Srinagar, Sep 13: During the peak of the apple harvest season in Kashmir, the Commerce Ministry’s recent move to reduce the additional 20 percent tariff on imported apples has caused concern among Kashmir farmers and the people associated with apple trade.
The adjustment to the tariff, which has reduced the existing 70 percent duty on premium Washington apples by an additional 20 per cent was officially revealed during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the United States in June of this year. This decision took effect on September 5th, coinciding with the release of a notification by the Union finance ministry just before the meeting between Prime Minister Modi and US President Joe Biden on the side-lines of the G-20 Summit in the national capital. The notification outlined the tax exemption on various US products, including walnuts, lentils, chickpeas, and apples.
Farmers and people involved in the apple trade have voiced their concerns regarding the reduction in import taxes on US apples. They fear that this move could adversely affect Kashmiri apples. “Kashmir’s apple and walnut farmers form the bedrock of our region. The decrease in import duties on these American products jeopardizes their livelihoods. We urge the Government of India to review this decision and safeguard the well-being of our local farmers, securing their prosperity,” said Bilal Akbar, a farmer hailing from Sopore in northern Kashmir.
As per news agency—Kashmir News Observer (KNO), a delegation from the Apple Farmers Federation of India (AFFI), comprising Zahoor Ahmad Rather as President and Abdul Rashid Itoo as Secretary, had a meeting with Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha at Rajbhawan Srinagar. “During the meeting, a memorandum was submitted. The LG patiently listened to the delegation and assured them that the concerns of the apple growers would be addressed,” said Rather.
According to the memorandum, they expressed concerns about the suspension of the Market Intervention Scheme (MIS) by the Union government for the current marketing season. The MIS has been vital in procuring inferior quality C-grade apples in the Valley since its launch in 2017. This discontinuation has raised worries among growers, as it has been a significant avenue for selling such apples. The withdrawal of MIS, coupled with adverse weather conditions since July, has led to a severe reduction in yields, affecting the quality and quantity of this year’s apple crop.
The delegation also noted that Himachal Pradesh has implemented a scheme to procure culled fruit at a remunerative price, which has eased the burden on apple growers there. In light of these circumstances, the Apple Farmers Federation made several demands, including revitalizing the MIS for the 2023-24 marketing season, involving growers in value-addition activities for culled fruit, implementing the Crop Insurance Scheme, investigating the failure of weather stations to communicate the spread of scab disease, reverting the reduction of import tariffs on Washington apples, and regulating freight charges. They hope for prompt action to address this emerging crisis.
Meanwhile, J&K Peoples Democratic Party (J&KPDP) protested against the removal of import duties on foreign apples and termed it as Economic terrorism against J&K Farmers & Fruit growers. Speaking to the media, Suhail Bukhari, the Chief Spokesperson for PDP, expressed concerns about the impact of the recent development on the Apple industry in Jammu & Kashmir & Himachal Pradesh. He emphasized that the decision to eliminate duties will have severe consequences for the economic well-being of both Jammu & Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh. Additionally, he pointed out that local fruit sales had been facing potential adverse effects for the past three years.
Bukhari said that GOI’s decision has come at the timing when there is a harvesting season of Apple at peak and prices have already gone down whereas last year at the same time our fruit laden trucks were deliberately made to stand on highways which resulted in huge crises to the people associated with this fruit industry. He said that BJP makes tall claims of economic stability but actually its anti-people decisions have exposed its real face and now people have realised the actual face of BJP for its deliberate attempts of targeting J&K economically.
Bukhari said that the hasty decision of GOI would have a devastating effect on local growers particularly in J&K, which is already grappling with huge losses since 2019. Terming this as a grave injustice he said that “in-order to keep Americans and other foreign countries happy, the central government not only have closed its eyes towards its own people who need much to tackle with grave economic crises and it seems GOI is less concerned about its own people who are facing greater consequences with this decision. Bukhari urged that GOI should rethink its decision to provide relief to all the fruit growers of J&K, Himachal and Utrakhand etc.
The farmers, people associated with apple trade and regional political parties urged the Centre to announce the immediate rollback of the decision made during the recently concluded G-20 meeting.
Furthermore, BJP national general secretary Tarun Chugh, who is also party incharge for J&K, accuses Mufti, Abdullah, and Priyanka Gandhi of misleading apple growers regarding the Centre’s decision. Chugh as per statement said that there’s no reduction in Most Favoured Nation (MFN) duty on apples, walnuts, and almonds, emphasizing it applies to all imports, including US-origin products. The reduced import duty on Washington apples aims to foster competition in the premium market, benefiting Indian consumers with better quality at competitive prices. Chugh asserts opposition leaders are creating unwarranted fears for political gain, while the Modi government prioritizes national interests and consumer protection.