Shimla: The Himachal Pradesh assembly Monday saw a war of words and wits between the ruling Congress and the opposition BJP over the effectiveness of anti-hail guns to protect crops and apple trees.
Horticulture Minister Vidya Stokes informed the assembly that she had literally taken apple trees damaged by hail to the previous Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government headed by Prem Kumar Dhumal to apprise it of the growers` woes.
At this former chief minister Dhumal stood up and replied: "Stokes has never even offered us an apple what to talk about a tree."
At this, the entire house burst out in peals of laughter.
Replying to question on the efficacy of three anti-hail guns installed by the previous government in 2010 in the apple belts of Shimla district to protect crops from hail, Stokes, herself a prominent apple grower, said: "Preliminary results about the worthiness of the anti-hail guns are not clear. Even the common man has doubts about its usefulness."
The state horticulture department installed the anti-hail guns in Deorighat, Kathasu and Braionghat under a Rs.3.29 crore central government-funded project to protect apples from hailstorms during the flowering and fruit setting season.
Stokes said even the guns had failed to protect the crops from hails. "In fact, it has diverted the direction of the hails and their impact was more seen in nearby fields."
She said the government would now promote anti-hail nets by providing 80 percent subsidy on them rather than installing more anti-hail guns.
She said the government has invited farmers to get their feedback about their worthiness.
"Eighty percent farmers expressed doubts over the worthiness of the anti-hail guns," Stokes said.
"But we will continue, if they are beneficial," she added.
Intervening in the debate, Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh said the technology of the anti-hail guns was outdated and discarded in other countries. "The guns were not based on any scientific theory. The experiment (of their use) has failed," he added.
According to horticulture department estimates, hailstorms damage 20-30 percent of vegetable and fruit crops in the state every year.
The previous BJP government last year had submitted a Rs.374 crore anti-hail gun project to the central government for funding to install 300 guns in the state.