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Rotten fruits, empty hotels: How unrest is affecting businesses in Kashmir

August is here. In the valley, around this time apples are plucked from orchards, carefully packed in wooden or cardboard boxes and then loaded onto trucks to be shipped to the rest of the country and abroad.

Karan Dhar        Last Updated: August 18, 2016  | 19:45 IST
Rotten fruits, empty hotels: How unrest is affecting businesses in Kashmir
File photo: Reuters

August is here. In the Valley, around this time apples are plucked from orchards, carefully packed in wooden or cardboard boxes and then loaded onto trucks to be shipped to the rest of the country and abroad.

This year, though, the otherwise busy national highway from Srinagar to Jammu wears a deserted look and factories which make cardboard boxes for fruit sellers have been shut for over a month.

Bashir Ahmed Basheer, the chairman of Kashmir Valley Fruit Growers and Dealers Association, believes that the apple industry in Kashmir has suffered losses of around Rs 80-100 crore so far.

Apple growers in North Kashmir's Sopore area, which is famous for its early varieties of apples with a lower shelf life, have not been able to harvest and transport their produce.

The Valley has few cold storage facilities and most of these are in South Kashmir's Shopian and Pulwama area, which are at a distance of more than 80 kms from Sopore.

"These places have been reeling under curfew for the last several days, and such facilities (cold storages) should be available in Sopore and Srinagar," rues Basheer.

It's not just apples, fruit growers from Repora village in Kashmir's Ganderbal district have not been able to sell their famous grapes.

"Soon, pear season will start, we will face huge losses if the situation does not improve," he adds.

Boxes of apples are loaded on to a lorry bound for Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, at a fruit market in Srinagar October 20, 2008. (Photo: Reuters)

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Last year, US-educated Khuram Mir became the Valley's first agri-entrepreneur to set up an orchard with eight different varieties of apples.

Spread over two hectares, the orchard was set up in Bamdoora village near the famous Kokernag springs.

Former Chief Minister Mufti Muhammad Sayeed, who inaugurated Mir's orchard last year, had spoken about the promising future of high-density farming in Kashmir.

"If only 20 per cent of our orchards take up high-density farming over the next five years, the Rs 3,000-crore industry would expand five times to a staggering figure of Rs 15,000 crore," he had said.

Sadly, the encounter in which Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani was killed happened in the same village where Mir's orchard was located.

The orchard, which had opened to much fanfare, was razed to ground by an angry mob.

"Our men at the orchard begged them not to do any damage to the trees, but they didn't listen to anything. I was in New Delhi and was listening over the phone when my men were begging them. It is a huge loss," Mir had told The Tribune after the incident.

According to Horticulture Statistics Division of the Department of Agriculture, apple produce from Kashmir is nearly three times more than Himachal Pradesh. The total produce was expected to be around 20,03,000 metric tonnes for 2015-2016.

 

Summer of losses

Horticulture is just one of the many sectors that have taken a hit due to the ongoing tensions in the region.

Ever since July 8, the Valley has been in a lockdown and the unrest, during the peak tourist season, has affected livelihood of several people.

According to estimates by Federation of Chamber of Industries in Kashmir (FCIK), the local business community is bearing a loss of around Rs 120 crore a day.
 
"Due to the ongoing turmoil, shikara walas, pony walas, taxi drivers are left with no means to make their ends meet," says Shakeel Qalander, a member of local trade body FCIK.

"Entrepreneurs are paying wages to their idle employees, bank interest on their loans and bearing other sundry costs like electricity without earning anything," adds Qalander.

Rakesh Gupta, the president of Chambers of Commerce and Industry in Jammu says that he doesn't expect the current situation to get normal anytime soon and the losses are likely to go up.

A trader inspects boxes of apples stacked at a wholesale fruit market on the outskirts of Jammu October 15, 2012. (Photo: Reuters)

 

"As of now, there is total collapse of business here, goods worth crores of rupees are stuck on the way due to restricted movement of vehicles. The perishable stock will go rotten if the normalcy does not come. It's hard time for the business people in the state," he adds.

Tourism sector, the backbone of the state's economy, has been badly hit. According to Bashir Ahmad Bhat, the secretary-general of Kashmir Hotel and Restaurant Owners Federation, hotel industry has suffered a 100 per cent loss in the Valley.

"Earlier, people who would come for Amarnath yatra would stay in Srinagar, Pahalgam, Gulmarg for a couple of days. Now, pilgrims directly visit the holy cave and go back," says Bhat.

"No tourist has come here yet and most likely no one will. I think the whole season will be like this. Who would like to come here."

 

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