Shimla: As apple prices slump further despite not so plentiful a crop, opposition leaders here announced plans to hold protest demonstration in the fruit producing belts saying that growers were facing a grave crisis and the government was not doing anything to protect them.
Talking to reporters, former horticulture minister Narender Bragta said that though apple, the fruit crop, was the mainstay of the farm economy of Himachal Pradesh and contributed substantially to the gross domestic product but the Rs 3000 Cr annual economy was in grave danger of collapsing.”
Against a market price of Rs 2000 to Rs 2500 for a 22 Kg apple box in 2010, the current market of Rs 800 to 900, had rendered the produce unviable and orchard owners were only making distress sales, he said.
In the year 2010, the state had a record apple crop and the market prices had remained stable, he claimed.
Bragta, who is also a vice president of BJP said that congress had played with the sentiments of the farmers by making loud claims of ensuring that custom duty on imported apples would be hiked to 150 % from the currently applicable 50%.
The congress government after coming to power has done nothing to fulfill this election commitment, even though there is a Congress led government running the affairs of the country from Delhi, he added.
He said that the large consignments of imported apples being dumped in the country were responsible for the meager returns that orchard owners from the state were getting this harvest.
“The day is not far, when one could hear of farmers suicide in the apple producing belts of Himachal Pradesh,” he said.
To shake the government apathy towards apple producers, Bragta, who owns orchards in Kotkhai said, protest demonstrations, starting 2nd September, would be held at Rampur, Rohru, Chopal, Kullu, Mandi and Chamba.
Other than excess imports flooding the country’s markets, he said that SAFTA agreements of duty free trade between Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan were being misused by countries such as Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.
No apples are grown in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, but to evade duties, these countries have been exporting apples into India, much to the bane of fruit producers in Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and Jammu & Kashmir, claimed the former minister.
Another reason he held for fall in fruit prices was an unholy nexus between fruit merchants and traders (Arthiyas and Ladanis) to which the government was a party by doing nothing to check it.
Bragta said that the Rs 78 Cr approved project of developing a road corridor to bypass congested areas of Shimla and Solan for transporting the apple crop had been scuttled and so had plans of setting up a modern market yard at Parala been put on the back burner, much to the dismay of the fruit growers.