Pulwama: Fruit growers and orchardists in south Kashmir are decrying the rise in freight charges on apple boxes, compelling the growers to pay a 10-15 percent commission per box. The Horticulture Minister’s intervention has been sought to resolve their woes, failing which the Fruit Growers and Zamindar Association (FGZA) says it will hit the streets indefinitely.
“These commission agents are looting poor orchardists with heavy commission of 15 percent per peti (box). As there is no open auction in the fruit market (mandi), they are doing underhand auctions with buyers without informing the orchardists,” FGZA president Mushtaq Ahmad Malik told Kashmir Reader.
He said the orchardists don’t get a wind of what the price has been fixed and the fruit is sold for.
“There is no fixed freight for ferrying goods from the Mandi to Indian markets,” Shopian Mandi president Muhammad Amin Pir said. “Is the government waiting for the suicide of orchardists?” he asked. “Rates were at Rs 80 per peti to Delhi, Rs 150 to Bangalore and Rs 120 to Ahmedabad in the initial stage of the Mandi season,” he said adding that if the freight remained with the same fares, it would go to 100 percent increase, adversely affecting the orchardists and growers.
Malik further added that despite an abundance of load-carrying vehicles, truck unions continually took advantage of the orchardists and told them there were no vehicles available as an excuse to charge double freight.
Demanding the transport minister’s intervention to fix ferrying fares to external markets, Bilal Ahmed, a trader from Kulgam Mandi, said freights were high in his area. “Last year, due to the authorities’ callous attitude, freights went to Rs 160 per peti, which was very hard on orchardists and growers,” he said.
Irfan Hussain Lone, an orchardist from Rajpora area of Pulwama, said, “We have to buy wooden boxes for Rs 70 apiece and then spend Rs 100-130 for freight, on top of which fertilisers, fungicides and other expenses come to Rs 150-200 per box. Tell us what we earn from this harvest.” He reiterated that if the government did not take strict measures, the day would not be far when orchardists would start committing suicides.
A group of orchardists from Pulwama told Kashmir Reader that the government had earlier announced that the year 2017 would be celebrated as ‘Apple Year’. “On what grounds will they celebrate it when orchardists are dying under high freights, heavy commissions and secret auctions?” they wanted to know.
Pir told Kashmir Reader that there was no possibility of open auction for Mandi goods owing to several reasons. “If we did open auction of goods which comes to the Mandi, the buyers would not give sufficient rates to the items,” he said adding that the association would take efforts to make orchardists aware about going rates.
When asked how sellers could trust commissioning agents about rates he explained that the fruit trade always runs on mutual trust.
About 95 percent of people in Shopian are wholly dependent on the horticulture sector while the figure stands at 70 percent in Pulwama and Kulgam, accounted for mostly by apple cultivation.
Area marketing officer Shopian/Pulwama Muhammad Yousuf Shah told Kashmir Reader, “The department will issue notice within a couple of days regarding commission on products which come to Mandi for sale”. Acknowledging that secret auctions were illegal, he said the department would seek a permanent solution to the issue.
Shah said that he has scheduled a video conference with the Minister of Horticulture on Tuesday. “I will raise all issues with the higher authorities and immediate relief will be given to the orchardists and growers.” On higher commission margins he said that law violators would face the music.
Shah appealed to orchardists and growers to follow department guidelines and inform them if anyone charged freights more than those prescribed by the department.
People must inform the department if they are charged at higher rates than six percent per box, he said. “Currently we face dearth of trucks but that does not mean they (the truck unions) charge the freight as per their wishes,” he said.
Minister of Transport Sunil Kumar Sharma did not reply on the issue, despite multiple calls from this reporter.