Shimla, April 18
Although horticulture is a key contributor to the state’s economy and thousands of families depend on it for their livelihood, the Department of Horticulture is understaffed.
The department is about 40% short of sanctioned personnel. Out of 2,432, only 1,512 positions have been filled. No less than 920 positions are vacant. “We have informed the government about the shortage of staff, some measures will be taken soon to remedy the situation,” Horticulture Director RK Pruthi said.
Amid an overall deficit of 40%, the over 60% shortage of Horticulture Development Officers (HDOs) is extremely concerning. Of the sanctioned workforce of 264 HDOs, 152 positions are vacant.
“HDOs are responsible for all horticulture-related activities at the block level. In addition to raising awareness of departmental programs, they help with their implementation, organize training camps, provide technical know-how on planting, plant protection, nutritional management, etc. “said an official. In addition, the approximately 30% of Horticultural Extension Officer (HEO) positions, which assist the HDOs in the field, are also vacant.
The fact that two major projects are currently underway in the state – the World Bank-funded Horticulture Development Project and the Asian Development Bank-funded SHIVA Project – makes the situation even more critical. “Most of the personnel assigned to these projects come from our department. As a result, the lack of staff is even more felt,” the manager said.
Given the massive shortage of field staff, the director of horticulture said efforts were being made to ensure service delivery in all areas. “Additional fees are given to officials to ensure that no development block is HDO-free,” Pruthi said.
Nevertheless, apple growers in several places are complaining about the lack of help from the department. “I don’t recall any training camps organized by the department in my area, or visits by officials to share information or suggestions on plants or cultivation,” said Pawan Sharma, an arborist from Theog.
“Camps are usually held in easily accessible villages, officials rarely visit remote villages,” said Kushal Mongta, a member of Zila Parishad from Saraswati Nagar, Jubbal.