Tasnem Kabir Snow
Being one of the only three states that receive snowfall in India, the first shower of Snow has always been a harbinger of intense winters setting in, of a time when the earth takes its time to rejuvenate in hibernation under a pure-white blanket. Yet, this year’s first snowfall has attracted more dismay than philosophical musings.
Social media is ablaze with a viral video of a Kashmiri farmer from Shopian, who is crying his lungs out to the heavens while futilely trying to brush off the snow from his apple produce.
In our largely agrarian state, this video struck a chord with us all, for before his eyes; his lifeline lay shrouded in a ‘kafan’ way before it ought to. This surely calls for an analysis of just how hard our economy has been hit.
After a hiatus of nine years, the Valley witnessed an early snowfall on November 3. This downpour is set to cause a surge in local tourism, yet the main source of Kashmir’s economy – saffron and apple crops – has faced a sizeable loss.
Many trees have been uprooted and trees with cracks in the stumps and broken branches with fruits still dangling on them can be seen in the orchards in parts of South Kashmir.
It is saddening, say apple producers, that they reared and nurtured the orchard trees taking more than six years to bear fruit like their own children, yet nature separated them in a flickering instant.
According to the data available with the government, the yearly production of apple in the state is 17 lakh metric tons, while Economic Survey of 2017 projects that apples worth Rs. 6,500 crore were exported in the year 2017.
In 2018, production was more than usual, and its growth was expected to go higher. However, the calamity has ruined most of the produce. Approximately, 50 to 60 per cent tress from every orchard have been damaged. In every orchard, at least 50 trees are partially or fully damaged!
Damage assessment made by Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) says that fruit and saffron industry has faced losses amounting to Rs 500 crore due to the early snowfall.
Further, as per the data recorded by the Horticulture Department, South Kashmir has witnessed 20-25 per cent damage in produce, whereas North Kashmir is placed at 10 to 18 per cent.
As saffron sales season was about to set in, the snowfall has rendered the delicate petals of saffron flowers broken, which has damaged the flowers permanently.
Before snowfall, only 20 per cent of saffron was harvested, while the 80 per cent that remained has been buried under the weight of the precipitation.
Another ramification of this seasonal outburst has been the closure of the Srinagar-Jammu highway, the only road connecting Kashmir to the rest of the nation, which remains blocked following the heavy snowfall.
Unofficial reports have indicated that 5,000 trucks carrying apples are stranded on the highway, leaving the cultivators agitated over the fact that a huge quantity of apples may succumb to rotting, if the road remains blocked for long. On average, each truck is supposed to be carrying 9 metric tons of apple – a grave waste indeed!
With the ongoing economic and psychological havoc, farmers have exclaimed that earlier this year, the Valley was hit by a hailstorm and incessant rains, and the Government promised them monetary compensation, which they never got.
By extension, this time along, farmers will stay wary of such empty promises. Satya Pal Malik, governor of Jammu and Kashmir, on Monday said that all the farmers who suffered losses due to the snowfall would be compensated.
He also said that an assessment is being made, and that the farmers would be compensated once the report on the losses comes in.
The Jammu and Kashmir government on Friday declared the heavy snowfall earlier this week as state-specific “special natural calamity” to streamline providing relief and assistance to farmers affected by the unexpected event, an official spokesperson said.
On Friday, the State Executive Committee of the State Disaster Response enhanced the relief amount from Rs. 18,000 per hectare to Rs. 36,000 per hectare for damage to perennial crops, the spokesperson said.
It also decided to categorise apple as a perennial crop.The chief secretary also directed officials that Rs. 10 crores should be kept at the disposal of deputy commissioners for immediate disbursement as relief as per SDRF norms.
The SEC approved allocation of Rs. 28 crores for procurement of machines by the PW(R&B) department, the spokesperson said.
With compensation assurances made and damage-control committees set, all that remains for the distraught farmer is to hold on to the intangible belief that help, both divine and governmental, will make better his woes and warm his chilled-to-the-bone existence.