2 years of GST spell doom for Kashmir's walnut, almond growers

Kashmir’s walnut, almond growers who have been facing the wrath of inclement weather this year are challenged by host of other problems including 5-12 percent levy of Goods and Services Tax for last two years ever since the new tax regime was implemented on July 7, 2017 across J&K. 

More than 3 weeks after the central government increased the duty on imported walnut and almond recently with an intention to provide boost to local produce, growers burdened by GST and lack of processing facilities say the spurt in import duty is yet to come to their rescue.

President of Dry Fruit Association, Bahdaur Khan, said import duty recently raised for imported walnut and almond is a positive move, which will provide fillip to the local produce adding that GST continues to play a dampener. As per Director General of Foreign Trade there has been considerable decline in import of California walnut and almond since last 25 days ever since duty was increased.

“We ran from pillar to post urging them to reduce GST but to no avail… Now they are trying to regulate the import business but are turning a blind eye on taxation,” Khan said. While walnut was first put under 12 percent tax slab but later brought down to 5 percent after strong resentment shown by the the growers, almond however has remained taxed at 12 percent. Under VAT regime both the dry fruits like other farm produce were exempted from any kind of tax in the state. 

Walnut and almond growers say there is very less innovation from the horticulture department to explore hybrid varieties of walnuts.

“The orchards we have are decades old and harvesting the produce is a taxing task. We have urged government to set up machines such as laser sorter for grading, vacuum packing, sorting and other machines but to no avail,” said Aijaz Ahmad Khan, a grower.

Growers say the industries department had identified 88 kanals at Kupwara for various state-of-the art facilities related to walnut but “it is not being put to proper use”. “Growers and traders of the dry fruit are being made to wait for allotment of land to set-up these facilities,” said a grower. 

Growers say dry fruit production and trade is an unorganized sector in our state and the grower still faces the wrath of middlemen. “Most of the people involved in this trade are uneducated and find it difficult to go through various GST-related processes such as e-way billing etc,” said Khan.  “One huge tree of walnut occupies almost 1 kanal of land and at a time of less returns, growers are in distress and are not even ready to go for harvest which kick-starts next month” Khan said. 

Several dry fruits have been taxed between 5-12 percent under GST which has become a matter of concern for local growers who are hoping that 0 percent tax on Kashmiri walnut and almond giri be maintained, he added.

“The growers and traders have been urging that tax on Kashmiri walnut and almond should be left untouched by GST even once it is exported outside Lakhanpur. In the winter, we even met Advisor to Governor K Skandan at Jammu and were promised that our case will be taken up with centre,” said the grower.

Khan said California walnut has hit lakhs of growers and traders in Kashmir who are associated with this trade. He said intense competition from imported walnut during last few years has led to nosedive in prices of Kashmiri walnuts in mandis and markets outside. 

“The Kashmiri walnut giri is a natural organic product and we request government that walnut exports to India from other countries be restricted by levying huge import duty on them. This will help to save livelihood of lakhs of people especially marginalised growers in Kashmir who are already suffering huge losses as prices have dropped by more than 50-60 percent,” Khan said. Khan said lakhs of people are associated with walnut and almond production and trade across Kashmir division and some parts of Jammu.