ACHD, as against the requirement of 115 gardeners. “It’s not possible to keep a watch on this huge farm and to manage it with only 22 staffers,” he said.
“The army has occupied 250 kanals of SKUAST land at Balpora, where they have established a major army base, another four kanals of SKUAST land at Pahnoo which they occupied during the 2016 uprising and refused to vacate despite commitments,” a top official from the horticulture department said.
Officials added that despite the huge area of the farm, not a single post of chowkidar (watchman) has been sanctioned for the farm. “We were using executive staff to watch the farm,” an official confided.
Experts say that if sufficient funds and adequate staff are sanctioned for the farm, it may yet revive horticulture in Kashmir.
Another issue afflicting the farm is that it has no training officer. The farm manager has been given this additional charge.
There is no senior horticulture technician and seven such positions are vacant. “We don’t have official vehicles, drivers for tractors, no modern equipment, no separate irrigation facility,” an official rued.
Farm manager Iqbal said that there is a need for a concrete fence so that encroachments can be controlled. But 800 kanals of land are already under a stay ordered by a court because of a conflict with residents of Reshipora village. “We don’t have a separate irrigation facility because the one we have been using is also shared with village orchardists. As a result, we face huge problems as villagers sometimes blocks our pipes in order to irrigate their orchards,” Iqbal said.
“Despite huge odds and lack of manpower, we have recently introduced 92,000 plants of Italian variety of apple clones and we are going to introduce 1.25 lakh of imported apple root stock in the farm. We have already planted ultra high density imported apple plants on three hectares of land,” Iqbal said, claiming that proper management of the farm could revolutionise the horticulture sector.
Iqbal said that there should be soil, leaf, and pesticide testing laboratory for the farm. “Because of ‘quarantine nature’ of our farm we must have soil, leaf and pesticide laboratory in the farm so that we can produce better horticulture productivity,” he said.
The 27 casual labourers who work on the farm alleged that the government was not paying their wages on time.
Director of Horticulture, Kashmir, Mathora Masoom told Kashmir Reader, “Yes, there is dearth of staffers in the farm and I don’t have authority to allot more manpower for the farm. We have sent a proposal to the horticulture minister and the services selection recruitment board regarding allotment of staff. Soon there may be more staffers in the farm.”
About the disputed 800 kanals of land, she said, “We can’t utilise the whole stock of land due to insufficient manpower and funds.”
On the occupation of buildings by the army and CRPF, she said, “We have taken up this issue with the deputy commissioner but I don’t know why they (forces) aren’t vacating the buildings.”
Official documents state that in 2017, almost 85,000 imported apple varieties such as Red Velox, Red Chief Camspur, Super Chief, Gala Redlum, Golden Delicious Reindeers, and Golden Clone B have been distributed amongst orchardists in Kashmir valley under the High Density Plantation Scheme of the government.