Kashmir: Opposition calls out Centre’s cutting of duty on US apples

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Kashmir: Opposition calls out Centre’s cutting of duty on US apples

Farmers pluck freshly harvested hybrid apples from an apple orchard, in Budgam | Photo Credit: ANI

Opposition from traders and political parties grew on Tuesday in Kashmir against the Centre’s move to relax import duty by 20% for apples imported from the United States of America.

The Opposition urged the Center to announce the immediate rollback of the decision made during the recently concluded G-20 meeting.

The Kashmir Chamber of Commerce & Industry termed the Centre’s move “astounding” to remove the additional import duty on apples, walnuts, and almonds imported from the USA.

“Such an untimely decision will not only harshly impact nearly seven lakh apple grower families of Kashmir. It will adversely impact the livelihood of millions others indirectly connected with the trade. The cheaply priced apples or dry fruits imported from the US will obviously stand much stronger against the Kashmiri produce in the competitive market. It’s feared to spell doom on the nearly ₹9,000 crore worth apple industry, which makes a sizable contribution to the State economy,” Dr. Umar Nazir Tibatbakal, joint secretary general of the KCCI, said.

Former Chief Minister and National Conference president Dr. Farooq Abdullah also opposed the move. “When the concessions were announced during the G-20, it wasn’t thought that what impact it would have on our economy. Not only J&K but it will also affect Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand,” Dr. Abdullah added.

Dr. Abdullah said Kashmir grows apples, which is our major economy, walnuts too.

“To please the US, they want to finish off the local growers. I appeal to the Govt. of India to not take a step that would increase the poverty that is already here and we get stuck in another crisis. If they don’t make it easy for the people, we will take to the street and protest,” Dr. Abdullah said.

Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) president Mehbooba Mufti accused the Center of putting Kashmir growers in dire straits with the decision. “Reducing the import duty on fruits from 30% to 15% was a gift to (US president) Joe Biden by Modi ji in lieu of the tears of Kashmiri fruit growers,” Ms. Mufti said.

J&K Peoples’ Conference (JKPC) President Sajad Gani Lone also warned of “a devastating impact on apple growers, particularly in the Kashmir valley, which has been grappling with challenges for the past three decades.”

“Allowing free entry into the Indian market will be catastrophic for apple growers in Kashmir and also in the rest of the country. The gravity of the situation becomes apparent when one considers that the Indian market, already deprived of subsidies or assistance for its local growers, is now opening its doors to customs duty-free imports from a nation that provides substantial subsidies to its own apple industry, “Mr. Lone said.

Demanding immediate rollback, Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader MY Tarigami said, “The decision will have a devastating effect on marginal growers and small traders in the region, as they are already grappling with huge losses for the last so many years. Imposing a 100% import duty on apples, walnuts is in the larger interests of growers, who are facing debts and unable to even recoup the input costs, in view of inflation.”

J&K Apni Party general secretary Rafi Ahmad Mir urged the Central government to take into consideration the reality that Kashmir’s fruit growers have been grappling with significant losses, especially since August 2019.

“The government must realize that the fruit industry is a backbone of J&K’s economy, and hundreds of thousands of people are directly or indirectly dependent on this industry for their livelihood,” he added.

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