ANANTNAG — Orchardists in south Kashmir are a worried lot at present as they are yet to receive compensation for the damage caused to the fruit and other crops due to last year’s lockdown followed by unseasonal snowfall.

Figures available with Horticulture Department suggest that about Rs 10,000 crore in Kashmir’s economy is dependent on apple industry and nearly 40 percent of Valley’s population is associated with this sector.

Data available with the department suggests that around 70 percent of population in south Kashmir is associated with Horticulture sector and produces more apples as compared to north and central Kashmir.

But the Horticulture sector, the backbone of the economy in J&K, suffered huge losses due to untimely snowfall in the years 2018 and 2019 besides threat calls from suspected militants in harvesting season after scrapping of Article 370.

Figures also suggest that in the year 2018, losses to Horticulture sector due to untimely snowfall on November 03 was estimated at over Rs 500 crore while in the year 2019, losses to Horticulture sector were estimated over four times as in the year 2018.

“There were threat calls from militants not to pick apples after scrapping of Article 370 due to which part of our apple produce got rotten,” said a member of a fruit growers association in south Kashmir.

Ghulam Ahmed Dar, a fruit grower from Bijbehara area, said that due to the tense situation, most apple growers picked up all varieties of apple at a time, as apples were taken to Mandis outside Valley in one go. As a result, market went down and inflicting huge losses to growers.

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“Due to communication gag, we were not able to communicate with our traders outside the Valley and our crop was not sold at an appropriate time,” he added. “Prices were too low and amount we got wasn’t enough even to cover our production and transportation costs.”

He said that taking advantage of the situation, transporters looted apple growers and charged double fare.

Abbas Ahmed, another fruit grower, who resides at Dachnipora in Anantnag, said that the cold storage units could have helped fruit growers in the situation when market was down and would have given them the choice of determining the demands in the market.

“But lack of storage units forced growers to sell their produce even as market was down,” said Ahmad.

Horticulture sector will decline if government will not take appropriate steps for the welfare of fruit growers. “This sector suffered huge losses due to lockdown and later by untimely snowfall, but what authorities did with us was a cruel joke,” he said.

“A fruit grower who suffered damage in lakhs was compensated with Rs 2000. If the approach of government remains the same, what will be future of Horticulture sector here,” he said.

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Irshad Ahmad, a 45-year-old apple grower from Pulwama, said that his family of seven is totally dependent on their orchard,  but fear and apprehensions during clampdown post August 05 last year, followed by untimely snowfall, was the last nail in the coffin for them.

“I used to produce 800 boxes of apples, but today I can hardly produce 100 boxes this year due the damage of untimely snowfall,” he said, adding that the government provided him Rs 2000 as compensation.

“Why government has failed to introduce crop insurance scheme here despite repeated promises,” he added.

President, Fruit Growers Association Shopian, Muhammed Amin said that government is not serious towards Horticulture sector and is fooling growers with fake promises. “As Horticulture sector of Kashmir has been getting affected every year due to natural calamities, why government has failed to introduce crop insurance scheme here,” he said, adding that there is need of laboratories at block level.

“If the approach of the government remains same, growers who are directly dependent on this sector will die of hunger in near future and hundreds will choose alternative crops,” he added.

He said that growers were expecting that they will be compensated well and their loans will be waived off but that didn’t happen.

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