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J&K Political Parties Threaten to Block Highway as Apple Trucks Stranded

Anees Zargar |
Thousands of fruit trucks are stranded on the Srinagar-Jammu National Highway for the last 10-12 days.
J&K Political Parties Threaten to Block Highway as Apple Trucks Stranded

Representational Image. Image Courtesy:  National Herald

Srinagar: Political parties in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) have threatened to block the arterial national highway (NH) in the region if thousands of fruit-laden trucks stranded on the Srinagar-Jammu National Highway for the last 10-12 days are not allowed to pass.  

While senior traffic officials claim that rock pieces rolling down mountain slopes have damaged roads, fruit growers have alleged that the administration’s failure has worsened the situation. At Qazigund, along the NH in south Kashmir, truckers from Rajasthan, Haryana and J&K alleged that they are not being allowed to move even as the road is open for other commuters.

“I am warning the government that if you do not restore the highway, I will join the people in blocking the national highway,” former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti warned during a visit to the Aglar fruit market in south Kashmir’s Shopian on Tuesday to join the protesting apple farmers and traders.

Lashing out at the administration for “creating roadblocks in the movement of the fruit trucks”, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) president told reporters that the authorities are being “partial in dealing with the crisis and they should not test” the people of Kashmir.

“You stop vehicles for convoys and then people are barred from moving during the Amarnath Yatra. But apples are rotting in our mandis due to the crisis,” Mufti added.

Mudasir Ahmed Bhat, president of the buyers association at the Sopore fruit mandi, told reporters that they have suffered a loss of Rs 500 crore in September alone due to the halting of trucks.

“A buyer suffers a loss of Rs 4 lakh-5 lakh per truck. Who will compensate them for the loss? If the situation doesn’t change, we will go on a hunger strike,” Bhat said.

Kashmir divisional commissioner Kashmir PK Pole had assured on Monday that all the trucks will be allowed to pass. Explaining that the trucks were halted only due to shooting stones and the inclement weather, he said in a statement that around 46,000 goods-laden trucks, including 29,000 carrying apples, have been sent out of Kashmir since September 1.

Denying the allegation that the trucks have been deliberately halted as a “half-truth”, Pole said, “By tonight, all trucks on the highway will be cleared.”

Apni Party president Altaf Bukhari said that the administration is unresponsive despite political parties requesting for ending the crisis. “I want to thank the government for allowing the trucks on the highway and clearing some of the backlog. My question, however, is why couldn’t they do it earlier?” he asked during a press conference at his party office on Tuesday. “It indicates that it is possible and if they want, they can give preference to the trucks.”

The former minister said that the apple traders have been suffering for a month now and their woes have increased in the last eight days. “You should not look at just one sector where you see a tourist near Dal lake or Gulmarg. Only a small percentage of the population is dependent on tourism while 70% of Kashmiris are dependent on horticulture,” he added.

Apple growers are also worried about the plummeting prices of the fruit. Bukhari also argued that the unregulated import of apples from Afghanistan has also hit Kashmiri traders. “The duty-free apples from Afghanistan come from Iran. It is damaging the interests of our growers and traders. They should put Iran on the list of duty-free trade nations,” he said warning that he will join the protesting farmers at Qazigund if the government fails to address the crisis”.

The Jammu and Kashmir Peoples Conference (JKPC) also expressed grave concern and termed the situation “lethal” for Kashmir’s economy. JKPC leader Mansoor Hussain Sohrawardhy said that the situation is “inching towards doom”.

“It used to be a priority of earlier regimes to ensure safe passage of apple trucks so that they could reach their respective destinations without delay. However, the present regime seems to be unaware of the sensitivity of such a vital sector. There is a notion pervasive on the ground that the government is putting the apple industry directly in dire straits,” Sohrawardhy alleged. 

Apple trade is considered the backbone of J&K’s economy with more than 3.5 lakh persons directly or indirectly dependent on the industry. Growers annually produce 1.7 million tonnes of apples worth Rs 8,000 crore, provide 8.73 crore man-days of work and contribute about 8% to J&K’s GDP, according to official data. Around 2,13,000 hectares in the Valley are under apple plantation with about 5.85 crore plants.

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