The Kashmir fruit industry has come to a screeching halt and is on the verge of collapse due to the apathy of inept authorities.
Lack of smooth passage to trucks carrying fruits, essentially apples, on the Srinagar-Jammu national highway has taken a heavy toll on fruit growers across Kashmir, as they continue to face losses and stare at an impending livelihood crisis.
Notably, the apple industry, worth Rs 8,000 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 per cent to the region’s GDP.
Several fruit growers and representatives of associations said that despite a government order to ensure seamless movement of fruit-laden vehicles, authorities have miserably failed to implement it on ground.
“Fruit-laden trucks are halted at Qazigund for around a week and after that, they get their turn to move towards Jammu,” the fruit growers alleged. They said that the fruit industry is crumbling due to low rates of fruits and a host of other challenges and if the government doesn’t ensure hassle-free movement of fruit-laden trucks, things may get worse. “When the apples reach markets on time, they will fetch a good rate,” they pointed out.
“Despite recent government orders, vehicles get their turn to move towards Jammu only after 4-5 days and when the produce reaches the market late, it doesn’t get the rate that it should have fetched,” they said.
President of Kashmir Valley Fruit Growers Cum Dealers Union (KVFGCDU) Bashir Ahmad Bhat said that they were hopeful that the government would take this issue seriously and implement directions on ground but that is yet to happen. “We are unable to understand what the authorities want.”
He said that it is a matter of livelihood for around 60-70 per cent of the population of Kashmir and the government and authorities must take it seriously. Bhat said that around 8,000 fruit-laden trucks are waiting to move towards Jammu and it is not possible that they will cross the road in just three hours.
Last week, the Inspector General of Police, Traffic directed all SSPs of traffic, including SSP National Highway, to take immediate measures so that fruit-laden trucks are provided a smooth passage and are not stranded. “Besides, extra time may be given to down convoy to ensure clearance of stranded fruit-laden vehicles and it was assured no vehicle would be allowed for up traffic on down HMV days to ensure hassle-free movement.”
Former Member Parliament and member of Congress Working Committee, Tariq Hameed Karra said that to halt thousands of fruit-laden trucks on Srinagar-Jammu national highway is an insensitive act and administrative failure.
“The failure of Jammu and Kashmir administration to manage and facilitate the clearance of around 8,000 fruit-laden trucks stranded at Qazigund and on Srinagar- Jammu National Highway, is sheer insensitiveness,” he said.
He also said it is unfortunate that since many days, fruit-laden trucks have been stopped on national highway which is causing huge losses to the apple industry and thereby, also resulting in loss of livelihood to thousands of people who are associated with the fruit industry.
National Conference Provincial President Nasir Aslam Wani said the apathetic attitude of the authorities towards the fruit industry is taking a heavy toll on Kashmir’s horticulture sector. Wani said this following a meeting of a delegation of fruit growers who called on him. They discussed issues ranging from hassle-free transport of fruits and falling rates due to flooding of imported apples.
Meanwhile. Fruit Association Sopore has asked apple growers to slow down the harvesting of apples from orchardists as they say many fruit-laden vehicles are stuck on the national highway for many days.
Chairman Sopore Fruit Mandi Zahoor Ahmad Bhat said that for the past 8-10 days, thousands of fruit-laden trucks are stranded on Srinagar-Jammu national highway and not going through, causing massive losses to growers and buyers across Kashmir Valley.
“We are urging all fruit growers of Kashmir Valley that slow down the process of your apple harvesting to avoid more losses,” he pointed out.
The harvesting season peaks during the last days of September and the beginning of October. “We still have around 8-10 days of time where we can wait for harvesting,” he said.
“We are also requesting growers not to dispatch fruit boxes to fruit mandies, as there is already huge number of boxes lying unattended,” he said. “We were hopeful after the government issued advisories, but we don’t see them being implemented on the ground in spirit,” Bhat said.
Reacting to the continued blockade of vehicles on national highway, All Valley Fruit Association also decided to announce a shutdown of fruit mandies across Kashmir, on October 25-26.