Amidst Reports of Losses, Govt Announces Direct Procurement of Kashmiri Apples

The question remains as to how the money is supposed to be credited to growers if the internet shutdown continues.

New Delhi: Amidst mounting losses to apple growers in the Kashmir Valley, owing to the indefinite lockdown in the region, the Centre has now announced that it will procure apples directly from the growers and that money will be transferred directly to their accounts.

The National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation of India Ltd (NAFED) is slated to complete the process by December 15 through state agencies.

“The state government will ensure payments to the bank accounts of the apple growers through direct benefit transfer (DBT). All categories of apples – A, B and C – will be procured from the apple producing districts in Jammu and Kashmir as well as designated mandis in Sopore, Shopian and Srinagar,” a government notification said.

A state price fixation committee will be constituted to ascertain the price at which apples of different grades will be procured. Local administration officials have also been directed to raise awareness about the procurement programme and ensure that bank accounts are linked with Aadhaar cards so that payment into the accounts of growers can be made. 

Also read: ‘Let’s Not Talk About It,’ Say Kashmiris Who Were Attacked by Gunmen in Sopore

Since the August 5 move of the Centre to read down Article 370 and bifurcate Jammu and Kashmir, the Kashmir Valley has been in a state of lockdown and information blackout. Movement of people and vehicles has been restricted, which has resulted in losses to apple growers. 

Because the harvest began in mid-August during the security clampdown, growers have been unable to transport their produce to markets outside the valley. According to The Hindu, movement of apple trucks has been reduced from 1,200 to 120 a day. 

A Kashmiri man drinks tea as he sits outside closed shops in Srinagar, on August 20, 2019. Photo: Reuters/Adnan Abidi

Apart from the government-enforced security clampdown, militants have also issued diktats on the opening of shops. Those found violating the diktat, have reportedly been shot upon, including the five-year-old daughter of an apple grower who had opened his shop in Baramulla district. 

The Print has also reported that apples have begun to rot as those varieties which have matured have nowhere to go due to the double whammy of the security clampdown and threat from militants. 

The government expects that it can ease the stress by procuring from farmers. But there are question marks over NAFED’s capacity to procure apples from the valley at a time when movement itself is restricted and communication remains out of bounds.

Also read: Heavy Snow Hurts Kashmir’s Apple Farmers

“To begin with, NAFED doesn’t have the network in Kashmir and it can’t be built overnight and especially not in this environment. The problem also that there are no sellers, how will NAFED find them? Additionally, because of the communication blackout, it will be very difficult to complete the whole process. For instance, how will they send information on who has sold how much and then transfer the money when there is no internet?” a senior official of the Ministry for Agriculture and farmers welfare said. 

Haseeb Drabu, former finance minister of Jammu and Kashmir, is worried that the move could do more harm than good in the long run. 

“It is going to disrupt a system that had been in place for decades. A new system will be devised. But in the long run this is going to harm the economy. What happens when NAFED decides not to buy? The old system would have broken down. Where will the growers go then?” he asked.