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Economy held at Gun-Point

Jammu and Kashmir had just recovered from the devastating floods of 2014 and tourism was on its feet. But Kashmir was once again plunged into the heart of darkness July last

Junaid Kathju
Publish Date: Sep 6 2016 5:15PM | Updated Date: Sep 17 2016 3:25PM

Economy held at Gun-Point
The Kashmir valley has been consistently reeling under curfews, imposed by the State Government, and shutdowns, called by the Separatists, after the strife triggered by the death of Burhan Wani in an encounter in south Kashmir’s Kokernag area on July 8. In the past 33 days, 60 civilians have lost their lives and as many as 5000 injured.
 
The frequent strikes and curfews have plunged the striving economy of Kashmir into a deep crisis. Going by a rough estimation, Kashmir Inc has already suffered a loss of over Rs 3,000 crore in the past one month.
 
The Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) figures reveal Valley traders and businessmen lose around Rs 100 crore every day during every strike or curfew.
 
“There have been now 30 days of bandh/curfew since the Burhan incident. As per our assessment Kashmir suffers a loss of Rs 100 crore a day. So by that account we have already surpassed loss of Rs 3,000 crore,” KCCI president Mushtaq Wani said.
 
However, Wani maintained that the business fraternity in Kashmir at this juncture is not so much bothered about the economic losses than about the loss of lives.
 
On July 24, several trade bodies including the KCCI snubbed Home Minister Rajnath Singh and opted out of a meeting with him when he was in Kashmir to assess the situation.
 
President of Kashmir Traders and Manufactures Federation (KTMF), Yasin Khan said they decided to stay away because in the past a number of such meetings have yielded no results and killings of Kashmiris have continued.
 
“These meetings were also held in 2010 when 120 people got killed. At that time New Delhi ensured us that such incidents won’t take place again but the killing spree continuous. So, it was a meaningless exercise to meet the Home Minister this time,” Khan said.
 
In the 2010 agitation, Kashmir had witnessed shutdowns and curfews for consecutive 80 days that dented the economy of Jammu and Kashmir by a whopping Rs 21,000-crore. After two years of peace and a bumper tourism season, the valley again suffered an economic slump in 2013 when Kashmir remained under strict curfew for almost two weeks after the sudden execution of Parliament attack convict Muhammad Afzal Guru. The figure of losses was more than Rs 800 crore.
 
The figures put by the various valley based economists suggest that 2000 days have witnessed curfews and strikes since 1990, when armed revolt broke in the State. Amid simmering discontent, the Kashmir’s business community had pitched for a conflict insurance to cover their losses incurred due to the continuous curfew and strikes. In 2013, the business fraternity had submitted a memorandum to the then-Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and also met State Chief Minister Omar Abdullah and Finance Minister Abdur Rahim. But nothing materislised.
 
Worst hit sectors
 
Tourism: With roads deserted, shops closed, traffic off the roads, internet connectivity blocked, Kashmir has been once again thrown back into theStone Age. Tourism has gone down to zero percent.
 
All the hotels, guest houses, houseboats are empty as either the tourists fled or cancelled their bookings. Several hotels and restaurants have laid off staff due to prolonged agitation which is showing no signs of ending.
 
"We do not have the exact data but lay-offs have taken place mostly in the hotel and restaurant sector and the travel trade," an hotelier said.
 
After the devastating floods of 2014, the tourism sector in Kashmir was back on track with more than 75,000 tourists visiting the Valley in January this year. A rough estimation shows that the figures were over 3 lakh by the end of June month.
 
As per the official data, more than 75,000 tourists, including 1,440 foreigners, visited Kashmir in January compared to 17,000 tourists, including 1,200 foreigners, who had visited the Valley in January last year. Owing to the promotional activities of the tourism department of State, 92,7815 tourists, including 28,954 foreigners, visited Kashmir in 2015, official data says.
 
However, in a conflict ridden state like Jammu and Kashmir, situation often tends to take an ugly turn without warning. Since the past one month, Kashmir has lost all of its tourism rush.
 
“All the travel agents are on zero booking at this time,” Shoib Ahmad, a travel agent said. “Before, the situation deteriorated I was taking bookings till the end of October, but all have been cancelled.”
 
Horticulture: The most awaited apple season in Kashmir starts at the end of August month. But with situation showing no signs of improvement, there are already apprehensions that the fruit might rot for want of harvesting and importing.
 
Kashmir produces 16 to 18 lakh tonnes of apple every year with bulk of the produce dispatched to different markets across India. As per the National Horticulture Board, Jammu and Kashmir is the largest apple-producing State catering to 70 percent of the total demand in the country.
 
According to Assocham, the horticulture industry in Kashmir earns over Rs 1,200 crore yearly, a major share of which comes from the apple crop. It also generates Rs 500-600 crore for the State exchequer annually. This is a core sector of Jammu and Kashmir agriculture and about 4.5 lakh families are engaged in it. Around 20 percent area of the State is under horticultural crops.
 
However, with Kashmir on the boil, it would be a huge challenge for the authorities in Jammu and Kashmir to transport the fruit outside the valley.
 
Divisional Commissioner, Kashmir, Baseer Khan said effective measures would be taken to ensure free movement of vehicles carrying fruits from Kashmir to other parts of the country.
 
"Fruit industry is the backbone of Kashmir economy, and all necessary measures will be put in place to ensure that the Rs. 6000 crore worth industry is not affected owing to the ongoing unrest," he said.
 
On August 9, the Army was directed to secure the Highway-1 and cut off movement of people from rural to urban areas for joining protests to ensure road opening along the Highway.
 
However, the Kashmir Valley Fruit Growers Cum Dealers Association (KVFG) said that it was ready to bear “business losses to any extent to take the ongoing movement to its logical conclusion”.
 
“We will follow the separatist shutdown programme. The association shares the sentiments of the general public and is ready to bear all possible losses,” president of KVFG, Bashir Ahmad Basheer said.
 
Handicrafts: Handicraft is another sector that has been severely hit by the current Kashmir crisis. There are nearly 2.50 lakhs artisans directly dependent upon handicrafts in the State for their livelihood.
 
“We are having a severe impact on the handicraft sector. August and September is the peak month during which our handicraft artisans and exporters are busy preparing items for export,” Sajad Ahmad Khan, an exporter said. He said artisans have stopped working on the handloom machines because of the shortage of material that comes from the Ladakh and the other rural areas of the Valley.
 
“Due to the curfew and strikes it is difficult to bring the wool and other stuff from the far flung areas. My artisans are sitting idle for past 15 days,” Khan informed.
 
According to the Jammu and Kashmir Department of Handicrafts, the handicrafts sector earn around Rs 1700 crores as foreign exchange every year. During 2014-15, the handicraft sector clocked Rs 1204.33 crore business in export segment.
 
The unresolved Kashmir conflict has rocked South Asia for six decades. The need of the hour is to find an amicable solution of Kashmir as per the aspiration of its people so that the bloodshed can stop and State would thrive in economy. That would not only benefit India and Pakistan but also bring peace and prosperity in the entire South Asia.