Bihar’s only litchi treatment plant defunct for 3 years

Farmers blame official apathy; National Research Centre for Litchi cite acute shortage of scientists

By Mohd Imran Khan
Published: Wednesday 11 May 2022
Bihar’s only litchi treatment plant lying defunct for 3 years; farmers’ profits hit Photo: Mohd Imran Khan

The only litchi processing and treatment plant of Bihar has been lying defunct since 2019, according to local litchi growers.

The flagship project of former Union Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh, inaugurated in 2017, was supposed to increase the shelf life of the fruit and bring good profits to the farmers. 

But the plant in Muzaffarpur district has proved to be a major disappointment for them over the last three years, according to Bachcha Singh, a litchi farmer in the district, adding that their hope for profits have been dashed. 

“The government should start the plant and set up cold storage to keep litchi after treatment,” said Singh, Bachcha Singh, who is also the president of the Litchi Utpadak Sangh.

Bihar accounts for nearly 40 per cent of India’s litchi production. The fruit is cultivated in the eastern state over around 32,000 hectares, of which nearly 12,000 hectares of orchards are in Muzaffarpur.

Apathy on part of the plant officials is responsible for the condition of the plant, said Ravinder Singh, another local farmer, echoing the sentiment of hundreds of litchi growers in the district.

Officials of the Muzaffarpur-based National Research Centre for Litchi (NRCL), however, blame it on the acute shortage of scientists at the institute. Reluctance of the Mumbai-based Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) to send a team of scientists to run the plant in 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic also affected the plant, according to them.

The BARC scientists were expected to start the plant this year but the research centre has not provided any update. 

SD Pandey, director of NRCL, told Down to Earth:

We are hopeful that the litchi treatment plant will become functional this month, expecting BARC’s scientists to help us. 

“It is for the government to put adequate scientists at NRCL for different work. Shortage of scientists is bound to affect special projects,” he added.

At present, there are only three scientists at NRCL, including its director, according to officials.

Most of the scientists were transferred to other places by concerned departments of the central government during the last two years. Around 12 of the 15 posts sanctioned by the NRCL are vacant, the officials added.

Litchi is a sensitive summer fruit and used to be destroyed in four days after harvesting if not sold. The plant, a joint effort by BARC and NRCL during 2015-16, would increase the longevity of the fruit to 40-50 days using new techniques, the scientists showed.

They packed 200 kilograms of litchis after special treatment and opened the container after 50 days. The litchis were still fresh with their natural moonstone colour, aroma and taste, the former NRCL director Vishal Nath recalled.

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