The Azadpur wholesale fruit market in Delhi has seen record highest arrival of trucks carrying apples from Jammu and Kashmir, despite a sense of fear prevailing in the region after the deaths of three non-Kashmiri truckers and traders in within two days.
On Friday morning, 350 trucks carrying Kashmiri apples found takers in the market, with the number being on a rise since Wednesday. On Wednesday, 180 trucks arrived in the Azadpur market whereas the number increased to 350 the next day and remained 350 till Friday morning. This, amid a report that the apple export from Kashmir had dipped by 1.35 lakh metric tonnes till 9 October from what it was in the same period last year, has taken many by surprise. Last year, the number of trucks that arrived daily in the market ranged from 300 to 350.
A truck driver from Rajasthan on Monday evening was shot dead in Shopian district on Monday, while on Wednesday, suspected militants gunned down a labourer from Chhattisgarh in Pulwama district. On the same day, another apple trader from Punjab was shot dead in Shopian district.
“As of now, we can see no direct impact of the Shopian incident in the number of trucks coming from Kashmir with apples to Azadpur wholesale fruit market. Rather, the number trucks with apples from the Valley has increased substantially,” says Metharam Kripalani, president of Kashmir Apple Merchants’ Association. He added that despite the fact that the trucks are reaching the market safely, there is a growing feeling that the government should do more to provide for the security of truckers and the goods carried by them.
The unanticipated increase in the number of trucks reaching Delhi's famous market is being attributed to the opening up of a blockade on the Srinagar-Jammu Highway, which was put into effect after a landslide in Ramban district on 11 October. The increase in number of trucks is due to opening of the blockade on 13 October, say sources.
On 11 October, a major landslide at Ramban district blocked the Srinagar-Jammu highway for two consecutive days. Nearly 1,300 vehicles had remained stranded on the highway till 13 October after the landslide. The trucks are still coming in slowly following the lifting of strict restrictions imposed on movement of heavy motor vehicles on the highway since the opening of the blockade.
Junaid, a truck driver from Kashmir, who arrived in Delhi on Wednesday, told Firstpost that he had been in his truck for the last four days and did not hear from anyone in Kashmir during that period.
“Normally it takes two days to reach Delhi from Kashmir by truck. This time, it took two more days due to the landslide. Only after I reached Delhi, I came to know about the murder of the trucker in Shopian. Because I do not have a mobile phone, no one in Kashmir could connect with me,” he said.
A lot changed since Junaid left for Delhi on Sunday. A day after he left from Anantnag district with his truck full of apples, mobile postpaid services resumed in the Valley after a 71-day-ban and the deaths of three civilians were reported. As per sources, these killings were staged to send across a message to transport companies based of out of states such as Delhi, Haryana, Punjab and Rajasthan to stay out of the Valley.
Another aspect related to the business of transportation of apples from Kashmir, which Junaid claims has changed since he left for Delhi is the rate charged for transportation of apples from Kashmir to other states. He had carried apples to Delhi at the freight rate of Rs 120 per box of apples containing 15 kilograms of produce. By the time he reached Delhi, the rate increased to Rs 140.
Rajkumar Jaiswal, a truck owner in Jaipur who transports dairy products for Indian Army jawans deployed in Kashmir, said that the killings have led to fewer truckers wanting to visit apple orchards. “Anyone who does it, does it for a good amount of money,” he told Firstpost, adding that many truckers are not willing to go the disturbed areas like Shopian even if the promise of a good return is made.
Pawan Jaggi, who owns the oldest apple trading company in Azadpur Market, says that amid the fluctuating demand and supply of transport facilities to and from Kashmir, the consumer is the biggest loser.
“Many truck drivers now do not want to go to Kashmir as they feel that security is not adequate. Last year, we imported apples from Shopian at the freight cost of Rs 100 for a box, which now has gone up to Rs 150. As a result of this, prices of apples have increased,” he said.
Jaggi, whose family is into the wholesale trade of Kashmiri apples, such incidents of attacks on non-Kashmiri apple traders and truckers had never occurred earlier.
Updated Date: Oct 19, 2019 10:01:31 IST