Saturday, September 23, 2000

Himachalís "Apple Man"
By Ravi Bali

HE is always on the move. Two days a week in Sirmour and Shimla districts, another two in Kulu-Manali and the weekend in Chandigarh or Solan. Wherever he goes, he is received with enthusiasm as the hill folk believe that he has managed to change their lives for the better. The manís mission: saving apple crops and his ideal is TN Kaul, the well-know former diplomat who died recently.

Fortyseven-years-young Virender Thakur, who belongs to Chandigarh but is now settled in Solan, has been doing pioneering work in the field of improving the quality of horticulture and vegetable produce. His major breakthrough came with the production of a micronutrient paste which could fight a cancerous disease called cancker, afflicting mainly the apple crop. According to Virender Thakur, "If cancker is not controlled in Himachal Pradesh, apples will disappear from HimachalPradesh in the next seven years. This deadly disease is worse than scab. But, surprisingly, the H.P. Government and the Department of Horticulture and Agriculture have still not got up from their long nap."


Virender ThakurPopularly known as the "Apple Motivator", Thakurís works to basically improve the quality and size of fruits and vegetables. The results are specially remarkable in the case of apples.

But how did Thakur become an "Apple Motivator"? "I belong to a royal family of Rajasthan which lived in the Raigarh Killa area. It later settled in Chandigarh. I am simply an Arts graduate. My father, the late Hiralal Thakur, was in the insecticide trade and he had his own unit. But, unfortunately, he died in a car accident in 1984. Hence, in 1985, I decided to set up my own insecticide unit. The main reason for selecting this trade was my love for fruits, specially apples, right since my childhood . I came to Solan and set up a small insecticide unit and by Godís grace I could carry out some major breakthroughs. I cannot believe that a simple graduate like I could manufacture and invent micronutrients."

Thakur has set up his own research laboratory. He has purchased a few acres of land in Pab village, Sirmour district, and is constantly doing research on various diseases. One of his theories is that the apple crop requires an average of 600-1200 chilling hours for bearing a good produce. But usually there is a gap of few hundred chilling hours. According to him, water can be lifted from local khuds and nullahs to provide for the loss of chilling hours.

Thakur is a multifaceted personality. He is a keen traveller. On an average, he travels a few thousand kilometres every month. He also maintains a tour diary. Every Monday and Tuesday, he claims, he visits the interiors of Sirmour and Shimla districts; on Wednesdays and Thursdays, he is in the Kulu-Manali belt. Fridays and Saturdays are spent in his "dream-holiday-spot" Chandigarh. In Chandigarh, he has to visit Sector 17 and the Rock Garden. " I get all my ideas there," he says.