On the morning of September 1, the fruit growers at Sopore fruit mandi found it cordoned off by the security forces. No grower was allowed inside except on the condition that they will keep the mandi open through the day which they refused to do. According to the separatist protest calendar, the mandi can only remain open up to 9 in the morning and from 6 in the evening. And if the growers operate the mandi in the day, they are certain to face the wrath of the protesters.
Sopore mandi is one of the Asia’s largest apple markets with an annual turnover of Rs 6000 crore. And it is now unenviably caught in the cross-fire between the security forces and the protesters.
Kashmir, according to an estimate, produces around 10 crore apple boxes of 18 kg each every year. More than 90 per cent of it is sent to different parts of India and some varieties are exported to Bangladesh. The entire apple industry of the state is worth Rs 8000 crore. This makes it the backbone of the rural Kashmir economy.
But the relentless turmoil has sent the industry reeling. The All Kashmir Fruit Growers cum Dealers Union has accused the government forces of not allowing the traders to operate “as per their choice” and threatened to go on strike.
Though the forces later allowed the trade at the mandi as per the separatist protest roster, this has hardly solved the problem.
“We get few hours of the trade daily. This hardly works for us,” bemoans Basharat Ahmad, a grower. “We are more concerned now as the apple season has just begun”.
According to the growers’ estimate, the fruit industry has suffered a whopping loss of Rs 900 crore since the beginning of the unrest 63 days ago.
“Our preliminary estimates are based on the figures communicated to us by growers across Kashmir through our constituent members,” chairman All Kashmir Fruit Growers and Dealers Association, Bashir Ahmad Bashir told media.
The accumulating losses in the fruit sector tells the story of the larger Kashmir economy during the ongoing unrest. Ever since people went up in revolt following the killing of the popular militant commander Burhan Wani, life in Kashmir has come to a standstill. Shops and business establishments are shutdown. Tourism has reduced to zero.
“Up to July 8, the houseboats were booked to the gunwales and the hotels had 100 percent occupancy,” said Mushtaq Ahmad, a travel operator. “But the day after Burhan was killed, every tourist fled Valley and the incoming tourists cancelled their bookings”.
According to a recent estimate, the ongoing unrest in the state has led to a whopping Rs 8505 -crore loss to the economy, with businesses being crippled due to curfew and separatist-sponsored strikes.
“We are suffering a loss of about Rs 135 crore daily,” says the president of the Kashmir Traders and Manufacturers Federation Mohammad Yaseen Khan.
The unrest in the Kashmir valley has also badly affected Jammu’s economy. The Valley is the main market for Jammu traders. Besides, being a part of the same state, the decline in tourist arrivals to Valley has also meant that fewer tourists are visiting Jammu.
“Due to this situation, the manufacturing industry, tourism industry, transport Industry and above all the trade of Jammu region has suffered huge losses that even the Government cannot compensate it in full,” stated a memorandum presented to the All Party Delegation by Jammu Chamber of Commerce and Industry. “Practically speaking the trade and industry of Jammu has suffered immensely. Further after normalcy it will take another 2-3 months time more to revive”.
For the ordinary people, the frequent disruption of the daily life is also not a prospect they look forward to. “We are aggrieved by the human rights violations and the killings of the ordinary people, but I don’t want the endless bandhs and shutdowns which kill business and hurt the economy,” said Muhammad Razaq, a garment seller in the downtown Srinagar. “Daily disruptions of life advance nobody’s cause”