Desolate Markets


Markets across Kashmir used to be teeming with activity in the days ahead of Eid, a situation that is missing yet again. Syed Shadab Ali Gillani met the traders to report the “unprecedented” slump in Kashmir markets in 2023 and how the emergence of Kashmir as an online market is impacting the traditional business

The hustle and bustle of people, the endless lines of traffic, and the bustling markets that once defined Eid in Kashmir have now become distant dreams for many, particularly the small street vendors.

Not only have prices skyrocketed, but there has also been a noticeable decline in customer footfalls in most of the markets, especially Srinagar.

The desolate markets, the disappointed expressions on people’s faces, and the sparsely populated roads paint a grim picture and only few are venturing out of their homes. This is especially concerning as Eid ul Azha is one of the most significant festivals for Muslims in Kashmir and elsewhere. While some claim that things were relatively normal during Eid ul Fitr, the prevailing sentiment is that everything has changed this Eid.

Lal Chowk, Goni Khan Market, and Maharaji Bazaar, all crowded shopping centres, witnessed scarce crowds. There were no traffic jams in the two days leading up to Eid or on the day of Arafa, a day ahead of Eid.

“On the way to and from Malkhah, to offer Fateha to my grandmother who passed away on this Arafat Day in 1980, I took the old city route. Karan Nagar, Nawab Bazar, Khanyar, Nowhatta,” politician Naeem Akhter wrote on his Facebook wall. “It took me just 20 minutes one way from Airport Humhome after crossing the Hyderpora jam. Reason: hardly any traffic on roads or shoppers jostling for everything from the bakery, meat, vegetables, and costumes as one generally witnessed in the run-up to Eid. Kashmir is truly hit by acute economic depression, lack of vibrancy and urge or capacity to spend. There’s no festival around. Just go out to find. It’s heartbreaking!”

In the past, the mutton shops, bakeries, clothing stores, jewellery shops, and cosmetic boutiques would be teeming with customers, but this time was different. There were no long queues anywhere.

Shallow Wallets

In Kashmir, the banking system remained busy as is the routine during festivals. In the three days ahead of Eid, the Jammu and Kashmir Bank – the main bank serving the erstwhile state, recorded a staggering 71 lakh transactions involving Rs 4170 crore using all the online banking platforms it has.

A load of transactions actually triggered so huge pressure on the system that some of the apps collapsed, at least temporarily. Though the transactions were huge as lot of money changed hands, insiders within the banking sector believe the quantum was still not as huge as it was last year.

Crowds at Eidgah

However, at Eidgah, the largest market for sacrificial animals, the situation was somewhat mixed. While some sellers reported a decline in business, others claimed their sales were going well.

“People lack space at home to keep the animals, so they prefer buying them on the day of Arafa,” a trader whose family has been in the sacrificial animal business for generations, said. “Additionally, parents don’t want their young children to be distracted from their studies by playing with the animals. Otherwise, by the grace of Almighty, our business is doing somehow better.”

“It is too early to say anything about the exact details of the market,” Merajuddin Ganai, who heads the sheep imports group in Srinagar said. “The feedback I am getting is not very encouraging. There is a definite decline. However, the quantum of decline can be better said on the second of Eid not on the eve of it.” He said across Kashmir almost 2000 people sell the animals and, apart from the traditional sellers, there are third parties as well.

Maharaji Bazaar Market 

The vibrant market, known for its wholesale shops and bustling atmosphere, is currently experiencing a significant decline in customer footfall. A shopkeeper, specialising in women’s clothing, expressed his concern over the situation. “In the past, our market used to thrive with numerous customers, but now there are hardly any. This loss during Eid is distressing,” the shop-keeper, who wishes to remain anonymous, said.

Khurshid Ahmad Shah, president of the Maharaji Bazaar Shopkeeper’s Association and a shop owner with over fifty years of experience, remarked that this is the first time he has witnessed such a sharp decline in customers. “All the shopkeepers here are sitting idle; there are no customers,” he lamented. “Despite the bustling markets, there are no buyers, no sales whatsoever.” Regarding the reasons behind this decline, he candidly admitted, “To be honest, I can’t comprehend the exact reasons.”

Shah also pointed out that the Smart City Project is among the factors affecting business. “The transport diversion has caused a great deal of chaos,” he asserted. “Eid ul Fitr was far better in terms of sales. We had at least a 50 to 60 per cent increase, but this time, it is nothing.”

He further mentioned that out of the 300 shops in Maharaji Bazaar, only 5-10 per cent of the establishments, mostly selling bakery and food items, are experiencing some customer activity. “The rest of us are idle.”

Another shopkeeper attributed the decline in business to people exhausting their savings over the past four years. “Now they are facing financial constraints,” he explained. “The current sales are dreadful.”

Goni Khan Market 

The neighbouring Goni Khan market, known for its vibrant atmosphere and diverse range of ladies’ and kids’ items, has also fallen victim to the prevailing downturn. From high-end shops to small establishments and street vendors, the market shares a similar tale of decline.

Srinagar markets on the eve of Eid ul Azha 2023. KL Image: Shuaib Wani

Fayaz Ahmed, a street vendor selling crockery items just outside the market, expressed his despair as he recounted his lack of sales this Eid. “I opened my stall at 8 am, and now it’s 11, and I’ve only had one customer,” Fayaz lamented with a voice filled with hopelessness. Despite earning less, he emphasised the responsibility of providing for his family, saying, “Sales or no sales, we have to cater to their needs.”

Having operated his small stall for the past 18 years, Fayaz remarked that this is the first time he has witnessed such a widespread drop in business and sales. “I believe people are facing financial constraints due to the recession and a lack of disposable income,” he speculated.

Fayaz also attributed the decline to the impact of the Smart City project, stating, “It doesn’t feel like Eid right now. Previously, we would have sales amounting to Rs 40,000 to 50,000, but now it has dwindled to just Rs 5000. Our families are suffering greatly.” He further noted that whereas they previously had no time to spare, they now find themselves with no customers to attend to.

Manzoor Ahmed, a shopkeeper with 28 years of experience in the market, expressed deep disappointment with the Eid ul Azha atmosphere in 2023. “We are at a loss for words to express our dismay. The vibrant atmosphere we usually expect in the days leading up to Eid is completely absent,” he said.

“The joy and excitement among people are missing. The deserted state of the market is truly heartbreaking.”

He attributed the low footfall of customers to inflation, remarking, “People no longer have the capacity. Their savings have been exhausted. In fact, it wouldn’t be wrong to say that inflation has placed a heavy burden on Kashmiri households, making occasions like this incredibly stressful, as almost everything is beyond their budget.”

Manzoor also highlighted the impact of road construction related to the Smart City project, stating, “Since the project’s implementation, traffic and customers have been diverted.”

He added, “Online shopping has significantly affected traditional retail. The younger generation, who prefer online shopping, has become distant and disconnected from the traditional shopping experience.” He expressed hope for divine intervention, stating, “We pray that Allah shows mercy because the current situation is truly disheartening.”

Iqraf Ahmed, a shopkeeper who recently opened a garments shop, remarked that the market’s flourishing nature during Eid has diminished. “The customer rush this year is only about 30 per cent compared to previous years,” he observed. “Sales are down, and customer numbers have declined.” He attributed the current state to the economic crisis, stating, “Customers say they can’t afford the prices.” Iqraf also emphasised the negative impact of the Smart City project, not only on Goni Khan market but also on Sunday Market, Batamaloo Market, Lal Chowk, and every other big and small business suffering its consequences.

Drawing from his experience as a salesman since 2008 before opening his own shop in 2021, Iqraf expressed his surprise at witnessing such a lack of hustle and bustle in the Goni Khan market. “It’s one of the largest markets, yet neither the customers nor the shopkeepers are satisfied,” he shared. He also noted that the abrogation of Article 370 and the subsequent Covid-19 lockdown had significant repercussions in Kashmir. However, he emphasized that the primary cause for the current business decline is the Smart City project.

Another shopkeeper highlighted the significant threat posed by the shift of businesses to the online realm. “People start shopping online weeks before Eid, so why would they come to us?” he questioned. “They have everything available online, so the younger customers especially no longer bother to visit Goni Khan.”

The Markets in Outskirts

While the bustling market hubs of Kashmir remain eerily silent, the situation is no different in the shops located on the outskirts of the city. In the Bagh e Mehtab area, a shop owner of a readymade garments store eagerly awaits customers from 9 in the morning until 10 at night. However, disappointment fills the air as no customers arrive. “I had a lot of customers during Eid ul Fitr, but right now, as you can see,” the shopkeeper lamented, gesturing toward the empty shop.

A shopkeeper in the Chanapora area, who runs a cosmetics shop, echoed similar sentiments: “I believe people are facing financial constraints and time limitations nowadays.”

However, amidst the prevailing gloom, there are shopkeepers who have optimistic tales to share about their sales. A bakery owner in Chanapora expressed satisfaction, saying, “This Eid, I feel our sales have increased compared to previous years. We are neither experiencing a drop nor suffering. Alhamdulillah, we are doing well.”

Similarly, a chicken seller in the area affirmed, “Our sales are good, all thanks to the Almighty. He has always been kind to us. We are earning a living and making ends meet.”

Outside Srinagar 

 Reports from all over Kashmir indicate a decline in sales. Nasir, a shop owner in Kulgam’s main market, expressed his observation, stating, “The market lacks hustle and bustle. I believe people are facing financial constraints, leading to reduced buying and selling.” He added, “Although the market is open, customer footfall has significantly decreased. People are now more selective in their spending.”

What were once days of Eid shopping have now become just other ordinary days.

Nasir further explained that people are concerned about the current economic conditions and attribute the decline in sales to inflation and the sad situation of previous years.

Shoppers throng markets for purchases in Srinagar on Monday ahead of Eid-Ul-Azha being celebrated in Kashmir on July 21, 2021.
KL Image: Bilal Bahadur

In Tral, another shopkeeper, remarked on the low market activity, saying, “On the day of Arafa, I arrived to sell my goods at 7 am, yet I haven’t seen any buyers so far, nor do I expect any. I believe people are struggling with an extreme economic crisis.”

Fayaz Ahmed Wani, the district president of Pulwama for the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry, commented on the overall weak market situation, stating, “The economic condition everywhere is weaker compared to last year. People are facing financial difficulties. The sales and activity in the market are not even 20% of what they used to be.”

He further added that markets are currently deserted, especially in District Pulwama, which relies on horticultural activities. He said, “The decline in rates over the past year may be one of the reasons. We appeal to the youths, especially, to support traditional markets in their area, as the shopkeepers have expectations from their communities.

“Additionally, online shopping is associated with various frauds and scams, so it’s better if they prioritize the shopkeepers in their locality. While we cannot control e-commerce, I often advise people to be mentally prepared for the challenges.”

Business Leader Says

Mohammad Yaseen Khan, President of the Kashmir Traders and Manufacturers Federation (KTMF), acknowledged the low business activity, in all of Kashmir. He mentioned that despite the flourishing tourism industry in Kashmir, the markets have not thrived as expected. Khan pointed out the outstanding loans from financial institutions, stating, “From 2019 to 2021, we were unable to pay our EMIs on time. We currently owe around Rs 70,000 crore to these institutions, which is contributing to the market decline, in addition to inflation. The truth is, people lack money, so every sector is suffering.”

A customer from Shopian mentioned that the market is relatively normal but 30 per cent lower compared to the previous year.

This decline is largely attributed to decreased agricultural produce and damages caused by natural calamities, resulting in financial constraints and uncertainty regarding earnings.

Echoing Fayaz’s perspective, Arjumand Ahmed, the owner of a hosiery shop in Pulwama’s main town, reported a 60 per cent decrease in sales compared to last year.

The story of decline remains the same across all districts from North to South and from West to East, including Central Kashmir.

Moin Bakery, located on the outskirts of Sopore Town, also experienced a decline in sales. “It doesn’t feel like Eid. Previously, there used to be a massive rush, and we didn’t even have a moment to sit. But this time, it’s entirely different,” the bakery owner said.

A readymade garments owner from Ganderbal noted a significant 50 per cent decrease in sales compared to previous years.

Smart City Project

The implementation of the Smart City project in Srinagar has inadvertently contributed to the already dwindling market situation. Reports from various markets in Srinagar highlight a significant decline in sales and economic activity. Local shop owners and residents express concerns over the negative impact of the project on the market.

One of the key issues is the lack of proper planning and coordination between the Smart City project and the local business community. The focus on infrastructural development has taken precedence over supporting the existing market ecosystem. As a result, traditional markets are left struggling to compete with the new modernised structures, which has led to a decline in footfall and sales.

Additionally, the Smart City project has brought about changes in transportation patterns and traffic management, which have inadvertently impacted the accessibility of local markets. Alterations in road layouts and traffic restrictions have made it more challenging for customers to reach the traditional market areas easily. This has resulted in a decrease in footfall and a subsequent decline in sales for local businesses.

The lack of adequate support and promotion for the traditional marketplaces within the Smart City project has amplified the negative impact on the local economy.

The On-Line

One of the reasons for the slump is that people now prefer online. “The online market is booming,” Sheikh Samiullah, the co-promoter of FastBeetle said. “To my understanding, the online market in Kashmir is growing by 10 to 12 per cent every month.”

There are almost half a dozen players who manage the cargo of top online retailers. One insider said that the average cargo in Kashmir is more than 40,000 parcels. “On Eid, is it touches 70,000 parcels but almost a week ahead of Eid because the delivery takes three to five days,” the insider said.

Given the emergence of Kashmir as a lucrative market for online, the delivery points are increasing. Earlier, it used to be Srinagar alone. Now most of South Kashmir is included in the delivery addresses. Even FastBeetle is opening a unit in Uri, the most distant location in Kashmir that is literally on the line of control. “There are two things that are key to the shift,” one market expert said. “Online, the costs are much less and there is an exchange possible.”



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