Mass 2-Wheeler Seizures Dented Businesses, Jammed Life

by Khalid Bashir Gura

SRINAGAR: After the recent civilian killings and ahead of Union home minister, Amit Shah’s visit to Jammu and Kashmir, the police have launched a bike seizing operation resulting in a halt of emergency services, daily life activities and disrupting local businesses.

People using 2-wheelers are frisked now minutely in Srinagar on October 19, 2021. KL Image: Bilal Bahadur

As the operation has added agonies and inconvenience to owners of two-wheelers, it has also adversely impacted local Kashmir businesses especially the e-commerce and home delivery start-ups who depend on two-wheelers for their services.

According to the owners of many two-wheelers, they prefer two-wheelers for daily work and medical emergencies, the operations have instilled fear en masse. The owners of two-wheelers have stopped venturing out and parked bikes at home as police have seized hundreds of bikes over the past week.

Fastbeetle

“The unemployment rate in Jammu and Kashmir is 21 per cent and it may go up due to such disruptions. My company has around 40 delivery boys who come from humble backgrounds and some are sole breadwinners of the family,” said Samiullah, the co-founder of Fastbeetle.

“Our operations continue to be at a halt due to incessant seizing of our delivery bikes in the city,” he tweeted. His e-commerce start-up has 62 employees.

To stay afloat, Fastbeetle has started services by vans but it has increased the expenses of the company and delivery duration for its customers. Fastbeetle was recently recognised as a start-up by the Union government’s Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion.

He purged his pent up emotions in a series of tweets.

“Just when the businesses in Kashmir were trying to recover from the losses caused in the aftermath of the abrogation of Article 370 and the COVID-19 pandemic, the law and order management was “crushing” the business community,” he tweeted.

In this October 9, 2021 photograph, a courier boy is being searched by paramilitary CRPF. KL Image: Bilal Bahadur

Perpetual Challenges

The start-ups in Kashmir are facing continuous survival challenges especially after the reading down of Article 370. Many have had to call off their services temporarily and migrate outside Kashmir to explore business opportunities. However, after the security lockdown, what hampered the start-ups like many other places was the strictly imposed pandemic triggered a lockdown. As the coronavirus waves retreated, the entrepreneurs heaved a sigh of relief but it is also subjected to whims and wishes of security challenges.

Another start-up Tiffin Aaw which was lauded lately for its services during Covid-19 is also facing survival challenges. As it delivered home-cooked food to desperate families and people; the business of delivering food to customers and desperate people has become more challenging than the previous lockdown said its owner, Rayees Ahmad Dar.

“We are a fledgling start-up. We have very few bikes of our own. Our delivery boys have their own bikes but now they have stopped venturing out which has halted our services,” Dar said as he is now delivering food in his own car and many of his employees do not show up.

The change of vehicle to keep services afloat has come at a price of increased expenses as two-wheelers consume less fuel and are able to manoeuvre through traffic jams and reach inaccessible areas. “Our services are also delayed as at every checkpoint we have to explain our services,” he said.

Female para-military personnel search the belongings of some girls during a surprise checking in Srinagar, Monday, October 18, 2021. KL Image: Bilal Bahadur

Overqualified For Low Jobs

Seconding views of Samiullah, he also said that many people who work with him are highly qualified but due to lack of jobs are forced to work as delivery boys to keep the bread and butter of the family going.

Similarly, Adil Ahmed, one of the delivery boys working with Amazon has been choosing alternative routes to deliver products.  According to him, he avoids checkpoints as he is apprehensive that his bike will be seized despite all documents, the fate reportedly many met.

“My company will not compensate rising expenses on petrol prices for my alternative routes and why should they? Authorities should not have subjected people en masse to this scrutiny,” Adil said as this has impacted his life beyond profession as he cannot even run basic errands of home now or address medical emergencies.

Lately, his friend’s bike was seized. He was informed by police at Police Station that it will be released only after October 25, he said. Pertinent to mention, the home minister who arrived today will be flying back to Delhi on the same day.

Female paramilitary personnel frisk a pedestrian during the surprise checking in Srinagar, Monday, October 18, 2021. Kashmir valley is on high alert following the recent civilian killings. KL Image: Bilal Bahadur

Random Seizures

The fear and adverse impact of bike seizing are not limited to E-commerce companies or delivery services, journalists, students, private employees, medical representatives who traverse to hospitals, educational institutions and coaching centres on two-wheelers have been forced to park them at home.

“I was hurtling to the office when the cops deployed on streets stopped me. When I reasoned stopping despite producing documents they seized my bike,” said a video journalist.

The whip has been lashed en masse and the student community is again facing impediments in easy access to education.

“I go to tuitions at Nigeen. En route, I have to pass through many checkpoints. Halfway through, I choose alternative routes, which are sometimes jammed and park my two-wheeler at an acquainted shopkeeper. I choose to traverse by foot ahead of check-points,” said Sahil who is a student of class eleventh. “At times I get late for classes,” he said as local buses en route is slow and filled to the brim.

A private employee at Srinagar’s Rajbagh said it has personally caused him a lot of inconveniences. “I usually go to the office on scooty. My office is located at Rajbagh at a distance of 20 km from my home. But due to the recent seizing trend, I stopped commuting on scooty and am forced to go in public which wasted a lot of my time,” said Muhammad Fazal Buch.

“This is pure harassment of civilians and I fail to understand the legal grounds on which they can seize a civilian’s vehicle despite of the fact one is carrying all the requisite documents and is not violating traffic regulations,” he said.

Similarly, many medical outlets which deliver medicines have been bearing the brunt of bike seizing.

A medical representative speaking on the condition of anonymity said that he chooses alternative routes to reach the hospital.  “Many bikes of medical representatives near one of the tertiary care hospitals were seized,” he said as he has also been forced by family to stop going to work on the bike.

Courier Halt

Sheikh Zahoor Qari, president of Kashmir Courier Association, said that the government’s recent drive to seize bikes has drastically hit the sector. “Besides seizing bikes, courier boys are harassed and beaten despite producing all the legal documents. Who will compensate for the loss during frisking of courier items?” Qari said adding that 75 per cent of the staff from the companies is missing because of fear as parents are not allowing their children to venture out.

According to the president, the load coming from outside is piling up and we are not able to deliver services.

However, he said that he took up the matter with the Divisional Commissioner and clarified with him to stop unnecessary hampering of courier services and the services should be exempted from unnecessary frisking. If the authorities feel something suspicious they should contact the company but not let it impact the general services and larger masses he said.

“Passports, visas, blood samples, e-courier services,” have been hampered Qari alleged as these services are halted, he said that people may have to go to Delhi now to avail services if it continues.

“About 4,000 youngsters are directly employed and there are many whose affiliation is based on commissions to keep the hearth at home burning,” he said as these youth who due to lack of government jobs get absorbed in these companies.

“Around 35 courier companies such as Bluedart, Trackon, DTDC and others are working in Kashmir,” he said.

But as the services have resumed after successive lockdowns, the President believes such decrees may impact the continuation of services and impact the livelihood of thousands of youth.

Meanwhile, according to reports, the Jammu and Kashmir Police said that the bikes were seized because of terrorism-related incidents in the Union territory. “It has got nothing to do with the home minister’s [Amit Shah] visit,” the police said in a tweet.

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