Gunmen wait in orchards, in shadow of Red Delicious
Shopian: Barely visible through the dense foliage of the September blossom in the orchards spread all over the hills in Shopian district, south Kashmir, the lowhanging apples with a tinge of red, covered in dust, await a shower of rain to ripen into juicy ‘Delicious’.
Also waiting, hidden among apple trees laden with fruit, are terrorists, counterinsurgency officials fear.
Police in Shopian said they are unable to provide a sense of security to traders because the dense foliage of the orchards provides militants a safe hideout. Visibility is low during harvest season, from August to October. Apples, in a way, shield the militants. “They can easily hide, feed themselves on fruit — peaches, plums, apples and pears, and remain unnoticed during this season. Historically, there have been no counterinsurgency operations in these three months in the district,” a south Kashmir counter-insurgency official said.
Police sources said last year 44 terrorists were killed in the district. “Fifteen terrorists were killed in November alone. That’s because the bareness of the place reduces hideout options,” a police official said. Though this year, until now, 38 militants have been killed, sources said there are around 25 Regardless of the pause in business after the Article 370 abrogation, orchard owners in Shopian are quietly stacking up wooden boxes in the frontyards of their houses, preparing to sell them next month
local Hizb and three Jaish terrorists still in the district.
Horticulture, especially apples, is one of Kashmir’s economy’s major lifelines, sustaining around 3.5 million people. Shopian orchards produce nearly 2 lakh tons of apples every year, with three popular varieties — Golden, Red Delicious and Maharaji.
On August 5, just as the harvest season was getting under way, the Centre revoked J&K’s special status. Fearing violent protests and terror attacks, it imposed restrictions on the movement of people and snapped mobile and internet services.
The Shopian fruit market, spread over 30 kanals of land, which in normal times is abuzz with activity —huge trucks loading apple boxes — beginning late August, has been closed too. In the middle of September, apples grown in orchards across south
Kashmir are transported to the Shopian mandi where traders from across the country purchase the produce.
Regardless, orchard owners and their family members are quietly stacking up wooden boxes in the front yards of their houses, preparing to sell them next month. “The harvest time for Red Delicious is approaching but there are no signs of the market opening,” Shafi, owner of a 7kanal Shopian orchard, said.
Though the Centre has announced that it will buy apples directly from traders, nobody in Shopian is talking about it. The militants in the apple bowl of Kashmir have issued a diktat asking orchard owners and traders not to pluck apples and send the produce out of the Valley. “The scare has silenced all of us,” Najeeb, a trader, told TOI.
Full report on www.toi.in