Kashmir apples to escape lockdown

Govt. plans to procure 12 lakh metric tonnes under market intervention scheme

September 11, 2019 03:15 am | Updated 03:15 am IST - Srinagar

Caught in the crosshairs: A farmer picks apples in his orchard in Pulwama district of Kashmir, in this file photo.

Caught in the crosshairs: A farmer picks apples in his orchard in Pulwama district of Kashmir, in this file photo.

Kashmir’s famed apple is battling to get exported outside the State this year. From suspected militants campaigning against the fruit’s export to the government’s inability to rope in enough trucks, the Centre’s Special Market Intervention Price Scheme (MISP) is now providing much-needed assistance to growers’ hopes of salvaging the ₹16,000 crore apple industry amid the continuous lockdown.

Chief Secretary B.V.R. Subrahmanyam announced the government’s plan to procure almost 12 lakh metric tonnes of apple this season, under the MISP, with the help of the National Agriculture Cooperative Marketing Federation of India (NAFED).

“Nearly 60% of the estimated annual apple production will be procured from the apple growers nearer their door steps,” said Mr. Subrahmanyam. “It’s expected to enhance growers’ income by about ₹2,000 crore,” he added.

Total production

Kashmir produced 20 lakh metric tonne of apple in 2018, contributing 73% to the total apple production of the country, according to officials. The period of procurement would be for six months, starting September, at a cost of ₹8,000 crore.

It would also help stabilise the price of apples and help maintain a uniform rate in the open market across the country, after India raised tariffs on apple imports from the United States earlier this year.

This year, the State government failed to rope in enough trucks for apple export after the August decision to revoke J&K’s special status, followed by a lockdown and communications blockade. An official said 400 to 700 trucks were plying against the demand of 1,200 trucks per day, up from 120 trucks last month, according to officials. It had resulted in the closure and poor flow of fruit from the main mandis (wholesale market) at Baramulla’s Sopore, Srinagar’s Parimpora, Shopian and Anantnag’s Batengo.

Gunmen oppose exports

The night-time functioning of Sopore mandi had also come to a grinding halt after four civilians were shot at on September 6 by suspected militants “for their attempts to revive the export”.

“Eight persons have been arrested in the case. The incident has instilled fear in the area,” said the police.

The police claim there was a pattern in the threats issued to the fruit growers in north and south Kashmir. According to the police, gunmen destroyed several orchards and beat up several growers in Shopian. “Militants are directing orchardists to stop exporting apple this year in a bid to sever all ties with mainland India,” said the police officer.

Caught in the crosshairs, fruit grower Nazeer Ahmad (name changed), told The Hindu that apple should be “a conflict-neutral commodity”. “The government’s highway ban earlier this year had already dented profits on the early crop of fruit. The apple is the mainstay of farmers’ incomes. It needs to be protected, otherwise a large population of farmers will slip into penury,” said Mr. Ahmad.

Syed Abid Rashid Shah, Deputy Commissioner of Pulwama, said, “The administration is working hard to provide hassle-free environment for orchardists, to provide remunerative prices without mandi fees.”

Pulwama’s production of the fruit is up this year at 1.44 lakh tonnes, from 1.38 lakh tonnes in 2018-19.

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