Keonjhar: Cashew cultivation is encouraged by the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) to create income opportunities for people and improve the income of interested farmers, but the initiative is reportedly mired in irregularities in Keonjhar. The scheme has not achieved its objectives for the beneficiaries.
According to the guidelines, cashew seedlings will be planted on beneficiaries’ land under MGNREGS. The seedlings will be tended and cared for for two years before the plantations are handed over to the beneficiaries. Here is a case in point: In FY2021/22, the Horticulture Department planted cashew seedlings on 8 hectares of land owned by 12 beneficiaries in Sendakap Village under the Sadar Block. Around Rs. 19 lakh was spent on the project.
Many job card holders were busy tending the plants and fencing. However, it has been claimed that post-planting care was not taken properly. Pesticides and fertilizers were not used to feed the seedlings. And as a result, seedlings died. Some surviving seedlings were eaten by goats and cattle due to the lack of fences. With no sapling left, the plantation area now resembles pasture land. Beneficiaries who had nurtured hopes of making money growing cashews were a desperate bunch. Local people said that they used to grow crops on their farmland, but after the cashew plantation, the farmland is unsuitable for agriculture. They blamed some officials from the Horticulture Department for the mess.
“Some officials came to us and persuaded us to start cashew plantations on our land to get a good income. They said they would look after the plantation for three years and would only give us mature trees when they were ready to bear fruit. Rs 5.5 lakh was spent. But maintenance money was not released later,” some farmers claimed. Later, when the seedlings did not survive, the horticultural department wrote to the DRDA not to release funds for maintenance. Block supervisor Prithviraj Mohant said work related to cashew cultivation was halted while top Horticulture Department officials were notified in December 2021. Deputy Horticulture Director Jayant Kumar Nayak said he could only comment on the issue after reviewing the associated file.