By: Tikender Panwar
An apple a day keeps the doctor away! This is the famous adage made to enhance the immunity of the human being. But the state that produces the largest quantity of apples in the country is facing the severest of crisis, thanks to the neo-liberal policies and inept administration of the BJP government.
The apple crop in the state of Himachal Pradesh, which is an economy of over Rs 3,000 crore, is passing through the severest crisis this year. Thanks to the neo-liberal polices and inept administration of the BJP government in the state, the cost of production has substantially increased over the last decade. Not just that, the post-harvesting cost too has gone high with a box of apple post-harvest costing over Rs 270.
Now in such a situation if the apple in the market fetches a price of just Rs 140 to Rs 300, it means a disaster is in the offing. Interestingly, this year the apple crop is the largest and is termed as a bumper crop with and estimate of over 3.25 crore boxes. Last year there were just 1 crore. But the farmers have been looted by a cartel of traders, commission agents and their political counterparts, thus landing in a situation where they would not even be able to meet the expenses, what to talk about earning.
The BJP government has been strongly indicted across the state for the worst ever callous administration in the state that has not even an iota of concern for the people’s woes and problems. The people have charged the BJP of criminal negligence, that has resulted in a loss of crores of rupees to the farmers.
The situation can be summarized as:
1 The horticulture department in the month of June 2010 had estimated an apple crop of over 3.25 crore boxes. Further they had forwarded a demand of over 1,200 trucks daily but the government instead sat on the demand and did not take notice of that. The government allowed the marketing of apple boxes and trays by the private houses that formed a cartel and black-marketed both the boxes and trays. The situation got further accentuated by the closure of Gumma carton factory (a PSU run by the government) that used to act as a buffer for price stabilization. An apple carton that used to cost Rs 25-30 has shot up to Rs 45-60. Similarly, the prices of trays have also gone high from Rs 2.95 to Rs 6.50 from the semi-auto plants and from Rs 4.95 to Rs 7.50-8.00 per tray from the automatic plants. The BJP government withdrew from its responsibility and the two nodal agencies – the HPMC (Himachal Pradesh Horticultural Produce Marketing and Processing Corporation) and Himfed (Himachal Pradesh State Co-operative Marketing and Consumers Federation Limited) were scuttled, which created a situation that there was and presently is acute shortage of carton and trays in the market. This further resulted into delay in the plucking of the crop and fetched abysmally low prices for the apples. In fact, the worst ones since last many years. A box of apple that previously used to fetch some Rs 1,000 is now being sold for just Rs 140-550 in the market.
Several farmer associations, including the AIKS, have asked the government the wisdom that led to closure of the Aipil (Agro Industrial Packaging India Limited) Gumma carton factory that used to produce some 30,000 cartons in an hour. This factory was built with the help of the central government to check the cutting of trees as initially apple was packed and transported in wooden boxes. The government has deliberately closed the Gumma factory to facilitate the carton cartels and loot the farmers.
2 The BJP government does not leave any stone unturned to sing its rhetoric of its self-acclaimed title of ‘government of roads’. There can be no fallacy near to such a title. The NH-22 is its worst form, that carries the apple produce from Kinnaur, Kullu, Mandi and Shimla districts. A traffic block of 16 hours on an average is a regular feature. Similarly, the Rohru –Kotkhai-Theog-Shimla road is more of a rivulet that a road. From Rohru to Shimla the loaded apple truck is taking 3-4 days to reach and 9-10 days for Delhi market. The alternate Chailla–Rajgarh road is closed since last 18 days. The condition of link roads under the PMGSY is absolutely pathetic with a majority of the roads blocked since last many days. A large number of link roads have closed down with no support from the PWD department. These include: Khaddar-Chopal, Dahiya-Nerwa, Mattal-Chopal, Chetta, Dupvi road, Shantta road and likewise many other. These roads are blocked since last 20 days or more and nearly 30,000 apple boxes are over-ripening on the stretch with no means of carriage to the market.
3 The government has miserably failed to check the loot of farmers while their produce is being transported. The horticulture minister’s village, Tehtoli, has a government-marked freight charge of Rs 40 for a box to Delhi, whereas presently Rs 70 is being charged till Shimla and Rs 120 for Chandigarh market. Similarly, from Sheelghat it is Rs 42.50 for Delhi but the grower is forced to pay Rs 120 for Chandigarh. Though the government has claimed that till now nearly 2 crore boxes have reached the market, if per box an extra freight of Rs 50 has been swindled then nearly Rs 100 crore from the farmers pocket has gone out because of the government’s inept administration. Adding to this, there is an acute shortage of trucks, which the government has miserably failed to provide to the farmers.
4 The BJP, that claimed to have got rid of commission in the Delhi market, has miserably failed to get it implemented. The BJP government has also failed to implement the amendments in the sales tax act in 2000 where the commission was to be charged from the buyer and not from the grower. Though at all the three places i.e. Center, Delhi state and Himachal Pradesh, BJP was the ruling party. Further, in the state as of now there is no uniformity in the commission being charged from the grower. In Rohru a grower is forced to pay Rs 10 per box whereas in Shimla it is sold in ‘Gar’ i.e. in toto. In Narkanda it’s sold according to the size and grade. There is no uniform method of buying from the grower.
5 The government has also failed to provide any relief under the market intervention scheme to the farmers of the state. Initially the collection centres were not made functional and now according to government estimates itself 1 lakh apple bags have over-ripened and have entered the rotting stage. A similar situation happened in 2008. The government wants to get rid of the MIS and is deliberately not lifting the apple bags for processing.
The BJP government is showing no concern to these problems and instead the chief minister monitored the situation while moving in a helicopter without understanding the ground reality. Though this year the farmer producing apples had the golden opportunity to earn because of the bumper crop, because of the government’s inept functioning it is considered to be a negative year in the history of apple growers. According to estimates given by experts, an expenditure of over Rs 270 per box is spent post harvesting, i.e, packaging, transport and other expenses. Now, if the grower is getting a price of just Rs 140 – Rs 500 per box, then it will lead to a crisis like situation where the farmer would not even be able to meet his expenses, what to talk about earning.
As it is, the productivity of the state is still very low. Whereas in the West it is 35 to 40 tonnes per hectare, in Himachal it still remains 4 to 5 tonnes per hectare, though the area under apple production has gone high to 1 lakh hectare. This further implies that low productivity and low prices will deepen the crisis in the apple economy. The unconcern of the government reflects the mindset and the anti-farmer, anti-grower attitude. Still, there is 50% of the produce that has to be marketed. If the government takes steps on a war footing in areas of providing better transport, better market price, smooth traffic for apple produce, etc, then some respite can be provided to the farmers, which the BJP is not prepared to do and instead is defending the government for its inept functioning.
(The writer is member, Himachal Pradesh state secretariat of CPIM)