SOPORE: Situated on the outskirts of Sopore town, known also as the apple town of Kashmir, the Sopore Mandi is Kashmir’s, and India’s, largest fruit market and the second-largest in Asia. The fruit traders there are presently encountering umpteen hardships and huge losses to their business due to the lack of better transport facilities at genuine rates.
Established in 1988 on more than 372 Kanals of land, the market does a business of around Rs 2,600 crore each year. It could easily have been more, but the poorly administered transport facility is hampering the Mandi’s business growth.
The year’s busiest time is during the apple season, which remains for approximately seven months, July to January. This, of course, is when the Mandi does its briskest business; during this season, thousands of trucks laden with apple boxes set out from Sopore, Kashmir, to be transported to different states.
The Sopore Fruit Mandi president, Fayaz Ahmad Malik, aka Kakaji, called the availability of proper transport facilities for fruit traders “an important and urgent need” for the market and said that the traders have requested the government about it several times, “but we only get assurances, without any action”.
“While this Mandi is known throughout Asia, it’s very unfortunate that we don’t have our own transport facility here. Trucks mostly come from outside states like Punjab, Haryana and Delhi to transport fruit and they charge very high fares, much more than is genuinely required. We have to pay Rs 75 to 80 per apple box, which is a huge amount that turns into huge losses to our fruit business,” he rued.
The horticulture sector is known as the backbone of the Kashmir economy, but it gets unjustifiably less attention from the government. At the crux of the issue is the absence of appropriate rates; what used to be around Rs 50 per apple box in the past has gone up to Rs 80.
The members of Fruit Growers and Buyers Union allege that the government has completely neglected this important trade centre, particularly transport facilities, resulting in hardship and suffering to the fruit trader.
Malik, who is also a fruit grower, told Kashmir Reader that the Sopore Fruit Mandi being one of the valley’s main economic centres, sees more than 300 fruit-laden trucks being sold and sent outside the state in a single day. But owing to the neglectful attitude of the authorities, hardly 50 trucks are available here, that too from outside the state. This, he said, creates a tough time for not only the growers but buyers too.
Voicing their agreement, the Buyers Union at Fruit Mandi Sopore spoke of complete government neglect and said they appeal to the authorities to be serious about this trade centre and to redress its genuine grievance.
According to data from the Fruit Marketing Department of Sopore, North Kashmir produces 3,97,675.61 MT of apples annually, with Baramulla being the highest producer at 1,72,813 MT. Of the three cold-storage units located in the district, only one is fully functional with a capacity of 3,000 MT.
Malik also said that the Sopore Bypass Bridge, which was thrown open to traffic in 2015 after being constructed at a snail’s space over more than two decades, is in an alarmingly terrible state. While the entire stretch of the bridge is riddled with potholes, iron rods used in its construction have been exposed at some places. At some places, it appears that even cracks have developed. Being vital for business in Sopore, the condition of the bridge is such that fruit trucks find the bridge unsafe.
“This bridge is a lifeline for Kupwara, Handwara and other rural areas. Both fruit growers and out-of-state truckers use it during peak season. However the state it is in makes us worry that the authorities do not care for the well-being of the population,” Riyaz Ahmed, a fruit grower, told Kashmir Reader.
When contacted the Additional District Commissioner of Sopore, Mr Ashiq Hussain, told Kashmir Reader that “the fruit traders should come to my office and file a written complaint against the high fare on apple transportation. We will accordingly take action against it.”