Citizens' Issues
Dry winter may hit Himachal's fruit economy
Shimla : The prolonged dry winter spell may hit the Rs.3,500 crore ($520 million) fruit economy of Himachal Pradesh, horticulture experts say. This month, the precipitation - both rain and snow - has been more than 68 percent deficit.
 
The situation can improve if there is adequate snow and rain till mid-February. Farmers are now praying for this.
 
The hill state is one of India's major apple producing regions, with more than 90 percent of the produce going to the domestic market. Apple alone constitutes 89 percent of the state's fruit economy.
 
"Lack of rain and snow at this point in time could severely affect the overall production of all stone fruits, including apples," S.P. Bhardwaj, a former joint director at the Y.S. Parmar University of Horticulture and Forestry, told IANS.
 
He said the apple crop requires 400 to 1,200 hours of chilling with the average temperature at seven degrees Celsius or less during dormancy and before flowering begins by March-end.
 
"There are noticeable fluctuations in chilly hours due to prolonged dry spells. Snow, or at least rain, is a must for the apple plants that are in the dormancy stage now," Bhardwaj said.
 
Added a worried Sanjeev Sharma, an apple farmer from Kiari village, the known apple belt in Shimla district: "There is hardly any snow or rain from December onwards. If this weather trends persist, it will seriously impact the overall production."
 
Snow is considered "white manure" for the fruit orchards as it not only helps in meeting the minimum chilling requirement but also sustains the required level of moisture in the soil during summer when the fruit is maturing.
 
Manmohan Singh, director of the meteorological office in Shimla, said the mean maximum and minimum for December and January were one to four degrees Celsius above average.
 
"In the first eight days of this month, the precipitation deficiency was 68 percent in the state. There was a 40 percent shortfall last month," he said.
 
Manmohan Singh said dry conditions would continue at least for a week or so as no major western disturbance is approaching the region.
 
Reports from the field say prominent apple belts in Kothgarh, Jubbal, Kotkhai and Thanedar in Shimla district, the entire Kullu Valley and Karsog in Mandi district were rain and snow deficit in the past two weeks, the peak winter season.
 
Shimla district, which alone accounts for 80 percent of the total apple production, experienced an 81 percent shortfall of rain and snow this month. The deficit last month was 25 percent.
 
Horticulture Minister Vidya Stokes, a prominent apple grower, said it's too early to predict the expected apple yield. "It's a fact that there is a lack of snow and rain in the past two months. We are hopeful of sufficient snow and rain falling before the flowering begins."
 
Bhardwaj said if the dry conditions persist or the winter is extended, as happened last year, there will be no uniform flowering in all the fruit crops, including the apple, resulting in poor yields.
 
The apple flowering season is from March-end to April, depending upon the plant variety.
 
Over the years, apple production in the state has been erratic, say experts.
 
The reason is a prolonged winter spell and lack of adequate rainfall when the apple crop was ripening between May and June.
 
The apple yield was 739,000 tonnes in 2013-14, while it was 412,000 tonnes in 2012-13, 275,000 tonnes in 2011-12, says Himachal Pradesh's economic survey for 2014-15.
 
Besides apple, other fruits like pear, peach, cherry, apricot, kiwi, strawberry, olive, almond and plum are the major commercial crops of the state.
 
Disclaimer: Information, facts or opinions expressed in this news article are presented as sourced from IANS and do not reflect views of Moneylife and hence Moneylife is not responsible or liable for the same. As a source and news provider, IANS is responsible for accuracy, completeness, suitability and validity of any information in this article.

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Congress unhappy as Bihar government site terms Indira's rule worse than British
Patna : The Congress, which is part of the ruling Grand Alliance in Bihar, has expressed its strong displeasure over the state government's website describing former prime minister Indira Gandhi's rule as worse than British rule in India.
 
"It is not only wrong but condemnable. We will take this issue to the Bihar government," Congress spokesperson Sarbat Jahan Fatima said on Monday.
 
Another Congress leader, Prem Chand Mishra, said the party would look into it as it is a serious issue.
 
State congress president Ashok Choudhary, the Bihar education minister, said it is highly objectionable if anything of what is reported has been mentioned in the official website of the government.
 
What angered Congress leaders here that it was mentioned in the references made in the history of Bihar section under state profile. "It was he (Jay Prakash Narayan) who steadfastly and staunchly opposed the autocratic rule of Indira Gandhi and her younger son Sanjay Gandhi. Fearing people's reaction to his opposition, Indira Gandhi had him arrested on the eve of declaring National Emergency beginning June 26, 1975. He was put in the Tihar Jail, located near Delhi, where notorious criminals are jailed."
 
It further said: "Thus, in Free India, this septuagenarian, who had fought for India's freedom alongside Indira Gandhi's father, Jawaharlal Nehru, received a treatment that was worse than what the British had meted out to Gandhiji in Champaran in 1917, for his speaking out against oppression."
 
Disclaimer: Information, facts or opinions expressed in this news article are presented as sourced from IANS and do not reflect views of Moneylife and hence Moneylife is not responsible or liable for the same. As a source and news provider, IANS is responsible for accuracy, completeness, suitability and validity of any information in this article.

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'Crispr' gene editing technique may treat inherited blindness
New York : A new gene editing technique which was hailed as the breakthrough of 2015 by Science Magazine has been found effective in preventing retinal degeneration in a type of inherited blindness, a study says.
 
The researchers focused on inherited retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative eye disease with no known cure that can lead to blindness. 
 
They used a technique known as Crispr-Cas9, to remove a genetic mutation that causes the blindness disease. 
 
Although the study involved rats, it is an important milestone because of its potential implications for humans.
 
"Our data show that with further development, it may be possible to use this gene-editing technique to treat inherited retinitis pigmentosa in patients," said senior author of the study Shaomei Wang from Cedars-Sinai Board of Governors Regenerative Medicine Institute in Los Angeles, US. 
 
Retinitis pigmentosa is a class of diseases in which patients experience night blindness in the early stages, along with atrophy and pigment changes in the retina, constriction of the visual field and eventual blindness, according to the US National Institutes of Health. 
 
While rare overall, it is one of the most common inherited diseases of the retina.
 
Crispr-Cas9, the technique that the researchers used to target retinitis pigmentosa, is adapted from a system that bacteria deploy to disable invading viruses.
 
In the study, the researchers designed a Crispr-Cas9 system to remove a mutated gene that causes photoreceptor cell loss in the eye. 
 
They injected this system into young laboratory rats that had been engineered to model a type of inherited retinitis pigmentosa known as autosomal dominant, which involves this mutated gene.
 
After a single injection, the rats were able to see better compared with controls.
 
The study was published in the journal Molecular Therapy.
 
Disclaimer: Information, facts or opinions expressed in this news article are presented as sourced from IANS and do not reflect views of Moneylife and hence Moneylife is not responsible or liable for the same. As a source and news provider, IANS is responsible for accuracy, completeness, suitability and validity of any information in this article.

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