Kashmir fruit farmers say pilgrimage traffic poses risk to crops

Lorryloads of produce are being held up by security as hundreds of thousands of Amarnath Yatra pilgrims pass through

A man sells fruit from his stall along a road in Srinagar, where security during an annual Hindu pilgrimage is slowing deliveries. Reuters
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Fruit producers in Indian-administered Kashmir are facing huge losses as their wares get stuck in huge traffic jams caused by the annual Hindu pilgrimage.

Growers said on Monday lorryloads of fruit were being delayed by heightened security as hundreds of thousands pass through the contested region to visit a shrine in a Himalayan cave for the Amarnath Yatra pilgrimage.

Police said that last week they uncovered a militant plot to attack pilgrims, which has led to security being tightened on roads.

Pilgrimage numbers have soared this year after the event was shut down in 2021 during the Covid-19 pandemic.

But fruit was in danger of rotting as lorries stood still during traffic checks, Bashir Ahmad Basheer, from the Kashmir Valley Fruit Growers and Dealers Union, told Reuters.

“Freshly harvested plums, peaches, pears and apples need to be transported outside Kashmir or else they may rot in this heat and we will face heavy losses,” said Mr Basheer.

Vendors and buyers trade for fruits and vegetables at a wholesale market in Srinagar in 2020. Growers said fruit was being delayed by security checks as hundreds of thousands pass through the contested region for the Amarnath Yatra pilgrimage. AFP

Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha, who leads the region, said the government was working on plans to ease traffic.

“Lorries will only be stopped when pilgrims travel on the highway and trucks loaded with perishables won’t face any inconvenience,” he said.

Indian soldiers carrying automatic assault rifles and wearing flak jackets have been out guarding roads since the Hindu pilgrimage began in the Muslim-majority region in June.

“Pilgrims are our guests but our trucks should not be stopped,” orchard owner Ghulam Mohammad Malik said.

He said farmers and traders would together face losses of 30 million Indian rupees ($380,000) per day if congestion did not ease.

Fruit cultivation is the backbone of Kashmir's economy, and provides work for about 3 million people, according to the growers' union.

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During the pilgrimage, Hindus cross glaciers and waterlogged trails to reach a mountain cave that contains an ice stalagmite that is considered a physical manifestation of the god Lord Shiva.

The cave is covered in snow for most of the year, but authorities let pilgrims visit it for 45 days over the summer as rising temperatures clear the passes.

India and Pakistan have twice gone to war over Kashmir, which is divided between them but both claim in full. It remains at the heart of decades of hostility.

Updated: July 04, 2022, 11:44 AM