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Dates, the Ramzan must-have, turns expensive in Kashmir

A shopkeeper sells dates and other iftar items during Ramzan in Srinagar.

A shopkeeper sells dates and other iftar items during Ramzan in Srinagar. | Photo Credit: NISSAR AHMAD

Dates, the sweet dry fruit, a Ramzan essential for Muslims to break their fast, has seen an unprecedented rise in its price this year. Muhammad Iqbal Lone, a Srinagar-based dry fruit dealer and a cross-Line of Control (LoC) trader, told The Hindu that dates, which are mainly imported from the Middle Eastern countries and Afghanistan, are costlier by 50-100% for five to 10 kg boxes. Traders across the LoC blame the now defunct trading routes with Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) for the uncontrolled price hike.

"A box of dates that would cost ₹500-600 is selling at ̥₹1200 this Ramzan. Freight charges have gone up because of several factors. We have to ferry the stocks from the Mumbai ports to Srinagar. Earlier, when the cross-LoC trade was functional, the cost of dates was very less because we would just pay the freight charges from Uri to Srinagar," Mr. Lone said.

Inflation in J&K peaked to 7.59% in March, which was significantly higher than the national average of 6.95%. Ferrying charges have gone considerably due to the war between Russia and Ukraine this year, affecting prices of all imported essentials. The distance between Mumbai and Srinagar is over 2,000 km, and Uri, where one of the cross-LoC trade facilitation centres was set up in Kashmir, is only about 100 km away from Srinagar. Ramzan dates sales in J&K has touched ₹15-20 crore this year, according to traders.

"In the past, we could import over 50% dates from PoK, which stabilised prices and ensured that Ramzan did not prove prohibitively costly for ordinary families. We would create special orders for Ramzan, which included fruits like mangoes and kiwi," Samiullah Bhat, vice president of the Cross-LoC Traders Association, said.

Cross-LoC trade is the reason why a variety of Arab dates came to be sold in Kashmir is owed to the cross-LoC. "Dates varieties like ajwa, kalmi, safawi, etc. made their entry into Kashmir via the cross-LoC routes in 2010. Over the years, these items grew popular. Arab dates are preferred even at Kashmiri weddings over local, sundried varieties now," Mr. Lone said.

Cross-LoC trade, which started in 2008 via twin routes in the Kashmir and Jammu regions, was suspended by the Ministry of Homes Affairs (MHA) in April 2019, citing it as a reason for illegal funding to militant outfits. Cross-LoC stabilised prices in Kashmir, especially during Ramzan festivities.

Official data says ₹6 crore worth of dates were imported from PoK in the year 2018-2019. Around 10 lakh prayer mats were imported in 2017-18, when trade was between the two parts of pre-1947 Jammu and Kashmir was picking up. Trade in miswak, a special twig from the Salvadora persica tree used for cleaning teeth during fasting in Islamic practice, touched ₹3.34 crore 2018-19. Muslims break their fast at iftar, the sunset hour.

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Printable version | Jun 23, 2022 12:05:20 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/dry-fruit-dates-get-costly-in-kashmir/article65366856.ece