9 years on, Saffron mission yet to be completed, growers suffer huge losses

A Saffron grower irrigating his field. -Excelsior/Younis Khaliq
A Saffron grower irrigating his field. -Excelsior/Younis Khaliq

Excelsior Correspondent

SRINAGAR, Mar 16: The Centrally sponsored National Saffron Mission, a Rs 400.11 crore project, launched 9 years ago to tackle the problems faced by Saffron cultivators has failed to take off and farmers are still dependent on rains for irrigation.
The mission was launched after the area under Saffron cultivation decreased from 5,707 hectares in 1996 to 3,715 hectares and traditional cultivation methods as well as the uncertainties of weather and disease made saffron cultivation less profitable. The mission was to be completed in 2014 and so far despite two extensions granted to it for 2015-2016 and 2017-2018 the project is yet to be completed.
Under the Saffron Mission, 126 wells were proposed for irrigation of saffron fields and they were to be connected with sprinklers. The Mechanical Engineering Department, was tasked with the work, and Rs 1,885 lakh was sanctioned to them for procurement of required material.
Sources said that so far only 12 sprinkle systems have been handed over to the department and only one is functional. The Well Number 72 was made functional by the local farmers and it has led to increase in the saffron yield. The well is in the farm land of Ghulam Mohidin Rather of village Munpara in Pampore area in Pulwama district and he got an yield 4 kilogramme of saffron per hectare this year.
The farmers said the delay in the implementation of the project led to losses worth crores of rupees during past few years. They are still apprehensive about the functioning of the project and they demand that the project should be checked for quality before it is made functional.
They said there was delay in the supply of the material that was procured from a firm and the department issued two more supply orders to the same firm despite delay which led to loss to the farmers.
The M/S Vertex Green Polypipes was given order (on 12/05/2016) for the supply order of worth Rs 7.5 crores of items for sprinkle irrigation system but it failed to deliver it on time. The firm was again given supply order (CEMK/TS/2017-18/35 dated 02-11-2017) for Rs 1.45 Crores which was to be delivered in 45 days but again there was delay.
They said that despite delay in the two supply orders it was again given a supply order (CEMK/TS/2017-18/64 dated 08/01/2018) of Rs 5.7 Crore that was to be delivered in 10 days but two months have passed supply of these items is yet incomplete.
Chief Engineer Mechanical Engineering Division, Vijay Kumar Raina, told Excelsior that work is under process and first phase will be completed by the end of March and 80-86 wells with sprinkle irrigation system will be handed over to the Agriculture department.
Raina blamed farmers for the delay in the work by saying that they don’t cooperate with the department and are creating hurdles in the work. He said that in the first phase there are 98 pumps while in second phase there are 28 pumps to be installed with sprinkle irrigation system.
Director Agriculture, Altaf Andrabi, said that 112 wells out of 126 are ready but are yet to be linked to sprinkle irrigation system on which work is going on. The Mechanical Engineering Department has to hand over all the wells to the department by the end of March. “We hope they will hand over the irrigation system on time”, he said.