Shopian: Established by huge public demand over 32 kanals of land in 2005, the fruit mandi of Arhama in Shopian now faces problems because it lacks the capacity to absorb the autumn rush of fruit boxes.
Rayees Ahmad Khan, general secretary of the Arhama Mandi traders’ association, told Kashmir Reader that they were facing problems in housing the fruit boxes especially during the apple harvesting season. “In 2016, the mandi was closed due to the 2016 summer uprising, but in 2015, traders faced a huge loss because rains destroyed the cardboard boxes of the packed apple harvest which could not be placed under any roof as the mandi premises had no space,” he said.
The traders’ association president, Muhammad Amin Pir, told Kashmir Reader that they had demanded that a new fruit mandi be expedited at the earliest as they were facing an impending crisis due to the old mandi’s scarce space. A flood bund, or river embankment, is also urgently needed; Pir says it’s vital. “Without the bund, the construction of the mandi is futile, our goods are at great risk without a protective bund,” he said.
He added that years have passed, but there has been no progress in the construction of the new fruit mandi. “I think the government is not serious about our problems. In Shopian, 95 percent of people are wholly and solely dependent on fruit growing and trade. But despite several demonstrations, our problems are ignored,” Pir said.
Moreover, because the Arhama Fruit Mandi is located on the Shopian-Srinagar highway, the road gets jammed in the autumn season, due to the rush of fruit-carrying vehicles. Many times even emergency vehicles get stuck in the traffic gridlocks. “In apple season, there remains no space, not even for pedestrians. I have seen several ambulances getting stuck here as the road is narrow and is used by a huge rush of load-carrying vehicles,” said local shopkeeper Abdul Hamed.
Officials from the flood control department told Kashmir Reader that the construction costs of the flood protection bund had been estimated at approximately Rs 18 crores, but no funds have been sanctioned or released as yet.
The National Conference-led coalition found it suitable to change the location of the Arhama Fruit Mandi to a new ‘mega’ fruit mandi at Aglar village, where there are said to be about 300 kanals of riverbed land. However, this is contradicted by the Shopian flood control department assistant executive engineer Samiullah.
The new mandi’s foundation stone was laid by the previous chief minister, the late Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, on 28 October 2015. An estimated Rs 50 crores was to be made available for its construction, but till date no major development has taken place. Aglar locals told Kashmir Reader that other than an ordinary flood protection bund, no flood provision had been made by either the previous government or the PDP-BJP coalition.
Experts suggest that if no strong protection bund is made from the rivulet side, the fruit mundi loses its reason for existence as it is very close to the Rambiara rivulet and its old bund was previously damaged.
Fruit growers and traders also allege that there are no fixed freight charges on fruit boxes from the Arhama Fruit Mandi to other mandis across India. “Last year we saw a 100 percent increase in transport fares as there is no strict regulatory authority to curb law violators,” said Manzoor Ahmad, an Arhama mandi fruit trader.
As per the horticulture department’s figures, they have received 33,52,150 boxes weighing 48,298.35 MT tons this year which has brought them Rs 185 crores, while in 2016-17, the harvest was 1,49,700 boxes of 173.7 MTs for Rs 2.28 crores, the low figure being ascribed to the Mandi’s being closed due to last year’s unrest. This is disputed, however, by experts, who claim that the total turnover of 2016 was more than Rs 550 crores.