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Wednesday, 12 December, 2018

Orchid Polyhouses: From sowing dreams to reaping nightmares

21 orchid farmers, who left their traditional cultivation practices on the advice of the administration, are now stuck in a fix with barely any yield from their orchid farms in the past four years, a m0unting debt and court notices on defaulting payments of bank loans, sharing their grief they explain how this came to be from the start

08th October 2018, 03:25 Hrs

KATHY FERNANDES  

CANACONA

They were advised to abandon their traditional cultivations and were lured into orchid cultivation amid promises of high returns.  

Barely four years later, their nightmares began to unfold. Their orchid output have been little to none, their polyhouses have been either non-existent or crumbling down, they have been hit by bank notices over repayment of loans and have summons to appear before a Mumbai court over defaulted loan payments.  

Having run from pillar to post, including a meeting with Agriculture Minister Vijai Sardesai, they recently filed a police complaint against some contractors and bankers. This is the plight confronting 21 orchid farmers from Canacona, Sanguem and Quepem talukas, who were promised lucrative returns to be part of a pilot project ‘Orchid Farming’ under the National Horticulture Mission in 2014.  

The farmers recalled that their nightmares began when the agriculture department gave its approval to about 45 orchid polyhouses in the three talukas.  

Many farmers completed the required formalities, including bank documentations, after earmarking their land and making all necessary arrangements.  

After completing all procedures, the farmers were officially beneficiaries of orchid polyhouses, except for the fact that most of them ended up with no functioning polyhouses and no cultivations.  

WOES OF FARMERS

Taking reporters to some orchid polyhouses, which a bank had paid full loan amounts to the contractors, one orchid farmer Shanu Gaonkar of Yedda-Cotigao said his polyhouse had been built and even a drip irrigation system installed.  

“It has been four years now, and my orchid polyhouse has never been functional. I learnt that the bank disbursed a loan of Rs 65 lakh against my name to the contractor.”   

“Earlier, I used to cultivate paddy and chillies on my land of about 5,000 sq. mtrs. Now, I don’t have proper income since 4 years and to make matters worse, I started getting bank notices for repayment of loans with interest,” said Shanu.  

Sadanand Gawande, another orchid farmer from Sanguem, complained of similar woes, claiming he was under constant stress following the bank notices.   

“With the government not doing any anything, we are under severe mental stress and I have often contemplated taking extreme steps,” Gawande said.  

Sandeep Gaonkar took reporters to Kuskem-Cotigao, where he showed them a vacant place.   

“I was asked to clear my land, earlier used for cashew plantations and locally grown agriculture produce. The contractor would earlier visit us frequently and I was called once to complete bank formalities. Not even a single material was brought to my land. I then received a bank notice that Rs 65 lakh have been disbursed against my name to the contractor and I was asked to pay the interest,” he said.  

One orchid farmer, Suraj Naik Gaonkar, even accused the contractor and bankers of colluding over the loans.  

“No proper system was followed by bankers in ensuring release of payments only in installments or on completion of various stages of the work. Irrespective of the size of polyhouse to be erected, the bankers levied and collected a hefty processing fee of Rs 1.8 lakh from each orchid farmer,” said Suraj Gaonkar.  

Another orchid farmer, Ajay Naik Gaonkar, added: “Even those Polyhouses in operation delivered poor yield and the structure began to crumble as low grade materials were used. The orchid plantations had a lifespan of just 2-3 years, instead of the assured life span of 7-8 years.”   

The aggrieved orchid farmers accused the contractors of fleeing with over Rs 12 crore availed by them as bank loans disbursed to orchid farmers.  

An orchid farmer, Vinay Tubki, informed that the government had also failed to provide any security to the farmers, who were taken for a ride by assurances of high returns.   

“The government normally seeks a performance certificate, collects security deposit, etc. for any contractor. But in the pilot project, there were no provisions or security measures in the interest of farmers,” said Tubki.  

PETITIONS BY FARMERS

With virtually no hope in sight, the 21 orchid farmers three months ago had met Agriculture Minister Vijay Sardessai, who brokered a meeting with the contractor, bank officials and the farmers. The contractor reportedly assured to resolve the bank loan issue.  

The farmers, however, claimed that nothing had been resolved and that, they were repeatedly receiving notices from the bank’s head office in Mumbai, where they have been summoned to appear before a court for defaulting loan payment.  

On October 1, the farmers filed a police complaint against six persons, including officials of a bank and a company, accusing them of tricking them with bank loans running into crores of rupees, without their consent and without inspecting the quantum and quality of works executed on the field.  

Besides filing a police complaint, the aggrieved orchid farmers on Friday submitted a complaint to the director of agriculture seeking to blacklist contractors in Gandhinagar and Bangalore for using low quality materials to construct polyhouses.  

Claiming to have had a commitment of six years of assured support and maintenance to the polyhouses, they informed the director that drip irrigation systems and preparation of beds had collapsed, while roofs were destroyed at most polyhouses within just 2-3 years.

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