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Can Himachal Pradesh's apple growers hurt the BJP, help Congress?

The main demands of apple growers are 100 per cent import duty on apples to check import of cheap variety, abolition of GST on farm inputs and equipment, loan waiver and subsidies on fertilisers and pesticides

PTI Shimla Published 30.05.24, 01:02 PM
View of apple orchards covered with anti-hail nets, at Theog in Shimla.

View of apple orchards covered with anti-hail nets, at Theog in Shimla. PTI

Apple growers, who constitute a considerable chunk of the electorate in Himachal Pradesh, may upset the BJP's apple cart this time with many alleging their plight was not addressed in the past 10 years, and an influential farmers' union extending its support to the Congress.

Apple is cultivated on a 1,15,680-hectare area spread across 21 assembly segments mainly in Shimla, Mandi, Kullu and Kinnaur districts and a few pockets of Chamba, Sirmaur, Lahaul and Spiti, Kangra and Solan districts. Major apple growing areas fall under the Shimla and Mandi parliamentary constituencies.

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Over three lakh families are directly involved in apple production.

According to official data, apple production was 3.5 crore boxes in 2022 and 2 crore boxes in 2023, Joint Director (Horticulture) Hem Chand told PTI, adding though dependent on production and market price, the apple economy in the state was over about Rs 4,000 crore.

The main demands of apple growers are 100 per cent import duty on apples to check import of cheap variety, abolition of GST on farm inputs and equipment, loan waiver and subsidies on fertilisers and pesticides.

Despite tall claims by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, nothing has been done to address the plight of apple growers in the past 10 years, president of the Progressive Growers Association Lokinder Bisht alleged.

He also claimed that neither the import duty was increased nor was apple included in the special category crop.

The Samyukt Kisan Manch (SKM), which had given an open call to political parties to address their concerns, has extended support to the Congress.

The SKM, which claims support of 27 associations of apple, stone fruit and vegetable growers associations, pledged it support after the Congress included their demands in its manifesto, said SKM convener Harish Chauhan.

Besides incorporating our demands, the Congress and its alliance also promised to bring a law for ensuring MSP (minimum support price) to save the growers from exploitation by giant corporates who have constructed warehouses and cold storages in the apple belt, he said.

The Congress government in the state had also accepted our long-pending demand of introducing universal cartons and dues of apple growers amounting Rs 89 crore under the Market Intervention Scheme (MIS) are being paid, he added.

Orchardist Rajan Herta from Rohru said that the main demand is MSP for apples.

Roshan Lal Thakur, an apple grower from Khaknal village near Manali, said, "Indian markets are flooded with tons of imported apples from Turkey, Iran, Italy, Chile and South Africa and the local growers, dependent on high cost manual labour, are facing tough challenges in competing with foreign players, using mechanized farming." Import duty on apple is the only way out to safeguard the interests of the growers and the government should ban apple import during the July-February season so that the domestic growers can sell their produce at remunerative price, said Sujaat Chauhan, an orchardist from Sandhu in Shimla district, who also wants increase in subsidy on fertilizers.

The government decision to increase the GST on packaging material like corrugated boxes from 12 to 18 per cent also has not gone well with the growers, who complain that it has resulted in cost escalation by 10 to 15 per cent.

At present, 25 per cent GST is charged on agriculture implements and 18 per cent on sprays and cartons.

However, BJP leaders maintain that it has done a lot more for the farmers and fruit growers by introducing several schemes like Kisan Samman Nidhi and solar fencing.

The BJP reminded that the agreement with the WTO to cap the import duty at 50 per cent was signed by the then commerce minister in UPA II government Anand Sharma, who is contesting the Lok Sabha polls from Kangra as Congress candidate.

Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by The Telegraph Online staff and has been published from a syndicated feed.

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