| Primary schoolchildren get ready for their performance at the prize distribution ceremony in Mongpoo. A Telegraph picture
Mongpoo, Nov. 8: The decision on whether the faltering cinchona plantations and factories will be handed over to the department of food processing and horticulture will be based on the reports submitted by two recently-formed expert committees.
This was disclosed today by the department’s minister, Mohanta Chatterjee, during his visit here for the prize distribution ceremony of the state-wide nature study camps conducted by Pollution Control Board and Paschim Banga Vigyan Mancha.
“We have set up two committees, one to look into the cultivation of medicinal plants and the other into flori-horticultural possibilities,” said Chatterjee, who is also the environment minister. “Based on their reports soon, the government will take a final decision on the handing over of the plantations.”
The 26,000 acres of plantations, spread over the three hill subdivisions, are run by the directorate of cinchona and other medicinal plants, under the commerce and industries department. Talks have been on for the loss-making directorate to change hands for a turn around.
Though all three raw materials — cinchona (from which quinine is derived), ipecac (for emetine) and dioscorea (for diosgenin) — are produced in adequate amounts, the factories that process them into medicinal ingredients are no longer in working condition.
“There is demand for these medicinal products, but labour cost, fertilisers, and the overheads have hiked up the price of a kilogram of cinchona to Rs 240,” said R.P. Nandi, deputy director, research, of the directorate. “At this price, we cannot compete with the anti-malaria drugs that countries like China produce.”
When a global tender was floated for the sale of unprocessed cinchona, the highest bidder offered just Rs 30 a kg. The tender had to be cancelled. An auction will be held tomorrow at Darjeeling for the 1,400 metric tonnes of cinchona stocked in the godowns.
“Another 5,000 metric tonnes cannot be harvested for lack of space in the warehouses,” Nandi added. He said the solutions lay in the diversification of the plantations into other medicinal plants and herbs, or into flori-horticulture.
At the prize-distribution ceremony, 40 finalists from the 2,862 schools that took part in the national green corps programme were awarded.