The police blamed the gory incident on separatist militants.
Srinagar: Fruit traders from various parts of the country now camping in the Kashmir Valley to buy apples from local growers have been or are being escorted to “safer” locations by the police and security forces.
The trucks in which the produce is to be transported out of the Valley have along with crew members been taken to “secure” locations, officials said Thursday.
This comes a day after two apple buyers from Punjab’s Fazilka district were shot by unidentified gunmen in the Tranz area of southern Shopian district.
One of them, Charanjit Singh, was brought dead at a hospital in neighbouring Pulwama district, while the condition of the other, identified as Sanjiv Kumar, is critical. The assailants also torched the truck in which the apple boxes bought by the duo were being loaded, the police said. The police blamed the gory incident on separatist militants.
Witnesses said the gunmen seized the apple trader duo and about 18 non-local labourers at Tranz on Wednesday afternoon. They added that after releasing the labourers unharmed, they shot the traders from point-blank range. Earlier on Wednesday, a brick kiln worker, 29-year-old Sethi Kumar Sagar from Chhattisgarh, was shot dead by suspected militants in Pulwama’s Nihama area.
Earlier, on Monday night, gunmen shot dead a truck driver from Rajasthan identified as Sharief Khan in Sindhoo-Shirmal village of Shopian. The gunmen had
also torched his truck loaded with apples, which were to be transported out of the Valley. The co-driver of the truck escaped unhurt. The police said that two “terrorists”, including a suspected Pakistani national, were involved in the incident.
Reports reaching here from militancy-infested south Kashmir said trucks and their crews — both owned or driven by local Kashmiris and outside operators — have been targeted by gunmen at various places over the past few days. There have been a few kidnapping incidents too, but these were resolved quietly and without any harm coming to the abductees owing to intervention by influential locals.
After these incidents, panic-stricken growers are now plucking and packing fruit rather reluctantly, reports said. In fact, the entire `8,000-crore fruit industry of the Valley that provides a livelihood to seven lakh families, directly and indirectly, is in distress due to the prevailing situation.
These incidents of violence in the southern Valley, known as its apple bowl, has made matters worse for both growers and buyers, and other stakeholders. J&K horticulture department officials privately admit that so far only one-fourth of the annual two million metric tonnes’ apple produce has been sent successfully out of the Valley.