For most of the season, the dominating discourse was whose writ runs large. By the time, the government agreed against interrupting the new routine in Sopore Mandi, season was almost over, Zafar Aafaq reports
In cold November nights, morning sunrays fail to add life to the hundreds of trucks halted in neatly arranged mundane rows inside the Sopore fruit Mandi. Some fruit laden trucks are waiting for the sun to disappear in darkness and leave for their destinations. Their drivers kill daytime in chit chat, surrounding their kerosene stoves for warmth and food.
In last four months, the Mandi comes to life, as, do Kashmir’s other major markets, at sundown. The peak activity hours start at dawn. By 9 AM, the trading activity seizes to happen, courtesy Kashmir’s separatist calendars. As the police post outside the Mandi went up in smoke on July 11, during the clashes, the only thing that gave the market some order was the calendar, traders admit. The post is still abandoned.
Later, on August 30, police raided the market asking traders to work during day, an idea they refused. The raids that triggered clashes between the youth working in the market and the cops witnessed many people getting injured and even trucks getting damaged. It was outcome of a high-level decision to enforce the writ of the state. It failed.
“Shut down aside, fruit markets all over India operate during morning hours so why shouldn’t we?” asked Mushtaq Ahmad Tantray, president fruit growers and traders.
It triggered disorder with the market closing down. The non-local truckers started loading apples from the orchards, directly. All the trucks had one destination: Azadpur. Massive supplies triggered glut and the process fell to an abnormal low.
This led managers to negotiate the crisis with civil and police administration and they admitted their interventions were hitting the business. Already, the police action was resented by the trade and the people. “So we did what other markets did.” Following ‘calendar’ helped the Mandi to resume its operations. Non local drivers became guests of the Mandi and they were extended all possible help, phone and internet included.
Talk to people in the market, loss dominates the discourse. For traders, the fruit did not reach in time and it was loss. For growers, the situation was not conducive to take care of the crop at the crucial stage. Even buyers say the quality of the crop was impacted.
The maximum loss happened between July and September when there was curfew and shutdown was at its peak. The growers found no buyers for their harvest during that period.
“Usually more than a thousand trucks would arrive in Kashmir on daily basis. Now only a few hundred cross Jawahar Tunnel,” said Tantray.
Unlike the 2008 and 2010 unrest, top traders believe early fruit crop (that is harvested in August) was damaged a lot. “Then, the drivers were reluctant to come to valley amid curfew and violence so the freight was doubled,” Tantray said.
With all business establishments shut across Kashmir, lower grade apple, which usually is consumed by juice extraction factories, got damaged completely.
A grower from Delina village said he paid Rs 120 per box freight instead of Rs 60 to send the crop to Delhi. There was shortage of packing materials also. Unsure that there may not be a possibility of pushing the crop to the market, some families in Sangrama sprayed early-ripening chemicals and resorted to quick harvest and sale, only to incur losses.
Usually the trading activities would last up to January but this fall the season may conclude by the end of November.
Tantray admits that the market worked just for fun. Last year, the overall sale from the Sopore Mandi was 20 million boxes. “It was barely four million this year,” he said. Official sources, however, said it was six million boxes.
Despite significant improvement in situation, the fear of violence still looms over Sopore Mandi. A local scribe told Kashmir Life that army and police occasionally visit the Mandi. The rush of previous years is nowhere. Workers said that only a dozen or two trucks arrive per day. The number would be otherwise in hundreds. Due to downfall, there are only a few workers in the Mandi. Traders complain that a lot of non-local buyers have refused to do business during unrests.
Shops outside the Mandi, which would remain filled with customer at this time of year, hardly find any costumers during day.