Kashmiri apples are unable to reach markets as highway is a series of impediments
SRINAGAR: Kashmir’s apples, cultivated across the valley by tens of thousands of people, are this year turning out to be a burden that is difficult to shake off. It is not because the apples are not in high demand, as usual, but because they are unable to travel down the road that takes them to markets across India.
The ongoing construction work on highways in Jammu and Kashmir, especially the widening of the vital Srinagar-Jammu highway, is causing such frequent and unmanageable traffic jams that it is most often trucks laden with apples that are halted to allow movement of other vehicles. The weekly closure of civilian traffic on Fridays is another obstruction that the apples face.
“The total value of apple trading in Kashmir is Rs 10,000 crore annually. The traffic obstructions are causing nearly 20 percent losses to it,” said Muhammad Ashraf, president of the mega fruit mandi at Shopian, from where every day 300 apple laden trucks move out to different markets in India.
Ashraf told Kashmir Reader that the construction work on the highway between Banihal and Ramban leads to frequent traffic jams. The closure of the highway on Fridays, which the government has ordered from October 16 to November 30 for maintenance work, adds to the problem.
“These two factors make the transport too long. If there is no impediment, a truck will reach in 24 hours to Delhi, but the delay makes it more than 48 hours. This causes, firstly, damage to the fruit, and secondly, mismatch between supply and demand. The prices drop as a result by nearly Rs 200 a box,” Ashraf said.
Mushtaq Ahmad, a Shopian-based fruit grower and trader, who sells 5,000-6,000 apples boxes annually told Kashmir Reader that his supply of 400 boxes took six days to reach New Delhi. The delay was caused by the obstruction on the highway, and it cost him more than one lakh rupees, he said.
“If my apples had reached on time, the boxes would have fetched between Rs 900-Rs 1000. I got between Rs 500 to Rs 600. This is
the everyday story of all growers,” said Ahmad, who is also the president of the Shopian Fruit Growers and Zamindar Association.
The construction of the Dr Shyama Prasad Mookerjee Tunnel (earlier known as Chenani-Nashri Tunnel) has also not proved helpful. It was meant to reduce the travel time from Srinagar to Jammu by two hours, but it seems to have had no impact as the travel is taking even longer than it used to.
Even a day’s delay, Ashraf said, has a cascading effect, disrupting trade and adding to the losses.
Aijaz Ahmad, Director Horticulture, Kashmir, says that the government is doing its best to minimise the losses to the fruit economy. Asked what he could do to mitigate the problems faced by the apple industry, he said the problem of highway obstructions can only be resolved when the construction work of the highway is completed.
Recently, protests were staged by growers at many places against the delays caused by the highway obstructions. Aijaz Ahmad said that the protestors should have instead given representation in his office, or to the divisional commissioner’s office. “We could then have taken cognisance of their grievance,” he said.
Work for the four-laning of the Srinagar-Jammu national highway has been going on for many years. Once it is done, perhaps the apple trade will see better days.