KL NEWS NETWORK
]The Kashmir Chamber of Commerce & Industry (Inc) Wednesday met Chief Minister, Ms Mehbooba Mufti.
A KCC&I statement said that urgent issues concerning the public were discussed in detail. The trade body appreciated the “positive and patient response” of the Chief Minister and submitted a detailed memorandum in this regard.
The Kashmir Chamber drew the attention of the Chief Minister towards the need to focus on rebuilding of the State’s economy which has been severely impacted since the September Floods.
In this regard, the delegation assured the Chief Minister of full support and cooperation from the business community for revival of the State economy.
The main issues discussed were:
- Traffic Congestion
The KCC&I delegation sought intervention of the Chief Minister for providing relief to the public as well as to the business community who are seriously inconvenienced due to the inadequate planning.
In this regard, it was stated that proper arrangements for creating viable alternative routes should have been planned. The contribution of footpath vendors in creating traffic bottlenecks throughout the city was brought to the notice of the Chief Minister. Creation of proper parking slots and bus stops was also taken up in this regard.
- Relief For Revival And Rehabilitation Of Business Activity
Following devastating September-2014 floods, the State Government had recommended:
Rs 19241 Crores for revival and rehabilitation of business activity in different sectors which include:-
Rs 5,760 Crores (Interest subvention for existing loans)
Rs 2,880 Crores (Interest subvention for new loan granted for revival of business units)
Against Rs 8640 Crores as recommended by the State Government for interest subvention a paltry sum of Rs 800 Crores has been allocated for the purpose.
On approaching the State Government at the time it was given to understand that an amount of over Rs 4500 Crores has been recommended as an ex-gratia financial support for such flood affected traders who had no insurance cover against their fixed assets and stocks.
While going through the details of the package no amount appears to have been earmarked for such traders. Accordingly then Advisor to Governor was requested to find some way to grant a reasonable ex-gratia amount to them so that they are able to revive their business. But, the Government announcement about granting 5% interest subvention from 01-04-2016 has demoralized the trading and business community which is still reeling under the burden of huge losses suffered due to the floods and aftermath.
KCC&I demands that the promises made to the business community be fulfilled and relief and rehabilitation package announced forthwith.
The KCC&I while appreciating the efforts of the Government to provide interest subvention sought certain clarifications which were readily provided by the Chief Minister and Naveen Choudhary, Principal Secretary to the Chief Minister.
- Waste Management
The people of Srinagar are faced with grave problem in absence of proper and scientific disposal of waste. Though there is system evolved by the Srinagar Municipal Corporation in some areas for regular collection of the wastes which needs to be extended to all the parts of the city and made more effective by providing proper system of segregation of degradable and non-degradable garbage and its proper disposal.
Moreover, the sewage generated in many areas finds its way to river Jhelum and other water bodies untreated which leads to pollution of water bodies and degradation of environment.
The KCC&I suggests that the government should construct easily accessible garbage dumping points and common area wise sewage treatment plants to ensure protection and preservation of our environment and water bodies.
The Chief Minister informed the delegation that she was personally monitoring the waste disposal projects for both Srinagar and Jammu and conveyed her concern over the toxic health hazards emanating from various disposal methods. She said that the Government was exploring options which would be suitable for the environment of the State.
The KCC&I highlighted the pitiable plight of artisans and weavers and also underlined the importance of this sacred tradition carried forward by hundreds of thousands of our Artisans.
Our Artisan has put in its heart and head to create artefacts that have been earning name and fame for the state by creating “Brand Kashmir”.
Yet ironically our Artisan has not received the care, credit and encouragement that he deserves. As a result the Artisan is getting dissuaded and looking for other alternatives. Scarce financing has been the greatest impediment in the course of desired growth of this sector.
The Artisan Credit Card Scheme introduced by the Government which provides for interest subsidy of 10% and an Artisan can avail loan up to Rs 1.00 Lakh from the J&K Bank.
The KCC&I raised the problems in the implementation of this scheme. The delayed payment by the Government has resulted in Artisan Accounts becoming NPAs.
The Kashmir Chamber of Commerce & Industry (Inc) has been pleading in the past that the limit of loan be raised to minimum Rs 3.5 Lakh and the rules as are applicable to Kissan Credit Card Scheme, be applied in the case of Artisan Credit Card to make the Scheme meaningful and effective.
There is nothing provided for the growth of Handicrafts under the State Industrial policy announced recently. The Chamber is of the firm opinion any Industrial Policy of the State is incomplete lame unless the Handicraft sector is dealt with a pragmatic express manner.
More so, the post floods while Kissan Credit card holders were given relief which we appreciate no such scheme was offered/announced for artisans.
There is also nothing worthwhile to mention in the New Industrial Policy announced on 15th of March, 2016.
The performance of export of Handicraft Sector is arriving alarming grave proportion as the following statistics shows:-
2013-14: Rs 1695.65 Cr
2014-15: Rs 1287.04 Cr
2015-16: Rs 1059.41 Cr
These figures illustrate that instead of registering a growth, there is a steep declined of about 35% and the decline is still continuing.
The Handicraft Sector needs to be given a major boost to enable the Artisan and people associated with it to sustain themselves.
The delegation laid stress on creating separate Ministry for handicraft sector which is admittedly a most reliable contributor to the State economy and warrants exclusive attention of the Government through a separate Ministry.
While alluding to the casual treatment meted out to the handicraft sector in the pats the delegation recall the fate of International Trade Centre the foundation stone for which was laid way back 2006 but despite lapse of more than 10 years the Centre is yet come out.
Geographical Indication (GI)
The KCC&I along with the concerned departments worked hard to get GI Registration for our Handicrafts / Handloom Products.
It has so far been given for Kani Shawls, Pashmina, papier Machie, Walnut Wood item, Sozni and Khatamband. The GI for Carpets is in the final process of being issued.
- Master Plan
Srinagar Master Plan 2012-32 (2015-35) is a dream yet to come true.
Time and again sealing and demolition of commercial structure/building raised with huge capital investment scare away investors and cause irreparable losses to the businesses operating from these structures.
The review of the Srinagar Master Plan is learnt to be on the anvil, but the business community which is supposed to be a major stakeholder in the process and individually the most affected, has not been taken on board, while such agencies which are responsible for allowing haphazard constructions and unplanned growth have been given mandate to review of the Master Plan. The review of the proposed Master Plan need to be done in a fair and transparent manner keeping the larger public interests of development and growth in mind.
We submit that the number of construction that do not strictly conform to the deficient provisions of the earlier Master Plan are 20,000 which are under the threat of demolition after the validity of J&K Civil laws( Special Provision) Act 2014 has expired on 31-12-2015.
The Act was essentially enacted to provide space for review of the Mater Plan and framing of policy with regard to allegedly unauthorized constructions. The reason remains and in fact the construction made in the aftermath of floods of 2014 need to be brought under the purview of the new Act.
KCC&I suggests that it be associated as a member on the Master Plan Review Authority:
In view of the livelihood of thousands of families being involved in these structures and commercial activities being conducted therefrom, the KCC&I appealed for ONE-TIME Amnesty be granted till a cut-off date.
The KCC&I assured the Chief Minister that the business community would comply with the requirements as the Government may deem fit to apply. The KCC&I also appealed for the re-enactment of a fresh ordinance like the J&K Civic Laws (Special Provisions) Act.
- Widening Of Boulevard Road
The widening of Boulevard Road ,though repeatedly announced by the Government in the Past , has remained un-implemented .If undertaken it would to a large extent address the problem of traffic jams in the area and help beautifying the index of Kashmir tourism that Boulevard represents.
The widening project needs to be taken in hand on priority.
- The Tourism sector has been bleeding for a long time. Our world famous tourist destinations have been destroyed due to callous attitude of officers and the political interference. It has resulted in most of our destinations losing charm and attraction for tourists.
The basic infrastructure like connectivity, pliable roads, power and water supply, garbage management and the basic civic amenities are deficient. On the top of it is the un-controlled fleecing of tourists by unethical operators at most of the tourist destination which has proved a major setback to the growth of our tourism.
2. Development Authorities
The story of Development Authorities is intriguing. More than 12 years in pipeline only a few are operational due to wrong policy planning, non-qualified people at the helm of DA’s and unwarranted interference at various levels. No due diligence has been applied to the selection of areas for development most of which remain in accessible for most part of the year.
In the process of developing new destinations the fragile ecology and environment has become a casualty. We all, the Government and the public have failed to protect and preserve our one time world renowned tourist destinations that explain our present tourism scenario.
3. Tourism Policy
While lot of noise is being made about tourism (at least in newspaper) J&K is the one state which has suffered because of the absence of a long demanded Tourism Policy. Its absence has resulted in a free for all situation whimsical decision by authorities, un planned and mushroom growth, loss to local habitat and culture, damage to sustainable tourism and development of lop sided infrastructure.
The KCC&I demands that a robust tourism policy beneficial for the people of the state is formulated at the earliest.
- Prohibitive Airfares
The prohibitively high fares being charged by airlines during the season proves a major impediment for tourists inflow . Kashmir Valley having no railway link with the rest of the country and road travel being arduous, air travel becomes the only preferred mode of transport. Apart from tourists, the general public especially those traveling for medical treatment and students are also highly inconvenienced. The KCC&I had suggested that the State should intervene in the shape of blocking of a particular percentage of seats throughout the year and release the same as per the requirement of various sectors. The State also needs to find lawful means to limit the airfares to a reasonable level.
The Tourism sector had been declared as an industry in the year 1995 but the benefits and incentives applicable to the Industries still elude this important sector.
- Srinagar International Airport
Although christened as an international airport, no International Flight except Hajj flights operate from it. If International flights operate, it can help in the growth of our tourism and the export of horticulture and floriculture products.
- Horticulture Sector
The import of fresh and dry fruits from major fruit growing countries like America, China, Iran has adversely affected our Horticulture Sector.
The walnut crop has taken a direct hit. If the situation is allowed to continue, the State would be facing a major crisis of around 90000 hectares involved in walnut production turning economically unviable.
The KCC&I appreciates the constitution of a Committee of Experts by the government to look into the problems being faced by the walnut and kernel sector in the State and the earmarking of Rs 500 Crores under the PM’s Developmental Package for this sector.
The apple industry would also benefit from similar measures for its resuscitation. Other crops like Pear, Apricot, Peach, Plum and Cherry require different sector specific strategies. The Horticulture sector needs a major overhauling for effectively meeting the evolving challenges in the domestic and international markets.
Since 2014-15, the horticulture sector has suffered loss to the extended of nearly 53% and measures to ensure the sustainability of livelihood of lacs of people associated with the horticulture activity.
The government need to give special attention to revive the saffron cultivation with application of the modern technology.
- Public Sector Undertakings
The State Public Sector Undertakings have become a major bottleneck in the economic development of our State. With collective liabilities running into thousands of Crores, blockade of assets worth much more, gross underutilization of manpower and resources, constant reports of corruption and nepotism, the State needs to engage consultants, experts and professionals and seek their advice in making a turnaround in the State Forest Corporation, State Road Transport Corporation, Kashmir Government Arts Emporium, JK Cements Ltd , Centaur Hotel, JK Tourism Development Corporation and other under-performing public sector undertakings. There are some reports that there are plans to sell /transfer/lease some of these units to vested interests which KCC&I strongly opposes.
The Kashmir Chamber raised the issue of the proposed outsourcing of the prestigious Pahalgam Club and expressed its serious opposition to any such move. The infrastructure created in the interest of tourism like the Royal Springs Golf Course also needed to be opened up for tourists.
The power sector of our State suffers from one of the highest Transmission and Distribution loss average in the world. Add to it the distinction of having the lowest revenue collection efficiency in the country.
The power liabilities are in the vicinity of Rs 7,000 Crores and rising. The costs of projects undertaken by the State get exceptionally inflated due to procedural delays. The streets of Srinagar and other major towns are lit only by the headlights of vehicles and are bereft of adequate lighting except for some VIP areas.
Scant regard is shown for upholding the rights of consumers and complaints of attitudinal problems are rampant. There is no Consumer Grievance mechanism in place, although by law, the State is required to have one. Each of these factors requires punitive imposition of fines on the enforcement/executing agencies and their officers in order to inculcate a vivid sense of accountability.
- Intra Kashmir Trade (LoC-Trade)
- For Intra-Kashmir Trade, it may be appreciated that the restriction to just 21 items, holds the entire business in clutches giving no chance for growth. With a purpose and intention of growth of LoC Trade the restriction on items like construction material like cement be lifted to help rake up the real benefit of such trade.
- As earlier also brought to your kind notice the cross LOC visit of trade delegation which is awaited clearance for the past nearly seven years needs to be facilitated as it is essential to study and gather the first hand trade intelligence about the future chances of growth of the Intra Kashmir business.
- LoC Tourism
The stress needs to be laid on allowing LOC Tourism which will prove to be a major confidence Building Measure between India and Pakistan.
- Approach And Strategy To Growth And Development Of Industry
Besides the strategy envisaged in the State Industrial Policy there is a need for holistic development of our thrust industries which have been even recognized by Government of India in their Policy Declaration.
- Food Processing and Agro Based Industries.
- Leather Processing and Leather Goods.
- Tissue Culture.
- Silk Reeling Yarn and yarn Spun from Silk Waste.
- Wool & Woven fabrics of Wool.
- Woven fabrics of cotton.
- Medicinal Herbs, Processing.
- Green House only Ladakh.
- Computer Hardware / Electronics (Integrated Circuits and micro assemblies).
- Sports goods and articles and equipment for general physical exercise.
- Auto Ancillaries.
- Precision Engineering.
- Exploration of minerals.
Besides the above there is a need to include the following in the thrust areas.
- Bio- Technology
- Nano- Technology
- Milk and Milk Products
- Fish Processing
- Poultry & Meat Processing
- Hotels, Resorts, Tourist Villages, Adventure Sports and Eateries
- Leather Processing And Leather Goods
While as there are some units manufacturing leather in Lassipora there is a need for utilizing the processed leather in clusters within Srinagar city for making bags and other value added items included embroidery.
KCC&I has grave concern about the damage caused to the ecology and the vandalisation of environment which has led to negative impact on flora, fauna and the lives of the people. The damage to our environment was one of the main reasons for devastating floods of September 2014.
Kashmir being known for its natural beauty landscape lakes and water bodies across the globe has lost a lot of attraction for growth of tourist in Kashmir. The state of J&K has no policy on environment and ecology and KCC&I strongly demands that the government frame a robots policy taking all the stake holders in confidence.
- Goods & Services Tax (GST)
The KCC&I demands that before taking any decision on the implementation of proposed GST Law in the State keeping in mind the special Status enjoyed by the State under Article 370.
- Consumer Grievance Redressal Forums
The KCC&I has observed that various institutions and bodies vested with the responsibility of addressing grievances of public are either non-existent of defunct.
A case in point would be the Consumer Commission which has been headless since the appointment of justice Kirmani to the accountability commission. The litigants having cases in the commission have suffered irreparable losses due to this. Similarly, the State Information Commission is also headless since the retirement of J R Sofi.
The Power Development Department has failed to set up a public grievance system although the Act makes it mandatory for them to have a consumer grievance cell.
The Commercial Taxes Department has also failed to put any system of addressing consumer complaints / grievance.
The Government needs to focus on creating effective mechanism for redressal of public grievances.
- Drug Abuse
The KCC&I is gravely concerned over the reports of huge rise in cases of drug abuse in the state. Apparently, our State has been targeted as a lucrative market for the narcotics industry thriving in our neighbouring State of Punjab. Being a State which has been disturbed for a around the three decades, it needs to be appreciated that our youth are most vulnerable to the drug menace. The government needs to take proactive measures to ensure that this menace does not take root in our state.
The Kashmir of Commerce & Industry strongly suggests that a high powered Monitoring Committee headed by the Chief Minister be constituted for monthly monitoring of sectors like traffic, handicrafts, PSUs, tourism and other important sectors.