The state government’s drive to evict orchardists from encroached forest land following a high court order has created panic among apple growers, many of whom have begun picking unripe produce that had led to a fall in prices. Complaints about unripe apples are pouring in not only from local markets but also those in Delhi, Kolkata and other states.
For the past week when the eviction drive picked up pace, growers from lower altitude areas harvested unripe produce and flooded the market, especially that in Shimla and in the newly opened one in Parala. The sudden arrival of apples led to prices diving by Rs. 200 to Rs. 300 for a 20 kg carton.
Officials of the agriculture produce market committee in Shimla and Kinnaur said for apple arrivals has increased during the past four to five days. “A week ago around 13,000 carons of apples have been arriving daily while during the last three to four days the number rose to 18,000 to 20,000 a day,” he said, requesting anonymity.
“Apple prices have fallen due to a glut and complaints of unripe produce are arriving from some of areas where the eviction drive is on. We do not have a system in place to check unripe apples arriving in the market or to stem the glut,” he added.
Farmers have been blaming the government for the whole mess. Agya Ram Chauhan, a grower from the Jubbal area, said: “The government should be blamed for the whole problem. Last year it created confusion due to packaging standards and this year no arrangements were made to protect farmers from the glut in the market due to its drive to evict encroachers.”
Vriender Rangta, an apple grower said, earlier the price for one box of spur variety was fetched around Rs. 2000 while now the rates have come down to Rs. 1700.
Earlier the Himachal Pradesh High Court high court had ordered the government to fell trees to evict encroachers. However on Monday it amended the directive and asked the government to harvest the apple crop and use the profits from selling the produce for plantation of forest trees, instead cutting down fruit bearing trees.
In the state’s apple belts some growers had encroached upon forest land and, following the high court’s order, forest department officials launched a drive to uproot apple trees in the Jubbal, Kotkhai, Rohru, Rampur, Theog, Kumarsain, Kullu and Mandi areas. The electricity and irrigation & public health department also disconnected power and water supply to all those included in the list of encroachers.
State marketing board managing director HS Baweja said the board would look into the matter. “We have infrastructure in place and we will look into the reasons behind the apple glut in the markets,” he said.