National Saffron Mission fails to achieve desired results: Growers

Govt says delay due to non release of funds

Avtar Bhat
JAMMU, Oct 17: Though started over 10 years back the much talked about National Saffron Mission (NSM) in Kashmir Valley, has failed to achieve desired results with growers in Saffron Valley of Pampore in Pulwama district totally feeling disenchanted with it.
The Rs 400 crore, Saffron Mission, a Government of India funded scheme was launched with much fanfare by Agriculture Department in the year 2011 with the objective of increasing its production, quality and boosting the growers’ income by doubling it. It was initially to be completed in four years i.e 2014. But much to their annoyance it instead of increasing the production and boosting farmers income has proved detrimental to their interests with its outcome not being upto the desired level as was claimed by the Department and the Mission has not even been completed till date.
What has irked the growers most is that a farmer who was producing 500 grams or one kg of Saffon in his fields before the start of the Mission and was expecting to have more yield now his production has decreased more than 50 percent after the launch of the Mission. The corms sown in the fields have decayed and failed in rejuvenation with the result there was huge decline in the annual yield, alleged the growers.
The plight of growers has become so miserable today that they (growers) curse their fate and the mission which instead of doing any good to them has even deprived them of the yield they were getting from the land earlier.
Today the position is such that some growers openly demand that the mission be closed and farmers be left on their fate as in last 10 years the Mission instead of doing any good to them has harmed their interests.
Even the former Finance Minister of J&K Dr Haseeb Drabu while showing his concern over the plight of Saffron growers in January 2018 had advised them to shift to the traditional system of Saffron cultivation as mission has miserably failed to achieve desired results.
Haji Abdul Rashid, a prominent grower of Androosa, Pampore while terming the mission a failure said the corm sown in the fields has perished totally.
Niaz Ahmed, another grower from Gundbal Pampore held Agriculture Department responsible for entire problem. He said Government of India sends crores of rupees for the betterment of saffron growers but the result is nil. “Earlier my annual yield was over 500 grams of Saffron but after the mission came it declined to 150 grams or less. The land in entire Pampore belt was blooming with the saffron flowers in the month of October and November every year which is not there now after the mission was started’’, he added.
He said some growers are at the verge of taking alms as their annual income has dwindled. Accusing the Agriculture Department of its failure in implementing the mission properly, he said the water sprinkling system to Saffron fields is not working.
There is about 3200 hectares of land in Pampore tehsil alone on which the Saffron is grown, while total land in the J&K UT under the Saffron cultivation is 3715 hectares. Besides, Pampore thesil 300 hectares of land in Budgam, 165 in Srinagar and 65 in Kishtwar district is under cultivation of Saffron.
Manzoor Ahmed Lone a grower of Wuyan in Pampore tehsil said that the Department had to dig 128 bore wells and till date about 100 bore wells have been dug. The approximate cost over the construction of one bore well was about Rs one crore and one bore well was designed to irrigate 30 hectares of land. But what has added to the woes of farmers is that one bore well is not irrigating even 10 kanals of land despite crores of rupees were spent on the construction of bore wells, he added.
He said crores of rupees were brought for rejuvenation but on the ground the rejuvenation is zero percent. Questioning the establishment of Saffron Park, he asked what its fun is when there is no seed in the field?
“We have no alternative now and some growers had switched over to other type of cultivation in the saffron land’’, said Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah another grower from Ladhoo, Pampore. He said the growers in some villages have started cultivating vegetables, like Kohl Rabi (Kadam), peas, beans, tomato and onions in their fields as Saffron Mission has dashed their hopes to ground.
But when contacted Director, Agriculture Kashmir, Altaf Andrabi said maximum growers were benefitted with the mission. Terming it a great success, he said that journalists from India and abroad have come to witness the progress and results of the Mission.
It is an innovative and scientific method giving good results, he said, adding in 2017-2018 due to dry spell some damage might have been done to corms but there was a good snowfall in 2019 -20 and the yield has multiplied.
Andrabi said it is a scientifically designed programme so it can’t be wrong.
District Development Commissioner, Pulwama, Dr Raghav Langer said that basically the Mission was delayed. Though started in the year 2011 it was stopped for some years due to non availability of funds from Central Government. But present Government restarted it. For the sprinkling system the dues were cleared and work has started now. Total 105 sprinkle systems have been established in last one year, he added.
He said the local growers demand that the Government should make the sprinkle system run and there should be one division to make it operational. But Government is trying to give it to any private agency which can run it for one year and later handover it to growers, whose groups will be framed for operating it, he added. He said with Government on the job now there will be no further delay.