Sheikhs In Srinagar

Three months after a couple of UAE’s retail chains started importing Kashmir products, a major delegation of the potential investors spent three days in Srinagar exploring possibilities of investment, Tahir Bhat reports

A delegation of traders from Gulf region, mostly from UAE, are in Srinagar to explore opportunities of investment. They had a dinner meeting with the Lt Governor, Manoj Sinha on October 21, 2021 at Srinagar.
LG Manoj Sinha interacting with entrepreneurs and CEOs from Gulf countries who are on a visit to explore business opportunities in J&K on March 21, 2022

A delegation of 36 honchos of various businesses, mostly from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), spent almost four days in Srinagar, exploring possibilities of investment. Though it was an exploratory visit, indications suggest that some of them have hinted that they would like to do something in Jammu and Kashmir.

Apart from attending the day-long Gulf Investors Summit in Srinagar, the potential investors – who had flown in a private jet to Srinagar – spent a night each at Pahalgam and Gulmarg. “It was just an exploratory visit as we had told them to see the place first, but, what I was told, most of them are positive,” Bal Kishen, the CEO of Dubai’s Century Financial said. “We will have a review meeting soon and will be able to convey who will be doing what.”

Bal Kishen Rathore, basically from Kishtwar is settled in UAE since 1996. He said he has personally committed to investing the US $100 million and after the latest visit, he will be doing more. “The commitment of this investment envisaged a multi-purpose construction in Jammu having housing and commercial parts and a hotel each at Basholi, Doda and Bhaderwah,” Kishen said. “Now, after the latest visit, I have decided to invest in a hotel each at Pahalgam, Srinagar and Gulmarg the details of which will be known once the process starts.”

LG Manoj Sinha with an Arab trader delegation in Srinagar. A BJP member is also part of the frame. The delegation visited Srinagar in March 2022

Ever since the Jammu and Kashmir administration started looking for offshore investments after the announcement of the new industrial policy, the UAE was perhaps the nearest and the first destination. Top officials including the Lt Governor, Manoj Sinha flew to UAE and met the potential investors.

“The first round was instantly impressive,” Farooq Amin, the Secretary-General of the Kashmir Chamber said. “A number if business groups who are in retail started importing Kashmir products and gave us the market. These included mostly fruits and handicrafts.”

LG Manoj Sinha shows various products from Jammu and Kashmir to the visiting Arab traders’ delegation in Srinagar.

In the first round when LG Sinha flew to the island nation, the Jammu and Kashmir administration signed several MoUs with UAE-based Al Maya Group, MATU Investments LLC, GL Employment Brokerage LLC and Noon. Groups like the Lulu group have been sourcing Kashmir products and selling them through their retail chains across the region. They are reported to have appointed staff that keeps the supply lines going.

Amin said they had a very good meeting with the visiting delegation. “We suggested to them that they can take their time in deciding what they wish to do but we insisted that they must have tie-ups with the local businesses,” Amin said. “They agreed to it and the first major announcement they made in Srinagar was to create a Jammu and Kashmir Centre in Dubai where they can encourage and invest in ideas put forward by the new generation.”

Bal Kishen said various members of the Emeriti businessmen who visited Srinagar have agreed to hire the youth from Jammu and Kashmir. It will be mostly in the human resource intensive hospitality sector. Already, more than 15000 Kashmiri residents work in UAE.

New Initiatives

“The delegation returned satisfied, they liked the place and were very impressed by the cooperation that the local businesses extended,” Bal Kishen said. “It is a fact that the investors look for profits and they have found investments profitable. Whatever I could gather, they will be investing in hotel lines, resort making, hospitals, university, retail and the cold store.” However, Kishen said the final decision will only be taken once they meet within or after the Ramzan, the Muslim month of fasting.

“The idea is to get another delegation in the next two to three months,” Kishen said. “We will be approaching some major businesses, owned and run by the NRI but it will take a bit of time.”

A Kashmir artisan showing a miniature of Srinagar’s Jamia Masjid carved in wood.

Kashmir Chamber President talked to the media in appreciation of the initiative. “We hope it would provide create ample opportunities for our young entrepreneurs, start-ups who pitched their investment ideas before the visiting business,” Sheikh Ashiq said. “People from Gulf countries are coming for investment which is a good thing. We have been making efforts for this kind of interaction.”

Authorities had invited a number of local entrepreneurs and start-ups to showcase their ideas and products. According to an official spokesman BST Organics Pvt Ltd, Pashmkaar, Sarveshwar Group, Sky Robo Drones Pvt Ltd, ESPA Learn Pvt Ltd, Fastbeetle, Orchardly, JKTDC, Reem Automotives, Peaks Group of Companies showcased their products and pitched their ideas to the investors for investment and answered their queries during the interactive session. There were some women entrepreneurs who are being provided assistance in the form of capacity building, access to credit, and market linkages under the Hausla- inspiring her growth programme also pitched their models for further investment. These included Ecokash, Masha and SEED solutions.

The Speech

LG Sinha termed the visit “an expression of confidence” in the potential for business cooperation between Jammu and Kashmir and the Gulf countries. “We have worked with a coherent framework in the last two years to harness Jammu and Kashmir’s immense natural resources and economic potential,” Sinha said. “Under the guidance of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah, we have also worked out a blueprint to unlock investment flows from compliance and restrictions. Over Rs 70,000 crores worth investment proposals have been received within a year.”

Sinha said his administration has promised to provide global standard end-to-end facilities for the businesses, skilled workforce, transparent and hassle-free regulatory mechanism, and creation of necessary infrastructure wherever required.

“So far about 130 services are active on our single-window portal. We have also coordinated with various departments towards minimizing regulatory compliance burden over the businesses by eradicating redundant compliances, streamlining the processes for ease of doing business in the UT,” Sinha said, insisting the Jammu and Kashmir offers an abundant demographic dividend, amazingly easy interface with the Government, specific industrial land bank, sector-specific policy, ever-growing public infrastructure, reforms furthering ease of doing business, a host of tax benefits, and most importantly a secure environment to facilitate new investments. “We are committed to protecting and promoting economic growth, and exploiting the opportunities.”

Seeking Saudi Markets

Reports appearing in media said that the encouraging response to the Kashmir products in the region has encouraged policymakers to seek help from Saudi Arabia and Qatar in opening its markets to Kashmir products, mostly fruits and handicrafts. There are efforts to invite business leaders from the two countries for similar exploratory visits.

Kashmiri handicraft dealer explained the carpet to a visiting delegation of Arab traders in Srinagar in March 2022. LG Manoj Sinha is guiding the guests.

Certain products of Kashmir, especially used for headgear are not so unpopular in the desert kingdom. At the peak of Saudi’s tensions with Pakistan over Kashmir, Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman wore Kashmiri Shahtoos Shawl while presiding over a meeting of the Public Investment Fund. Kashmir’s silken carpets have always remained a key Srinagar import to the country. This was the reason why the Kashmir Chamber is seeking a direct flight from Srinagar on the pattern of the Srinagar-Sharjah flight.

Delegation, Timing

Officials said the delegation comprises 36 businessmen. These included Saleh Mohammad Ramadhan Alrafi, who is in the real estate and commercial trading, Mohammad Ali Redha Alhasimi, (MD Al Hashemi Group), Ahmad Mohammad Ramadhan Alrafei, (CEO Roya International), Abdulla Omar Ahmad Ahmad Altayer, (ED Al-Tayer Group), Salem Abdulaziz Mustafa Abdulla Almazrooqi, who represented the Rulers Office in Abu Dhabi, Ramesh Kumar Sawarthia, (Chairman of Sawarthia Group from Hong Kong) and Ayman Abdulrahman S Alhilali (CEO Alpha Sky, Saudi Arabia).

The delegation included a member of the royal family, Shaikh Abdelaziz Humaid Saqer Alqasimi, diplomat Awadh Mohamed Al Mogrin Sultan, Jassim Mohammed Jassim Ahli (Director Intercontinental Dubai), Abdulaziz Mohammad Saeed Abdulla (Hanadi Trading Est), and Mazher Farooqui Sabir (Sr Editor, Khaleej Times). Also in the delegation were Salem Abdulaziz Mustafa Abdulla Almazrooqi (partner of Rawaaj), Mohamed Saleh Hassan Mohamed Almulla (Everon Dubai), Abdulla Mohammad Yousuf Abdulla Alshaibani (Emirates International Investment), Abdelrahim Abdalla Mohamed Safar (Gulf Travel and Tourism), Abdulla Ali Salem Mohammad Mubarak (Ava Art Gallery) and Karan Kumar Bhawnani (West Zone) and various temple trustees.

The group had a few NRIs also. These included Kamal Puri (Chairman Skyline International Group Ltd), Manohar Mohanlal Lahori (CEO Palmon Group) and Tauseef Chaman (real estate and property developer).

The delegation visit coincided with the 57-member OIC’s Foreign Ministers Conclave (March 21) in Islamabad in which the host talked about Kashmir and the group’s failure in addressing it. The Government of India strongly objected to the raking up of Kashmir in the meeting.

LG Manoj Sinha in a group photograph with the team of a potential investor during the Dubai summit in early January 2022.. Pic: DIPR-JK

Though the desert region is the nearest to the Indian coasts and is literally managed by the India-Pakistan workforce, UAE has made its intimate relations with India public when it emerged as the first Muslim country to publicly announce that August 5, 2019 decision making was India’s “internal matter”.

“We took note of the introduction of Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Bill in the Indian Parliament aimed at replacing Article 370 with the creation of Ladakh region and the state of Jammu and Kashmir as India’s two new Union Territories,” Ahmad Al Banna, UAE Ambassador to India, said. “We expect that the changes would improve social justice and security and confidence of the people in the local governance and will encourage further stability and peace.”

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