Year on, Kashmir walnut, almond growers await GST cut

Say 12% taxes on dry fruit produce affecting earnings

At a time when orchards across Kashmir are set to witness walnut and almond harvest beginning next month, local farmers and traders say they are in distress due to levy of Goods and Services Tax (GST), which has eaten up huge chunk of their earnings. 

Before the implementation of the GST both walnut and almond were in zero percent tax slab under VAT. However, under the present tax regime both the dry fruits were taxed. 

Having been running from pillar to post to demand roll-back of GST on walnut and almond for last one year, growers and traders hailing from far-flunged areas say the present 5-12 percent GST on Kashmir based agriculture commodities such as walnut, almond and other dry fruit trade should be done-away with.

More than 95 percent walnuts and 90 percent almonds of total Indian production are produced from Kashmir and as per the GST regime both the agriculture commodities including walnut was first put under 12 percent tax slab but later brought down to 5 percent after strong resentment shown by 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.   

President of the Dry Fruit Association, Kashmir, Haji Bahadur Khan told Greater Kashmir that levy of tax on walnut and almond has made Kashmir produce incompetent for export and against the imported ones which are mostly customs free in the markets of rest of the country.

“Dry fruit trade is an unorganized sector in our state and the grower still faces the wrath. Most of the people involved in this trade are mostly illiterate and find it difficult to go through various GST-related processes such as e-way billing etc,” said a Kupwara-based grower.  “One huge tree of walnut occupies almost half a 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,” he 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. We were promised  that 0 percent tax be maintained on Kashmiri walnut as was the case earlier since it is a horticultural commodity but we have been let down,” said the grower.

According to representative of Dry Fruit Association, Kashmir, which includes walnut growers and traders from across Kashmir, they have met two former finance ministers in the recent PDP-BJP dispensation and even the former Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti urging them to ensure zero percent tax on local walnut, but despite that it has been put under 5 percent tax bracket, they added.  

Khan, who has been leading the growers’ delegations 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 thousands of people especially marginalised growers in Kashmir who are already suffering huge losses as prices have dropped by more than 50-60 per cent,” Khan said. 

Khan said lakhs of people are associated with walnut and almond production and trade across Kashmir division and some parts of Jammu.