Highway blockade threatens Kashmir fruit industry

August 1st, 2008 - 4:53 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Amarnath Shrine
By F. Ahmed
Srinagar, Aug 1 (IANS) The Valley’s fruit industry faces a serious crisis with agitators blocking the Srinagar-Jammu highway in the Jammu region in protest against the revocation of forest land allotment to the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board. “Ripe fruit worth Rs.600 million will rot unless immediate arrangements are made for its transportation to markets outside the Valley,” Bashir Ahmad Beg, president of the North Kashmir Fruit Growers’ Association, told IANS here Friday.

Kashmir has no cold storage facility, which aggravated the problem, he said.

According to Beg, around 100 fruit-laden trucks are dispatched daily from north Kashmir in August.

More than 400 trucks carrying apple and pear are dispatched from the entire Valley every day in this month each year, he said.

“The highway blockade in the Jammu region is unfortunate and will deal a death blow to this industry which sustains thousands of families here.”

Horticulture is the second biggest industry in the Valley after tourism and almost all the fruit produced here is marketed outside the state.

“After tourism, which has already dropped to a trickle, the horticulture industry could be wiped out unless immediate steps are taken to dispatch the fruit to markets in Punjab, Haryana, Delhi, Chennai, Hyderabad, Mumbai and elsewhere in the country,” Beg saod.

The revocation of forest land allotment to the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board by the state government has triggered a massive agitation in the Jammu region, disrupting daily life for the past fortnight.

Protesters have also reportedly attacked trucks carrying fruits in the Jammu region causing panic and consternation among both the fruit growers and the dealers here.

Shabir Ahmad, a 46-year-old fruit grower from Anantnag district in south Kashmir, said people in Jammu had to realise the fruit belongs to local orchardists who sweat the year round to maintain their families.

“For thousands of us, fruit is the only source of sustenance,” he said. “We have nothing to do with politics. We have always respected the religious sentiments of our Hindu brothers and targeting the fruit industry will only divide the two regions.”

A senior government official said fruit trucks would now be provided with police escorts.

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