Centre should save fruit industry of Kashmir
Now that a year has passed since the abrogation of Article 370 in Kashmir, it is time to reflect upon the status of the fruit industry of the valley that is key to the economy of the region
Now that a year has passed since the abrogation of Article 370 in Kashmir, it is time to reflect upon the status of the fruit industry of the valley that is key to the economy of the region. It is now the time for the apple season.
The picking would start in this month and go on depending on the variety. As per the numbers available with the Department of Horticulture, Kashmir, about 8,000 to 10,000 crore rupees of Kashmir's economy is dependent on the apple industry and nearly one-third population of the Valley is associated with this sector. In any other year, at an average, north and south Kashmir produces more than 7 lakh metric tonnes annually, separately, while the central region and Srinagar contributes about 1.5 lac metric tonnes in the total Valley's apple production. Then there is the box business. About 20 lakh wooden boxes are made in Kashmir for the purpose of exporting apples. Kashmir apple market till recently was controlled by a cartel of exporters who would exploit the farmers to the hilt. When the Union government announced the abrogation of the Article-370, fruit traders feared that it would lead to further deepening of the cartel network, thereby depriving the traders of their profits and disrupting the whole supply chain in a massive way.
Immediately after the abrogation of Article-370, the Central government announced that the Union Home Ministry and the Ministry of Agriculture would oversee the smooth procurement, wherein the Centre would directly buy apples. In a notification, the Union government directed that the State government will ensure direct payment in the bank account of the apple grower through Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT). It further added that all categories of apples – A, B and C – will be procured from the apple producing districts in Jammu and Kashmir as well as designated mandis in Sopore, Shopian and Srinagar. To ensure the transparency and efficiency of the entire process, the State-run National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation of India (NAFED) has been roped in to facilitate the process of procurement of produce of the fruit growers in the region. Accordingly, NAFED will procure 60% apples produced in the Union Territory of J&K.
This move assumes significance in the wake of the terrorists threatening apple growers not to sell their produce in the market. Payments will be made directly to the growers' bank accounts through the direct benefit transfer (DBT) mode within 48 hours. NAFED would procure apples from farmers through the directorate of Horticulture, Planning and Marketing. According to official data, Kashmir accounts for production of 91% walnuts, 90% of almonds, cherry and saffron, and 70% apples in the country, worth a total of Rs 7,000 crore annually. In addition, the Centre government will pump an additional Rs 8,000 crore to help apple and dry fruit traders in J&K including Rs 2,000 crore towards procuring apples directly from growers. The move is aimed to send positive signals to the business community. It is time, the officials worked diligently to implement the scheme. The tourism sector has already taken a hit in Kashmir. The fruit season cannot go waste. Any failure in ensuring the procurement now will only lead to further despondency among the people.