It has been a long time since 1995 when Mathoora Masoom cracked Kashmir Administrative Services (KAS). Before taking over as Director of the Floriculture department, she handled various responsibilities. In a free wheeling interview Mathoora reveals her challenges and priorities in her current posting to Saima Bhat
Kashmir Life (KL): Is your department all about flowers?
Mathoora Masoom(MM): We deal with flowers and we want people to become part of us. Basically this department has two responsibilities: maintenance of gardens and parks and commercial floriculture, which includes our nurseries where people go and buy seedlings and plants. Other than that we have registered growers whom we support financially under various centrally sponsored schemes so that they take floriculture as a means of livelihood.
KL: Why are you opening the Tulip Garden ahead of the routine schedule?
MM: We have decided to open it earlier, on March 25, just because there were many people calling us, sending emails from outside the state to confirm the dates for opening of the garden. This year we decided to go for the inaugural function on the day we open it, which was not a routine.
Last year, we had 45 varieties and this year we have 50 varieties of tulips (4.5 lakh bulbs), which we imported at Rs 79 lakh. Other than that we have added a high garden, separate terrace, exclusively devoted to the high synth bulbs (29,000 bulbs) that is also a spring flower. We have also added a lot of green space as well. We have commissioned a water channel at an additional cost and a lot of other plantation that is with spring bloom only.
KL: How many gardens you handle across Kashmir?
MM: We handle around 181 parks and gardens. Besides, we handle the gardens of all VVIP’s including secretariat, High Court, and other VIP private parks that is an additional 80 parks. Total is 261 gardens and parks.
KL: Why is floriculture department in news only when Tulip garden opens?
MM: This is very true. We are technical people. We create and maintain beautiful gardens. There are other departments who are supposed to promote and make people to visit them. Our job is just to create a product. To invite people is the mandate of tourism department. Off late, there is a change. We have started going for garden shows. We are thinking of doing more and we’ll be presenting a few proposals. Garden fairs should have been there.
KL: Some entrepreneurs are trying their luck with cut flowers. How do you see their future?
MM: This is something we are lacking in. We have to tell people that there is a lot of potential in it. It can solve our unemployment issues. Some days back we had a floriculture mela here, the aim was only to depict the potential of floriculture as a means of livelihood. We have many success stories. Recently a girl has signed a MoU with Dubai where she will be exporting flowers to them but we have not projected them. We present their stories in these melas so that more people get involved in it. We have centrally sponsored schemes like MIDH, RKVY, another incentive scheme by the government where we have been able to support our growers, who are spread all across Kashmir. We have around 1648 registered growers and they are doing the wonderful business of cut flowers, nurseries and many more.
KL: Are there any trainings as well?
MM: Yes. We train people in all districts. On an average, we have 54 individuals in every district. We have sent many people outside the state for advanced training as well.People must know these nurseries don’t need huge land fields. One of our growers has a nursery on just five marlas of land.
KL: Do we import flower species?
MM: Other than tulips, we don’t import any flower. We grow possibly all flowers that grow in temperate climate. Around 300 species are grown in our two gardens: Botanical garden at Nehru Memorial and another in Kokernag. So most of the varieties present there could be seen blooming in all Mughal gardens.
KL: Do we export as well?
MM: In government sector, we do not export. But private players do export and we encourage them. This year we are encouraging our growers to export flowers not only to India but to overseas as well.
KL: Does your department have any facilities like cold stores for these flowers?
MM: We have 15 cold stores and refrigerator vans but we don’t have big growers here so that our vans could be seen plying on roads.
KL: Does Kashmir have any special flower variety?
MM: Since 1969, this department is trying to preserve all Himalayan range flora. A special section is maintained in our department under the nomenclature of ‘Plant introduction section’ that means what so ever varieties we grow here, we try to get them in that particular section, and then send to other gardens. This process is continuing from last 40 years.
We have maintained a separate Herbal Garden in Botanical garden in Srinagar, that exclusively has different 70 species. We have received a number of awards for this herbal garden.
KL: Private nursery owners sell saplings at a huge cost. Has the government any alternative?
MM: We don’t have a mandate of check their rates. We sell saplings in spring and autumn. For both seasons we create lot of seedlings and put it on sale. We have a biggest nursery in our state, opposite to tulip garden, where people buy our products. We are also helping various nurseries in private sector.
KL: Under ‘SaveChinar trees’ you distributed around 10,000 saplings. But you failed in saving a Chinar just outside your office.
MM: We have a fundamental role only for propagation of Chinars. On Chinar conservation, we don’t have much powers there. We are only asked for the opinion and in this particular incident they did not sought our opinion for. Otherwise we get letters from the deputy commissioner’s office for our opinion in such matters.
For the save Chinardrive, there are not many takers. May be because people feel it takes a lot of space. They don’t know it can be trained as well where it can take very less space. But I must tell you there is increase in the number of Chinar, which is a positive part of the story. Only government departments and institutions prefer to get Chinar trees. Every year we have a target of selling 10,000 Chinar sapling but we have a capacity of taking it to 50,000 a year.
KL: You generate any revenue from these garden and parks as well?
MM: We generated at least Rs six crores revenue to the state exchequer. We have outsourced a few parks for ticketing like children’s park, a few parks in Anantnag district, and if the s28ituation remains good and we have better tourism season then it goes much higher.