Authorities in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) plan to rework new routes to ferry apples out of the State from Shopian in volatile south Kashmir, days after suspected militants killed three non-locals in the area.
“There is a need to enforce efficient route plans and facilitate timely secured evacuation of crops,” District Development Commissioner, Shopian, Choudhary Mohammad Yasin said . “Safe and secure management of apple crop is of foremost concern and every effort is being put in to resolve all the issues,” he added.
Mr. Yasin met the members of the Fruit Growers Association in Shopian on Friday, in the wake of sudden attacks on non-locals, including the killing of two people related to the apple trade. The area has been observing a shutdown ever since the Centre revoked J&K’s semi-autonomous status. “The recent attacks may have shaken us but won’t stop us from protecting our crop,” said Mr. Yasin. “Apple is Shopian’s soul and we remain committed to securing it. Our apples will surely reach you in markets all over the country,” he added.
Nazeer Ahmad (name changed), a member of the growers association from Shopian’s Heff, said the recent attacks were “mysterious”. “It’s hard to point out the motives behind the attacks. Apple trade is the sole means of income for a majority of families in Shopian. Many traders have already raised loans and the families have planned weddings,” he said.
Authorities plan to set up about 10 “safe pick-up points” for smooth movement of apple trucks, officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity. The security establishment is in the process of securing five locations as “safe” points. More than 500 trucks have been placed at a secure location — Pir Ki Gali’s Poshana area — on the Mughal Road, which connects Shopian with Poonch. The Mughal Road bypasses the vulnerable Srinagar-Jammu national highway.
A group of unknown gunmen rounded up about 18 non-locals, including labourers and fruit traders, in Shopian’s Trenz on Wednesday. Later, one non-local from Punjab was shot dead and another injured. The attacks have instilled fear among the orchardists but “apple loading continues unabated”, officials said.
Also know as ‘Apple Town’, Shopian’s apple orchards are spread over 26,231 hectares, making it the biggest crop producer after Anantnag, which has 33,768 hectares of apple orchards. South Kashmir’s other districts, Kulgam with 25,606 hectares and Pulwama with 25,133 hectrares, produce a relatively smaller apple crop.According to the Horticulture department’s figures, the government-introduced market intervention scheme (MIS) — to pick the fruit directly from farmers due to the uncertain situation in the Valley — has seen a very healthy response from Anantnag, where 1,012 metric tonnes of apple has been ferried outside the State till October 10.
“However, Shopian has seen little movement under the MIS. Just 23 metric tonnes has been exported from the district. Most crop is still on the trees as Shopian is the last district in the Valley to pick apples due to different weather pattern,” said an official at the Horticulture department, who declined to be identified.
According to official figures, 1.45 lakh hectares is under apple cultivation in Kashmir, which produces 71% of the total output of the fruit in the country.