By ARUN PRATAP SINGH
DEHRADUN, 16 Dec: Nursery owners in Uttarakhand are very apprehensive about the new Uttarakhand Fruit Nursery (Regulations) Act 2019. This act has been passed during the winter session of the state assembly. While it aims to regulate only those nurseries in the state that propagate fruit plants, certain provisions in the act certainly appear to be not in the interests of the nurseries. It is for these reasons that the nursery owners in the state feel that they are bound to suffer. The new Act requires nursery owners to get licences in order to run their fruit nurseries. The new act further requires nursery owners to have educational knowledge regarding nurseries and they will be required to submit a certificate of training received from the Department of Horticulture, any institute of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research of State Agriculture/Horticulture Universities, which shall further be recommended by the horticulture department of Uttarakhand regarding nursery management. It is a fact that few nursery owners if at all have any such certificates at present. Not only this, it is also a fact that neither the horticulture department nor the state horticulture universities (there are only two of them in Uttarakhand, namely GB Pant University of Agriculture & Technology, Pantnagar, and VCSG Uttarakhand University of Horticulture, Bharsar) run regular training courses for nursery owners at present. The new act requires the nursery owners to own a minimum of 0.2 hectares of land or to have at least 0.2 hectares of land on lease for 30 years. In the hill areas, this requirement is a minimum of 0.10 hectares. However, those having barely minimum land of 0.2 hectares shall be granted licence to run a fruit nursery of only one crop. It means those who wish to run a fruit nursery for more than a crop must have more land at their disposal to have mother blocks of each crop. The new Act also ignores the fact that fruit plants being propagated through seed sowing like papaya, guava and walnut don’t require mother blocks. Papayas are in fact propagated only through seeds. While, the act is ostensibly aiming to ensure production and sale of quality plants in the state, the ground realities make it impossible for the department to ensure the quality. This is besides the practical difficulties for the nursery owners to fulfil the conditions stipulated under the new act. Most nurseries in the state run on rented land and the land owners never agree to rent their land on lease agreements for various reasons. As such, it becomes very difficult for the nursery owners to obtain lease agreement from the land owners. Most fruit nursery owners in the hill region have smaller patches of land and that too located at different locations. Their activities are mostly restricted to propagating temperate fruit plants like walnut, apple, pear, peaches and plums, etc. They operate on a very small scale and bring their mother plants from Himachal Pradesh and Jammu & Kashmir. Once the act comes into force, they will not only go out of business but there will be a severe shortage of planting material in the state as there are hardly any large scale fruit plant propagators in the state. This, in other words, would mean that almost the entire planting material of fruit plants would have to be brought from other states unless, of course, the government has some powerful investors who may set up business here while rendering small nursery owners out of business. Or else, they would have to completely switch over to merely retailing fruit plants. The past records however indicate that such large plant producers who aim to dominate the business with the help of government manage to get away with supplying poor quality and not true to the name varieties to the government departments and, in the end, farmers who procure their planting material from the horticulture department suffer after a few years when they realise they have been cheated at the time plants actually start bearing fruits. Those only retailing the fruit plants are required to maintain registers and records of their procurements and sale for a period of ten years and this trading is required to be inspected from time to time by an inspection committee of the horticulture department. Those procuring fruit plants from outside the state would be required to obtain a self declaration from the nursery on a Rs 100 stamp paper stating the genetic characteristic, techniques followed in propagation and maintaining the plants including the root stock of and the scions and certifying that plants are insect and disease free. The fruit plants are required to be labelled properly. Under the Act, the department would have power to regulate which varieties (cultivars) of which plants would be allowed and which could be banned. Now this is a controversial provision as many new cultivars keep on developing and they may not find place in the government’s list of approved varieties. Not only this, the horticulture department in the state does not have any infrastructure and qualified personnel to carry out research to decide which varieties are actually suitable or beneficial for the state. Speaking to Garhwal Post, President of the Uttarakhand Chapter of the Indian Nursery Association Sudhanshu Negi and General Secretary Arun Vishnoi claimed that most nurseries in the state just retailed the plants, which were mostly procured from outside the state. However, those propagating the plants did so on rented land and they were not in a position to obtain lease agreements for 30 years. No land owners were willing to enter into 30 year lease agreements with the nurseries. They further claimed that while nurseries in the state were willing to procure planting material from approved nurseries through the department, but the past record of the department on procuring planting material was not encouraging. They also demanded representation of nurseries in the inspection committee to avoid needless harassment by the committee. They also demanded setting up of proper training facilities by the state universities and the department for the nursery owners before making the training mandatory for them.