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Fresh vegetable dream left to rot

The Jharkhand homemaker has every right to sulk.

While vegetables are getting pricey by the day, a three-year-old promise of fresh delivery in select city neighbourhoods is ringing hollow.

The Union government had launched the vegetable initiative for urban clusters with an outlay of Rs 300 crore under the aegis of the Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana in 2011-12. The scheme envisaged development of vegetable outlets for quality supply to cities and towns in every state having a population of one million and above.

But, all Jharkhand has done over three fiscal years is hang signboards, assuring its people of fresh baskets that were never to come.

Ashok Nagar, an elite residential area in Ranchi, is among those that feel terribly cheated. “After the Centre floated the scheme, a shop sporting the state government’s emblem and a signboard reading Veg Fresh came up at gate No. 4 of Ashok Nagar. It never saw the light of day. We still depend on old vegetable marts and fleecing vendors,” said G.B. Rao, a Jharkhand High Court advocate who lives in the area.

The scheme was expected to cover all aspects relating to vegetable production, from supply of planting material to marketing up to retail level along with support for conducting base line survey, formation of farmer groups, linking them to markets and training them.

Rajesh Kumar Verma, who runs a milk booth at the same gate, pointed to the possible glitch that is holding up launch of the initiative for an inordinate period.

“The Jharkhand State Adivasi Co-operative Vegetable Marketing Federation Limited or Vegfed is the executing agency of the central scheme in the state. When I expressed my interest to run an outlet, the co-operative society asked for Rs 8 lakh as security deposit. The amount is too hefty for small-time businessmen like me,” Verma said.

An official at Vegfed did not disagree. “Veg Fresh outlets had been planned across the state, starting with 30 in Ranchi and gradually 20 each in Dhanbad, Bokaro and Jamshedpur. So far, only one outlet has been opened at Ranchi’s Rajendra Chowk. Parties hesitate to take up the business because the security deposit is high,” he said.

Managing director of Vegfed Surendra Singh conceded the delay, but said development of infrastructure was taking time. “To open Veg Fresh outlets, power connection is required to maintain cold stores and customer sheds. It is a time-taking job. Hence, the delay,” he said.

He quickly added that Ranchi would not have to wait very long. “As many as 15 outlets are immediately on the radar. While one has already opened, four more will run within a fortnight at Hinoo (near Hanuman Mandir), Kanke Road (near Sidho Kanho Park), Bariatu (near the police station) and Ashok Nagar Gate 4.”

On Veg Fresh outlets in the two steel cities and the coal town, Singh said land crunch was the main obstacle.