J&K apple trucks stranded on national highway, markets closed in protest

Updated on Sep 27, 2022 01:22 AM IST

However, protesting fruit growers allege the situation has worsened due to administration’s failure while claiming this is for the first time they have witnessed such a “mess” on the national highway even though the issue of shooting stones has been there for a long time.

Protest against authorities for allegedly stopping their fruit laden trucks along the 270 kilometre long national highway. (Waseem Andrabi/HT Photo)
Protest against authorities for allegedly stopping their fruit laden trucks along the 270 kilometre long national highway. (Waseem Andrabi/HT Photo)
ByMir Ehsan, Srinagar

Wholesale fruit markets across Kashmir were closed on Monday in protest against the Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) administration’s “failure” to clear the blockage on the Srinagar-Jammu National Highway that has resulted in hundreds of trucks carrying apples stranded for days.

The movement of trucks has been affected on the highway for the past 10-12 days, with senior traffic officials citing shooting stones (pieces of rock that roll down the mountain slope) causing damage to roads behind the hold up.

However, protesting fruit growers allege the situation has worsened due to administration’s failure while claiming this is for the first time they have witnessed such a “mess” on the national highway even though the issue of shooting stones has been there for a long time.

“We have been moving from post to pillar to get the smooth passage of fruit trucks on the highway. Unfortunately, nobody in the administration is ready to help us,” alleged Fayaz Ahmad Malik, president, Sopore Fruit Mandi in nouth Kashmir, hailed as the second largest fruit mandi in the country only behind the one in Delhi’s Azadpur.

“We feel very much ignored in absence of a political government in the Union Territory. The bureaucracy has let us down,” claimed Malik.

The strike will continue for two days, with fruit growers alleging they have exhausted all options to get smooth passage for fruit-laden trucks on the national highway especially from Qazigund to Banihal.

Around 250 to 300 fruit-laden trucks leave the Sopore mandi every day, but they get stranded for days barely 100 km away at Qazigund and neighbouring villages.

“Hundreds of apple-laden trucks are stranded on the national highway and the fruits are rotting even before they reach the market. We are facing losses when trucks reach in mandis in the rotten state,” said Malik. “This is all because of mismanagement of traffic on the national highway, especially at Banihal.”

With no assurance from the administration yet, the growers have now been asked to delay the plucking of fruit from orchards, said Malik.

The situation would become worse if the issue is not resolved on a priority basis, said a senior official from J&K administration, requesting anonymity.

“There is traffic mismanagement on a 20 to 30 km stretch that is causing the problem. Also, there is no coordination between various departments on the highway,” said the senior official.

Ghulam Rasool Mir, director general of horticulture in Kashmir, said that fruit growers have informed on Monday that around 7,000 trucks are still held up on the national highway. “We have been holding several meetings for the past one week with traffic and other top government officials, but things are yet to improve,” said Mir.

This year has seen good apple harvest and so growers have been dispatching fruit outside of the UT, resulting in higher number of trucks being used for transportation, he said. “Efforts are being made to get this issue resolved.”

Vikramjeet Singh, inspector general of police (IGP), traffic, J&K, said trucks have been released from Srinagar to Jammu on each of the last three days.

“On September 24, only 825 trucks (including 671 laden with apples) were released after shooting stones started at Mehar (in Jammu’s Ramban district) and the traffic had to be suspended,” said Singh. “On September 25, a total of 4,554 trucks (including 3,995 laden with apples) were released, of which 1,500 trucks got stranded at Mehar due to shooting stones. They have passed down to Jammu on Monday.”

He further said that after more trucks were released from Srinagar to Jammu on Monday, around 2,500 trucks were stranded at Quazigund and “they are likely to be cleared by evening today”.

“Since the beginning of the month, 45,923 trucks (including 17,631 transporting apples) have moved from Srinagar to Jammu via tunnel as per the details provided by National Highway Authority of India (NHAI),” said the IGP, traffic.

He added that they have already apprised the horticulture department about the issues on the highway. “We had asked the growers to use Mughal Road (connecting Poonch and Shopian districts), but they prefer to wait at Qazigund for days rather than using the Mughal Road.” Since July, there has been issue of shooting stones on the national highway, Singh said, adding that efforts will be made to make traffic hassle-free. “We can’t risk lives of people. Hopefully, things will improve in coming days as issue has been taken up with NHAI to get the work done on the stretch fast.”

A message to J&K chief secretary Arun Kumar Mehta did not elicit any response till late on Monday evening.

Irfan Hafiz Lone, a district development council (DDC) member from apple-rich Sangrama in north Kashmir’s Sopore visited the spot on the national highway and sat on a dharna near the halted trucks along with other DDC members.

“This has never happened with our fruit. Even 300 trucks bound for Bangladesh have been halted. We can’t let fruits rot in front of our eyes. It’s painful to see the hard work of a grower go to waste,” said Lone, who is himself a grower. “We request Lt Governor [Manoj Sinha] to get this issue resolved as this is our bread and butter.”

Around 700,000 families with close to 3.5 million people of J&K are directly or indirectly associated with the horticulture sector. Apples contribute to around 8% of the UT’s gross domestic product.

“It takes days for a fruit laden truck to reach Punjab or Delhi. The apples are rotting,” tweeted National Conference’s chief spokesperson Tanvir Sadiq, while posting picture of long queue of fruit-laden trucks struck on the national highway. “Unnecessarily, these fruit laden trucks are being stopped. Is anyone listening?”

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