The apple growers and traders of Kashmir fear losses due to the weekly closure of the 270 Km long Srinagar- Jammu national highway and non-priority given to heavy motor vehicles to ply on the road.
"As the national highway is shut every Friday and first preference is given to light motor vehicles to travel on the road, the apple laden trucks remain stranded for days on the national highway. This results in apples turning bad," said a fruit grower.
He added that the significant rise in temperatures has also become a cause of worry for them.
Last month, India Meteorology Department (IMD) suggested that the day temperatures would rise by 1 to 1.5 degree celsius above normal in large parts of north, east and central India in April and May. The temperatures, according to the department, may shoot up by half a degree in the ongoing month of March in these parts of the country. Mohammad Ashraf Wani, president Fruit Mandi Shopian told Greater Kashmir said "sometimes a fruit laden lorry shows up at Azadpur Mandi after a week." He said that by the time it reaches the mandi the fruit had already turned bad incurring heavy losses to growers.
Around 60 to 70 trucks carrying apples are being dispatched to various fruit mandis outside the Valley daily.
The fruit growers and traders said that this small convoy of lorries must be allowed to ply on priority basis along with the light motor vehicles on national highway.
"As these are merely a few dozen trucks, they would not cause any traffic mess", said Izhan Javed spokesperson J&K Fruit and Vegetables Processing and Integrated Cold Chain Association (JKPICCA). Javed said that at least 1 lakh metric tons of apples were lying in 35 cold storages across the Valley.
"It is difficult to ship the produce via refrigerated trucks as it would cost the growers and traders heavy freight charges," said Javed. Last year, at least 30 lakh cartons of apple were lying in cold storages when a nationwide lock down was announced to stave off the spread of COVID-19. A large portion of the produce was later sold in local markets at dirt cheap rates. The fruit growers in Shopian appealed the authorities to open the snow-clogged Mughal road on priority basis so that it could serve as an alternate link to transport the produce outside the Valley. Assistant Executive Engineer (Mechanical Division Shopian & Pulwama) Fayaz Ahmad told Greater Kashmir that the snow clearance operation along the road was started on Saturday.
"The operation is underway and this year the depth of snow is comparatively less. I hope that the road will be opened for the vehicular traffic by next month," said Ahmad.