Around the fall, apple growers set a very punishing schedule for themselves of grading, packaging, branding and finally shipping out their produce. But on Wednesday, they put every activity on hold in solidarity with the protesting farmers across the rest of the country.
Srinagar's busy fruit mandi and a dozen others wore a forlorn look as growers, traders, commission agents and even truckers refused to transact business. They all decided to have an off day.
"I am not moving this truck from here," Abdul, a truck driver told News18 over phone from Shopian. Abdul was reluctant to speak initially but opened up on the condition that he won't reveal his second name. "I am not driving today because farmers are protesting for us. And I don't want any issues for me," he said in a brief chat and disconnected.
The fruit growers body called Kashmir Valley Fruit Growers Cum Dealers Association had called for the closure of all fruit mandis on December 8 to support the farmers who are up against the government and demanding a roll back of the new farm laws. The government, in a series of meetings, with farmers' representatives have been indicating they are willing to amend the laws in accordance with the points raised by them but the former want the new laws to be scrapped completely.
More than 12 mandis, including Fruit Marketing Complex, Parimpora Srinagar, Sopore, Baramulla, Kupwara, Handwara, Shopian, Pulwama, Kulgam, Anantnag, Jablipora, Pachahar, Chari-e-Sharief, and Ganderbal remained closed on Wednesday. No loading, unloading or trading took place in the fruit mandies.
“No business was recorded today. All fruit growers and traders stayed home to support with our fellow farmers,” said Bashir Ahmad Bashir, chairman of Kashmir Valley Fruit Growers Cum Dealers Association.
The strike was launched despite the losses suffered by the fruit growers over the last 15 months since the Centre took down the constitutional position of the erstwhile state.
“Like in neighbouring states, farm bills don't reflect the sentiments of the valley-based fruit and vegetable vendors. We back the farmers who have hit the roads. They are fighting for all of us. The new laws should be recalled,” said Bashir.
The Valley's apple industry alone is pegged at between Rs 8,000 to 10,000 crore and it engages a huge population. In regards to the economy, it contributes seven per cent to the Gross State Domestic Product of Jammu and Kashmir.
More than 3.38 lakh hectares of land is under fruit cultivation, of which roughly half or 1.62 lakh hectares is under apple cultivation. In 2018-19 the fruit production and that includes both dry and fresh fruits touched 24.15 metric tonnes compared to 23.30 MT in 2017-18. This year the yield of apples dropped to 60 to 70 percent due to scab and less precipitation.
Another growers body - Jammu and Kashmir Kisan Tehreek (JKKT) - had called for a peaceful protest demonstration at Press Colony, Srinagar, to support the farmers. “We demand withdrawal of retrograde agri-laws and the Electricity Amendment Bill,” said Abdul Hameed, spokesman of JKKT.
Ghulam Nabi Malik, general secretary of JKKT said the new agri-laws passed in Parliament will threaten India's food security, destroy Indian agriculture and farmers, lay the basis for the for the abolishment of the Minimum Support Price (MSP) and mortgage agriculture and our markets to the caprices of multi national and domestic agri business corporates. "These bills have pushed the farmers in a critical situation," he said.
However, in Jammu, there was some impact of the Bharat Bandh. Shops and business establishments were open. However, public traffic was off the roads.
Several social and political organisations converged briefly at Bikram Chowk and halted traffic on the Jammu-Pathankot highway.
A rally was later taken out from Bikram Chowk to Digania as protesters shouted slogan against the new laws.
The country-wide strike or Bharat Bandh call by the farmers received support across India with farmers and opposition parties coming together and urging the government to recall the fresh laws.
So far, five rounds of talks have been held between the protesting farmers and the government. However, the meetings have not yielded any results so far.
Protesting farmers are not budging to Centre's repeated assurances to resolve issues.