People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 38

September 19, 2010





BJP Govt Lands Apple Growers in Crisis Situation


Tikender Singh


AN apple a day keeps the doctor away. This is the famous saying impressing upon one the importance of this fruit for improving a human being’s immunity. But the state that produces the largest quantity of apples in the country is facing a severe crisis today, thanks to the neo-liberal policies and inept administration of the BJP government.  

In the state of Himachal Pradesh, the apple crop constitutes an economy of over Rs 3,000 crore but now it is passing through the severest of a crisis. The neo-liberal policies and inept administration of the state’s successive governments have substantially increased the cost of production over the last one decade. Not just that; the post-harvesting expenses too have gone too high --- to over Rs 270 per box of apples.




Now, in such a situation, if a box of apple fetches a price of just Rs 140 to 500 in the market, it means a disaster is already staring in the grower’s face. Interestingly, this year the apple crop is the largest so far and is being termed as a bumper crop. It is estimated to be equivalent to over 3.25 crore boxes, while last year it was just one crore. But a cartel of traders, commission agents and their political counterparts are looting the growers, landing the latter in a situation where they would not even be able to meet the expenses, what to talk of earning a profit.

The BJP government is being strongly indicted across the state for the worst ever and most callous administration that has not displayed even an iota of concern for the people’s woes and problems. The people have charged the BJP of criminal collusion with the traders’ cartel, which has resulted in a loss of crores of rupees to the growers.

The situation can be summarised thus.

In the month of June this year, the horticulture department estimated an apple crop of over 3.25 crore boxes. Accordingly, it also forwarded a demand of over 1200 trucks daily to meet the transportation needs. But the government, instead, sat tight over the demand and did not take any notice of it. The government allowed some private houses, which formed a cartel, to do the marketing of apple boxes and trays, and this cartel black-marketed the boxes as well as the trays. The situation got further accentuated with the closure of the Gumma carton factory (a public sector undertaking run by the government) that used to act as a buffer and effect price stabilisation. The result is that if an apple carton earlier cost Rs 25 to 30, the price has now shot up to Rs 45 to 60. Similarly, the price of trays coming from semi-automatic plants has gone high from Rs 2.95 to Rs 6.50; in case of the trays from the automatic plants, it has shot up from Rs 4.95 to Rs 7.50 or 8.00 per tray.

Also, withdrawing from its responsibility, the BJP government curtailed the activities of two nodal agencies --- the HPMC (Himachal Pradesh Horticultural Produce Marketing and Processing Corporation Limited) and HIMFED (Himachal Pradesh State Cooperative Marketing and Consumers Federation Limited). This has created the situation that there has been and is at present an acute shortage of cartons and trays in the market. This is also resulting in delay in the plucking of the crop and the growers are now getting abysmally low prices for the apples, in fact the worst ones in the last many years. A box of apples that previously used to fetch some Rs 1,000 is now being sold for just Rs 150-500 in the market.

Several kisan organisations, including the All India Kisan Sabha, have asked the government what wisdom led it to close down the Gumma carton factory of AIPIL (Agro-Industrial Packaging India Limited), which used to produce some 30,000 cartons an hour. This factory, producing cartons and trays, was built with the help of the central government in order to check the felling of trees as earlier the apple crop was packed and transported in wooden boxes. It is clear that the state government has deliberately closed the Gumma factory so as to enable the carton cartels to loot the growers.




The BJP government does not leave any stone unturned to sing its paean of being the “government of roads.” But the fallacy of this self-acclamation stands thoroughly exposed. For example, we see in its worst form the National Highway Number 22 (NH22) that carries the apple produce from Kinnaur, Kullu, Mandi and Shimla districts. A traffic jam of 16 hours a day, on an average, is a regular feature. Similarly, the Rohru-Kotkhai-Theog-Shimla road is more of a rivulet that a road. From Rohru, the loaded apple trucks are taking three to four days to reach Shimla and nine or ten days to reach the Delhi markets. The alternative Chail-Rajgarh road was recently closed for about three weeks. The condition of link roads under the PMGSY is absolutely pathetic, as a majority of the roads remained blocked for many days in the recent past and still get blocked for days together. A large number of link roads have closed down due to lack of support from the Public Works Department (PWD). These include the Khaddar-Chopal, Dahiya-Nerwa, Mattal-Chopal and Chetta-Dupvi roads, the Shantta road, and many others. These roads were blocked for weeks together, with the result that nearly 30,000 apple boxes were over-ripening in the trucks, with there being no other means of carrying them to the market.

The government has miserably failed to protect the growers from being looted when their produce is being transported. The horticulture minister’s village, Tehtoli, has a government marked freight charge of Rs 40 for a box to Delhi whereas at present Rs 70 are being charged for Shimla only and Rs 120 for the Chandigarh market. Similarly, from Sheelghat, the cartage is Rs 42.50 for Delhi but the grower is forced to pay Rs 120 for Chandigarh only. The government has claimed that till now nearly two crore boxes have reached the market. Even if we accept that this claim is true, it means that nearly Rs 100 crore have been picked from the growers’ pockets if the rate of swindling by way of extra freight is, on an average, Rs 50 per box. This is the extent of ineptitude of the state government and its administration. Added to this, there is an acute shortage of trucks as the government has miserably failed to provide trucks to the growers in the required numbers.

The BJP claimed that it has got rid of the evil of commission in the market in Delhi. But in fact it has miserably failed on this count. The BJP government has also failed to implement the amendments made in the Sales Tax Act in 2000, whereby the commission was to be charged from the buyer and not from the grower. This was done when the BJP was the ruling party in all the three places --- at the centre, in Delhi and in Himachal Pradesh. Further, in the state as of now, there is no uniformity in the commission being charged from the grower. In Rohru a grower is forced to pay Rs 10 per box whereas in Shimla it is collected on the total sale. There is no uniform method of buying apples from the grower either. In Narkanda, apples are sold according to their size and grade.




The government has also failed to provide any relief to the growers in the state under the market intervention scheme. Initially, perhaps deliberately, it did not make the collection centres functional and now, according to the state government’s own estimates, one lakh apple bags have over-ripened and entered the rotting stage. A similar situation had earlier occurred in 2008. The government is deliberately not lifting the apple bags for processing.

The extent of the BJP government’s concern to these problems is that, in his wisdom, the chief minister preferred to see the situation from up in a helicopter --- without coming in contact with the ground reality. This year the apple growers had a golden opportunity to earn something because of the bumper crop, but they could not. Because of the government’s inept functioning, it is now being considered to be a negative year in the history of apple farming. According to the estimates given by some experts, an amount of over Rs 270 per box is spent post-harvesting, i.e as packaging, transport and other expenses. Now if the grower gets a price of only Rs 140 to 500 per box, then it means a crisis like situation where the grower cannot even meet his expenses, what to talk of earning a profit. As it is, apple productivity in the state is still very low. Whereas in the west it is 35 to 40 tonnes per hectare, it still remains four to five tonnes per hectare in Himachal though the area under apple production has gone up to one lakh hectares. Yet there seems to be no effort on increasing the productivity of apple farming. This implies that the crisis in the apple economy, which is of more than Rs 3,000 crore a year, may deepen in the days to come. The lack of concern on the part of the government thus reflects an anti-grower mindset.

As about 50 per cent  of the produce is yet to be marketed, the government has to take steps on a war footing to provide better transport facilities, better market prices, smooth traffic for the apple produce etc, so that some respite may be provided to the growers. But, quite sadly, it does not appear that the BJP government is prepared to do anything of the kind.