Fruit and vegetable trade in Kashmir ruined following clampdown; govt scheme fails to take off

Since August 5, most shops have remained shut, even as the government scheme to buy produce directly has few takers due to stringent terms and conditions

Cartons of Kashmir apples lying in the mandi (NH photo/Majid Maqbool)
Cartons of Kashmir apples lying in the mandi (NH photo/Majid Maqbool)

Majid Maqbool

The Parimpora fruit mandi on the outskirts of Srinagar, one of the largest fruit and vegetable markets in Asia, otherwise buzzing with traders and fruit laden trucks, wears a deserted look since August 5 following the Centre’s move to strip the state of its special status and its bifurcation into two Union Territories.

About 400 shops inside the mandi, which would trade throughout the day in all kinds of fruits and vegetables, remain closed since August 5. All fruit association offices inside the mandi are locked. CRPF personnel in riot gear man the main entrance of the mandi and are also stationed inside its vast open grounds. Traders and shop owners who employed 5 to 10 employees at their shop are sitting idle since August 5. Only a few traders who have shops inside the mandi can be seen occasionally checking their shops.

“Everything was going fine till August 4 and we’d received many fruit trucks from different states before Eid, but all of that was left to rot after everything came to a grinding halt on August 5,” said Anil Raina, the vice president of Kashmir Fruit Association who owns a fruit trading shop inside the market.

“About 50 to 60 truck laden with different fruits would be unloaded here for distribution to Srinagar and other parts of the valley every day. All that trade abruptly stopped after August 5,” said Raina who trades in imported fruit at the market.

NH photo by Majid Maqbool
NH photo by Majid Maqbool

Raina said the biggest blow for hundreds of traders like him at the mandi was the communication blockade due to which they were abruptly cut off from other fruit markets, traders and markets in other states which brought their work to an abrupt halt.

“On an average day I would make about 50 to 60 calls on mobile to different traders and fruit markets outside to find out good market rates of fruits. I couldn’t make a single call since August 5 due to the communications clampdown,” said Raina.

A fruit trader who has a shop inside the market said on an average day, about 30 to 35 trucks would come inside the mandi for unloading fruit and its onward distribution throughout the Valley. He said the market would open early in the morning at 7 and most of the trade would be done by 1 PM.

He said every shop inside the market employed about 5 to 10 people. “More than 3000 people directly associated with the trade in the market, including workers in the shops, have been rendered jobless since August 5,” he said.

“These days we hardly see a couple of trucks which bring some fruit and vegetables from different districts which are then sold on the road close to the market. All other trade and business is shut down,” said the trader who had come to check if his shop was fine at the market. “Earlier, you wouldn’t even get space to walk inside the mandi which was packed with thousands of workers, traders and laborers who would be busy in loading and unloading fruit and vegetable laden trucks here.”

The only little activity inside the market is visible in one corner at the purchase centre set up by the National Agriculture Co-operative Marketing Federation (NAFED) and J&K Department of Horticulture Planning and Marketing Department under the new scheme recently launched by the state government to directly purchase the apple produce from the growers. The purchase centre set up at the market since September 17 is guarded by the CRPF and police personnel.

The state government launched the support scheme for apple growers on September 12 under which NAFED announced its intention to purchase 1.2 million metric tons of apples of all three grades directly from the growers by bypassing the market middlemen.

With an annual estimated trade worth Rs 8000 crore, Kashmir valley is the largest producer of apples in the country. About seven lakh families earn their livelihood directly or indirectly from the apple farming and apple produce trade. According to the 2017 J&K Economic Survey, in 2016-17, the apple export trade was worth Rs 6,500 crore.

An official from the department of Horticulture Planning and Marketing said they have registered about 300 apple growers since September 17 from across the Valley who have shown interest in selling their apple produce through the government scheme.

Official records show that from September 17 to September 23, only seven consignments of apple produce totalling 637 boxes worth Rs 4,75,052 rupees have been received at the Parimpora purchase centre while the number of preliminary registrations of the apple growers at the centre is about 250 during the same period.

“It’s a grower specific scheme which allows growers to directly sell their apple produce without needing any trader or middleman in between,” the official said, adding that the department acts as a bridge between the grower and the buyer of the fruit (NAFED).

However, most growers who had brought some fruit in small vehicles at the purchasing centre in Parimpora seemed disappointed with the government scheme. Several growers who had traveled from different districts to see if they could sell their produce through this scheme said they’ll have to incur more losses than profits as only top-quality fruit is being accepted through the scheme.

A grower who had transported his apple produce in a few hundred boxes from Tangmarg area of north Kashmir in a small vehicle to avoid trouble on the way said they were not getting a good deal with this scheme as only very superior quality apple is accepted.

“We produce about a thousand apple boxes every year, but it looks like they will only buy less than 200 boxes here and return the rest which is a big loss for us. We will have to transport back the rejected fruit, putting ourselves at risk since these days no fruit laden trucks are plying,” he said, disappointment written large on his face.

“All the labour and other cost in maintaining the apple crop throughout the year is lost as most of the fruit is not taken by them. That fruit will also go waste as we have to take it back and then no one will buy it from us,” the grower said. “There’s about 60 percent loss for us if we sell our apple produce through this scheme.”

A fruit trader who runs a shop dealing with vegetables inside the market said the new scheme has failed to attract growers and the purchase centre in the mandi is only visited by a few growers, many of whom return disappointed with the scheme.

“They have kept this purchase centre open to show normalcy for media when the whole mandi is shut down and our entire trade has been halted for about two months now,” the trader said.

Another farmer from Tangmarg who is yet to pluck apples from trees and pack his apple produce visited the purchase centre at Parimpora hoping to sell majority of his produce through the new government scheme. However, he is not satisfied with what the purchase agency is buying from the growers.

“My orchids produce about a thousand apple boxes which I’m normally able to sell at different rates for different grades at good price in the market and at mandis. But here they are only interested in taking what they consider as top grade apple and the rest is either not accepted or not taken at good enough rates for us to sell it to them,” the grower said.

“I don’t think I can afford to sell my apple produce through this government scheme.”

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Published: 30 Sep 2019, 5:30 PM