Apple village up in arms against new railway line in Shopian - Hindustan Times
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Apple village up in arms against new railway line in Shopian

ByAshiq Hussain, Reshipora (shopian):
Apr 03, 2024 06:46 AM IST

Gulzar Ahmad Bhat has toiled hard for a major part of his 50 years of farming life, and he knows nothing besides taking care of his apple trees spread over 8 kanals of his orchard. For the past one month he has been having sleepless nights as the railway authorities came to survey the alignment of a new inter- district railway line passing through his village of Reshipora

Gulzar Ahmad Bhat has toiled hard for a major part of his 50 years of farming life, and he knows nothing besides taking care of his apple trees spread over 8 kanals of his orchard. For the past one month he has been having sleepless nights as the railway authorities came to survey the alignment of a new inter- district railway line passing through his village of Reshipora, nestled deep in south Kashmir’s Shopian district, the apple town of Kashmir.

Apple farmer Gulzar Ahmad Bhat is spraying trees in his orchard in southern village of Reshipora in Shopian. (Waseem Andrabi /HT)
Apple farmer Gulzar Ahmad Bhat is spraying trees in his orchard in southern village of Reshipora in Shopian. (Waseem Andrabi /HT)

What aggravates Bhat’s predicament is that he is suffering from night blindness and his only son, who could have helped earn for the family of five including three daughters, is disabled.

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His orchard, which has around 350 apple trees, is his only investment in life and he is not ready to part with it. “I am ready to die for my trees. For 50 years I have given my blood for this land and now when it is the time to get returns, they are taking it away,” he said as his two young daughters and wife helped him navigate the spraying equipment in the orchard.

“My only means of livelihood is this land. I survive on this. When they take it away and give whatever compensation, what do you think I will do to earn my livelihood? Would I be able to do labour work,” he said.

Like Bhat, scores of villagers of the picturesque village of Reshipora are in tumult. The new proposed 27.6 km railway line between Awantipora(Panzgam) and Shopian and passing through Kulgam will cut through Reshipora and hundreds of other villages and apple orchards.

Minister of railways, Ashwini Vaishnaw, in December last year, informed parliament, in response to a question, that Final Location Survey (FLS) of five new railway lines have been sanctioned in J&K including the new line of Awantipora-Shopian (27.6km).

So far, the village of Reshipora, comprising some 300-350 farming families, has protested not allowing the railway authorities to conduct the survey. On Tuesday, the villagers protested again and stopped a team of railway authorities, police and sub-divisional magistrate visiting the village from conducting the survey.

Even PDP president Mehbooba Mufti visited the village last month and urged the government to consider its ecological impact fraught with dire consequences.

If the line goes ahead through this route, it will lead to decimation of Reshipora’s economy which is dependent on apples. The villagers say that the line will lead to axing of some 8,000-10,000 apple trees of their village, taking away the orchards of more than half of the villagers. The trees, many of which are 40-50 years old, would fetch on average 2.5 lakh apple boxes annually, they said.

The villagers are angry and not ready to relent. “Even if they give us money in sacks, we won’t allow them to take away our orchards and homes,” said Naseema Begum, 45, whose husband’s and brothers-in law’s houses and orchards spread over 16 kanals of land were coming under the line uprooting them from their home and livelihood. “We are not ready to give up whatever it costs. They are bringing us on roads after we invested our lives in constructing our homes and developing our orchards,” she said.

Another farmer Haleema Aktar, 49, said for her, the trees are like her children. “Like my four children, I have brought up these trees and nurtured them. Do the authorities want our children to deviate from this honourable work (of farming) and become drivers,” she said.

Reshipora is one of the numerous apple villages of Shopian. The district has gained popularity around the globe for characteristics like crispiness, aroma, flavour and skin colours with apple orchards spread over 26,231 hectares in the Valley.

Mohammad Abbas, 40, who owns 7 kanals of land with over 200 trees, said that even if they get good money they would not get orchards to develop.

“It takes 50 years for an orchard to develop fully. Our future is doomed if the land is taken away. We know nothing besides farming and have no technical hand other than this,” said Abbas, father of two schoolgoing children. The villagers want realignment of the line from a nearby non-orchard land comprising 1,200 kanals which the government had taken over for a now defunct drug farm.

“We are asking them to divert the line. Years back the government took 1,200 kanal land from the farmers for a drug farm. We got no compensation for that, and the farm is also defunct now. A case is also pending in court. Why not realine the track through that land,” said Meema Bano, who will lose 18 kanals of land to the line.

Sub-divisional magistrate Zainapora, Nisar Ahmad Wani acknowledged that the villagers are losing a ‘major chunk’ of apple orchards to the line.

He said that the government is giving them good compensation for the land and trees. “They will be getting 50,000 per tree and the compensation for land is also good for which they can buy double the land elsewhere,” he said.

He said that they have talked to railway authorities about the villagers’ suggestion of using the alternate land near the village. “The railway authorities are ready to survey both the areas, but the villagers are not allowing them to survey the village orchards,” he said.

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