Losing colour

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Saffron, the prized crop of Kashmir produced primarily in the Karevas of Pampore has always been prone to adulteration, given its high price and demand. But recent revelations have thrown up an adulteration scandal that indicates a mafia like operation producing fake saffron on a scale that may even exceed its actual production in Kashmir. A Kashmir Life report.

Adultration in saffron has dented the credibility of Kashmir's once prized crop.

Adultration in saffron has dented the credibility of Kashmir’s once prized crop.

The alleged adulteration and production of fake saffron local cultivators and dealers say provides clues into the mystery of exporting thirty nine tons of Saffron from Kashmir, when valley’s actual production is much less.

This week police booked four persons under Public Safety Act for their allegedly involvement in the production and supply of fake saffron to other states. Pampore Police had raided the houses of Ghulam Hassan Dar son of Nabir Dar, and Shabir Ahmad Dar son of Mohammad Maqbool residents of Befina Pampore and seized 11 Kgs of Saffron like material and 29 Kgs other raw material used in manufacturing of fake saffron. In another related incident police arrested Mohammad Ashraf Dar son of  Nabir Dar resident of Befina and Ghulam Nabi Wani son of Shaban Wani resident of Namblabal Pampore while carrying huge quantity of  fake Saffron like material in a car.

Last month Pantha Chowk police on a local tip off arrested three persons Abdul Rashid Dar, Abdul Gaffar and Farooq Ahmad Shah at Zaffran colony Pampore in connection with the manufacturing of fake saffron. On January 13, police raided the house of Ghulam Ahmad Reshi resident of Zaffron colony and confiscated 90 kgs of fake saffron prepared from the raw material of 250 kgs of corn fibre, saw dust, dried flowers and dyes.

The next day, the trio was bailed out. After their release the saffron growers and dealers of Kashmir staged a series of protests alleging the government of inefficiency. The Saffron Growers and Dealers Association of Pampore also filed objections in local court against the grant of bail to the trio, stating that they had brought disrepute to the prime sector.

“We are demanding stern action against all those who are indulging in fake saffron dealings and manufacture”, says Shakeel Ahmad Mir, spokesperson Saffron Growers and Dealers Association.

“Though it was the first time when police has arrested many persons involved in preparing fake saffron, but the practice of preparing fake saffron has been going on for years and turnover of the spurious saffron runs in crores,” he added.

Members of Falah-e-Behbood Committee Pampore and Zamindar Association told Kashmir Life that the export of 39 tons from Kashmir is unrealistic as the valley can’t produce Saffron in those quantities.

The mismatch has been a mystery for growers and dealers.  However, after the recent arrests things are becoming clear.

The committee members stressed that the arrestees were only labours working on daily wages. “We believe the racket is not confined to four or five persons. It is a vast network including big traders and is spread in other states of India also,” says Ghulam Muhammad Mir head of Falah-e-Behbood Committee Pampore.

Another member alleged, “We fear that many high authorities are also involved in adulteration and preparing fake saffron. It is not possible even after receiving many complaints from last few years, Pampore police are unable to bring it on surface.”

SHO, Pampore Mushtaq Ahmad told Kashmir Life that they had never received any complaints. “It was first time when Pantha Chowk police station received information regarding the preparation of fake saffron. We raided the house seized the material and arrested three persons in this connection.”

“An FIR no. 03/2010 under section 420 RPC, 32 RTT Act, 16 PEA Act is also registered against them,” he added.

According to Saffron growers and dealers Association, the adulteration going on for years has brought down the price of the expensive spice from Rupees two lakh per kg to Rs 1.50 lakh per kg.

Abdul Hamed, a saffron dealer from Pampore said that out of one Kilogram of pure Saffron, spurious traders produce two to three kg of adulterated saffron. This is then sold in the various markets of India.

Apart from adulteration in saffron, dealers say, rising demand of Iranian Saffron has affected sale of Kashmiri Saffron in Indian markets. Adulteration of saffron produced here with Iranian saffron is also an issue.

“Every year nearly two tons of Iranian Saffron is smuggled into Kashmir. Since Iranian Saffron is cheaper than Kashmiri Saffron, many fraud dealers of valley blend it with lower grade or fake saffron under the brand name – Kashmiri saffron.”

Nearly 90 per cent of Kashmiri saffron is consumed by Indian markets. As against the price of Rs 1.5 lakh per kg Iranian saffron is sold at Rs 1 lakh.

Adulteration scandal may be the latest issue to the hit the saffron industry striving for its sustenance, but that is not the only one. Age old obsolete practises that hamper yield and government negligence are endangering the crop.

Though the crop is 3000 year old and cultivation spread to 226 villages in five districts of valley but government is yet to take any initiative in creating irrigation facility or inculcating scientific technology to enhance its production.

Almost whole of the saffron land is rain fed. Rains have become scare will with years, but irrigation facilities have no picked up. Nor have the advanced techniques been utilised well. Most of farmers use the practise their ancestors did.

“Cultivating saffron is hard work”, says Abdul Rahim a farmer of Pampore. “One kilogram of saffron is obtained from 150,000 flowers. These flowers are plucked and kept for drying. Drying the leaves requires high skills. One has to be careful that the flowers do not burn with excess heat.”

In most families the job of drying flowers is taken by elderly women who have done it all their life, then the dried flowers are sorted and stripped for their stigma and stamen.

Each saffron flower has three red stigmas, two stamens, and a long white stem, connecting all of this to the main flower. The stigma represent the purest saffron, known as ‘Mogra Zafran’. The stamens yield the inferior and less expensive variety, the ‘Lacha Zafran’. The other parts do not go waste the petals are eaten while the stems become fodder.

The steep fall in saffron production over the years threatens the livelihood of six lakh people directly and indirectly engaged in its cultivation and trade.

Though recent action against adulterators has brought cheers and hope to saffron cultivators and dealers, but they want the government to come out with strict laws to regulate cultivation and marketing of saffron. “There is an urgent need to establish a saffron board in valley that would work under the supervision of government to check adulteration, rise and fall of prices. The board should also help cultivators to adopt better techniques and policies so as to make Kashmir again the home of world famous saffron”, says Ghulam Nabi a saffron grower.

About Author

A journalist with seven years of working experience in Kashmir.

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