Mushtaq A Wani, the President of Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) tell Saima Bhat that restrictions on communication and movement only hamper trade across LoC
Kashmir Life: As leader of the trade and industry, you have been busy in talking to the government for rebuilding flood devastated Kashmir. What has been the net outcome, so far?
Mushtaq A Wani (MAW): The 2014 floods affected trade very badly. Initially we got the orders from High Court and made all insurance companies to pay our traders for the losses. Insurance companies paid around Rs 2000 crore for claims and that helped trade to resume some sort of normally. For uninsured industrial units, we held a number of meetings with Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed. He has assured that they too will be compensated.
Besides, Finance Minister Dr Haseeb Drabu has also promised that necessary help will be provided to the affected people. Business community has pinned their hopes on Dr Drabu.
On a good note government has started compensating traders, from CM’s Relief Fund, who have loss below Rs 5 lakhs. For the rest of the trade, compensation will come once Union government releases funds.
KL: Chamber was very active on GI tagging in handicrafts. What is the scene now?
MW: GI tagging helps in better marketing for handmade products to the satisfaction of customers. We already have registered GI in Chennai. Within one or two months the process will start formally.
We have requested state government to give authority to handicrafts department to have a quality control division so that proper labeling of products can be done. Customer satisfaction is important otherwise we have machine made products available in markets and customers purchase those products as well. But if they choose to buy handmade products, they should be satisfied that they are really getting one.
KL: But what about GI tagging for Pashmina shawls? They are nowhere seen?
MAW: I agree GI tagged shawls are not available everywhere. The department should create more awareness among masses so that customers are not cheated and the art is saved.
KL: Chamber claimed lot of industrial land was leased to outside investors who fled. What is the status now?
MAW: Around 300 kanals of industrial state land is under non-state subjects presently and most of them left state after 2010 summer unrest. We believe state government should re-allot this land to new applicants who want to work so that the precious land does not remain idle.
Recently the issue of land surfaced when 88 kanals of land was given to Inland Container Depot on lease but they were inactive. This particular land was supposed to be handed over to Chamber but they (SIDCO) gave it to somebody else.
KL: How many local companies are in possession of state land but have failed to start their activities?
MAW: There are certain cases where state provided land on lease but later no unit was established. We held a meeting with industries minister in which we suggested him to take such land back from their possession so that it doesn’t give rise to land mafia. We asked him to implement the already set rules where any industrial unit has to perform within one year otherwise their registration must get cancelled. He has promised that same will be done from next fiscal, March 2016.
KL: What is the status of cross LoC trade. Why is it limited to a few commodities only?
MAW: The trade continues to be on 21 items. We have requested the governments of India and Pakistan to draft a negative list, which will contain the commodities that should not be traded across LoC. An d rest of the items should be allowed to trade across LoC. Also, it is blind trade. Traders want communication to be allowed. More importantly for the last eight years, the government did not permit a trade delegation from J&K to visit PaK. For successful trade such delegations should be allowed to travel otherwise it is injustice with them.
KL: How will Chamber help Kashmir handicraft artisans to come out of the deprivation, they face?
MAW: I accept they have always been exploited. We have taken up the issue with government that Artisan Credit Cards should be taken at par with the Kisan Credit Cards. Because artisans also deserve the waiver of fifty per cent. I believe GI certification will automatically uplift artisans because good rate means good wages.
KL: After every Buyer-Seller meet, we are told about highest trading. But freshers allege such meets are beneficial to the elites only?
MAW: Our basic aim is to provide a platform to our traders. Today’s elites also started from the scratch. Fresher should not feel discouraged. Chamber supports buyers for only three visits and every time we change them. If a buyer comes again, we don’t pay for their travel. If a buyer comes again and again that should be seen as a positive sign.
KL: What has happened to Chamber’s idea of having a Free Economic Zone in Srinagar?
MAW: We are pursuing it from many years. Initially we asked Delhi to make J&K free economic zone (FEZ) but it didn’t happen. If it happens our problem will get solved. More trade means more developmental packages. We have taken up the issue with state government as well. It will help in the upliftment of our trade and our state.