Gangtok, 04 Apr:
The State Government’s decision to ban entry and prohibit sale of a wide range of non-organic vegetables and fruits in the State has drawn the indignation of traders who believe the move will affect their businesses and lead to a ‘food crisis.’
Today was the last day to empty the stock of non-organic vegetables and fruits, the last consignment of which was brought in from Siliguri on 31 March. Most of the vegetable stalls at Lall Bazaar here wore an empty look and there were also reports of price hike, which some blamed on opportunistic profiteering while some sellers explained to the high rates they had picked up local produce for.
Meanwhile confusion still prevailed on what the Horticulture Department may have planned to alleviate the obvious supply problem.
“The decision to ban non-organic vegetables in the State directly affects our livelihoods and if the State Government fails to supply enough organic vegetables and fruits like they promised, we will call hunger strike,” All Sikkim Traders Association vice-president, Lakpa Sherpa said.
This was after the traders trooped to the Horticulture Department to seek clarifications and were assured that supplies would be dropped off to them by Thursday evening.
Meanwhile, the State government has designated enforcement officers to carry out seizure and disposal of non-organic produce which now stand banned from Sikkim. They are expected to get into action from 05 April, but there was high drama surrounding allegedly non-organic produce being sold through a SIMFED mobile vegetable outlet at Lall Bazaar today.
The traders accosted the vehicle and claimed that its stock of vegetables – at least the tomatoes and green chilli – were sourced from Siliguri.
The irate traders question why a government agency was being allowed to procure and sell non-organic vegetables when they are being disallowed at the cost of their livelihoods.
To discuss this and other pressing issues, a meeting was held between the traders of Gangtok, Singtam and Rangpo and the Horticultural Department at Krishi Bhawan here in Tadong, East Sikkim, today.
The meeting discussed various issues related to the ban and arrangements of adequate supply of organic vegetables which brought lot of criticism and dissatisfaction from the traders.
More than 200 traders from Gangtok, Singtam and Rangpo have demanded the State Government for adequate supply of organic vegetables in the market for them to sell and earn their livelihoods.
Expressing dissatisfaction over the improper execution of the ban, the traders accused the State Co-operative Supply and Marketing Federation Limited [SIMFED] of allegedly selling non-organic vegetables in the market.
As mentioned, a SIMFED vehicle was allegedly caught loaded with inorganic vegetables, the video of which has been uploaded in Facebook. SIMFED has reportedly claimed that supplies were from Melli in Sikkim and not West Bengal. The traders have rejected this claim.
The traders have demanded the Department to put together alternative arrangements to meet the vegetable demand in the market by 05 Apr failing which they have warned to call a State-wide hunger strike.
“We are onboard with the Government’s decision to ban non-organic vegetable, but to misguide us by selling non-organic produces from a government van proves that the Government too has failed to arrange food for its people,” Mr Sherpa added.
Mr Sherpa further informed that the demand for fruits and vegetables goes up during tourist seasons adding, “How can the Government expect us to feed the guests if our own people are struggling to meet the food demand.”
“Tourism will suffer and along with it our State’s reputation and our daily livelihood,” Mr Lakpa said.
The traders said that most vegetables will soon be in short supply with only organic cabbage, cauliflower and beans available to meet the local demand since these are produced in large quantity in the State.
“We will sell the available organic vegetables but what about the vegetables which cannot be grown in the State and are only available from outside the State,” Mr Sherpa questioned.
As per ASTA, the Department has to supply enough vegetables to sustain 350 traders in Lal Bazaar, Gangtok alone.
The association has further criticized the Department officials for being ‘rude’ during the meeting saying, “When asked about the unavailability of green chilies during the meeting, one of the officers allegedly said don’t eat what is not available, it won’t affect anyone.”
However, the Department has assured the traders that it will arrange enough supply of organic vegetables from 05 Apr.