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Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Gujarat: Snapped powerlines, costly diesel add to woes in clearing damaged orchards

The cyclone made landfall between Una and Mahuva in Bhavnagar district on May 17, wreaking havoc in Gir Somnath, Junagadh, Amreli and Bhavnagar. This belt is known for the aromatic and juicy Kesar variety of mangoes.

Written by Gopal B Kateshiya | Una |
Updated: July 19, 2021 2:29:41 am
Kishor Thummar looks on as a labourer removes logs from his orchard in Surva village of Gir Somnath. (Photo: Gopal Kateshiya)

On a sultry afternoon, two months after cyclone Tauktae hit Saurashtra coast, 23 labourers working on mango orchard of Kalu Gohil in Motha village of Gir Somnath’s Una taluka sought refuge under a tarpaulin sheet that shields two diesel-fired power generator (DG) sets to have lunch. Though they were in a seven-bigha orchard with more than 100 mango trees, the furious winds had blown away canopy, reducing the trees to trunks.

These labourers have been following this for the past 45 days, while clearing logs and foliage of uprooted or damaged mango trees from three orchards spread over 27 bigha land Gohil and this two younger brothers jointly own. The three orchards had more than 500 mango trees in all and Gohil says around 100 have been uprooted while the rest have lost their canopy.

The labourers took more than a month to clear Gohil’s 16-bigha orchard in Kalumbhu area of Motha, the coastal village known for its orchards of Kesar variety of mangoes. On Saturday, they moved to this seven-bigha orchard in Molavak area. They have one more four-bigha orchard in Bhunkiyu area to clear.

While the labourers are battling humidity, occasional heat and intermittent showers as they cut damaged branches, cut them into pieces and stack them on the boundary of the orchard, the 60-year-old farmer is worried about the mounting expenses.

He has already spent Rs 60,000 to purchase 10 handheld chainsaws and has hired two DG sets, at daily rent of Rs 1000 each. Every day, the power generators consume 20 litres diesel, costing Rs 2,000 and a labourer carries home Rs 400. The farmer says the bill for clearing the orchard has already gone past Rs 6 lakh.

“This is big for us, especially in a year when we could harvest mangoes worth just Rs 10,000. Average annual earnings over the past few years was around Rs 15 lakh. But this year, the cyclone struck when the harvest just began. We lost the crop and the orchards. Powerlines remain snapped. If the electricity is restored, expenses can be reduced. But we can’t wait endlessly,” Gohil says, adding he has applied for government relief but has not got anything so far.

As advised by state horticulture department, Gohil and other orchard owners are cutting damaged branches leaving the trunks, hoping the trees will rejuvenate. “We are unlikely to have any harvest for the next five years… There are no takers for the wood either as hundreds of orchards in the mango belt have been damaged…” says Gohil, who has studied till Class 6, pointing to piles of logs dumped by farmers in common grazing land near his orchard.

The cyclone made landfall between Una and Mahuva in Bhavnagar district on May 17, wreaking havoc in Gir Somnath, Junagadh, Amreli and Bhavnagar. This belt is known for the aromatic and juicy Kesar variety of mangoes.

Paschim Gujarat Vij Company Limited (PGVCL), the company which distributes power in the region, says that the cyclone damaged more than two lakh poles and snapped conductors, resulting in loss of more than 90 per cent of its power-distribution infrastructure.

While power has been restored to homes, thousands of farmers in Amreli and Gir Somnath continue to wait for electricity on their farms. PGVCL says restoration work continues on war-footing. “We have recharged all the 316 agricultural feeders in Bhavnagar, which had been affected by the cyclone. In Amreli circle, which also covers Gir Somnath, we have recharged 366 of the 515 feeders. Now, only 149 feeders remain to be restored and total 800 teams are working overtime to do that,” Dhimantkumar Vyas, managing director of PGVCL says, adding “Monsoon rains are hampering the restoration work in many areas.”

Kishor Thummar and his three brothers, who jointly own 21-bigha mango orchard in Surva village near Talala, the town known for Kesar mangoes, waited till power was restored to their farm. “There was no electricity and labourers were not available. I could not find buyers for wood either. In normal times, mango wood, which is used as firewood, would fetch Rs 1,200 per tonne. But now, no one is ready to pick it up even at Rs 300,” says Thummar, adding he received Rs 30,000 compensation from government for one of three seven-bigha blocks of his orchard.

Tejmohammed Bloch, a labourer from the village, accepted the contract to cut and trim branches of mango trees from Thummar’s orchard and take away the wood free of cost.

In Amreli, Mansukh Rokadiya, a seven-bigha farmer in Bhad village in Khambha taluka, sold his diesel generator after the government gave him power connection a few years ago. But he had to purchase a used engine and a pump after Tauktae snapped power supply to his field. “The engine and pump cost me Rs 38,000. But I had to go for it as there is no word as to when power will be restored and I needed to irrigate my onion crop,” says the farmer.

Pointing to a damaged transformer near his well, Rokadiya says he’s not hopeful of getting power very soon. “PGVCL may try its best but their work can suffer if farmers don’t allow their teams to enter the fields fearing damage to crops,” he says.

Migrant agricultural labourers are also facing new challenges. “We have to draw water from well manually as motor pumps are idle. I am worried for the safety of my two-year-old son Pradeep as leopards keep roaming in this area at night and sleeping in mosquito-infested cottages without light and fan is very testing,” says Alpa Sarpot (20), a native of Fatepura taluka in Dahod who is working on Jitesh Hirapara’s farm in Bhad.

In the neighbouring Dhari taluka, five labourers sleeping outside their cottages near Chalala were attacked and injured by leopards in three separate incidents last week. Dushyant Vasavada, chief conservator of forests of Junagadh wildlife circle, said they caged a leopard early on Sunday from a farmland in Chalala.

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