Allaying economic emergency
The Government of India's August 5 decision to split the state of J&K into two Union Territories and revoke its special status, and the ensuing clampdown and communication blackout in the state has brought to a standstill the normal life in the region. Kashmir valley, in particular, has been struck rather unceremoniously and the enforced halt on normal life has not only affected the life in basic ways such as education being withheld, movement of people and vehicles and transport being extremely difficult as plying of trucks have been stalled, the local economy has been dealt a massive blow as these restrictions come at a time of the apple season and sales are suffering drastically due to the present situation. Apple farmers struggled to take their produce to market due to clampdowns in peak season. Apple cultivation is one of the mainstay of Kashmir's economy with revenue of around ₹1, 200 crore a year. Harvest of apples and its export to other markets in time is critical for the cultivators, and particularly those from Shopian, Baramulla, Srinagar, and Anantnag, flagged concerns over financial loss if business was held back. A much-needed respite has been allowed to them with the government's latest move; allaying the fears of apple growers, the Centre has announced to procure the produce. The Union Home Ministry and the Ministry of Agriculture will oversee the smooth procurement, and the Centre will directly buy apples from apple growers in Kashmir. Ensuring direct payment in the bank account of the apple growers through Direct Benefit Transfer, 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 price committee will fix the fair prices for the produce and all necessary facilities and infrastructure are in the process of being set up at mandis across important production centres to ensure smooth rollout of the procurement. Additional help from the centre will include senior functionaries from the Horticulture Department monitoring and supervise the entire procurement operation; representatives from National Agriculture Cooperative Marketing Federation of India (NAFED) and the National Horticulture Board will also be associated with the procurement process. In all, the government plans to buy 12 lakh metric tonnes of the fruit under the market intervention scheme.
The Centre's Special Market Intervention Price Scheme (MISP) has been put in place to provide much-needed and necessary assistance to the cultivators' hopes of salvaging the ₹16,000 crore apple industry amid the tense political situation. The plight of the apple growers come not exclusively from the government enforced clampdown but also from militants campaigning against the export of apples. In this compounded situation, close to 60 per cent of the estimated annual apple produce will be procured from the cultivators nearer their doorsteps and this move is expected to enhance growers' income by about ₹2,000 crore. This intervention also addressed the major security concern keeping the growers worried. Kashmir produced 20 lakh metric tonne of apple in 2018, contributing 73 per cent to India's entire apple production. At a cost of Rs. 8,000 crore, the procurement period will be for six months beginning September. After India raised tariffs on apple imports from the US earlier this year, this intervention will also help stabilise the price of apples and help maintain a uniform rate in the open market throughout the country. After the communication blockade and lockdown in Kashmir following repeal of the special status of J&K state with the disempowerment of the constitutional provision of Article 370, the state government could not rope in sufficient trucks for large-scale apple trading. As per official records, just about 400 to 700 trucks were plying against the demand of 1,200 trucks per day – up from 120 trucks last month. Consequently, there was a closure and poor flow of apples from the wholesale markets at Baramulla's Sopore, Srinagar's Parimpora, Shopian and Anantnag's Batengo. The menace of militancy had been causing further trouble as nocturnal functioning of Sopore mandi had to come to a grinding halt after four civilians were shot at on September 6 by suspected militants for trying to revive the export. This incident is read as a pattern in the threats issued to the fruit growers in north and south Kashmir. The local police inform that gunmen destroyed several orchards and beat up many growers in Shopian, and that militants are directing orchardists to stop exporting apple this year in a bid to sever all ties with mainland India. The Indian government in this regard has been commendably proactive in preventing the situation from going out of control in many ways. Not letting the economy suffer for the political move for rectification is indeed a genuine step towards development and restoration. The market intervention scheme for apple growers initiated by the Governor Satyapal Malik is an acknowledgement of the immense significance of the apple sector which has an annual turnover Rs 8000 crore and is direct or indirect source of income to at least 7 lakh families in J&K. Definitely, this sector needs special attention and the government is well at work on this one.