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Jammu: Traders in Jammu are staring at a Rs 700-crore loss this year due to uncertain conditions in the Kashmir Valley, where shops have remained shut for almost two months, following a clampdown by the authorities.
The economies of Jammu and Kashmir regions are intrinsically linked. Traders in Jammu are heavily dependent on Kashmir for supplies and procurement, and many believe the scale of trading is tilted in favour of the Jammu region.
Since August 5, when Article 370 was abrogated, traders in Warehouse Mandi in Jammu city have been badly hit.
"We are staring at a trading loss of about Rs 400 crore to Rs 450 crore, by conservative estimates. Our supplies are down to less than 50 percent. Traders haven't been able to receive payments of about Rs 250 crore for the supplies made," Deepak Kumar, general secretary, Warehouse Traders Federation, told Forbes India
The mandi, which houses some of the biggest traders of the state, is the largest supplier of essential commodities to the entire state, including Kashmir. Kumar adds that the daily supply from Jammu to Kashmir was about Rs 50 crore worth, but it has now halved to Rs 20 crore to Rs 25 crore since August 5. Earlier, about 50 trucks would leave the mandi for the Valley every day; now, the figure is down to 20.
Traders say they haven’t received payments since August 5. Since they took credit from banks, the interest is placing on them an additional burden.
Rs 200 crore loss in Kashmir’s fruit market
Narwal Fruit Mandi is the biggest in the state. A bulk of the fruit from Kashmir is sent here, and then supplied to neighbouring states.
About 60 percent of the trade takes place in the ongoing August to October season. This peak season is dominated by apples.
Kashmir has the second largest area of apple production in the world, and produces 75 percent of India’s apples. The annual production is 20 lakh MT, which is worth about Rs 8,000 crore. Seven lakh farmers, which translates to 35 lakh people by including their families, are directly involved in the apple crop. This is about 50 percent of total Kashmir population.
"We fear a loss of about Rs 200 crore as the supply of apples is down to 10 percent. We had made advance payments. Half of the payments are made by availing credit from banks. Supplies are not coming, our payments are stuck and the interest rate is ticking. It's a loss in every sense," said Parveen Gupta, president of the Narwal Mandi.
Traders in this market say the season of pear, which is worth about Rs 5 crore, is almost washed out as very low quantities reached the mandi. Last month, there were rumours in Kashmir that the Jammu mandi has shut, so growers sent the produce directly to Delhi, at Rs 400 to Rs 450 per box; in Jammu, last year, this was worth about Rs 600 to Rs 750.
In this peak season, normally about 500 trucks would arrive daily but now only 20-25 trucks are coming. Truckers in the fruit mandi say that while it would usually take a day to load the trucks, it is currently taking 4 to 5 days, due to the unavailability of labour and possible terrorist threats to growers.
"Growers asks us to make our own arrangements to load trucks. Sometimes, due to threats, they are loaded in the morning, while sometimes we are asked to do it in the evening. It's a difficult situation out there and we are at a loss," said Happy Singh, one of the truckers.
About 1,000 truckers and more than 3,000 labourers are losing work at the mandi during peak season. "We are waiting to load our trucks, but the apples are not coming," rued Bikram Singh, a truck driver from Jammu.
Some truckers coming from Kashmir complain that they were pelted by stones by miscreants, after which they have to think twice before visiting Kashmir.
Recently, a delegation of Jammu traders called on Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman to apprise her of the trade loss. They also said that if apples are procured directly by The National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation of India Ltd (NAFED), their advance payments will be affected.
"We are facing huge losses, which run into crores of rupees. She has assured us that these issues will be addressed, and we are only hoping," said Neera Anand, president, Jammu Chamber of Traders Federation.
Embroidered suits and shawls of Kashmir, along with other handicraft items, command huge demand in the Jammu region, especially from tourists and Vaishno Devi pilgrims. Their supply is also hit as labourers working on embroidery, particularly from Bihar and other states, have left Kashmir following the clampdown.
"It is not only the supply that has nosedived; there is no demand too. After August 5, tourists have not been coming. We don’t have much hope from the festive season either. Business has been anything but normal for the past two months," said KK Dhar, a businessman in the famous Raghunath Bazaar, which deals in Kashmiri handicrafts.
Tankers and trucks left in the lurch
With public transport still off the roads and schools and business establishments continuing to remain shut, petrol and diesel consumption has also drastically reduced.
About 1,800 tankers are associated with different oil companies who carry petrol and diesel from Jammu to Kashmir. On average, 400 to 500 tankers are used to make trips between Jammu and Kashmir; now, about 80 percent of them are off the roads.
“Petrol pumps are open only for a few hours, scared after terrorists set one pump on fire,” said Anand Sharma, president of J&K Petroleum and Tanker Association. “There is no demand for oil and this has hit us hard. Our constant costs like driver salaries and vehicle insurance premium are piling up. We are running in a huge loss and don't know how things will unfold."
Supplies made on trucks is down by 80 percent. Earlier, about 2,000 trucks carrying essential supplies, fertilisers, cement and other products would make daily trips to Kashmir. Now, not more than 300 trucks are commuting daily.
"Most of the truck owners have shifted business outside the state. The trucks are now plying on other national routes. There is no business left. How can we survive with just 20 percent business?" asks Manmohan Singh Khalsa, president of J&K Truck Union, which has 2,000 truck owner-members.
(The author is a Jammu Tawi-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.