Post-floods, saffron growers lease fields to contractors

Srinagar: The demand for earth filling to be used in repairing Jhelum embankments has risen so steeply that Pampore saffron growers have taken to selling the soil of their fields to contractors.
Saffron grows in the well-drained soil on undulating karewas of Pampore. Reckless extraction can irreparably damage the layout of the sensitive fields, most growers say.
Fayaz Ahmad, a resident of Ghalander, told Kashmir Reader that the rate of soil has gone up after the floods and growers are being approached by contractors, who have job orders from Irrigation and Flood Control Department, to lease the fields.
The signs of wanton extraction are already visible in Ghalander, Chandhar and Konibal kerawas.
A contractor pays Rs 1.2-2 lakh per kanal of land to extract soil with the help of JCBs.
Fayaz Ahmad, a tipper owner, said that the extraction of earth from saffron karewas had reduced considerably but post floods there was a “mad rush to plunder as much as possible”.
The soil from the karewas is considered suitable for repairing the damaged embankments.
Abdul Majid Wani, president of the All Saffron Growers Development Marketing Cooperative Association, calls the trend disturbing.
“Earlier, development projects like the railways, widening of the Srinagar-Jammu highway took toll on saffron karewas. Now, the extraction of soil from these karewas for restoration of embankments has added to our woes,” he said.
Wani said most growers have resisted the trend, but heavy crop losses, estimated to be about 80 percent, caused by off-season rains and other factors have forced others to sell soil.
Wani apprehends that after the floods, many saffron growing areas might be converted into residential colonies.
He said that this year saffron bulbs produced more grass than flowers, but next year the production of spice-yielding flowers will be good.
Last year, Pampore fields produced about 10 tons of the spice, the costliest in the world.