For nearly half of the month, south Kashmir Shopian is under curfew after five killings. Government ordered the CRPF garrison to move out but waited for opposition leader’s threat of protest to register an FIR. Srinagar and rest of Kashmir protested for many days. Tasavur Mushtaq reports about the damage to the apple and the Mughal road.
Apple growers had woven dreams of hefty dividends out of this year’s unusually rich harvest, but their dreams have already shattered. Fifteen days of curfew, coupled with few days of shutdown have resulted in the deserting of all roads and orchards in Shopian — J&K’s second largest fruit producing district, which now has emerged as battleground for the protesters and government forces.
The trouble started on September 8, just few hours before music maestro Zubin Mehta’s Bavarian State Orchestra musical concert ‘Ehsaas-e-Kashmir’ began in Srinagar’s Shalimar Bagh, when CRPF men from 14th Battalion killed four people in Gagren. CRPF claimed they killed four militants but a subsequent police investigation gave clean chit to three. Local residents maintained the deceased were stunt bikers shot dead in unprovoked firing.
Since then, Shopian is reeling under curfew. Curfew lifting triggers protests and unrest leads to its re-imposition. In one such melee, CRPF killed fifth individual, another civilian.
Having apple as its backbone, the restrictions have cast shadow of uncertainty on booming fruit business as there is halt to the harvesting of the apple crop which resulted in huge losses. According to fruit growers of the area, the clientele from rest of India has almost backed off due to prevailing situation. In case there is some buyer, the rates have been reduced.
“See the normal rate would have been around 1200 per box, but now it is around 700,” said a grower wishing not to be named.
President fruit growers and distributors of Shopian Mandi, Mir Muhammad Amin, told Kashmir Life that the loss is running in crores as the growers are not able to reach their orchards to pick fruit and then lift it to mandi.
According to Mir, Shopian Mandi is considered to house quality fruits and thus is hub of activity these days, but curfew has made it impossible for people to reach there.
Fruit economy in Shopian is believed to sustain around 22000 households directly. The restrictions have also cast shadow of uncertainty on the adjoining areas of the district. Locals allege that the CRPF which is deployed to impose curfew destroys the orchards thus incurring more losses. “We have reports from various curfew bound areas that CRPF consumes fruit when they are on duty and even take some in their vehicles,” Mir said.
Regarding the routine number of fruit exported, Mir says that on an average 10000 boxes of fruit were packed per working day to be sent to other parts of India and by going the rate he suggested, the loss incurred is around 1.15 crore per day.
Officials of horticulture department also are of the same opinion that losses are running in crores. When contacted Zonal Horticulture officer Shopian, Feroz Ahmad Malik, told Kashmir Life that the peak season has been lost to the curfew.
According to Malik the routine load of Mandi to other parts of India prior to curfew was around 40 trucks. The transaction he says in month of August and first week of September was around 13 crore.
Though other parts of district are still under curfew, but from September 15, the curfew according to Malik has been lifted from the area of Mandi. This has not much impact as 90 per cent of population is still under curfew who are directly associated withy the business.
As the Mandi is open from September 15, the trade has significantly decreased. Against the routine 40 truckloads, only 20 are being sent right now and transaction has slashed down to only Rs 4 crore. “There is loss of 50 per cent of the business what usually had been there,” Feroz said
Loss to fruit apart, the travel on Mughal Road — Shopian to Srinagar as well as Shopian to Poonch and the Rajouri has been completely paralyzed. This economically vital surface communication link, connecting Kashmir valley to Rajouri and Poonch districts of Jammu province is closed and traffic is off.
Tour and travel operators claim that 95 per cent trade and travel activity on Mughal Road had been suspended immediately after the shootout
“Over 300 taxis used to carry passengers daily to Srinagar from Rajouri and Poonch until September 7. An equal number of taxis would come with passengers every day from Srinagar to Rajouri, Poonch and other Jammu towns. This entire activity has been frozen. No more than five per cent traffic is operating today as no driver can reach Srinagar without passing through Shopian,” said a manager of local tour and travel company on condition of anonymity.
Not only this, the students of Baba Ghulam Shah Badshah University Rajouri who find Mughal road feasible to travel are stuck in their homes.
“My daughter travels from Mughal road to reach her university, but due to current situation she is at home,” said Mumtaz, a resident of Lalbazar.
Many who had to appear in exams have taken long Jammu route to reach their destination. Pertinently Mughal road is closed for vehicular traffic in winters and with curfew on, it already seems to have been closed till next summer.