Shimla: Knee jerk action of forcing standardization in packaging of apples at a time when the fruit harvest has begun has orchard owners, traders and law enforcers in a fix about how to market the produce.
After much debating about the problem of unregulated market conditions for auctioning of apple produce, the government last week came out with an ordinance to standardize the weight in one box that would be permitted for sale in the auction yards.
Speaking about the measures taken, Prakash Thakur, vice-chairman HP Horticulture Produce Marketing Corp (HPMC) talking to Hill Post said, “to bring order to the chaotic conditions in the apple trade, we exercised our mandate about standardizing the fruit trade in the market.”
‘The government last week issued an ordinance that on our recommendation has standardized an apple boxes weight should not be more than 22.5 Kg in the market auction yard. Anybody packaging more fruit than permitted can attract penal action, which could be a three month jail term,” said Thakur.
Though the law provides for a minimum of Rs 1000 fine and a maximum for a 3 month jail term for violators, government sources claimed that an increase in fine amount was under consideration of the authorities.
When contacted by Hill Post, additional chief secretary (horticulture) Vineet Chaudhary said, “the ordinance that has been promulgated has standardized the packaging of apples by weight both for the Kullu Packing and the Shimla packing. Either the standard carton or telescopic carton can be used for packaging purposes.”
The new law, though it is still to be ratified by the state assembly, has been in force for over a week, but Agriculture Produce Marketing Committee (APMC), the agency which has to enforce the government diktat is not sure of how to go about it.
“We will involved the horticulture department, district administration and police to implement the new law that is in favour of fruit growers and saves them for exploitation by middle men,” said Subhash Chand Manglate, chairman APMC told Hill Post.
Unsure about how to implement the law, he added, “we have written to the government seeking guidelines about which agencies to involve in enforcing the law in the fruit trade.”
The problem has been seething for years as fruit growers have been packing upto 30 to 32 Kgs fruit in a corrugated paper box designed to hold just 20 Kg of fruit.
Rajeev Thakur, a fruit grower from Baghi says, “with middlemen offering higher prices at auctions for boxes packed with more fruit, price parity and lack of standardization has led to exploitation of fruit growers in the market.”
Where the government has notified the new law, enforcing agency APMC lacks the wherewithal to implement it, framers in lower altitudes having begun harvest have already marketed more than 10,000 boxes and arrivals in the fruit mandis are picking up.
Facing labour shortages and an increase in freight charges, those fruit growers who have fallen in line with the new law are finding themselves at the mercy of the market, where some consignments with standard packaging have fetched half the price of what over packed boxes have been sold for in open defiance of the law.
Counting his losses, Pradeep Kumar, an orchard owner from Kumarsain said, “making a new law when the harvest has already commenced has only compounded our problems. My consignment sold for Rs 900 per box, whereas another one with a little extra fruit fetched Rs 1700.”
Fruit merchants (Aarthiya’s) too are miffed at the government move. “Standardization of fruit packaging is something that should be done before it gets to the market but the onus for ensuring that overweight consignments are not sold has been put on us,” said one trader, without wanting to be named.
“Whether the government is able to standardize packaging of apples or not, but the new law unleashes a new inspector raj on the trade and anybody’s whims and fancy can net us behind bars,” he added.
Apples happens to be the main cash crop, generating an annual economy of about Rs 2000 to Rs 2500 crores from the middle and higher hills regions of the state, mainly from Shimla, Kullu, Mandi, Chamba, Sirmaur, Kinnaur and Spiti valley.