Fruit growers on Monday shut down mandis in Kashmir for two days in protest against the disruption of traffic along with the Srinagar-Jammu highway, saying they have repeatedly petitioned the administration to fix the traffic jams along the highway that led to huge losses.
Fayaz Ahmad Malik alias Kakajee, president of the fruit mandi in north Kashmir’s Sopore, Asia’s largest fruit mandi, said they felt let down by the bureaucracy which rules the union territory. “We have been moving from pillar to post to ensure the smooth passage of traffic on the highway. Unfortunately, nobody in the administration is ready to help us. We feel very much ignored in absence of political government in the UT,” Malik said.
Fruit growers have been complaining that hundreds of trucks carrying apples were getting stranded along the national highway, particularly near the 20km stretch from Qazikund to Banihal.
Malik said an average of 250-300 trucks had been leaving from Sopore mandi, only to get stuck just 100km away at Qazikund. Apple growers were ending up with huge losses because of mismanagement by the authorities responsible for ensuring smooth movement of traffic on the highway. “By the time, our produce reaches mandis, the fruit starts rotting,” Malik said.
He said orchard owners have been advised to delay plucking of fruit till the traffic mess is resolved.
“This is for the first time when we are seeing this mess on the national highway,” he said.
Kashmir’s horticulture department director Ghulam Rasool Mir said fruit growers have told them that around 7,000 trucks are still held up on the national highway.
“We have been holding several meetings over the past week with traffic and other top government officials but growers say that on the ground, things are not improving despite repeated instructions from the top officials.
“Efforts are being made to get this issue resolved,” he added.
Inspector General of Police (Traffic) Vikramjeet Singh said the movement of trucks was restricted in between due to incidents of shooting stones along the route. Only 825 trucks (including 671 apple trucks) were allowed to enter the highway on Sept 24 due to shooting stones at Mehar leading to suspension of traffic. “On Sept 25, 4,554 trucks (including 3995 apple trucks) were released, out of which 1,500 trucks were stranded at Mehar on account of shooting stones and have reached Jammu today. On Sept 26 (Monday), trucks have again been released from Srinagar to Jammu and a backlog of about 2,500 trucks at Quazigund will be cleared today. Overall, since Sept 1, 45,923 trucks (including 17,631 apple trucks) have moved from Srinagar to Jammu via tunnel as per the details provided by the National Highway Authority of India NHAI).”
Singh said they have apprised the horticulture department about the issues. “We had asked the growers to use Mughal road but they prefer to wait at Qazigund for two days than using the Mughal road.”
The police officer said there had been problems due to incidents of shooting stones. “We asked the growers to deploy volunteers on the national highway for the managment of traffic. They came and vanished after two days.” Singh said.
“We can’t risk the lives of people. Hopefully, things will improve in the coming days as the issue has been taken with NHAI to get the work done on the stretch fast.”
A message to J&K chief secretary, Arun Kumar Mehta didn’t elicit any response.
Irfan Hafiz Lone, DDC member from apple rich belt Sangrama in north Kashmir visited the spot on the national highway and sat on dharna near the halted trucks. “This has never happened with our fruit. Even 300 trucks bound for Bangladesh have been halted. I can’t see fruit rotting in front of my eyes. It is painful.. hardwork of one year of a grower,” said Lone.
From past many days, all the mainstream leaders have taken up this issue but failed to resolve this issue.
“It takes days for a fruit-laden truck to reach Punjab or Delhi. The apples are rotting. Unnecessarily, these fruit-laden trucks are being stopped. Is anyone listening,” tweeted NC chief spokesman Tanvir Sadiq while posting a photograph of a long queue of fruit-laden trucks struck on the national highway.
Around 7 lakh farming families, approximately 35 lakh people, are directly or indirectly associated with the horticulture sector. Apples contribute to around 8% of Jammu and Kashmir’s gross domestic product.