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Apple turning distasteful for BJP as growers feel let down

Apple turning distasteful for BJP as growers feel let down

Shimla: The crunchy delicious Himachal apples will hit the markets nearly three months later. But, there are fears that the next crop could be little distasteful for the BJP.

In the election time, trouble is brewing in the state's apple belt. Hundreds of apple growers duped by the commission agents also called as 'arthiyas' are up in the arms against the state government and its bodies – Agriculture Produce Marketing Committees (APMCs) for apathy towards their plights.

The Commission agents (middlemen) have not paid nearly Rs 100 crore to the growers in lieu of their produce i.e., apple boxes sold to the outside buyers and traders at different marketing yards, run by the APMC.

"The next season is in the offing but farmers don't have money to buy inputs and undertake orchard operations. This is a crucial time for apple growers. But, poor farmers are making around of the commission agents. Some farmers have turned penniless," alleged Sanjay Chauhan, a former Shimla Mayor, who is organising farmers' struggle for their rights.

The state with its Rs 3,500 crore apple economy – which forms 49 per cent of total fruit production in the state, is bound to have an impact on the elections if the growers resort to agitation.

Kisan Sangrah Samiti –a body of the farmers backed by CPM leaders, including Sanjay Chauhan, has already given a call for protest in Shimla on April 22. Chauhan has held a series of meetings with the affected farmers at Kotkhai, Rohru and other places ---all parts of Shimla Parliamentary constituency.

As par Agriculture Marketing Act, the commission agents are accountable for all payments, which accrue to the farmers for the produce sold at the designated marketing places. The commission agents have to take bank guarantees from the wholesale buyers. This is a preventive clause to protect the interests of the farmers.

'At the fall of the hammer, the buyer has to clear his payments before he takes away the produce. The responsibility lies on the commission agents to pay to the grower. But there is corrupt nexus between the Commission agents, buyers and also those heading the APMCs to dupe the poor growers," Chauhan says.

During state assembly's budget session, CPM MLA Rakesh Singha and BJP MLA Balbir Verma raised the issue of non-payments for the product to the apple growers. The government admitted that the growers have been left high and dry. The government, however, promised to ensure that all payments and arrears are cleared by March 31, 2019. This has not happened yet.

Currently, there are around 91 FIRs registered by the apple growers at different police stations. The amount involved runs in crores. The anger is building-up steadily in the areas known for apple growing.

Out of 12 districts in the state, seven are growing apples having more than 1.70 lakh families engaged in the apple cultivation.

CPM MLA Rakesh Singha says it's a new case of farmers distress.The government is not doing anything to stop the loot. The farmers are sole victims."

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