The famous Darjeeling orange has started feeling the pinch of demonetisation.
The oranges are ready for harvest but there is no means of engaging daily labourers for the task. Truckloads of oranges are ready to be traded but hardly any buyers with lower or new denomination notes.
“Oranges are harvested from second week of November till the last week of December. We had engaged workers for harvesting the oranges this year. Harvesting continued till November 13. After that, we were forced to discontinue as we did not have the smaller denomination for paying the workers. They were not accepting the Rs. 500 and Rs. 1,000 denominations,” said Dhurba Gurung of Pahilagaon, Mirik. “Workers charge Rs 300 for a day’s work.”
The Mandarin Orange (Citrus reticulate Blanco) is a major cash crop of the Darjeeling Hills. It is grown in approximately 930 hectares in the Darjeeling Hills with an annual production of 148.224 metric tons approximately.
For the regulated fruit market in Siliguri, it is a patient wait for the oranges to arrive or to get sold. “This year the orange trade will fall flat. The sellers are not accepting Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 denominations. In turn, we are also not accepting these denominations from the buyers. I was compelled to sell a truck of oranges for Rs 3,000 as the buyer had Rs 100 notes. Usually the same truckload fetches Rs 5,000. There are hardly any oranges in the market. If this continues the price of oranges will not fetch the desired rate,” claimed Samiran Chakroborty, a whole-seller of oranges.
Once oranges are ready for harvest, traders buy the rights for harvesting and selling the oranges of the orchards.
“The amount depends on the size of the orchards and the number of orange plants. The amount could range from Rs 1 lakh to Rs 3 lakh per orchard. During peak harvest season which is now, we need large sums of money to book oranges of multiple orchards. Cash transactions take place as in the remote villages the growers are not keen on accepting bank cheques. What will we do with Rs 2,000 daily withdrawals?” questioned Amar Tamang, an orange trader of Bijanbari.
The oranges cultivated in Darjeeling (West Bengal), Sikkim, Assam, Meghalaya and Manipur are similar with tight skin, excellent quality, flavour and juice which is completely different from the varieties cultivated in other states such as Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Karnataka.