Apple of discord in Himachal Pradesh
SUBHASHIS MITTRA - Wide Angle
Apple is the mainstay of the economy in Himachal Pradesh, which is known for its apple orchards. The fruit crop plays a major role in the state's economy. India's overall apple production is 2.4 million metric tonnes, of which over 26 per cent comes from the hill state.
Apple production generates revenue of around Rs 5,000-5,500 crore, contributing around 5 per cent to the state's GDP.
The industry is, however, passing through a tough phase for the last few years. The cost of a pesticide bag which used to be Rs 800 now costs more than double. Cost of carton and other packaging material too is 20 per cent more expensive these days. Ironically, though the cost of production has increased, the income hasn’t.
There are multiple issues at play but GST on packaging material which went to 18 per cent as compared to 12 per cent pre-GST is being blamed as a big issue.
It's no wonder then that with the campaigning for the Assembly elections in its final stages, the ruling BJP and the opposition Congress have gone all out to woo farmers in the apple-heartland. The state Assembly has 68 seats and in 20-odd seats apple cultivators are in sizeable numbers.
Polling in Himachal Pradesh was held on November 12 and counting of votes will be taken up on December 8.
Barely two months back, the orchard owners took to the streets to protest against high production costs and low apple prices.
CPI(M) MLA in Himachal Pradesh Rakesh Singha, while referring to the protests by apple cultivators against price rise and GST on packaging materials among other issues, said, "I have been associated with apple farmers since 1987. There have been two big agitations of apple farmers, during the earlier BJP and then Congress regimes."
The BJP has said GST would be limited to 12 per cent for apple growers, but why are they not scrapping GST, the Congress' in-charge for Himachal Pradesh Rajiv Shukla asked.
Shukla said an agriculture and growers committee will be set up with the representation of apple growers which will decide the price of fruits and crops.
Congress leader Alka Lamba claimed that apple growers in the state are forced to sell their produce at low rates in the absence of a law guaranteeing MSP. Her party is banking on the anti-incumbency factor and urging voters not to re-elect the BJP in the state.
BJP national president Jagat Parkash Nadda addressed three back-to-back election meetings in the major apple-growing regions of the state that happen to be Congress bastions.
Countering Nadda in the apple belt was Rajasthan Congress leader Sachin Pilot who alleged that the apple economy has suffered adversely due to the ignorant attitude of the government.
“Apple’s economy is one of the biggest economies of the state. The BJP government abolished subsidies on the pesticides and fungicides in the state,” he said.
On the other hand, Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh Jai Ram Thakur said, “We helped apple orchardists in every form and capacity. The agitation is political, engineered by our opponents.”
Recently, the Sanyukt Kisan Manch (SKM) appealed to apple farmers to cast their votes after considering what a particular party has done to protect their interests and the promises it makes in its manifesto. As of now, the stench of rotting apples pervades the political atmosphere.