Kashmir Valley’s apple growers welcome govt.’s scheme The severe restrictions imposed in J&K since August 5 following the revoking of the State’s special status under Article 370, included curbs on vehicular movement which hit the transport of the fruit. The official restrictions were followed by threats and attacks by militants on fruit growers and farmers in the Valley against selling their produce to the government.Bumper crop, no buyersShopian, Pulwama, Sopore and Batengo in Anantnag are the four main mandis (wholesale markets) in the Kashmir Valley. Shopian’s orchards produce 3.5 lakh tonnes on average and this season a bumper crop is expected. However, the mandi wore a deserted look last week. “We have suffered 100% loss. The shutdown here is also to protest the government’s action on Article 370. Nobody has asked us and we are not following any calendar issued by the separatists. This is voluntary,” Mohammad Isar, another resident, said. According to Shopian Deputy Commissioner Mohammad Yasin Choudhary, around 60% of the apple growers sell their produce to contacts with whom they have old business ties; 40% come to the mandis to participate in the bidding process where they interact with buyers. The government has also said it will encourage and provide security to truck drivers to come to the mandis and collect the produce.For small farmersMr. Choudhary, however, said the market invention scheme was not a bid to disrupt the decades-old trade practice. “We are expecting demand and supply to be disrupted in our favour. Earlier the big farmers were selling apples to old dealers for a price. Now the government is offering a better price. So far, 50,000 growers have registered with us; our scheme will help the 40% farmers who are not able to sell it to anyone,” Mr. Choudhary told The Hindu. He added that government would take care of the transportation.Also Read Mohammad Younus Bhat is not impressed with the government’s offer to buy apples from farmers in Jammu and Kashmir at double the market rate. Mr. Bhat of Shopian in south Kashmir, the largest apple producing area in J&K, says he cannot betray his trade partners of several decades in Lucknow and Delhi. He fears the government’s offer can damage the age-old social and economic ties the Valley have with the rest of India. “We took advance payment from traders in Delhi and Lucknow and have been doing business with them for decades. We will not sell our produce to the government… cannot afford to betray our friends for a little extra money, with whom we have family relations,” Mr. Bhat said.In August, J&K Chief Secretary B.V.R. Subrahmanyam announced the government’s plan to procure almost 12 lakh tonnes of apples directly from farmers under the Special Market Intervention Price Scheme (MISP) with the help of the National Agriculture Cooperative Marketing Federation of India (NAFED). J&K contributes to over 70% of the apple production in the country. Also Read Kashmir apples to escape lockdown An official said the government was offering ₹900 a box instead of the ₹500 fixed by the dealers before the clampdown.Mr. Choudhary said the administration was advertising its scheme through radio, pamphlets and local cable channels.He said the idea was to eliminate the middlemen so that the money reached the farmer in his account through direct benefit transfer.“The farmers will get the money in 48 hours. We have held outreach programmes to explain the benefit of government scheme to people,” Mr. Choudhary said, adding that a new mandi has been built for ₹31 crore in Shopian. He said a new cold storage facility with a capacity of 21,500 tonnes would become operational this year.In Pulwama district, which produces 1.56 lakh tonnes, a farmer said they would prefer to store the apples in cold storage rather than sell it to the government.“Will the government protect us next season? They cannot force us to sell to NAFED. We will store the produce in cold storage and sell when normalcy returns. Trucks are not able to come to mandis,” he said.