The killing of a truck driver in South Kashmir’s Shopian district by suspected militants has revived fears in the region. The apple trade here is already caught up in a crisis after militants threatened the traders not to pluck or market their produce this season.
The police say that on Monday night suspected militants attacked a truck loaded with apples and killed the driver, Sharif Khan, from Uba village in Rajasthan’s Bharatpur district. Khan got two bullets in the head. The conductor, who is also from Rajasthan, escaped.
The police are investigating the incident and have beefed up security. They have lodged an FIR under sections 364, 342, 302, 307, 459 and 435 of the Ranbir Penal Code
The attack occurred in Shopian’s Sheermaal, around 50 km from Srinagar. This area is known to produce the Valley’s best apples. Police sources claim that at least four militants carried out the attack. Two are believed to be locals, including the district commander of the militant outfit, Hizb ul Mujahideen.
Mohammad Amin, a senior office-bearer in the Shopian fruit mandi (wholesale market) told NewsClick that the attack is a setback for the region’s apple trade. “It has scared everyone, especially truck drivers, even the locals. The trade has already suffered massive losses,” he says.
After the government abrogated Article 370 and bifurcated the state into two Union Territories, the Valley was completely shut down. The restrictions imposed after the abrogation hit the apple trade badly.
Then, in August, militant groups said that apple growers must not harvest this year’s crop. More than 2.72 lakh metric tonnes of crop was produced from Shopian’s orchards in the apple season last year. Kashmir’s apple industry is worth about Rs8,000 crore. It is a major contributor to the economy of Jammu and Kashmir.
Now, after the attack, apple traders confront aggravated tensions and expect many to be forced into abandoning their orchards. Another apple trader of Shopian told NewsClick that their harvest was ready for transport last night but now it is on hold. “We paid in advance but after the incident we have decided not to resume trade. It is too dangerous,” the apple-grower says, on condition of anonymity.
The Shopian Fruit Mandi has been shut for more than three months now. However, the district’s fruit-growers had started to harvest their crop in October and transporting it without going through the market traders.
The ongoing crisis has cost the region thousands of crores in mounting losses since 5 August. Meanwhile, the government banned text-messaging services across the Valley on Monday night, just a day after mobile networks in Kashmir had been partially restored.