President of Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry Javed Ahmad Tenga tells Umar Mukhtar
KASHMIR LIFE (KL): What challenges you see for the Kashmir trade?
JAVED A TENGA (JAT): The business is suffering for the past several years for obvious reasons. The handicrafts and tourism sector has suffered more. It was floods first and a series of unpleasant events that followed through 2016 and 2017, the unabated negative image of the events projected by the electronic and to some extent by the print media contributed negatively.
It is worrisome situation because we have to deal with the challenge on many fronts. We are making all-out efforts separately and jointly with other tourism trade organisations to revive and help to restore the glorious legacy of our business. While road shows and seminars are being organised to neutralize the negative media propaganda in different states of country for promotion of tourism, we look forward to organise and participate in exhibitions and trade fairs in metropolitan cities of the country and on an international level in world’s important Buyer-Seller Meets and exhibitions to enhance the handicraft business.
KL: Has demonetisation had an impact?
JAT: The demonetization caused a troublesome liquidity freeze throughout India so did it in Kashmir. The cash crunch that followed the demonetization undoubtedly had a cascading effect on all types of business activity and the general market slump in the country is a natural result of strained cash flow.
KL: But how are you managing Kashmir handicrafts in wake of machine-made products? What are you doing to save Brand Kashmir?
JAT: The Kashmir handicraft products are unique. But it is also a fact that there are machine made products sold with Kashmir tag by some greedy traders to earn a buck more. This has, of course, been a cause of worry for the Chamber. In fact, all those in the business of Kashmir handicraft needs to appreciate that it is the handicraft industry that has essentially sustained the economy of the state through tough and turbulent past. Our conscience should, therefore, awaken us to protect this heritage of ours against the onslaught of fakes and imitations.
It is our bounden duty to promote genuine handicraft products which actually has earned us name and fame. Our handicraft traders and exporters have to play an important role.
We have succeeded in getting seven products viz. Pashmina Shawls, Kashmir Sozni, Kani Shawls, Kashmir Hand Knotted Carpet, Papeir Machie, woodcarving, Khatambandh, brought under GI (Geographic Indication) certification and are encouraging our artisans through workshops and seminars to avail GI registration of their products so as to beat the imitations in the market. We have also pleaded with the government to make budgetary provision in the state budget for promoting “Brand Kashmir” in the world buyer markets through our participation in the International Buyer-Seller Meets, high-end exhibitions and fairs.
KL: Is J&K heading towards the single window concept as you have been demanding?
JAT: Single window concept has not actually been rolled out for the lack of clear-cut policy interventions. We do not see, at any level in the state government or the financial institutions or banks that professional managers would professionally assess and evaluate the feasibility of projects in terms of investment, demand and market competitiveness of the product. We are working on it and pursuing on these lines with the government.
KL: What has GST done to Kashmir?
JAT: The Chamber has been demanding its rollback. Our demand as such persists even now. Frankly speaking with the implementation of GST our handicraft business has been subjected to several impediments. Our handicraft products have remained tax exempted throughout until GST was implemented. Now under the GST regime not only the tax element is added but the movement of our product got restricted. You know we don’t have buyers for our handicrafts within the state so our traders, exporters need to transfer their stocks to their own branch offices established in other states for national and international buyers. It usually takes its own time to get their goods sold in the high-end market. Earlier it would not matter for them because they would transfer the stocks freely without the encumbrance of any taxes. But now they have to deposit the GST on such stocks in advance which they cannot afford so the business gets restricted to the lowest level. GST has impacted general trade also. The purchasing capacity of general wholesale traders got reduced because they cannot always afford deposition of GST in advance for larger purchases.
KL: LoC trade is nearly a decade. Has it evolved?
JAT: LoC trade was a confidence-building measure (CBM) between the two countries. The Chamber has played its role to make it happen. But sadly it does not appear growing. Although there is a huge potential and wide scope for large-scale trade it revolves around the trading of 21 items allowed under barter system of trade. We have been seeking changes in the system, improvement in facilitation and evolving proper banking system. We had even suggested a negative list. But nothing has changed. It moves on at the same sluggish pace. Now the Frequent intermittent skirmishes have started having an impact. It will remain so unless the basic conflict remains unresolved.
KL: Have you devised any mechanism to safeguard the business in wake of frequent unrests?
JAT: Survival of business in such circumstances is a matter of will. We have been living through the turmoil for quite a long time now and the time has taught us the traits to survive and it is perhaps our resilience and resolve that helps us to carry on.