by Masood Hussain
SRINAGAR: People, who might not have faced any traffic congestions in Srinagar on eve of Eid, both in uptown and the old city, might have thanked the ultimate traffic manager – Basant Rath. No doubt, he might have contributed to the smooth movement of traffic but the larger reality is that not many people have moved out of their homes on Tuesday on the eve of Eid.
There were not many crowds anywhere in the city markets. Surprisingly, even the Lal Chowk remained easily passable for most of the day. What was shocking to many was that they had not to get into the long queues outside the bakery shops in the city or spend hours outside the mutton retailers.
However, it was a different situation at display in Eidgah and other spots where the herdsmen and goat dealers were selling the sacrificial animals. Most of the animals being sacrificed in Srinagar are being purchased on the eve of Eid-ul-Azha because people do not have own animal shelters at home.
“The market is fifty percent down in readymade,” a shopkeeper who used to have a good Eid sale every year in Regal Chowk said. “Not many people are around.
SK is a special outlet that deals with kids-wear and operates from Regal Chowk. He also admitted that the sales are down by more than forty percent. “Sales are down that is a fact,” one footwear major said. “But this is also a fact that we have stopped living with a pair of shoes between on Eid to another. Now parents get shoes to their kids, almost every season.”
An ice cream seller, however, believes that GST and the demonetization is the culprit! Hilal Mir, who said he would sell items till 1 am in the night in Lal Chowk called it a day at around 3 pm because he had no sales. “It is 99 percent down,” he said.
“It is one of the worst experience in my life as a businessman,” Mohammad Yasin Khan, President Kashmir Traders, and Manufacturers Association, said. “The sales are down by more than 90 percent”. Asked about the reasons, Khan counted many: GST, demonetization, governor’s administration failure in releasing the liabilities of the contractors that had a cascading impact on the market; and long-term impact of the September 2014 floods. “Prior to demonetization, sort of a parallel economy was working which it is not now and I know even the Qurbani market is suffering,” he insisted. “The market is running low on liquidity”.
The visibly better footfalls were seen around Gouni Khan Market which is ladies special. But it faded within two hours in the afternoon.
But what was interesting is that unlike Srinagar, all the peripheral markets are crowded and jubilant. Huge crowds and traffic blocks were reported from Shopian, Kulgam, Pulwama, and Islamabad. The same situation was reported from Sopore, Baramulla and Kupwara.
“It is too crowded and it is very difficult to cross the main Chowk in a vehicle,” Kashmir Life representative from Shopian said. “People have moved out of their homes in huge numbers.”
The situation in Islamabad (Anantnag), the major town in Kashmir after Srinagar was not very different. As markets exploded with the crowds, the vehicular movement became a tricky issue at many places including the huge K P Road. Kulgam was too crowded. “Gadi Tou Gadi, Loug Bhi Market Mein Ruk Ruk Kay Chaltay Hain,” a Kashmir Life reporter said from an overcrowded market.
“It took me 30 minutes to pass Pattan as there were thick crowds and long lines outside the ATM and main bank branch,” another Kashmir Life staffer on way to Kupwara said. “We had to negotiate every single inch.” He was caught in another traffic jam in Sopore that took him another half an hour.
Ghulam Nabi, who sells shoe wear in Pampore said he had to call it a day because there was a lot of work on Monday.
The only factor that was not favourable to market was that Eid is being celebrated in the middle of the month. This essentially means that since employees did not receive their salaries, they had nothing much to spend quickly.
Though employee salaries are vital to the market, they are not the sole source of sustenance, though.
An official source said that the Treasuries across Kashmir have disbursed an amount of more than Rs 300 crore in two days. “It was Rs 128 crore on Monday and today it has already crossed Rs 167 crore, so far, today,” a senior officer said. “There is no liquidity issue with us per se. Right now, we do not have any pending liability, excepting for the bills that we might have received today. We are comfortably placed.”
Jammu and Kashmir Bank is the main barometer of state’s economy including the expenditure. The bank executives said that there has not been any major change. “ATMs are the main cash dispensers in individual cases now,” one executive said. “The disbursal has picked up gradually and is going on. In last four days, our ATMs have disbursed an amount of Rs 355 crore.”
It started on Saturday with a dispersal of Rs 61.05 crore and Sunday saw it going to Rs 71.16 crore, one senior executive said. “On Monday, it went up to Rs 114.32 crore,” he said, “So far on Tuesday, we have recorded it at Rs 108.32 crore by 4 pm but it is still going on.” This excludes crore of rupees that were drawn through the traditional cheque system.
The Real Reasons
Poor liquidity might be a factor but the crisis that Srinagar is witnessing has a different set of reasons.
The major factor that Srinagar trade is yet to comprehend is the fact that market has changed. Srinagar is no more the main market of Kashmir as the district shave emerged as the mini markets offering the same that they may get in Srinagar.
“Now all brands exist in almost in all districts,” Mushtaq Ahmad said. “Name a chain that is in Srinagar alone?”
Even the high-investment personal car brands exist in almost all the districts across Kashmir. “Out of 700 cars that we sell in a month, only 50 percent we sell in Srinagar and the rest goes to the rural Kashmir,” Irfan Ahmad of the JamKash Vehicleads told Kashmir Life. “Right now, we depend on rural Kashmir for growth. The future of car business lies in rural Kashmir. Now, urban Kashmir is a replacement market where people upgrade their cars from one segment to another. But first buyers you find mostly in peripheral Kashmir.”
Off late, some of the major chains that have emerged in Srinagar have gone to the peripheral districts. These are all sort of things: bakery, women wear, kids wear, footwear and even in restaurants.
“I used to go to Srinagar with family on eve of the Eid and it was a huge family event,” one Bejbehara resident said. “Now all those items are within my reach at 5 km. Why should I kill my time in traffic jams?”
Then there are people who think, Srinagar is costly. “The shirt that I got in my town at Rs 650 was given to me at Rs 1200 with a concession – the same brand and the make,” Umar said. “When I asked the cost variation, he started calculating his costs of running the shop.” But these are peripheral things.
The second major changemaker is the online retail. People in Srinagar are getting into the virtual choices in a big way and that is impacting the local retail. “The arrivals are the same as were before the Eid,” one courier company that tackles most of the stuff from online retailers said. “But whatever is routine is significant.”
One banker who has an eye on the market forces said the improved communication is playing a key factor. “Now more and more villagers tend to spend more time with their families at ancestral places,” the banker said. “Better connectivity is attracting businesses as well.” Besides, he insisted that the Eid-ul-Azha lacks comparison with the Eid-ul-Fitr because this time focus is on the sacrificial animals which take most of the budget of the residents.
Dr Haseeb A Drabu, former finance minister understands the market quite differently. “Over time, Srinagar has increasingly ceased to be the barometer of trade and business in Kashmir, it is now becoming more of a bellwether for political sentiment,” Drabu, said on phone from Mumbai. “The business activity has got dispersed to other parts of Kashmir.”
While the Eid special market has taken a hit, there is no change in the routine market, however. But in wake of changing situation, the trade will have to make an extra effort to stay relevant and sustain on a long-term basis.
(The report has the contributions of Saqib Mir from Anantnag, Tahir Bhat from Kupwara, Farzana Nisar from Kulgam, Sheikh Hilal from Shopian and Shams Irfan from Srinagar)