Shimla, April 18
Despite horticulture being a key contributor to the state’s economy and lakhs of families depending on it for livelihood, the Horticulture Department is running short of manpower.
The department is roughly 40 per cent short of the sanctioned staff. Of 2,432, only 1,512 posts are filled. As many as 920 posts are lying vacant. “We have apprised the government of the shortage of staff, some steps will be taken soon to address the situation,” said Director, Horticulture, RK Pruthi.
Amid the overall deficit of 40 per cent, the shortage of over 60 per cent Horticulture Development Officers (HDO) is of utmost concern. Of the sanctioned strength of 264 HDOs, 152 posts are lying vacant.
“The HDOs are responsible for every horticulture-related activity at the block level. Besides making people aware of the department schemes, they help in their implementation, holding training camps, providing technical knowhow on plantation, plant protection, nutritional management, etc,” said an official. In addition, the around 30 per cent posts of Horticulture Extension Officer (HEO), who assist HDOs in the field, are also vacant.
The fact that two major projects are currently running in the state – the World Bank-funded Horticulture Development Project and Asian Development Bank funded SHIVA project – makes the situation even more critical. “Most of the staff for these projects have been drawn from our department. As a result, the shortage of staff is being felt even more,” the official said.
In view of the massive shortage of the field staff, Director, Horticulture, said efforts were being made to ensure the delivery of service to all areas. “Additional charges are being given to the officials to ensure no development block is without an HDO,” said Pruthi.
Nevertheless, apple growers at several places complain about the lack of assistance from the department. “I don’t remember any training camp organised by the department in my area, nor there have been any visits by officials to share information or suggestions on plants or the crop,” said Pawan Sharma, an orchardist from Theog.
“Camps are generally held in villages that are easily approachable, the officials rarely visit distant villages,” said Kushal Mongta, a Zila Parishad member from Saraswati Nagar, Jubbal.