over 15,000 metric tonnes were traded from Kulgam Mandi and it’s more than a month for the harvest season to conclude,” said Muhammad Altaf, marketing inspector, P&M wing.

The traders are hopeful that the market will cross Rs 100 crore mark this year given the volume of the trade done so far. The rates too have been good this year, “We started off rather slowly. However, the rates have picked up and a box of grade one apples sells for around Rs 950,” said Muhammad Yaqoob, who has been selling his produce at Kulgam Mandi since 2007.  However traders feel the rates could be much higher if grading of apple was done properly.

Fruit Mandi Sopore
Fruit Mandi Sopore

GRADES AND RATES
The growers generally grade apples under A, B and C categories. However, due to lack of expertise among growers and traders, the grading system remains unimproved. This year, a box of Grade C apple was sold for Rs 300, while Grade B fetched Rs 500. The best among the lot, Grade A, was sold for Rs 900 only.

“If the grading is done by a proper grading agency, they can get as high as Rs 2,000 for a single box of apples,” said Ghulam Muhammad Banday, president of the Traders Association. “There was a scheme called Market Intervention scheme initiated by the P&M wing aimed at improving the quality of apples put in the Grade A boxes,” said Banday.

Under the scheme, Banday said, the department used to grade apples, “The department used to buy C grade apples and sell the same to juice factories. However, the scheme was closed lately forcing the growers to compromise the quality.” The traders say the apples from Himachal Pradesh fetch good money only because they are well graded and well packed.

PACKAGING THE PRODUCE
The new card board packing might have revolutionized the apple trade but the traders say that more needs to be done. “The card board packing is cheaper but it’s not reliable and it’s vice versa for the wood packaging,” said Parray, vice president of the traders association.

He said the apples from Himachal Pradesh are no match to the Kashmiri apples in terms of quality but they still fetch good price in the market because of its packaging and proper grading. The traders demand that the government should produce plastic boxes on subsidized rates, “It will add a glamour quotient to the good quality apples of Kashmir,” feels Banday. He said the buyers from different parts of India have been making similar suggestions to them.

THE BUYERS AND THEIR WOES
The buyers coming to the market from different states of India say the people they deal with are wonderful and they will continue their business with Kulgam Fruit Mandi in the future as well. However, at the same time, they rue the fact that they don’t get the food of their choice in Kulgam.

“I stay here for around four months. I have to eat food which I am not accustomed to,” said Naresh Kumar, a buyer from Bhatinda, Punjab. Bhupinder Singh, a buyer from Rajasthan, says the other Mandis across India have lodging and dining facilities within the area unlike Kashmir.

“I have been coming to this Mandi since 2007 and a lot of survey teams have been visiting this place but nothing is being done to address our woes,” Bhupinder said. Lodging, however, is not an issue for the buyers with two decent hotels in the vicinity and free lodging provided by the traders for some of them.

“I have developed a friendship with the person I trade with here in the market. He provides me free of cost accommodation,” said Sanjay Aneja, a buyer from Bikaner, Rajasthan.

UNADDRESSED GRIEVANCES
Despite the fact that the fruit market has been doing brisk business, the traders feel a lot still needs to be done to make the working conditions better. The most important thing, they say, is banking facilities, “Our trade has huge cash transactions involved and we have to dedicate a person to ferry the cash to the bank,” said Muhammad Yaqoob.

The traders say they have time and again requested the bank as well as the authorities to allot a branch to the Mandi but nobody listens. “They can at least open a small counter here in the Mandi, if not a full-fledged branch,” said Banday, President of the Traders Association.

Lack of a cold storage, according to the traders, is another grave concern the authorities should look at and try to fulfil the demand. Another problem that irks the growers, traders and the buyers alike is the lack of any water supply and lavatory blocks within the market. “It’s ironic that a place where one works the whole day does not have water supply and lavatories,” said Manjeet Singh.

The security of the stock is another issue, the traders feel, that needs to be addressed, “The market is not properly fenced and thefts are often reported,” said Banday. The traders say there was a proposal of fencing the whole Mandi; . However, the project has been halted due to unknown reasons.

VOX POPULI
The people of the area are happy with the market and believe that it is a positive step towards changing the economic landscape of the area. However, the locals are irked that the four months of business in the market causes severe inconvenience to the people who visit the district hospital which is located just across the road from the Mandi.

“There is a huge traffic jam almost always during the working season in the Mandi. That puts the patients at undue risk and inconvenience,” said Imtiyaz, a drug store owner. He said there was a proposal of building an alternate road but the work has not commenced yet.

“It has become an utter necessity to circumvent the Mandi. It should be done sooner than later to avoid any mishaps,” said a doctor posted at Kulgam district hospital.

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