In Jammu and Kasmir, one-third of India’s total apple production is done. Apple production gives employment to around 33 lakh people in the Union Territory. But this industry is going through difficulties as illegal Iranian imports have captured the markets.
Bashir Ahmad Basheer said that Iranian apples are being imported first in Afghanistan and then these apples are being re-branded to show that these are Afghanistan-produced apples. Bashir is the chairman of the Kashmir Valley Fruit Growers-cum-Dealers Union, which represents all fruit traders’ associations in the region. He said that trading agents and customers in Delhi’s Azadpur fruit mandi have told them about the imports. He explained that when the mandi receives a different type of apple consignment, people there can easily identify that.
The Iranian apple looks like the Kashmiri apple in its colour and texture, which is famous for its juiciness and distinct flavour. Since Iranian apple is cheaper than the Kashmiri apples, Kashmiri horticulturists are worried that they may lose market share to the imported apple this year.
Bashir said that these apples are not taxed because India and Afghanistan have a zero-import duty agreement. Because of it, the cost of a box of 10 kg of imported apples is reduced by 250 rupees according to his estimates. Consequently, if a 10 kg-box of Kashmiri apple sells at Rs 1,000 in New Delhi markets, then the Iranian apple will sell for only Rs 750 per box.
Fruit traders and growers in Kashmir have reacted sharply to the inflow of tax-free apples in Indian markets. Traders have held protests, met government officials, written letters to the central government and the union territory administration demanding the intervention of the government.
Bashir says that this is also a loss of the nation as the Indian government is losing revenue in form of import duty on the apples.
A delegation of traders from Kashmir travelled to Delhi to meet government officials for sharing their problems with the government. Majid Aslam Wafai, President of the Jammu and Kashmir Apple Cold Store Association said that they visited at least 11 concerned government departments and made them aware of their problems.
Majid said that the officials of the Ministry of Commerce and the Customs department assured them that imported apples will have to go through proper assessment and custom duty at the time of entering Indian markets.