Kashmir’s ‘nerve Centre’ For Apples Cries For Attention

Kashmir’s ‘nerve Centre’ For Apples Cries For Attention

12 December 2013
The Indian Express
Ruwa Shah

Sopore: On a wintry afternoon, trucks are being loaded with fruit in Kashmir's largest fruit market, on the outskirts of Sopore, which is also known as the apple town. Workers are loading cardboard and wooden boxes of apples and pears on trucks and trailers ready to leave for Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Tamil Nadu and Kolkata. Some trailers are being loaded for Bangladesh. Sopore mandi is Kashmir's largest and Asia's second largest fruit market and employs thousands of farmers and people related to horticulture. The apple mandi is considered the backbone of Kashmir's economy and the majority of small fruit growers sell their produce here to agents. Those involved in its running, however, complain the government is not giving it the attention it deserves. Not only businessmen of Kashmir but agents who work on commission from different states, too, have established their business centres at the mandi spread over hundreds of acres of land. Officials and those connected with the fruit trade say the mandi has around 5,000-8,000 working every day, but job opportunities go up during apple harvesting season from July and ends in December. Deputy director (planning and marketing), Department of Horticulture, Qazi Aijaz says the apple industry in Kashmir has an estimated turnover of Rs 4,500 crore annually. 'This year, a total 15 lakh tonnes was produced and the majority of these apples were exported from Sopore fruit mandi. This mandi plays a pivotal role in export of the fruit,' he says. Top varieties like delicious, chumura, benoni, galamast, maharaji and American are exported from the mandi. President of the mandi Fayaz Ahmad Malik calls it a nerve centre for Kashmir's apple industry. 'This mandi enables small-time growers to sell their produce on cash. Every day, produce worth crores is exported,' he says, adding the market generates Rs 1,200 crore annually. He says the government, however, has been neglecting the mandi. 'We don't have proper facilities here,' he says, adding a major portion of the mandi is under occupation of the army. 'We do not need an army camp here. Instead, a police post could have been set up. The land could have been utilised for building shops that are much needed here.' Malik says roads through which the fruit is transported are in a shambles. 'Traffic jams hold up the trucks for hours. The jam can be bypassed if the Tulibal Bridge (which would shorten the distance between the highway and the mandi) is constructed,' he says. 'The construction of this bridge has not been completed in the last 14 years.' Mushtaq Ahmad, a fruit grower, says the mandi has the potential of becoming one of the best and biggest fruit trade centres of South Asia. 'Unfortunately, no attention has been paid to it for the past two decades. Baramulla district, the highest producer of fruit, has no cold storage facility, which is an important facility we require here. In the absence of cold stores, tonnes of apples get damaged ever year,' he said. Ghulam Mohi-u-din, another fruit grower, says the mandi helps growers deal with buyers. 'I sell all the fruit here at the mandi. We are given cash payments,' he said. Recently, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah visited the mandi and promised it will be developed on scientific lines. 'Our first priority is to remove the army camp from the market. Also, we are planning to add up to 90 kanals land to it,' says Qazi.