Apple Farmers Continue to Face Hardships as Roadblocks mar Trade in Kashmir
Srinagar: The apple growers and traders in Kashmir valley continue to face hardships after hundreds of fruit-laden trucks are unable to pass freely on the arterial Jammu-Srinagar national highway, trade leaders said.
President of Kashmir Valley Fruit Growers Dealer's Association and New Kashmir Fruit Association Bashir Ahmad Bashir said that the growers and traders are staring at massive losses owing to the hurdles faced along the 300 km long highway that takes the valley-wide produce to its market outside the region.
"We are hopeful after the government issued advisories, but we don't see them being implemented on the ground with spirit," Bashir said.
Bashir said he met with the highway authorities, the police and other senior administrative officials to discuss the issue to which they have expressed their support.
The apple traders have been expressing their concerns for over two weeks over what they called an "unnecessary halt" of fruit-laden trucks. Hundreds of trucks leave with thousands of apple boxes daily from fruit mandis across the valley. These apples are even exported to Bangladeshi markets, where the demand for Kashmiri apples is significant, but many have claimed that the business was hit due to the roadblocks on the highway.
Following a protest from trade associations in all fruit mandis of the valley, the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Traffic, Vikramjit Singh, earlier on Monday said he would take necessary measures to ensure smooth passage to the truck. There is, however, little progress on the ground due to the condition of the highway.
According to a fresh measure likely to compound the woes of the growers and traders, the national highway will remain closed for traffic for at least four hours daily till September 27. The highway authorities have said they will undertake repairs in several landslide-prone areas.
"There were several measures for the smooth conduct of Amarnath Yatra during which we witnessed minimal traffic jams same could have been beneficial for apple transportation. If there is even a small jam, hundreds of trucks loaded with perishable fresh fruit get stuck," Bashir said.
He said that the issue would persist until a proper resolution, adversely affecting the already struggling sector.
"The transport season has just begun, and there will be an increase in the upcoming peak season," he added.
On average, as many as 1500 trucks currently leave from the valley, but the growers expect a rise in the coming days.
"The numbers will increase to as many as 2000 trucks per day if the demand continues. When these trucks are stalled for days, it will turn into a major crisis," Bashir told NewsClick.
The Apple industry, worth Rs 8000 crore, is the backbone of Jammu and Kashmir's economy. As many as 3.5 million persons are directly or indirectly dependent on the apple trade, contributing about 8% to the region's GDP. The fruit growers and traders, however, have faced multiple drawbacks since 2019 due to political turmoil and the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a statement, National Conference spokesperson Imran Nabi Dar said that despite assurances from the administration, nothing much is being done on the ground.
"Unending queue of trucks laden with apples from Kashmir on NH 44 today. It's 25⁰C, and the fruit is loaded without any preservation and cold chain, meant to be rushed to Mandis in parts of India. Instead, it gets to spend days on the highway. The smell of rotting fruit fills the air," Dar tweeted.
There has been a bumper crop this year, but the apple trade is also marred by low prices for the produce. The rates, according to the farmers, have plummeted to half in what many see as an outcome of tax-free imports from Iran. The farmers have made several appeals seeking an end to it.
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