A ripe case of negligence
Government apathy is slowly killing Assam’s Daranggiri banana market, the largest hub for the fruit in the Northeast
The run of misfortune of Assam’s Daranggiri banana market, the largest hub for bananas in the Northeast, seems unending as the Central Government sponsored Daranggiri Banana Processing Project has been scuttled all of a sudden. Work began at the sprawling market in Goalpara in 2008 under the Swarnajayanti Gram Swarozgar Yozana scheme after Assam Panchayat and Rural development Minister Chandan Brahma laid the foundation stone of the project building. But, what you see today is a neglected, empty building within the market premise.
“The project remained half done as after the building was erected, no machinery was installed for packaging of the produce as by then, the Union Government closed the scheme,” states Khanindra Choudhury, the project director of the District Rural Development Agency, Goalpara. The Central government replaced the scheme with the National Rural Livelihood Mission (NRLM). Choudhury says since the objective of both the schemes varies, the construction work had to be stopped.“Though the DRDA submitted a proposal to release the remaining funds of the project so that an important and long pending infrastructural need of the traders in the market could be met, the Government did not,” he adds.
For this banana hub of notational repute, this is not the first case of governmental short sightedness and negligence. Around 1990, the Indian Council of Agriculture Research (ICAR) was keen to set up a national research center for banana in Assam. A team of ICAR visited the Daranggiri banana market to select a site for the centre. It was “highly impressed” by what it saw at the market and showed a lot of interest to set up the country’s lone research center for banana there. But the State Government reportedly could not provide a suitable location as par the requirement of the visiting team.
“We missed a huge opportunity of having such an important national research unit for banana in the State,” rues Nalin Kumar Mohan, former chief scientist of Horticulture Research Station, Assam Agriculture University. Mohan had accompanied the ICAR team to the market in Goalpara. In 1993, this centre was finally set up by ICAR at Tiruchirapalli in Tamil Nadu.
The continued negligence of the Government towards the market and its business has let in an apparent frustration in those involved in the everyday trade there. “Officials come here, assure improvement of the market but nothing has materialized so far,” says Hemakanta rabha, president of the Daranggiri Anchalik Unnayan Sommittee, the committee that runs the everyday function of the hub.
In the absence of development initiatives by the government, the rot is beginning to set in the otherwise much sought-after destination of banana traders of the country. Poor infrastructure has hit its daily activities. Rabha says during the annual monsoon months, conducting business at the market is an uphill task, at times making transaction close to impossible due to the mud-filled market site.Mini pond-like potholes come up in the market, spread over the five bigha land. The number of trucks coming from West Bengal, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Jharkhand dwindle then as they find the roads barely motorable.
“The area of the entire market area is 1 hector. Every year, we repair the market ground because the 12-wheeled trucks get stuck in the potholes otherwise. Repairable works like earth filling, boulder pitching cost us Rs 5 lakh last year which has made a big dent in our limited fund,” says Rabha. He says repair work cost the committee at least a lakh every year.
Also, the committee has been trying hard to set up a railway station near the market for the last five years. “We have been doing the rounds of the Rail headquarters in New Delhi to the NF Railway Headquarter and the Rangyia Division but to no avail,” he adds.
Traders coming from outside the State share this growing concern of the committee for lack of infrastructure in the market area. Saradhanad Saha of Bihar’s Siwan district tells this writer during a visit to the market, “The variety of banana here a different taste which stands out. Our group transports 50 to 60 banana-laden trucks every year from the market. Sadly, we have seen no infrastructure upgradation. Rather, it remains a locus of negligence and deprivation.”
Another urgent need is a branch of a nationalised bank near the market to perform the transactions with ease. Rabha says they have been in touch with the Central Bank of India for the last two years to open a branch near the market but to no avail. The nearest bank is a State Bank of India branch in Dudhnoi, 12 kms from the market.
Apart from providing infrastructure, horticulture experts say urgent measures like common storage facility and technical support must be given to the farmers to tap the agricultural potential of the area and to boost output. “How can the loss during transit be reduced is an important issue. It needs to be researched as 15 to 20 percent of the farmers’ produce is damaged during transportation,” says Mohan.
He also highlights that the waste, in the form of banana stem and spike, are wealth too, adding, “An estimated 50 lakh plants are cut annually.”Banana fiber can be a money making byproduct of the stems which are otherwise thrown away.
The banana plant is also a good source of high quality textiles in countries like Nepal and Japan. Also, vermi-compost sourced from the moisture-rich banana plants (it has 98 percent moisture) are considered to be the best since the plants have high potassium. “One tenth of vermi-compost required in the State can be produced alone from the wastes of the banana plants of Daranggiri market which can generate employment avenues as well,” says Mohan.
The market opens twice a week – on Mondays and Thursdays. The Malbhog banana variety which is mostly supplied to Guwahati is sold on Mondays, and the Cennichampa variety on Thursdays, the largest chunk of which gets transported to different parts of the country. Rabha says the demand of the Chennichampa variety skyrockets from the annual Durga Puja to Chat Puja. “As many as 130 trucks, each carrying 1400 to 1600 bunches of Chennichampa bananas, leave the market for different States then.” While a bunch of Cennichampa is sold at Rs 200 to Rs 250, a bunch ofMalbhoggoes for Rs 350 to Rs 400. Other varieties like Jahaji and Bhim are also in abundance. Growers bring their produce to the market in bicycles from 70 villages under the Dudhnoi Agriculture Sub Division. Says Abdul Haque Ahmed, a lecturer at Bikali College, Dhupdhara, “Farmers of Meghalaya account for 70 percent of banana, mostly Chennichampa variety, supplied to the Daranggiri market.”
Before loading the banana bunches into the trucks, they are stocked in the godowns of the market. Each bunch is manually wrapped by green banana leaves and subsequently loaded neatly. Rabha says about 150 labours do the job daily, a figure which has been whittled down from 300 because of the growing loss of business in the market due to lack of modern infrastructure.
At times, farmers also fail to get an adequate price because of the lack of cold storage facility in the area. “It is impossible for us to go back home without selling the perishable produce. If we fail to sell them fresh, their value depreciates,” says a farmer. It is beyond his comprehension why the Government has not addressed the problems of a market from where thousands of people source their honest penny. Also, that it is a market that has been catering to the country-wide need for the tropical fruit, the Chennichampa bananas.
Even though the market is increasingly seeing bad business, the Daranggiri Anchalik Unnayan Sommittee, registered in 1976, is trying hard to run it against all odds. Every year, it sends a group of members to other parts of the country on a study tour. The body provides Rs 50,000 for the tour. This year, a 32 member group will go to Bangalore soon.
( Kishore Talukdar is an independent journalist based in Guwahati. His areas of interest include Development journalism and Environment journalism. He can be contacted at email@example.com )