Horticulture remains the mainstay of the Kashmir economy. Kashmir could be able to survive frequent unrests and long curfews thanks to the robust horticulture sector. “It is a policy of this government to destroy our economy,” alleges a fruit merchant.
Zafar Aafaq | Caravan Daily
NEW DELHI -– Footpaths littered with human feaces and the air filled with stench of urine and rotten fruit greet you as you enter Azadpur Mandi – an expansive fruit market located in the north Delhi. Trucks trudge along at snail’s pace to make it to their respective platforms as smaller vehicles struggle to keep a gap.
Everything here appears clogged. It took Zahoor Wani (name changed) two nights and a day to reach his platform from the main gate of the market. He had arrived here on Saturday night after leaving Pattan area of Kashmir valley on Friday evening with a truckload boxes containing pears.
Wani has just finished unloading most of the pear boxes. However, he wears a gloomy look. When asked for the reason, he blurted out, “We are running into huge losses. Today a box is sold at around Rs 150. Last year, the rate was as high as Rs 500 to Rs 800.”
The reason behind this steep fall in the rates is the communication lockdown back home. There is a disconnect between farmers in Kashmir and businessmen in the Delhi market. The farmers are unable to communicate with the businessmen here. They supply their produce through trucks without being able to negotiate about the rates.
Kashmir is reeling under unprecedented lockdown since August 5 when Indian government unilaterally withdrew special status of the state and split it into two Union territories. Thousands have been arrested since then. Amid heightened paramilitary presence, the markets are shut and public movement is scarce.
Despite the losses, farmers are feeling compelled to sell their produce. The pear has a very short shelf life. If left unsold, it gets rotted within three to four days of plucking them from the tree. The pears in some boxes in Wani’s truck had rotten during the three days of transportation.
Wani had collected the produce of four farmers in Pattan. They had handed him a challan that carried business details and addresses of the platforms.
“Only one of the farmers used to do business with this platform,” he informs, “but compulsions force the other three to collaborate with him to send their produce here.”
In the previous seasons, Kashmiri pear would go to markets in cities like Lucknow, Mumbai, and Kolkatta. But, this time, due to lack of communication most of the produce reached Delhi generating a supply-demand crisis. In situations such as this Kashmiri farmers prefer only Delhi. “Because we have more trust in Delhi market than other cities,” says a farmer who has come with a truck from Budgam district.
“We travel here frequently and many Kashmiris have their own businesses here unlike other places,” he disclosed.
Horticulture remains the mainstay of the Kashmir economy. Kashmir could be able to survive frequent unrests and long curfews thanks to the robust horticulture sector. “It is a policy of this government to destroy our economy,” alleges Wani.
“Our horticulture incurs losses of crores of rupees every day,” complained Imtiyaz Ahmad, a prosperous fruit merchant sitting on a chair at the other side of the platform. He has been managing his section of the platform since June when he arrived here from Sopore town of Kashmir. In the past couple of weeks, he has received nearly three dozen truckloads of pears. “It is unusual.”
Our conversation was interrupted by a call on Imtiyaz’s mobile. It was a farmer from Kashmir calling from a police station.
“Please don’t even think of sending your pears here, It is a total wastage of money.” Imtiyaz tells him. “I suggest every farmer in Kashmir to better throw his fruits in some cesspool instead of wasting money on the transport to send here,” he said with a tinge of lament in his voice.
He thinks doing so will be a form of “protest”, a political statement. “At least that way our issue will be raised somewhere.”
Even as the rates have gone down, the additional charges remain the same. Drivers feel that in the end, it is a loss that only a farmer has to bear. Fifty per cent of the amount is consumed by wooden boxes. “The transportation charges and the commission fee of the market are the same,” said Ashiq, a driver from Budgam. “These businessmen here will put the fruits in cold storage and sell later at normal rates,”
The apples from south Kashmir will start arriving here in a couple of weeks. Businessmen and farmers are worried that the consignment will face the same fate if telecommunication services are not restored in Kashmir.
“Horticulture sector will be finished if the lockdown doesn’t end,” Imtiyaz says matter-of-factly. “And I don’t have much hope from the government.”