Jammu, August 1: Irfan Hussian (45) vividly remembers his childhood days when his father and two uncles used to spend days and days in their numerous orchards in Kashmir valley during the harvesting season.
“They used to literally live in the orchards during the harvesting season. Even when the harvesting was done, the long and tedious process of shipping the products to their destinations out of the valley started,” recalls a now grown-up Ifran who has now inherited the family business.
“The main challenge started after the harvesting. The supply chain was dominated by a few strong middlemen who dictated when and where the shipment shall be delivered”, rues Irfan while holding a basket of fresh fruits from his orchard.
One of the major complaints of the traders like Irfan was the massive domination of the middlemen in the entire process of shipping the fruits out of the valley. “Along with the rates, the middlemen also controlled the supply chain”, claims Irfan. This cartel of the middlemen not only ate away a chunk of the profits of the traders, it also disrupted a normal supply chain, so assiduously built by the individual traders over the years.
When the Union Government announced the abrogation of Article-370, fruit traders like Irfan feared that it would lead to further deepening of the cartel network, thereby depriving the traders of their profits and disrupting the whole supply chain in a massive way. “We are immensely happy that our misgivings were proved wrong”, reveals a relaxed Ifran.
1. Centre set to buy Kashmir apples to protect farmers, traders
Immediately after the abrogation of Article-370, the Central Government announced that the Union Home Ministry and the Ministry of Agriculture would oversee the smooth procurement, wherein the Centre would directly buy apples from apple growers in J&K. In a notification, the Union Government directed that the state government will ensure direct payment in the bank account of the apple grower through Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT). It further added that all categories of apples – A, B and C – will be procured from the apple-producing districts in Jammu and Kashmir as well as designated mandis in Sopore, Shopian and Srinagar.
2. NAFED roped in to ensure transparency.
To ensure the transparency and efficiency of the entire process, the State-run National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation of India (NAFED) has been roped in to facilitate the process of procurement of produce of the fruit growers in the region. Accordingly, NAFED will procure 60% of apples produced in the Union Territory of J&K. This move assumes significance in the wake of the terrorists threatening apple growers not to sell their produce in the market.
As per the notification issued by the Union Home Ministry, NAFED would procure A, B and C grade apples under a special Market Intervention Price Scheme (MISP) and payments will be made directly to the growers’ bank accounts through the direct benefit transfer (DBT) mode within 48 hours.
NAFED would procure apples from farmers through the directorate of Horticulture, Planning and Marketing. According to official data, Kashmir accounts for the production of 91% walnuts, 90% of almonds, cherry and saffron, and 70% apples in the country, worth a total of Rs 7,000 crore annually.
3. Centre’s Intervention
In addition to the above interventions, Centre Government will pump an additional Rs 8,000 crore to help apple and dry fruit traders in J&K including Rs. 2,000 crore towards procuring apples directly from growers. The move is aimed to send positive signals to the business community showcasing the region as an ideal place for investments post abrogation of the Article-370, thus helping to revive the business sentiments in the Valley.
To further maintain transparency in the purchase of the produce, the government has also decided to set up a state-level price fixation committee to determine procurement price based on the variety and grade of apples, and other incidental charges like packaging, transportation, storage and related expenditure.
While a price committee will fix the fair prices for the produce, all necessary facilities and infrastructure has been set up at mandis across the important production centers to ensure smooth rollout of the procurement.
To ensure smooth coordination between various elements of the administration involved in the exercise, Centre has also directed the senior functionaries from the Horticulture Department to monitor and supervise the entire procurement operation, while directing the representatives from NAFED and the National Horticulture Board to also assist the administration with the procurement process.
Quality control-cum-grading committees have been constituted for each mandi for validation-cum-certification of the apples to be procured at the mandis to ensure quality control of the entire process. It is believed that the list of measures would enforce a strict quality control over the entire process of procurement and distribution of the produce.
5. Hope for the Future
Traders like Ifran and others from the region are relieved that with the Centre’s intervention and proactive measures taken after the abrogation of the Article-370, the hold of the Mafia over the supply chain has been reduced considerably. This has enabled the traders to reap the benefits which otherwise would have gone to the middlemen.
Irfan believes that, after witnessing the enormous development and changes, the abrogation of Article-370 has ushered in the small villages and towns of the region, the people have finally realized the futility of their initial misgivings.