Amid a crisis over thousands of tonnes of apple rotting in stranded trucks along the Srinagar-Jammu National Highway, the Jammu and Kashmir administration has decided to allow held-up trucks to move towards Jammu tonight so that they can take the apples to mandis in different parts of country.
A statement said 4,000 trucks will be cleared tonight. These trucks are stranded after the traffic police stopped them for over a week. Fruit-growers say more than 8,000 trucks carrying perishable fruit were stopped and left to rot along the highway.
At Qazigund, the stranded truck drivers from Rajasthan, Haryana and Jammu and Kashmir told that they are not being allowed to move on the highway even as the road is open for other commuters.
Fruit-growers alleged apple trucks are being deliberately stopped for days on end and it causes massive losses, affecting their livelihood.
Officials say allegations are “half-truth” and that natural reasons are hindering traffic.
“The claim made by certain fruit-growers’ association on halting fruit trucks is a half-truth. Natural reasons are hindering traffic. We have difficulties in movement of traffic on the highway due to rain and resultant shooting stones, which is beyond human control,” an official spokesperson said.
On the ground, we found that except trucks, all other vehicles were allowed to proceed on the highway.
There is a massive line of trucks in the direction from Mirbazar in Anantnag to Banihal tunnel – which is around a 40-km-long stretch. Truck drivers say no one gives them a convincing answer why they have been held up for days on end.
Truck driver VikramJit Singh from Punjab said he is carrying over 20 tonnes of apple in his truck, which has been stopped near Qazigund for the last one week. Mr Singh had to take the apples for sale at a mandi in Uttar Pradesh’s Kanpur.
“For the last one week I’m waiting here and the apples are rotting in the truck. They (traffic officials) are not allowing trucks to move,” he said.
Normally, it would take Mr Singh two days to reach Kanpur. But one week on, he’s stuck on the road in Kashmir region and has no idea if any of the 1,200 apple boxes he is carrying would make it to the mandi.
In Srinagar and other parts of Kashmir region, apple-growers have closed all mandis for the last two days and held protests against what they call an attack on their livelihood.
Kashmir’s rural economy is entirely dependent on apple cultivation and disruption in smooth transportation of apples to mandis outside Jammu and Kashmir is a huge setback.
Kashmir region produced over 22 lakh tonnes of apples, which is more than 70 per cent of total apple production in the country. Apple-growers say due to obstacles in transportation, freight charges have shot up over 100 per cent.
Former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti alleged that halting trucks on the highway is a deliberate attempt to make the people of Kashmir region suffer.
“After deliberately holding up fruit laden trucks for days endlessly and causing massive losses, LG [Lieutenant Governor] admin is now interfering with movement of tribals and their livestock. It seems that the admin is bent upon making every resident and community of J&K suffer miserably,” Ms Mufti tweeted.