Before we start unfolding the truth about efficiency and effective use of anti hail gun, we should know what is it, how it works and the mechanism behind its functioning. Anti hail gun, as the name suggests, is a huge acetylene gas belching canon that thwarts the formation of hails during initial phases in the thick clouds. In a modern anti hail gun, an explosive charge of acetylene gas and air is ignited in the lower chamber of the machine. The energy, thus generated, passes through the neck and it further takes the form of a shockwave that once fired travels at the speed of sound through the cloud formations above and disrupts the growth phase of hailstones. The gas is fired after every four seconds, which, as the manufacturers claim, makes hailstones fall as rain. However, anti hail gun is ineffective in changing the form of already developed and solidified hailstone and its maximum area of effect is 500 square meters directly above with 50-50 chances of successfully averting the hail.
As the upper Shimla belt remains dependent on apple growing to make its living over the years, the crop is damaged massively almost every year due to inclement weather conditions and by hail stones in particular. So the fruit growing belt desperately needs a mechanism or a device that can rid apple growers of the wrath of hailstorms. Anti hail gun provided a ray of hope to apple growers but not for a long time as the device failed to deliver repeatedly. However, this isn’t the only thing that could save fruit crops from the hailstones. So the question arises why only anti hail gun, particularly when there are little or no scientific evidences for their effectiveness.
Owing to the fact that inclement weather conditions have tormented the farmers of the area for a long time, the idea of installing anti hail guns in the apple belt was conceived by the BJP govt. when it came to power in the last assembly elections. The ruling BJP Govt. cleared the proposal of a US based company in 2010 to install anti hail guns to protect fruit growers from inclement weather conditions. On the request of the state, central govt. also allowed state to take the initiative to install the guns under a pilot project and also sanctioned Rs 3 crores for it.
However, the plan was inapt for many reasons. In order to save apple crop from hails, the BJP govt. was planning to install 40 guns and 4 radars to operate them. The range of each gun is not beyond 500 meters (80-90 hectares) in any case, which means 40 guns will cover the maximum area of 3500-4000 hectares, whereas the total area for the apple crop in the state is about 90,000 hectares. Meaning, the said No. of anti hail guns will provide protection for merely 4.5% area under apple crop that too with 50-50 chances of making hails come down as rain. On the other hand, it is a known fact that guns are most effective when installed on an altitude ranging between 2500 and 4000 meters. Apple gardens planted at this height are majorly encroached forest land, which means BJP govt. was protecting the interests of those a few who were actually responsible for the local climatic change. What a pity!
Now the question arises where the project has reached currently? Three anti hail guns have been installed in the fruit growing belt of Shimla under the pilot project in Jubbal, Kotkhai and Rohru areas, whereas a radar station was set up at Tumdoo at an altitude of 10000 feet near Khadapathar. The initial experiments have been deemed successful by Narindra Bragta but guns failed to deliver in 2010 as well as last year in the months of April and May wherein the apple crops worth crores of rupees were bashed up by recurrent hail and storm, leaving farmers with no other option than to watch the destruction of their crops as mute spectators. Some areas were affected this year too with no relief provided by anti hail guns whatsoever.
Now these incidents remind me of a famous proverb ‘actions speak louder than words’ about the much touted anti hail guns. They didn’t shoot when their need was felt the most to protect apple crop from the wrath of the hails. Call it human error or the lack of uninterrupted power supply to keep the gadgetry functioning, these excuses don’t redeem the govt. off the allegations that the crops were damaged miserably. Here goes the word ‘irony’ once again as the farmers didn’t even use nets in their gardens with the hope and trust that anti hail guns will save them this year. Amid the blame game, the apple growers stand losers and those who they gave the responsibility to protect their interests owe an answer to the apple growing community.