By Fayaz Bukhari
SRINAGAR (Reuters) – Roadworks have halted thousands of trucks carrying millions of dollars worth of apples on Indian Kashmir’s main highway, a major union leader said on Monday, triggering protests by growers as their produce begins to rot.
Highway repairs were causing massive delays along the highway that connects the disputed Kashmir valley to the rest of India, meaning huge expected losses.
“We have 8,000 trucks carrying apples worth 100 crore rupees (one billion rupees, or about $12.25 million) stranded on the highway for the last two weeks,” Bashir Ahmad Basheer, the head of the Kashmir Valley Fruit Growers and Dealers Union, told Reuters.
Employing more than three million people, fruit cultivation is an economic lifeline for the Himalayan region, which is claimed in full but ruled in part by both India and Pakistan.
All 10 major wholesale fruit markets in the Kashmir valley were shut on Sunday and Monday as farmers protested against what they said was traffic mismanagement.
“The apples in the truck have started rotting now,” said Rajesh Kumar, a trucker from the northern Indian state of Punjab.
“I don’t know how many more days I will be here,” he said, adding he had been stuck on the highway for six days.
The Divisional Commissioner for Kashmir said this year had seen a bumper apple crop of more than 2.1 million metric tons due to heavy rain.
“We have difficulties in the movement of traffic on the highway due to shooting stones (falling rocks) but it is beyond human control,” Commissioner P.K. Pole told Reuters.
Repair work on the Srinagar-Jammu highway would be finished this week, a local government official told Reuters on condition of anonymity, because he was not authorised to speak to the media.
($1 = 81.645 rupees)
(Reporting by Fayaz Bukhari in Srinagar; Editing by Nick Macfie)