After Kashmir floods, freight hike dents horticulture

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Kashmir’s horticulture sector is currently passing through turbulent times: First it was the flood that hit vast tracts of orchard land damaging huge quantity of apple crops, and now it is the steep increase in freight that is giving tough time to the growers.

According to the growers the outside transporters have sharply increased the freight from Srinagar to outside mandis after floods hit Kashmir. “The outside transporters are taking undue advantage of the post-flood situation in Kashmir,” the growers said.

President, Fruit Dealers’ and Growers’ Association, Fayaz Ahmad told Greater Kashmir that the growers are incurring huge losses as floods have earlier wreaked havoc with their crops and now the steep increase in the freight is making it difficult for them to send their fruit outside the state.

As per dealers, last year the transporters were charging freight in the range of Rs 60-70 per apple box from Sopore Fruit Mandi to Azadpur Mandi in Delhi. “But now the rate has gone up by 100 per cent. This time transporters charge freight of Rs 130-140 per box,” they said.

“Similarly the freight from Kashmir to Kolkata is Rs 220 per box, which was earlier only Rs 140 per box,” he said.

Ahmad said while a box of second grade apple sells at only Rs 130 in Azadpur Delhi, the freight charged on it from here is Rs 135 per box.

He said in the absence of a transport policy, the Valley fruit, whatever has been spared by the floods and unfavorable weather, has become uncompetitive.

Ahmad said that situation in apple town of Shopian in south Kashmir is same. He said the transport unions and companies have doubled the freight to Delhi at a time when the Valley fruit industry is facing multiple problems in the wake of floods in Kashmir.

“Normal freight per apple box from Shopian to Delhi was Rs 75 last year. Post-flood this has been increased up to Rs 135,” he said, adding that the freight up to Jammu was Rs 20 to Rs 25 per box and it has been hiked to Rs 50 per box.

He said the freight for Mumbai has been increased from Rs 90 to Rs 170. “The normal rate from Shopian to Amritsar was Rs 30 but now they charge Rs 72 per box.”

Quoting instances, Ahmad said a fruit grower for his fallen fruit (second grade fruit) worth Rs 54,000 was charged Rs 48,000 freight from Shopian to Delhi.

“This is loot! At a time when the government should have intervened and protected the apple industry of Kashmir, it is acting as mute spectator to the open loot by the outside transporters,” he said.

“Our apple production was already badly affected by the inclement weather and floods. From south to north Kashmir, orchards have been washed away. Now the increase in the freight has proven to be a final nail in the coffin of apple industry of Kashmir,” Ahmad said.

He said the orchards in south Kashmir and in some other areas of Kashmir namely Tangmarg, Pattan, Sangrama, and also those surrounding Wular lake, Zaingeer Rafiabad, Tarzoo, were inundated by the floodwaters. “Besides the crop, the floods damaged the trees as well,” he said.

Fear huge losses to the fruit industry this year, Ahmad said that state government should step-in and provide some relief to the orchard owners and fruit growers who are reeling under stress due to huge bank loans and other debts.

To mention, last year Kashmir exported apple worth Rs 4500 crore. However, this year, Ahmad said, exports will hardly go up to Rs 1000 crore.

“Last year we exported eight crore apple boxes from Kashmir but this year not more than 1 crore boxes would be exported as the fruit on the trees in some areas was badly hit by the floods while in other areas the fruit quality was degraded by the inclement weather,” he informed.

When asked about increase in freight, a senior official of horticulture department, who wished not to be named, said: “These days we have good demand for transport that is why rates have increased. We cannot do anything in it.”

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