Khurshid Ganai, Adviser to the Governor, on Thursday inspected orchards damaged in the recent snowfall in Cheniwadder and Khiram areas of Anantnag district of south Kashmir.
Many orchardists urged Ganai to order the revenue and horticulture departments to assess losses suffered by them. They also demanded exemption of interest on Kisan Credit Card loans.
The Adviser assured them that he would seek all possible help from the higher authorities for early compensation to the affected growers.
Ganai was accompanied by Vice Chancellor, SKUAST, Nazir Ahmad Malik; Director, Horticulture, Manzoor Ahmad Qadri; and other senior officers.
The Adviser directed the officials to complete the 300-kanal Jablipora fruit mandi, which is being constructed at an estimated cost of Rs 33 crore. He emphasised upon the importance of the horticulture sector in the state’s economy and assured the growers that every possible support and assistance would be provided for the revival of the horticulture and agriculture sectors.
The Adviser directed the Horticulture Director and Chief Horticulture Officer to deploy scientists and experts to assess the losses, including fruit-bearing capacity and age factors of the partially damaged trees.
District Development Commissioner, Anantnag, Mohammad Younis Malik, informed the meeting about the restoration of basic services. He said there was no shortage of essential commodities in the district and all roads had been cleared.
Meanwhile, The government is all set to declare last week’s snowfall, which led to large-scale devastation of orchards across Kashmir, as calamity to pave way for “enhanced compensation” to the affected growers.
A senior official told Kashmir Post that a formal announcement in this regard is likely to be made in a day or two.
As per the plan, the official said, apple would be brought under category of perennial crop for “special compensation” and the untimely snowfall would be declared as a calamity to provide relief to the growers.
“Each farmer will get Rs 36,000 in case of 30 percent damage to each hectare of orchard land,” said the official.
Under the existing state disaster response fund (SDRF) and national disaster response fund (NDRF) norms, the growers are eligible to compensation in the range of Rs 6,800 to Rs 18,000 under different categories for per-hectare of land for different variety of crops, including perennial.
In Kashmir, around 1,44,825 hectare land is under apple cultivation. While the horticulture department has maintained that orchards across the Valley suffered damage during last week’s snowfall, it has said the exact quantum of damage would be known only after getting reports from all districts within a week’s time.
The orchards in southern Kashmir have been worst-hit.
A horticulture department official said the damage to orchards in Kulgam district is around 50 percent while, as per preliminary estimates, the orchards in Shopian, Pulwama and Anantnag have suffered damage of 40 percent, 30 percent and 30 percent respectively. In rest of the Valley districts, the damage is in the range of 30 percent to 20 percent, he said.
The fruit growers’ associations have put the losses to the horticulture industry at around Rs 1000 crore.
Apart from massive damage to fruit-bearing trees, there has been a loss of around 20 to 30 percent crop which was yet to be harvested.
“The government will release Rs 10 crore each to all district commissioners of the Valley in a day or two to provide interim relief to the growers,” said the official.
The average annual apple production in Kashmir is 17 lakh metric ton. As per economic survey report of 2017, apples worth Rs 6,500 crore were exported from the Valley.
Owing to the devastation, there are apprehensions that this production would dwindle due to the untimely snowfall, said another senior official of the horticulture department, adding that the “impact” would be felt in years to come.
He said it takes at least 10 to 15 years of investment of a farmer to develop a fully-grown orchard.
“In some areas, as per reports, entire patches of orchards have vanished. Those farmers will have to start from the beginning,” said the official.
Another worry is that the damage to orchards will have an adverse impact on overall economy of J&K.
The Rs 7000-crore horticulture industry is considered to be the backbone of state’s economy.
As per the state’s latest economic survey report, more than seven lakh families comprising of 33 lakh people are directly or indirectly associated with this sector.
The last time the region received snowfall so early was in November 2008. Pictures that have gone viral on social media over the past one week show damaged and uprooted fruit-bearing trees, some of them still laden with apples, strewn across orchards.
On the other hand, the snowfall led to a complete blockade of the Srinagar-Jammu highway where more than 5,000 fruit laden trucks carrying 50,000 metric ton fruit were in transit to different fruit markets across India on the eve of Diwali—the time of the year when fruits fetch hefty sums.
“Since this fruit didn’t reach the markets in time, the prices will fall sharply,” said the official. “We are not taking this into account.”