Ap­ple tastes bit­ter for Congress in poll-bound Hi­machal

DNA (Daily News & Analysis) Mumbai Edition - - FRONT PAGE -

crore ap­ple boxes, in­forms hor­ti­cul­ture de­vel­op­ment of­fi­cer Dr Kaushal Me­hta. “We lost another crore boxes due to the in­ter­mit­tent hail­storm. That is a loss of over Rs 2,000 crore ap­prox­i­mately,” says Dr Me­hta.

Traders, grow­ers and of­fi­cials say that the change in the tem­per­a­ture has led to a dwin­dling crop year af­ter year. In the Solan Agri­cul­tural Pro­duce Mar­ket Com­mit­tee (APMC), sec­re­tary Parkash Kashyap says that while they sold over 50 lakh boxes in 2015, it dropped to 32 lakh in 2016. This year, as the ap­ple sea­son has just con­cluded, trade of over 36 lakh boxes have been regis­tered.

Ap­ple grower and trader Naren­der Chouhan of the Dhalli APMC says that the ap­ple plant needs a chill­ing pe­riod of over 1,100 hours in temperatures be­low 7 de­gree Cel­sius be­tween De­cem­ber to March. “But be­cause of ris­ing temperatures, most ap­ple plants need to make do with 900 hours,” says Chouhan.

Farmer Amar Singh, who works in an or­chard sit­u­ated over 40 kms from Shimla, says the credit sys­tem has also led to a lot of dis­crep­an­cies. “For every trans­ac­tion of Rs 1 lakh that we make, the trader first gives us Rs 7,0008,000. The full amount is usu­ally handed out af­ter he makes a deal later on. In case the deals falls through, we lose the pro­duce and the earn­ings on it,” says Singh.

Try­ing to cash in on th­ese prob­lems, the BJP has an­nounced a hor­ti­cul­ture univer­sity for farm­ers in its man­i­festo. BJP spokesper­son Ma­hen­der Dhar­mani says that apart from that the BJP has more plans in store. “We have promised im­ported hail nets, which we will pro­vide at 80% sub­sidy, and we will take cold stor­age to the grass­root level which is now re­stricted to only those who are rich. We will also come out with an an­nual for­mula for com­pen­sa­tion due to nat­u­ral calami- ties, and pro­mote or­ganic cul­ti­va­tion,” says Dhar­mani. “The Congress did not build roads in the ap­ple belt, which is the trade’s life­line.”

Naresh Chauhan of the Congress coun­ters th­ese prom­ises with the ques­tion of im­port duty. “When the BJP came to power in 2014, PM Modi said that im­port duty will be in­creased to counter the com­pe­ti­tion from for­eign coun­tries. But they haven’t yet de­liv­ered on that prom­ise yet,” says Chouhan.

Dr Me­hta says ir­re­spec­tive of who forms the gov­ern­ment, the state depart­ment needs help in its ef­forts to counter the dwin­dling crop.

Per­haps with the elec­tions around the corner, the ap­ple trade will find bet­ter tak­ers.

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