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Apple growers tense in Himachal Pradesh

Shimla: In the peak Covid pandemic time, Himachal apples growers are on the verge of an unusual crisis situation, barely a fortnight ahead of the apple marketing season.

Apart from the fears about finding potential wholesale markets to sell the apples, the orchardists are more worried about absence of Nepali labourers. Migrant Nepali labourers are backbone of the apple economy in Himachal Pradesh.

This time Nepali labourers have not arrived in the apple-belt and there is hardly much hope about their returns.

Most of the migrant labourers from Nepal reach Himachal Pradesh ahead of the crop season in May-June and stay here till October-end to handle entire orchard operations, which include plucking, grading, packaging and finally loading of the boxes in the trucks for transportation to 'Mandis' in Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Jaipur, Kolkata and Bengaluru.

One reason attributed to their non arrival is about fears of the Coronavirus infection but many now claim that India's strained relations with Nepal is major factor as many Nepali labourers have already conveyed to the orchardists.

State Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur, who held a marathon meeting with top officials to make arrangements for the apple marketing asked the horticulture department to hold meeting with the contractors, who should further contact the labourers to bring them back.

"Adequate arrangement must be made to facilitate them so that there was no scarcity of labourers. Alternative arrangement of labourers must also be made," he said. Thakur said that if required the state government could even consider sending buses up to even Dehradun and other places to bring Nepali labourers.

"Matter should also be taken with the district administration of bordering districts of Nepal for bring labourers to the State. Steps must be taken in organised to ensure that the horticulturists do not suffer due to want of labour," he advised.

On arrangements about marketing, Chief Minister said horticulture department has tied up marketing arrangements for the growers at Aazadpur Mandi in New Delhi and Gannaur Mandi at Sonipat in Haryana.

The controlled atmosphere stores have been identified in government and private sectors in Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana and Delhi having a total capacity of about 1.17 lakh metric tonnes. Besides this cold storage facility of 32000 MT is available to facilitate the horticulturists, he added.

Horticulture Minister Mahender Singh Thakur said that horticulture industry accounts for about Rs 5000 crore per annum. He said that about 5.83 lakh MT Apple production was expected during the current Apple season.

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