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Uttarakhand High Court observes that spurious saplings can have devastating effect on farmers

The Uttarakhand High Court has observed that  the Supply of spurious saplings to farmers can have a devastating effect, in as much as they may not come to know that the saplings planted and nurtured by them were of poor quality for years together, since it may take a few years for the saplings to grow into trees and bear fruit.
The Division Bench of Chief Justice Vipin Sanghi and Justice Alok Kumar Verma heard a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by one Deepak Kargeti seeking following relief:-
I. Issue a writ, order or direction in the nature of Mandamus directing the respondent no. 1 (State of Uttarakhand)  to constitute a High Level Inquiry Committee/ Independent Inquiry Committee for inquiring into the role of the Officers of the Directorate of Horticulture and Food Processing, Uttarakhand, Ranikhet including the Licensing Authority regarding issuance of License in favour of Private Company  (Respondent No. 9), in violation of the provisions of Fruit Nursery (Regulation) Act, 2019 and the consequently issuance of Allotment Letters for obtaining Fruit Plants from Respondent No. 9, based on the said License. 
II. Issue a writ, order or direction in the nature of Certiorari calling for the records from the Office of Licensing Authority/ Director, Horticulture and Food Processing, Ranikhet, Uttarakhand  and to cancel the License issued in favour of Respondent No. 9, which has been issued by the Licensing Authority in violation of the provisions of Fruit Nursery (Regulation) Act, 2019 and by manipulating the records.
The case of the petitioner is that the Government of Uttarakhand notified the Uttarakhand Fruits Nurseries (Regulation) Act, 2019 with the object of making provisions for issuance of licenses and regulation of Fruit Nurseries in the State of Uttarakhand. Section 9 of the said Act provides for issuance of license for Fruit Nursery, and prohibits any person / authority from conducting or carrying on the business of fruit nursery without license. Under the said Act, the Director, Horticulture and Food Processing, Uttarakhand, is the designated licensing authority. Section 4 of the said Act provides for submission of an Application for issuance of license, while Section 5 deals with essential conditions for grant of license. It provides that the applicant should have the mother block for establishment of a fruit nursery.  
The Private Respondent (respondent No. 11) was appointed as the Director, Horticulture and Food Processing, Uttarakhand for a period of one year on deputation on 27.01.2021. He proceeded to firstly fix the rates for purchase of fruit trees during the winter and the monsoon seasons. The rates were revised by respondent No. 11 on 14.12.2021 for all varieties of Kiwi to Rs. 275/- per plant.    
On 07.01.2022, the Uttarakhand Fruit Nursery (Regulation) Rules, 2021 were notified under Section 23 of the Fruit Nursery Act, 2019. Under the said Rules, provisions were made for making an application for grant of license and conditions of eligibility for grant of license. Inter alia, the said Rules provide for inspection of nursery. Rule 9 of the said Rules also requires the license holder / nursery owner to provide the information in writing to the Director, Horticulture through concerned District / Chief Horticulture Officer in respect of the material available in the nursery for the purpose of sale.   
According to the petitioner, respondent No. 9 was issued an undated license. The petitioner does not have the particulars of the license, but submits that on the basis of the said license, respondent No. 9 has been issued an  allotment order for supplying fruit trees such as Apple, Apricot, Walnut, Kiwi and Pear. 
The counsel for the petitioner has placed on record a report prepared by the District Magistrate, Uttarkashi dated 25.01.2023, according to which, on inspection, it was found that respondent No. 9 was not located at its given address, where it was supposed to have its nursery in Village Oadhgaon. It further appears that it was claimed that the name of the Village has wrongly been mentioned, and the same is situated at Village Lodhan, Tehsil Barkot. However, even at that place, respondent No. 9 does not have its nursery.
From the records, the Court noted that it was subsequently claimed that respondent No. 9 has a one year contract with a Nursery in Jammu and Kashmir, namely, Green Nursery, Qaimoh, District Kulgam, Jammu and Kashmir.    
 The Counsel also submits on the basis of the record, that the application form submitted by respondent No. 9 for obtaining the license is completely bereft of particulars. He also points-out that as per the information uploaded on the website of National Horticulture Board, the said Green Nursery in Kulgam, Jammu and Kashmir has mother stock only of Apple, and not for other fruits .Whereas the total production capacity of the said Nursery is 41,000 saplings, allotment order has been issued in favour of respondent No. 9 for over a lacs saplings. .
The  counsel has also submitted that Secretary, Agriculture and Farmer Welfare, Government of Uttarakhand, Dehradun has called for an explanation from respondent No. 9, but no action has been taken till date. In fact, respondent No. 11 has issued another allotment letter in favour of respondent No. 9, even after an inquiry was sought to be made by the Secretary, Agriculture and Farmer Welfare, Government of Uttarakhand.   
“The facts brought on record by the petitioner, and the issues raised by the petitioner, raise a very grave and serious concern about the impact on horticultural activities in the State of Uttarakhand. The conduct of respondent No. 11, prima facie, appears to be questionable, and there is a lot of explanation that the respondent Authorities, particularly, respondent No. 9 have to provide. Firstly, it needs to be explained as to how respondent No. 9 was issued license without respondent No. 9 having its nursery at the address disclosed, and without it having the mother stock. It is not even clear as to when the license was issued, since the same appears to be undated. It is not clear as to which are the fruits for which the license has  been granted. If there are other licensees, why it is that the allotment order has been issued only to respondent No. 9 “.
In the aforesaid light, the High Court  directed  respondents who are represented before us through  K.N. Joshi,  Deputy Advocate General for the State of Uttarakhand, to file their affidavits on all the aforesaid aspects within three weeks. They shall also place on record the license granted in favour of respondent No. 9, and the copies of the inspection reports conducted at Uttarkashi and Jammu and Kashmir.    
The Court also directed the Secretary, Agriculture and Farmer Welfare, Government of Uttarakhand, Dehradun to immediately take remedial steps without waiting for further orders of this Court, after examining the whole matter himself. He is also directed to make inquiry at his own end and, if called for, action may be taken by him against respondent Nos. 9 & 11.   
“We direct that no amount be released to respondent No. 9 till the matter is examined by the Secretary, Agriculture and Farmer Welfare, Government of Uttarakhand, and without his approval. The Secretary, Agriculture and Farmer Welfare shall satisfy himself whether any amount due to respondent No. 9 under the allotment letters issued in favour of respondent No. 9, should be withheld or not, and in case the Secretary, Agriculture and Farmer Welfare finds that there is irregularity, he may direct that the amounts payable to respondent No. 9 may be withheld till further orders”, the order reads.
Matter is listed on  28.03.2023  for further hearing.

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