Shimla – In a significant move set to transform the apple packaging industry, Himachal Pradesh has announced the adoption of universal cartons for apple packing, effectively banning telescopic cartons from the upcoming year. The decision follows recent developments in apple packaging standards and concerns over illegal apple imports.

Under the new regulations, orchard owners will be required to use universal cartons, with options for both large 24 kg and small 12 kg cartons, adhering to universal grading standards. The move was raised as an urgent matter in the state assembly during the monsoon session, with Theog’s Congress MLA, Kuldeep Singh Rathore, spearheading discussions.

Horticulture Minister Jagat Singh Negi emphasised its significance in protecting orchard owners from unscrupulous commission agents. This season, to curb unfair practices, the government introduced a kilo-based system for apple sales, effectively ending the exploitation of orchard owners. Universal grading standards were established, and a maximum carton weight of 24 kg was enforced.

The implementation of the kilo-based sales system resulted in better prices for apple growers, ranging from Rs 200 to Rs 250 per kg. Additionally, significant fines totalling Rs 22 lakh were imposed on brokers who violated the new rules. The shift to universal cartons is aimed at preventing commission agents from coercing orchard owners into packing extra apples for their personal gain, further securing the interests of apple growers.

Meanwhile, the issue of import duties on apples took center stage in the Himachal Pradesh Assembly. MLA Kuldeep Singh Rathore drew attention to the influx of Iranian apples into India through the Bagha border via Afghanistan, exploiting the absence of import duties on Afghan apples. He urged immediate action to halt this practice, asserting that it posed a serious threat to the apples produced in Himachal Pradesh, Jammu-Kashmir, and Uttarakhand.

Rathore also voiced concerns about reducing the import duty on apples from the USA, warning that this move could jeopardize local farmers in Himachal. He called upon opposition leaders to address this issue at the central level, demanding an end to the illegal import of apples.

Furthermore, Rathore emphasized the importance of maintaining the import duty on Washington Apples at its original rate of 70 percent. He noted that in June, the central government had reduced the duty to 50 percent, with plans to decrease it to 15 percent further. The surge in Iranian apple imports is expected to impact apple cold stores in the near future.

In response to these concerns, Horticulture Minister Jagat Singh Negi recalled Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s 2014 promise to increase import duties on apples during his tenure. However, Negi lamented that this promise had not been fulfilled, and instead, import duties had been reduced, causing distress among apple growers. The potential 15 percent duty on USA apples raises concerns about the sustainability of apple farming in Jammu-Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, and Uttarakhand.

As Himachal Pradesh prepares to transition to universal cartons for apple packaging, the state’s apple industry faces a transformation in packaging and the pressing issue of protecting local apple growers from the challenges posed by international apple imports. The fate of these initiatives now rests in the hands of policymakers and their ability to safeguard the interests of the region’s apple farmers.