Truckloads of apples are rotting as Kashmir highway is blocked

Roadworks halt thousands of trucks carrying millions of dollars worth of apples, triggering protests by the growers.

Kashmir apples
A man rides a motorbike past an apple orchard in Sopore, Indian-administered Kashmir [File: Francis Mascarenhas/Reuters]

Roadworks have halted thousands of trucks carrying millions of dollars worth of apples on Indian-administered Kashmir’s main highway, a major union leader said, triggering protests by growers as their produce begins to rot.

Highway repairs were causing extensive delays along the Srinagar-Jammu highway, which connects the disputed region to the rest of India, meaning huge expected losses.

“We have 8,000 trucks carrying apples worth 100 crore rupees (one billion rupees, or about $12.25m) stranded on the highway for the last two weeks,” Bashir Ahmad Basheer, the head of the Kashmir Valley Fruit Growers and Dealers Union, told Reuters news agency on Monday.

Mudasir Ahmad Bhat, who heads the Fruit Buyers and Forwarding Agents Association in the region, told Al Jazeera the trucks are being stopped on the highway for a month now.

“Thousands of trucks with apple of high quality are rotting. We cannot even calculate the losses, they are inexplicable,” he said.

“Apples are the mainstay of Kashmir’s economy but they are perishable items. We are only being given empty assurances by the government. Everyone related to the trade is anxious and depressed.”

Employing more than three million people, fruit cultivation is an economic lifeline for the Himalayan region, which is claimed in full but ruled in part by both India and Pakistan.

All 10 major wholesale fruit markets in the Kashmir valley were shut on Sunday and Monday as farmers protested against what they said was traffic mismanagement.

“The apples in the truck have started rotting now,” said Rajesh Kumar, a trucker from the northern Indian state of Punjab.

“I don’t know how many more days I will be here,” he said, adding that he had been stuck on the highway for six days.

The divisional commissioner for Kashmir said this year had seen a bumper crop of apples – more than 2.1 million metric tonnes – due to heavy rain.

“We have difficulties in the movement of traffic on the highway due to shooting stones (falling rocks) but it is beyond human control,” Commissioner P K Pole told Reuters.

Repair work on the Srinagar-Jammu highway would be finished this week, a local government official told Reuters on condition of anonymity, because he was not authorised to speak to the media.

Mehbooba Mufti, the former chief minister of the region, accused the administration of “deliberately holding up fruit-laden trucks for days endlessly and causing massive losses”.

“It seems that the administration is bent upon making every resident and community of (Jammu and Kashmir) suffer miserably,” she tweeted.

Muhammad, 60, an apple grower in Indian-administered Kashmir’s Pulwama district, fears the highway blockade is an attempt “to crush the industry”.

“We feel helpless. This is our bread and butter. Our families and the education of children depend on it,” Muhammad, who did not want to be identified by his last name, told Al Jazeera.

“This time we fear that we will not be able to even earn the amount that we spent on our orchards.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies