Cherry growers complain of 'high' cargo tariffs

The fruit growers of Kashmir today complained against the “high” air cargo tariffs being charged for ferrying cherry to outside mandis.

On Tuesday, 11 tons of cherry were airlifted in two flights from the Srinagar International Airport for Mumbai and Bengaluru. This is the highest single day supply airlifted this season so far.

However, the growers who have already been at the receiving end due to closure of mandis in Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru owing to covid19 outbreak and lockdown, complained against the high air cargo tariffs.

President New Kashmir Fruit AssociationBasheer Ahmad Bashir said the cargo rates are “almost double” compared to last year.

“While the government-owned airline had earlier promised to charge Rs 30 per kg cherry from Srinagar to Mumbai, we have ended up paying Rs 50. This leaves little scope for any profit,” he said.

Bashir said the airline had earlier agreed to ferry 3 tons of cherry on Tuesday but “accommodated only 1 ton in its aircraft,” while the rest was returned to the Parimporamandi.

“We held a meeting with the airline officials a few days back where we were told that 3 tons cherry per day at the rate of Rs 30 per kg will be ferried to Mumbai. But then rate was revised to Rs 40. Finally we have supplied 1 ton today at Rs 50 per kg,” Bashir said.

“Besides, the transportation charges paid for the consignment sent back from the airport to the mandi was borne by us,” Bashir added.

Bashir said another problem with airlifting of cherry was that there was “no guarantee” of the consignment going directly Mumbai.  “It is halted in Delhi for a night on its way to Mumbai. The Mishri and Makhmali varieties of cherry are so delicate and highly perishable that they should be ideally ferried directly to its destination,” Bashir said.

Bashir said the private airlines were charging air tariffs as high as Rs 70 per kg for Mumbai.

IrfanHussainKanth, Regional Manager, North India, Sales and Operations SpiceJet Cargo said the cargo rates were “genuine” as the aircraft ferrying the cherry was “a special cargo aircraft.”

“Our cargo aircraft is dedicated for supply of these perishables and other goods. There is no passenger load in these aircrafts and all the space is dedicated for the goods,” Kanth said.

Kanth said that the two cargo flights operated by the airline so far went directly to Srinagar and Bengaluru without any halts.

On Tuesday, while a special SpiceJet flight carried 10 tons of cherries to Bengaluru, an Air India charter flight ferried another 1 ton to Mumbai. SpiceJet on June 12 had also airlifted 10 tons of cherry and peas from the Valley, said its official.

As per official data, cherry is a Rs 160 crore industry in the Valley with almost 90 per cent of the produce headed to different parts of the country.

Director Horticulture, Ajaz Ahmad Bhat said 1000 MT of cherry was supplied outside the Valley via road and air traffic this season so far. “More than 2000 boxes have been airlifted in the flights so far. With opening of the Mughal Road for cherry transportation, we expect supplies to get a boost,” Bhat said.

As much as 13,000 MT of cherry production is expected in the Valley this year, the official said.