At the peak of the apple-pear-apricot season in Kashmir, the smell of rotting fruit and sight of downed shutters at the local mandis belie the official claim that the fruits in the Valley have sold at a record high.
The State administration has maintained that fruits such as apple and peach are being transported freely outside the State. “Against 89,000 tonnes last year, around 1.20 lakh tonnes have been moved out till now and both the divisional and district administrations have been directed to coordinate with producers for harvesting and smooth transportation,” a government statement said. “Transportation of produce is increasing with 300 trucks plying on a daily basis. Over 1.5 lt of produce has been sent to various sale points outside of the Valley,” the administration tweeted on Tuesday.
And yet, a visit to the local mandis in the Valley last week depicted an entirely different picture.
Owing to the raids by security agencies in the market and mandis , no trader or worker was willing to be identified but readily shared their problems.
The administration forced the traders to shut businesses from August 1 till August 5 when the scrapping of Article 370 and bifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir into two Union Territories was announced. Since August 5, a majority of the traders have shut down as a mark of silent protest against what they perceive as an outrage. And those who want to sell, find it impossible to do business.
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Yasir (name changed) covered his face as he stood outside his shop in Parimpora market at the outskirts of Srinagar.
He was trying to cover his nose from the stinking smell emanating from his small shop.
“It has been 27 days since I closed this shop. Two days ahead of closing the shop, I had offloaded and stocked one truck full of tender coconuts and pomegranates. They are now rotting here and the smell is foul. I could not find a single worker to clear this,” he said, adding that the shop will not be opened until the Centre maintains status quo on Article 370 and Article 35A.
Yasir is not the only trader in the Parimpora market, probably the largest mandi in the State, protesting the abrogation of Article 370. The market houses about 300 shops and according to another trader, it gives direct employment to more than 30,000— many among them are non-Kashmiris. “The security agencies started shutting the shops forcefully from August 1 onward. But when we understood what has happened, we decided to protest by not opening the shops,” according to a traders’ leader.
According to the traders, normally the market handles over 30,000 trucks daily. It is peak harvest season for apples and pears in the first week of August. The Sopore apple mandi , one of the largest apple markets in Asia, supplies fruits to Parimpore market. “The approximate volume of fruits trade in Kashmir is ₹6,000 crore. Sopore is also shut now. It will take at least a decade for the traders and farmers to recover from the losses suffered in this season,” the leader added. A small trader from Gulmarg, who came to Parimpora to see if the shops are opened, said 60 per cent of his stocks have rotted in the last three weeks.
‘Dignity matters, not loss’
“We dumped tonnes of apples and pears. But we don’t regret it. It’s not the loss, but the dignity of Kashmir matters most for us,” another young trader said.
Three truck drivers from Punjab, who came with 20 tonnes of potatoes and onions, are stuck in the market for over a week. “We had been told to unload the potatoes and onions and take on fruits. But no one is accepting the materials here and we are unable to communicate with the trader in Punjab,” a driver said.
For the farmers, the problem is not just the traders’ protests but also with the undeclared curfew in almost all the districts in the Valley, particularly in rural areas.
“The harvest started on August 1. I literally begged the police to allow the entry of a truck so that I can load apples and pears. But they refused and I lost more than 20 tonnes of fruits,” said Amir (name changed) who grows fruits in 1.37 acres of land near Budgam. “Last year, my profit was about ₹3 lakh. This year I didn’t get any. I lost everything I invested. The police asked two labourers in my farm, both from Bihar, to go back to their native places,” he added.
Another horticulturist Karim, who owns about three acres of orchards, said, “This time my production should have been better. The fruit was also superior quality. But I had to see them rotting.”
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