Unseasonal snowfall wreaks havoc to Kashmir apple orchards

Districts in South Kashmir report unprecedented damage to their apple crops due to the snow as high as three feet, reports YOUNIS DAR

Kashmir is grappling with yet another catastrophe with apple crop worth hundreds of crores damaged in the unseasonal snowfall on November 7. The reports from South Kashmir districts of Shopian, Pulwama, Anantnag, among others, reported unprecedented damage due to the snowfall which measured as severe as three feet high.

The ongoing shutdown over the abrogation of Article 370 has already caused a loss of over 10,000 crore to the businesses in Kashmir. Adding to that, the perpetual mobile and internet shutdown in the valley have left the people in darkness and severed communication with the outside world. The double whammy of shutdowns and now the nature’s fury has caused deep disappointment in Kashmir, with authorities providing little help in the situation. 

The month of November is the time when the apples are still to be plucked from trees and the leaves are yet to fall, such heavy snowfall during this time, therefore, can cause irreparable damage. With foliage still on the trees, the snow breaks the branches and even fells the trees, sometimes uprooting them completely.

Tehelka spoke to orchard owners in Kashmir over the phone, who expressed shock and apathy at the overnight destruction of their orchards, being their only source of income. NaseerWani, an apple farmer from Shopian, South Kashmir said the snowfall at this time of the year is the last thing apple growers want as it has the potential to cause irreparable damage to the trees. “It was around 3 feet of snow in our area, and around 80 per cent of apple trees have been completely damaged. The apples were still on trees, besides the foliage, the trees at this time of the year cannot bear such snowfall, the branches break at the slightest of the pressure. We have lost everything overnight,” Naseer said.

Naseer says every apple orchard owner he knows reported at least 80 per cent damage.

With little media coverage in the valley, the destruction of apple orchards is yet to be reported anywhere outside the valley. The extent of damage is yet to be reported anywhere, as the internet and pre-paid phones are still down, so the people cannot share anything on the social media. Tehelka spoke to multiple apple orchard owners across the different districts in the valley. It started snowing on the morning of November 7, and continued till the evening. As the people woke up today, what the snow had left a trail of destruction, wherever they looked.

“Income from the apples was our only source of income when all the business has shut down. I couldn’t believe my eyes as I woke up this morning, around one and a half feet snow had buried the majority of trees in orchard. I have never witnessed such destruction before,” said Ajaz Dar, owner of three apple orchards, based in Pulwama, South Kashmir. “Our apples crop had been plucked, but the damage caused may take another 6-7 years to compensate. The branches will have to grow again, but the trees which have been uprooted are gone forever,” he said, over the phone to Tehelka.

The outside world has no news of the overnight catastrophe caused by the unseasonal snowfall in the valley. The media has not covered it yet, and the reason could be there is no flow of information from the valley, and people too are without any communication. The stubbornness of the government has only exacerbated the problems as it continues the communication lockdown in the valley. The electricity had also gone as the last reports came, with people across the valley grappling with winter cold, which has already set in with the untimely snowfall. The flight operations to the Srinagar city are also down, and the only highway connecting Kashmir to the rest of India has reportedly been shut, probably for a very long time.

With almost 90 per cent business shut in the valley, horticulture is the biggest industry and the source of income for a majority of people, especially in rural Kashmir. Nearly 22 lakh metric tonne of apples are exported every year from the valley. The traders and truck owners had also witnessed a spate of deadly attacks by the militants who don’t want normal business to resume in the valley. In such circumstances, it’s a monumental task to survive.

Another source from the valley said it was also impossible to have a real assessment of the extent of damage caused to the apple orchards. The reason he said was the horticulture employees were themselves stuck in their homes due to the heavy snow, and assessing damage to their own crops. The administration almost gets non-functional during such calamities.

Ajaz also said that the government fails to adequately compensate the apple growers in the event of calamities. “No proper assessment of damage is done, and the compensation is carelessly distributed, as sometimes people with no apple crop have also been seen to get the compensation amount. We will suffer very hard this time, as no source of income remains with us. We don’t expect anything from the government either,” he said. 

The pruning of the apple trees was also yet to be initiated, the foliage was still on the trees. In such circumstances, it’s not hard to imagine what a three feet snow will do to the trees. South Kashmir receives the heaviest snowfall in the valley, and yesterday, Shopian received around three feet of snow, with Pulwama receiving one a half foot. The two towns, therefore, suffered the highest damage to their crop. In district Srinagar, the snowfall is considerably lesser and the number of apple orchards in the district is not that significant.

It’s time the government pays heed to the suffering of the people in Kashmir and at least restores the internet in the valley. The people should be at least allowed to share their ordeal with their loved ones in these times. The lack of communication is bound to attract more aid as the outside world remains oblivious to the extent of damage in the Kashmir. Only when there’s outrage will there be help from the government and other non-government organisations. Also, all the mainstream leaders in the valley are still incarcerated, and will, therefore, be unable to raise any voice during this situation.