Srinagar: The Jammu & Kashmir administration has introduced a new scheme that seeks to help local farmers fly out their produce, within India or abroad, at a much lower cost. Under the scheme, ThePrint has learnt, fruit farmers will get a 25 per cent subsidy on air fares, domestic and foreign, with the administration also setting fixed prices/kg for different fruits to protect farmers from fluctuating costs.
The scheme was implemented Thursday.
Many fruit growers in Kashmir transport their produce by air even now, but they incur the entire cost. Furthermore, the prices are not fixed and keep fluctuating.
According to Ajaz Ahmad Bhatt, the horticulture director for Kashmir, the perishable items that were earlier sent through trucks will now directly be flown to their destination, helping the grower make more profits.
“It is a market-linkage support scheme for the shipment of agriculture and horticulture perishables harvested in Jammu & Kashmir through air cargo,” Bhatt said.
“This will help the growers send their produce to its destination, even abroad, by spending less money. Growers who earlier could not send their produce by air due to the costs involved, will start doing it. This will also encourage them to expand their business,” he added.
Under the scheme, the grower will first have to pay the original fare for the air cargo, and 25 per cent of it will be reimbursed by the government once the receipts are submitted.
MoU signed with GoAir
To begin with, the J&K administration has already signed an MoU with the budget airline GoAir. The fare will be Rs 128/kg for air cargo to Dubai and Sharjah, Rs 29/kg for Delhi, Rs 54/kg for Chennai, and Rs 55/kg for Bengaluru.
“These rates have been notified for all perishable fruits and organic vegetables including pear, cherry, plum, litchi, strawberry,” Bhatt said.
“The air cargo charges fixed by the government will be inclusive of airport handling charges,” Bhatt added.
Bhatt said the scheme will help nearly halve the cost of air cargo. For instance, for Delhi, the price has been fixed at Rs 29 per kg, which was above Rs 50 before. For Mumbai, it’s Rs 39 per kg now, which was Rs 68 earlier, he added.
Any expansion of the scheme will depend on how this works out.
Subject to the availability of funds, Bhatt said, the scheme could also be adopted by the animal husbandry and fisheries department for milk-based perishables and Kashmir’s popular trout fish.
‘Will save time, grow business’
The scheme has drawn a mixed response among fruit growers, with some welcoming it and others flagging the subsidy mechanism as a concern.
Fayyaz Ahmed, a Budgam-based fruit grower, said the scheme will help them expand business. While transporting fruits by truck with refrigeration costs around Rs 10 per kg, Ahmed said it poses many problems.
“We used to send most of our produce through trucks, because it is cheaper. Most times, due to closure of roads, road conditions, our produce would get stuck on the road and perish. Also, the rates for transportation were not fixed and kept fluctuating. Now, with fixed rates and having an option to fly out our produce, it will help us make profits,” Ahmed added.
However, Bashir Ahmed of the Kashmir Valley Fruit Growers Association was sceptical. He said they had approached the government to ask airline companies to give a direct waiver to fruit growers.
“We had asked the government to approach the airlines for direct subsidy to growers, at the time of booking the air cargo. If we have to approach the government again to get our bills reimbursed, we will end up running around government offices,” he said.
(Edited by Sunanda Ranjan)
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