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Why are Himachal Pradesh Apple Farmers protesting?

Why are Himachal Pradesh Apple Farmers protesting?

Fruit growers in the mountainous state, reeling from a three-month drought, arid weather conditions, an unprecedented rise in the cost of packaging material and spiralling input costs, held simultaneous demonstrations at Theog and Rohru in the Shimla district.

In Himachal Pradesh, where the BJP-led state government has set its sights on repeating the mission, disgruntled apple growers took to the streets yesterday over the government’s “callous approach” to their long-overdue demands.

Fruit growers in the hills province, shaken by a three-month drought, dry weather conditions, an unprecedented rise in packaging material costs and soaring input prices, held simultaneous demonstrations under the Sharia flag in Theog and Rohru in Shimla county.

The Farmers’ Union, a coalition of 14 fruit and vegetable growers’ unions, has threatened to ramp up its enthusiasm if its demands are not heeded.

“The arid climatic conditions not only lowered the standard but also negatively affected the scale of the fruits. “Many apple growing areas in the mid-belt and high altitude have been hit by hail, causing crop losses,” protesters said.

On the other hand, white and brown cartons cost Rs 64.51 to 71.71, brown double version cartons cost Rs 60.13 to 67.71, brown single version cartons 58.83 to Rs 66.78, white cartons 10 kg from 46.62 to 52.40 and white and brown cartons. The price has gone up from Rs 43.72 to Rs 50.43. Apart from this, the price of trays used in apple boxes has also gone up from Rs 5 to Rs 8 per tray.

It was argued on behalf of the Himachal government that the increase in the prices of packaging material has been seen due to the increase in the rates of GST. Although the government has announced to give relief to the gardeners to fill the increased rate of 6 per cent on packaging material from the account government, the gardeners are not happy and they are demanding to reduce the increased rates in addition to the rates of GST.

For decades, Himachal Pradesh has witnessed a change in agriculture. More farmers are moving away from traditional farming towards cash crops. Along with apples, the state produces stone fruits such as plums, apricots, and peaches. Vegetables such as peas, cauliflower, bell pepper, beans, tomato, ginger, turmeric and garlic are also grown. But apples remain the dominant crop with a statewide economy amounting to over Rs 5,500 crores.

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The SKM claims that institutions such as the Agricultural Products Market Committee (APMC), which was tasked with protecting farmers’ interests and developing mandis, have failed. This has led to producers not getting optimal returns, as well as payment delays that are now piling up for years.

The set of demands of the protesting apple growers has been listed by SKM in the memorandum submitted to the administration on July 12, after the Rohru demonstration. These include the removal of the recent increase in Goods and Services Tax (GST) on boxes and trays. This walk caused riots and has been raised as a political issue by the Opposition Congress as well as the Communist Party of India (Marxist).

“The quality of the fruit has certainly suffered due to the drought. Damage is considerable in orchards below elevations up to 6,500 feet. Cracks and black spots have appeared on the apples. Even at higher ranges, these symptoms have emerged to some extent,” said Susheel Chauhan (52), a horticulturist based in tehsil Kotkhai from Shimla district. Chauhan has several small-sized orchards, scattered from 5,500 feet up to 7,500 feet.

Another grower confirmed Chauhan’s observations from the Kullu district. “The size of the apples is small and they look misshapen; such apples have suffered a premature fall. There is also discolouration,” Puran Thakur, 44, who tends 300 apple trees, told NewsClick.

Himachal Horticulture Minister Mahendra Singh said that the GST rate of 6 per cent would be borne from the government account to give relief to the horticulturists from the increase in the prices of packaging material due to the increase in the rates of 12 to 18 per cent GST. This will bring great relief to the gardeners. Apart from this, the decision to increase the minimum price by Re 1 will also benefit the gardeners.

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