‘Whatever we expected, buried under the snow’
PAMPORE: Inclement weather and a blame game between the Agriculture and Mechanical Engineering departments will mean another year of near-zero saffron production for the farmers here in Pampore town of South Kashmir.
The overall production of the world’s costliest spice, saffron, has been witnessing a downslide in the Kashmir valley, predominantly in the saffron Karewas of Pampore and adjoining areas.
As per official records, production in 2016 slumped from 4.2 kilograms per hectare to 1.4 kg/ha in 2017, owing to bad weather and the never-ending process of an elaborate “irrigation system” being laid under the National Saffron Mission (NSM).
“The slump in production has been because of scarce rainfall in the months of August and September,” an insider at the Agriculture department told Kashmir Reader.
This year, production is expected to be even lower than last year, given that it did not rain when it mattered, combined with the recent untimely snowfall that has dashed whatever last hopes the farmers had.
“We had no huge expectations this year, but whatever we expected has now been buried under the untimely snow,” Mushtaq Ahmad, a farmer told Kashmir Reader.
In a bid to tackle the crop’s dependence on timely rains, an elaborate sprinkler irrigation system and a change of the ‘Saffron Corm’ was conceived in 2010 under the multi-hundred crore NSM.
“Only the corm was changed by the farmers. The much-needed irrigation required after that has been missing ever since,” Farooq Ahmad, another farmer, told Kashmir Reader.
The farmers lament that the NSM has done more harm than any good to the crop’s production.
“The corm was changed in the initial years of NSM, and it has been more six years now since that. The irrigation system is yet to be completed and functional,” Farooq said.
Sources in the Agriculture department told Kashmir Reader that a government official in a recent meeting called changing corm before the irrigation system was ready as “putting the cart before the horse”.
“It was an illogical move, to say the least,” the source said.
After the change of corm, the laying out of the irrigation was handed over to the Mechanical Engineering Department (MED). The MED was supposed to hand the system over by 2016, which was also the deadline to the NSM project.
However, non-completion of the irrigation system meant that the deadline was extended to 2018. But in the wake of the blame game between the MED and the Agriculture department, the project does not look like it is getting completed any time soon.
Executive Engineer (ExEn) MED for Srinagar Abdul Rasheed told Kashmir Reader that the Agriculture department has not been taking over the already complete bore wells for the project “which are around 80 percent of the target”.
“We had completed them by April, but the Agriculture department has been refusing to take them over for reasons better known to them,” the ExEn said.
Moreover, he said, the Agriculture department has paid only 5.75 crore of the 20 crore they owe to the MED thus far.
“We have not paid our contractors, and as a result they have gone on a strike ever since April. Their strike has meant that no further work was carried out and the work completed has remained at only 80 percent,” he said.
The Agriculture department, on the other hand, maintains that the irrigation bore wells will be taken over only after their functioning is a hundred percent functional individually.
“Our department has been taking over the bore wells which are a hundred percent functional. The director is making sure that the ones which are complete are taken over without any delay,” Deputy Director Agriculture Amir-ud-Din Andrabi told Kashmir Reader.
He however acknowledged that their department has lapsed over paying the dues of the MED.
“Yes, we have paid only 5.75 crore thus far. What can we do, this is what we have received so far,” Andrabi said.
Amid the unfinished irrigation, the resetting of deadlines and the blame games between the concerned departments, the only certainty at this point is the saffron farmers’ suffering.
For now, Kashmir’s famed saffron looks like it is doomed.