Himachal’s anti-hail guns fail to deliver

Shimla, June 26 (IANS) Offence is not proving to be the best defence, literally! The anti-hail guns, installed in Himachal Pradesh for the first time in the country to protect the apple crop from the vagaries of the weather, have failed to deliver, growers say.

In the past three months, hailstorms have damaged the apple crop worth crores of rupees, mainly in the Jubbal-Kotkhai belt in upper Shimla where the guns have been installed.

The state horticulture department last year installed the guns, after procuring them from a US supplier, in Deorighat, Kathasu and Braionghat to protect the apples during the flowering and fruit setting season from hailstorms.

The cannons have been connected with the weather radar set up at Tumdoo, located at an altitude of 10,000 feet near Kharapathar.

Horticulture Minister Narender Bragta told IANS that on some occasions the guns have failed to work. ‘The anti-hail guns have been installed on a trial basis. The trials are still going on. The main reasons for the failure of the cannons to respond were human error and lack of power back-up in the guns.’

‘Most of the problems have been rectified. Now the guns are efficiently quelling the hailstorms,’ Bargta, himself a prominent apple grower in upper Shimla, added.

Contrary to the minister’s claim, apple grower and opposition Congress leader Rohit Thakur said the government has befooled the farmers. He has expressed doubts over the usefulness of the guns and the quality of the equipment.

Zile Singh, a grower in Kathasu, said the farmers in the area had not installed anti-hail nets in the hope that the anti-hail guns would ensure crop protection. However, the recent hailstorms have caused extensive damage to the crop despite the installation of the guns in the village itself.

Kathasu is one of the villages that have suffered maximum apple crop damage.

Bragta admitted the hailstorms have badly hit the apple belt in Shimla district.

Hailstorms have so far damaged crops worth over Rs.248 crore in the state, he said. ‘It’s wrong to put the entire blame on the anti-hail guns. This season was quite unfavorable for the fruit crops. First of all, the extended winter damaged the crop. Then frequent hailstorms (in summer) have badly hit it.’

He said that the anti-hail gun technique has been functioning successfully in the US, Mexico, Canada and Turkey, as also in European countries.

He said the guns, installed under a Rs.3.29 crore central government-funded project, were set up in the areas having greater density of apple orchards and to test their positive impact on them.

‘Scientists and experts of the state and the government of India have been continuously monitoring the results from the guns,’ the minister added.

The state government has requested the central government to include hailstorms as a national calamity so that fruit growers are compensated.

The state-of-the-art acetylene-fired anti-hail gun covers an aerial distance of around 80 to 100 hectares and the coverage area of the weather radar is 25 km.

The guns send shock waves into the pressure areas where hail clouds are formed and puncture them, resulting in rain instead of the damaging hail.

According to horticulture department estimates, hailstorms damage 20-30 percent of vegetable and fruit crops in the state every year.

Himachal Pradesh’s economy is highly dependent on horticulture, apart from hydroelectric power and tourism, with the annual fruit industry worth about Rs.2,000 crore.

The total fruit production in the state during April-December 2010 was 961,000 tonnes, of which apples accounted for 892,000 tonnes.

(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at [email protected])