Srinagar: Apple farmers and orchardists in Mehand village of South Kashmir's Srigufwara have been left unnerved by multiple incidents of vandalism in which hundreds of apple trees were damaged in the local orchards.
Residents from Mehand village in Anantnag district, over 60 km from Srinagar, told NewsClick that the incidents have been happening in their area for over a week, mostly during the night time. In the latest incident as many as 40 apple trees were damaged in one of the orchards on the intervening night of Thursday and Friday (June -5).
"Earlier, we thought these are isolated cases but, now it is happening consistently which has resulted in a massive fear in the entire area," a resident told NewsClick.
Following the incident, the police has lodged an FIR at the local police station in Srigufwara.
"Two incidents have been reported in which 50 odd trees have been damaged. We have taken a look at the trees and all of them are young plants and the miscreants have damaged them near the grafting joints. We have launched an investigation in this case," the local SHO explained to NewsClick.
Another resident, who wanted to remain anonymous said that more than 80 High Density apple trees were damaged this week and almost all of them were less than five-year-old. "They were all ready to bear fruit next season but now the damage is irreparable. This means we have lost lakhs of rupees in investment and this loss is without taking into account the produce," he said.
Also watch: Kashmiri Apple Growers Taste Bitter Fruit of Lockdown
A sapling of High Density apple, usually imported from Italy, costs anywhere between Rs 400 to Rs 500 but, the cost of transformation of an orchard from one breed to High Density and subsequent time period until the trees are ready for harvest can run in to lakhs of rupees.
The village farmers say some parts in these orchards are densely cultivated and that they are clueless how the vandalism is being carried out. They are certain that it is happening during the night as no one in these villages ventures out after dark.
"This is a volatile area and there is a threat of an outbreak due to insurgency and high presence of government forces. Besides, wild animals like bears also roam in these parts. So we can't afford to keep a nightwatch," the resident added.
Apple trade in Kashmir is one of the main sectors in which tens of thousands of families in rural Kashmir, especially in South Kashmir, are dependent.
Apple growers in the region are already grappling a political crisis and faced a setback when nearly 35% of the trees were damaged by an early snowfall in November last year.
Worth over Rs 8000 crore and often referred to as the backbone of Kashmir’s economy, the apple trade in the region is reeling under an economic loss worth thousands of crores since the clampdown was enforced by the government following the abrogation of Article 370 last year. Later, a group of militants directed apple growers not to harvest last season's crop in an attempt to enforce the shutdown against the abrogation move.
In this backdrop, any minor fluctuation now can cost the farmers dearly.