Sheikh Ashiq, the president of Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industries tells Syed Samreen
KASHMIR LIFE (KL): Kashmir has been under lockdown for the past ten months. What is the state of the economy now?
SHEIKH ASHIQ (SA): The economy of Kashmir has been in a shambles for a long time now. The lockdown that was imposed to mitigate the effect of Coronavirus acted like the final nail in the coffin of our already devastated economy. Indian Industry has faced the lockdown just for two months and they are whining about their loss. A lot of companies stand closed but this is nothing new for us. We have now entered the tenth month of lockdown and the losses suffered are unimaginable. In 120 days of lockdown following revocation of Article 370 on August 5, Kashmir suffered a loss of Rs 18,000 crore. Since August up until now, we have suffered around Rs 30,000 crores of loss. If there is no timely intervention from the Government, our economy will perish.
KL: In February, Kashmir’s business community sent out an SOS through a full-page advertisement in local dailies. What forced you to come out with such an appeal?
SA: There was a lot of chaos and confusion in February. The trade was under tremendous stress. From one lockdown, we plunged into another one. A lot of people lost jobs. Where there were 4-5 people working in local shops, now only 1-2 people are there. Apart from this, the export industry faces great loss. They lost the annual Christmas and New Year export orders due to unavailability of high-speed internet. Basically, all sectors witnessed a decline. That SOS was sent out by not just one but multiple organizations that came together to address their concerns. Shortly after that, we met the Lieutenant Governor GC Murmu and the Union minister to make them aware of our crippling economy.
KL: Business and banks go together. In these troubled times, how have banks helped the trade?
SA: We met the Lieutenant Governor and J&K Bank Chairman on several occasions and made them aware of the stress to the trade. We put forward our demand for a package. It was a fruitful meeting where they promised to come up with certain schemes and policies for the Jammu and Kashmir. They have taken our feedback post-Covid-19 lockdown and it is quite certain that in some time, they will announce a relaxation in our favour.
KL: There is huge unemployment in the valley. Space seems to have shrunken for new jobs. Do we have enough business avenues to tackle this issue?
SA: According to the recent advisory, maybe after two and a half months, the economic activities will resume. Lots of youngsters have called me up and sought help. Keeping the precautionary measures in view, the chamber is looking forward to conducting sessions for youth and spread awareness among them. We at the chamber will encourage people to work at local levels and excel in primary fields. Kashmir has been given a ‘consumer’ tag, we are known to have a consumer market. We have to change from being consumers to large scale producers. We have to encourage people to work at the local level first. Just like the Kashmiri apple is famous, Kashmiri tomatoes should be equally famous. Youth need to be made aware that it isn’t necessary to set up large scale dairy farms, or poultries. They can start on a smaller scale. We are willing to help young entrepreneurs and provide them with financial assistance along with expert advice.
KL: How has the ban on high-speed internet impacted businesses?
SA: Internet is vital for every field of life. Businesses now are totally dependent on it. The unavailability of the internet after August 2019 has added to our economic woes. The export was totally dependent on the internet. Businessmen who dealt with export couldn’t send their queries, high-resolution product pictures outside Kashmir because it needs high-speed internet.
KL: After the lockdown ends, how long do you think would it take tourism in Kashmir to revive?
SA: During lockdowns, there are sometimes partial openings of trade and business but tourism remains the only industry that remains adversely hit. Since the last advisory that was issued in 2019, scores of tourists were told to vacate from Kashmir and since then, the hotels, houseboats are empty. It seems the next year will also see the same fate as 2019 and 2020. Recently, the hotels were used as quarantine centres, but it is no earning.