At a time when apple harvesting has been started, the Himachal Pradesh government is finding it tough to check the mushroom growth of makeshift apple markets in the apple belts in the state even as several unregistered traders have been fleecing the growers.
There have been several reports that fruit agents (Arhtiyas) have not paid for the apple produce purchased from growers for several years. Though state Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) has been making efforts to register every trader but to approach each one of them has become a herculean task for it.
Apple traders have raised their makeshift shops in tents at several places along various roads in the state, including even the national highway number 22 from Theog to Kumarsain. Though traders reaching out to growers is a beneficial proposition, several fraud cases reported in the recent past is a matter of concern.
“Growers get good prices even through these roadside transactions, but surety of payment is an issue,” said Anil Kalta, an apple grower from Kotkhai.
Growers have been demanding strict regulation of the market and a complete ban of unauthorised traders. They are of the opinion that there should not be a limited number of traders but at least a record should be available with the APMC so that market could be regulated.
There is no mechanism that could stop anyone purchasing the apple crop from the farm or by raising their 'tent' along roadside but it is for the grower to decide whether to go in for that option.
Growers contend these 'unauthorised' markets are inviting some 'blacklisted' traders from other states, who promise big prices and even give a specific date by which they assure them of clearing the payment. “There are some cases where payment could not be cleared due to cheque bounce,” said apple grower Kunal Singh Chauhan.
Himachal Seb Utpadak Sangh president Rakesh Singha said that it was due to the government failure that apple growers are forced to sell their produce at lower rates and some of them have not been paid for the crop.
He said that the a large number of private unregulated markets have come up after the enactment of the Himachal Pradesh Agricultural and Horticultural Produce Marketing (Development and Regulation) Act 2005. Apple growers are being cheated by 'arhtiyas' and payments between Rs 10 and Rs 15 crore are still pending.
“We have raised this matter from time to time before the government but its insensitivity towards the issue is encouraging the defaulter ahrtiyas,” said Singha.
Most of the cases of pending payments are of 2010 when the state witnessed highest ever harvesting. Bad roads and collapsed markets forced growers to sell the produce to roadside traders. some of whom cheated the growers and have not made payments so far. Some apple growers who had the cheque issued by arhtiyas registered the case against traders but most of the growers are running behind traders to get the payment.
APMC managing director HS Baweja said that every fruit commission agent is registered with the APMC and there is no issue of payment in case of listed agents.
“We are taking strict action against unauthorised traders and growers should directly tell APMC about it. I have been touring the fruit growing belts and checking the preparation, solving issues on the spot,” said Baweja.