After Militant Threats, Landslides Along National Highway Further Cripple Kashmir's Apple Industry

Anantnag (Kashmir): Kashmir's apple industry, which is suffering losses in view of the situation in Valley, is faced with another challenge. Frequent landslides and the subsequent poor condition of the strategic Srinagar-Jammu national highway has resulted in hundreds of trucks carrying apples being stranded along the road.

Multiple landslides were reported this week, which led to the closure of the highway, the only surface link that Kashmir has with the rest of the world. On Saturday and Sunday, the fruit-laden trucks were stranded in a 20 kilometre long traffic jam along the highway.

The apple industry, which is considered the backbone of Kashmir’s economy and is the livelihood for half of Kashmiri population, is already suffering huge losses due to the restive situation in Valley since August 5 when the Centre stripped the region of its special status and divided the state into two union territories.

The militants have issued threat to the fruit growers, asking them to not harvest the crop as a mark of protest against the Centre's decision to abrogate Article 370.

Fear looms large over the stakeholders of the fruit industry in Kashmir as suspected militants this week killed the driver of an apple-laden truck from Rajasthan in south Kashmir’s Shopian district. Within 48 hours of the incident, a non-Kashmiri labourer was shot dead in nearby Pulwama district. In the next few hours, the suspected militants struck again and shot dead an apple trader from Punjab and critically wounded his associate. He is currently battling for his life in Srinagar’s Shri Maharaja Hari Singh hospital.

These incidents have created fear among the local fruit growers, traders and transporters coming from other parts of the country.

This year, the state was expecting a bumper crop worth around $1.9 billion. By the start of this month, as per multiple reports, less than 10% of the harvested crop has been exported from the Valley. Adding to these woes, the apple traders say, is the landslide-prone Srinagar-Jammu highway.

“The road is already in bad condition because of which the trucks are getting stuck for days together,” said Mohammad Ashraf Wani, president of fruit Mandi Shopian. He added that the instances of landslides have increased due to the construction going on for the new highway.

“The government should stop the work for couple of months,” said Wani. “This is the peak of the season and if the transportation of the fruits is further delayed, we will face more losses.”

As per the Traffic Control Room Srinagar, on Sunday evening around 8,000 trucks which were stranded at different places along the treacherous highway are now moving.

However, there are still thousands of trucks which are stuck in the traffic jam and the number is only increasing. According to locals, one lane of the highway from Bijbehara to Qazigund, which is a 20km long stretch, is completely jammed.

“There are multiple reasons for the traffic jam and we are on it,” said Senior Superintendent of J&K Traffic Police, Muzzafar Ahmad.

“The road is narrow at many places. There are places where the trucks break down. We have to see all that. Also, the reckless driving of some drivers creates problems,” he said. “We have cleared the blockades and the broken down vehicles have been removed,” he said, adding that the traffic will ply smoothly soon.