Kashmir’s biggest fruit Mandi in Sopore where traders from across the Indian subcontinent converge to purchase apples produced in orchards of north Kashmir is facing a severe infrastructural crisis which requires immediate official intervention, Sameer Yasir reports.
The road leading to Kashmir’s biggest fruit Mandi (market) in Sopore is jam packed with trucks. Every September, when fresh fruit reaches here from different orchards of north Kashmir, the Mandi comes to life with traders from across India and abroad camping here. However, the trade picked up pace this year after a three month downfall.
As the rates for the fruits sold in the Mandi started appreciating, the growers poured in with their produce. Since then, a 20-minute drive to the Mandi from Sopore’s main square would take about an hour. Located on the outskirts of Sopore town, the road leading to the Mandi was finally black topped last year after remaining in pathetic condition for11 years.
As one enters the Mandi, people assembled in groups on the left side of the entrance under the long tin roof sheds are seen trading. The stock buyers arrive in trucks from different part of India as well as from the other Indian sub continental countries. The first thing they encounter is a water logged lane and rut in the middle of Mandi.
Sopore Fruit Mandi receives traders from all over India. Established in 1988, the fruit Mandi was a Rs 38 crore project.“It has been 23 years and only Rs 12 crores have been spent so far. Of this, Rs 4 crores were spent on making sheds. It has 400 kanals of land,” Fayaz Ahmad Malik, president, Fruit Growers Association, Sopore, said. “Look anywhere and you would see water logged lanes and rut. It has been years since it was macadamized.”
“It is a very important trading centre in Kashmir but the dismal state of infrastructure is a crisis for all,” Akash Awasthi a trader from Uttar Pradesh, said. Outside the fence ringing the Mandi, a huge line of trucks dot the road filled with garbage which connects Sopore with Kupwara and other north Kashmir towns.
Jeevan Sarkar a trader in his late forties, has come all the way from West Bengal’s Malda district. After days of road journey, he arrived in Mandi complaining of the traffic jam. “It is very cold. I am only wearing one sweater and I get scared because there are no good hotels here where I could stay,” he complains.
On his arrival, he met the president of fruit growers association, Fayaz Ahmad Malik, an old hand of the trade. Both went into the market. As Jeevan reached a stall, he looked at the apples and then moved to the next stall. “These ones,” he says, pointing to one stall, “are expensive”. He grabs the hand of a seller under a napkin. They don’t say anything but pick the fingers of each other and the deal is done.
The rates are decided. Then Jeevan moves on to another stall where a grower from Mumbai was already negotiating the price.
Jeeven too bids for the fruit and he wind. The last rate is announced and the fruit is laden on a truck. This is how the trade is done. “Today it was easy. I have bought only a part of what I needed. I still need more to save freight charges which have increased 100 times over the years,” said Jeevan.
THE TRADE FACTOR
Kashmir’s 55 percent apples are sold from Sopore Fruit Mandi. People come to trade here from different parts of the valley. This year, there has been a huge influx of people coming from other districts of valley. “People have come to sell their produce even from Rajpura, Pulwama”, says Malik. This year, Malik says, the number of people visiting the Mandi has almost doubled. And there is perceptible rise of foreign buyers too. The number of buyers coming from Nepal, Srilanka and Bangladesh has increased considerably.
According to Horticulture department’s (Marketing) officer, Mohd Ashraf Damnu, Sopore Mandi is currently supplying apples to more than hundred markets in India and outside. “This year, by the end of September, 3,85,200 boxes of fruit were sold to traders from India and abroad. Despite the hike in freight, the demand kept rising. The freight charges from Sopore to Delhi are between Rs 60 and 65 per box,” he says. Most foreigners who buy apples from Sopore Mandi take ‘American’ apples. It is popular in other sub continental countries.