Horticulture sector, the main contributors of J&K economy on which more than seven lakh valley families are dependent for their livelihood, is on the receiving end as sky-rocketing freight prices and 'undue' stoppage of apple-laden trucks on the Srinagar-Jammu highway have badly hit Kashmir's fruit growers.
Halting of fruit trucks on the highway for day together has created a crisis like situation as delays cause huge losses to these perishable fruits.
Growers also blame government's inability to control the transportation prices which have escalated more than 60 percent.
Growers say transportation of a truckload of apples with 10-11 metric tonne capacity and carrying about 550 to 600 boxes is costing themRs 70,000-Rs 80,000 from Kashmir to Azadpur Fruit Mandi in New Delhi. This is almost 60 percent more of what it costs in routine.
Nazir Ahmad Ganie, a fruit grower from Vessu in Anantnag, who is stuck at the highway with a Delhi-bound fruit truck since October 15 said during the last 15 days fruit-laden trucks are being stopped at LevdoraQazigund and Zig area on the highway. "More under the garb of expansion of highway and recurrent traffic jams we are stopped here. I am stuck for last three days without any help," said Ganie.
As per fruit growers, traffic snarls and high transportation charges have compounded their existing problems, which includes "sale of substandard pesticides, fertilizers in the market and lack of cold storage facilities".
"It is so harassing for the fruit growers as our truckers feel agitated when they are stopped for more than 45 hours enroute to Jammu and upto the consumer market," Ganie said.
Despite a recent directive from Advisor to Governor, Khursheed Ahmad Ganai, and divisional commissioner, Kashmir to all deputy commissioners of the state to ensure smooth movement of fruit trucks, growers have complained of hurdles in the movement of fruit trucks taking a hit on apple exports.
"This year transportation charges from south Kashmir areas to Delhi have increased from earlier Rs 60 to now Rs 120-Rs140 per box of Apple. This makes truckers to fleece growers. This is due to limited fleet of trucks available as thousands of trucks are enroute to outside mandis at a time," said Ganie. As per Ganie on October 15, traffic was scheduled to move from Srinagar to Jammu as a one way movement but when fruit trucks reached Levdora in Qazigund "we were stopped at 10 am and not allowed to move ahead," he said. "Traffic officials conveyed to us that till tail end of Jammu traffic does not reach here we won't be allowed to move ahead. Considering these are perishable goods and shelf life is limited we face huge losses," said Ganie.
An official of the Horticulture Planning and Marketing department based at Qazigund, on the conditions of anonymity, said when traffic police allows movement of vehicles from Levdora towards Jammu, it unusually takes hours to reach Jawahar tunnel. "When normally it should not take more than hour, it takes several hours. This needs to be looked into as what is the reason which became real cause for halting of fruit trucks at Levdora," said the HPM official. Growers said off late when this issue was further highlighted, traffic department allowed trucks to move on October 10 at 11 pm. "This helped the passage of more than 3,000 fruit trucks, which were stuck, to proceed ahead to reach consumer market. On October 11 there was no stoppage but the trucks which accumulated till October 12 had to wait for more than 48 hours," said Farooq Ahmad, another fruit grower.
According to Bashir Ahmad Basheer, president of All Kashmir Valley Fruit Growers and Dealers Union stoppage of trucks needs to be addressed since it also creates glut in the market and it compromises the rates in the consumer market," added Basheer.
"The government had already made it clear that fruit trucks should be allowed movement for 24 hours but on ground levels it is not implemented. During the month of September and October the harvesting of apple takes place and in absence of cold storage facilities coupled with incoming winters every grower is in hurry to dispatch their produce in these months itself," said Basheer.
"Due to this rush of dispatches of fruit at a time by the growers, it creates transport shortage resulting in skyrocketing of freight prices for different markets," said Basheer.
IGP Traffic BasantRath had recently Tweeted, "Cars and taxis overtaking other vehicles and creating double lanes are the main reason behind this mess on the highway." He said efforts are being made to ensure smooth movement of traffic especially fruit trucks.
"We waste hours to push overheight fruit trucks across the Jawahar tunnel. Fruit growers and truck operators not helping the cause. At the tunnel trucks have to be unloaded and loaded again which is cumbersome," Rath said.