Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh on Tuesday granted in-principle approval for the creation of a separate administrative body for the execution of various horticulture-related projects. The chief minister also ordered the creation of a mechanism to protect rights of land owners who have been leasing out their land to corporates or individuals for horticulture development. Singh asked his principal secretary and chief secretary to prepare a comprehensive plan to bring about a paradigm shift from conventional agriculture to the high value horticulture on scientific lines through out-of-the-box initiatives, an official spokesperson said after a meeting of the agriculture and horticulture departments, chaired by the chief minister.
The spokesman said that the chief minister also ordered a series of other major initiatives to boost crop diversification in the state to encourage farmers to shift from the traditional wheat-paddy crop cycle to the more lucrative horticulture.
Pointing out that land owners were not leasing out their lands in fear of losing them which is leading to sub-optimal use of the land, officials stressed the need to enable corporates/individuals investing in horticulture in Punjab to lease and operate land holdings over and above the permissible land ceiling limits.
Singh ordered steps for stringent implementation of the 2011 amendments made to the relevant legislations to protect ownership/possession rights in the case of long-term contract/lease.
Regarding the proposed new administrative head, the meeting decided it was essential to supervise in a coordinated manner the various activities and projects related to horticulture, according to the spokesperson.
It was also decided in the meeting to set up the new head under a Secretary, Horticulture, to streamline the functioning of the various state government departments currently involved in the function.
The chief minister also okayed the establishment of a Punjab Horticulture Board, on the lines of the State Agriculture Marketing Development Board (Mandi Board) to help farmers switch to horticulture.
The meeting discussed ways and means to address the anomalies in the Punjab Land Reforms Act, 1973, by redefining orchards to include fruits other than kinnow and by reviewing the permissible area for the same.
Amarinder also agreed to the proposal mooted by the additional chief secretary (horticulture) to set up a separate university exclusively for the development and research of fruits, vegetables and floriculture, on the lines of Guru Angad Dev University of Veterinary Sciences, to give further fillip to the horticulture sector in the state.
The chief minister consented to hive off the work related to drip irrigation and soil testing for horticulture from the soil conservation department and transfer it to the horticulture department to ensure better coordination for the promotion of the crucial sector.
In another decision, Amarinder directed immediate steps to fill up the vacancies in the horticulture department by either expediting the process through the Punjab Public Service Commission (PPSC) or by bringing the sanctioned vacant posts out of the purview of the PPSC after seeking approval from the Personnel and Finance Department.
The latter course would enable filling up of the vacancies through a departmental selection committee on the basis of written test to be conducted by Punjab Agriculture University, Ludhiana, strictly on merit, the spokesperson said.
Amarinder underlined the need for extensive R&D for the development of new varieties of citrus fruits by utilizing the services of PAU and eminent international experts in the field of horticulture. The meeting proposed setting up of a dedicated Kinnow mandi, with a multi-cell cold storage, in Abohar, South Punjab.
The chief minister emphasized the need for setting up joint ventures with MNCs like PepsiCo and Hindustan Unilever to ensure a marketing network of juices and beverages not only in the domestic but also in the international market.
He stressed on the need to develop and augment the cold chain infrastructure in South Punjab to further strengthen the export and domestic markets for kinnow.
Other initiatives discussed at the meeting included mushroom and potato as well as floriculture and bee-keeping, besides setting up of a tomato mandi.