September 2016 News

No Truckers For Kashmir Apple; Unrest Mars Harvesting Season

26 September 2016
The Tribune (Chandigarh)
Ishfaq Tantry

Srinagar: Apple growers are grappling with lack of labour and transport this season. The Army says it is facilitating movement of 1,500 trucks out of the Valley every day. While people across rural Kashmir get busy collecting apple, this season, growers are facing problems never seen before. The apple industry is the mainstay of the rural economy. The state produces around 18 to 22 lakh metric tonnes of varieties of fruit, with 80% comprising apple. 'The apple crop is ready. I am afraid to collect it as the unrest has hit this industry,' said Abdul Rehman Khan of Muqam, a village along the highway in north Kashmir. 'The Sopore Mandi remains closed during the day. During night, we cannot take apple to the market as forces enforce night curfew,' he said. Abdul Rashid, another apple grower from Indergam, a village near Palhalan village in north Kashmir, said farmers were able to harvest apple only during morning as protesters rule the streets later. 'During the day, it is difficult to venture into orchards dotting the Srinagar-Baramulla highway as there is fear of stone pelters and security forces. Both of them and try to enforce their writ,' Rashid said. As the separatist-sponsored shutdowns and government-imposed curfews have affected almost all sectors, the fruit industry has greatly borne the brunt. The apple trade at mandis in Shopian, Kulgam and Anantnag in north Kashmir, the worst hit by protests, have remained nearly closed. The Sopore Fruit Mandi in north Kashmir, the largest in Kashmir, remains functional for two hours in the morning. The attacks on truckers by stone pelters and restrictions by the forces, who want the truck drivers to ply during daytime, have hit the industry. 'The government tells the fruit growers to trade their apple at Sopore Mandi and other markets during the day. If the trucks ply during daytime, there is a danger of attack by stone pelters,' said Mohd Yousuf Dar, president, Fruit Growers and Dealers Association, Baramulla. He said the administration was insisting the industry to resume their activities during the day and that is why the business activities at Sopore Fruit Mandi during the night have been stopped. He alleged that the truckers were charging exorbitantly to take apple boxes out of the state. 'Earlier the freight rate per apple box was between Rs 60 to Rs 80, but due to high risk, transporters charge from Rs 120 to Rs 150 per apple box,' Dar said. He said the lack of labour was affecting the harvesting as the non-state labourers fled Kashmir. He said earlier it would take two days to transport apple to the fruit markets in Delhi and other parts, whereas these days it takes a minimum of five days for a truck to reach Delhi due to curfews and shutdowns. 'Over 1,500 trucks move out of Kashmir daily, facilitating economic progression and confidence among locals,' the Army's Northern Command tweeted.