Jammu and Kashmir’s economy has taken a severe beating since the abrogation of Article 370 and 35A in August this year. The worst-hit industries include tourism, information technology, hotels, horticulture and export industry, say experts.
According to the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI), the region’s economy is in dire straits while the losses incurred since 5 August are colossal in nature, mostly due to the continued ban on internet, pre-paid mobile phones, SMS and the protest shutdown of over 100 days now.
“As per our moderate estimates, the business sectors in Kashmir Valley have suffered losses over ₹10,000 crore. Worse, the damage caused thus far is not recoverable by any stretch of the imagination,” Sheikh Ashiq, KCCI President, told The Federal.
The KCCI is in the process of compiling a detailed report on the economic losses that Kashmir has suffered from early August till mid-November. It will be soon made public, he said.
Though the situation is showing some slow signs of improvement, the lockdown has caused distress and huge financial losses to the trading community and business fraternity.
For the current uncertainty and business losses, the KCCI officials blame the Jammu and Kashmir administration and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government in New Delhi for issuing advisories to the tourists and Amarnath pilgrims in late July, days before the controversial decision to strip off Jammu and Kashmir’s remaining autonomy and statehood.
Deceptive narrative of development
The advisories issued by the Centre had directed tourists and pilgrims to leave the Valley almost immediately, dealing a huge blow to the tourism industry. Soon, all tourists and pilgrims left the region in panic. “The Government of India cannot blame competing political formations or ideological rivals for the current disturbance. No one is issuing protest calendars here. The prevailing atmosphere of fear and uncertainty is the government’s own creation. The local population, tourists, pilgrims and migrant workers — all have been made to suffer. The government’s narrative of development is a deception. It is also misleading,” the KCCI said.
Like everyone else, the restaurant owners and tourism players are bearing financial losses and facing uncertainty once again. Young entrepreneurs are either giving up or visiting psychiatrists for counselling sessions because of the heavy losses suffered by them.
Mir Muneeb, a young entrepreneur and owner of a double venture ‘The Other Side Café’ and ‘The Other Side Oven’ in Srinagar told The Federal, “This year it is the third setback for me in last five or six years.”
Mir is contemplating shutting down one of his ventures in Nigeen Srinagar after suffering losses over ₹20 lakhs this season. He had to shut down one of his ventures in south Kashmir in the aftermath of Burhan Wani’s killing in July 2016.
“First, the September 2014 floods caused devastation. After Burhan’s killing in 2016, Kashmir remained shut for over four months. That was a second setback to our business, especially in south Kashmir. Now we have lost over 100 days of business in 2019,” he said.
The ban on the internet has also meant that there are no orders forthcoming from platforms like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Whatsapp.
“Not only is there a stop on our growth, but such setbacks also shatter one’s confidence as an entrepreneur. Three massive setbacks in the last five years have caused unimaginable trauma and financial losses,” he said.
The big restaurant players like Tariq Bhat are also shattered.
Bhat, owner of a famous Pizza chain in Kashmir, said that he has already endured economic losses between ₹6-7 crores in last three months alone.
A chain of restaurants he runs at separate locations in the heart of Srinagar city could not be opened from August 5 to October 25 because of the unprecedented shutdown, internet ban, restrictions on movement, and also civil disobedience.
Afterwards, the restaurant management decided to provide only take-aways. Before August 5, they would take orders online while many families would throng the restaurants for family outings on a daily basis.
Similarly, the hoteliers have suffered huge losses because of the blow to the tourism industry when the season was supposed to be at its peak. Thousands of expected visitors cancelled their bookings after August 5 even when many hotels offered them discounts up to 50%. Nothing worked.
Internet ban breaks backbone of the economy
The major blow to the economy, the tourism players and IT-experts insist, has been the absence of the internet. The Kashmir Valley is without internet facilities for the last 105 days now.
Broadband, data, lease and mobile internet is totally shut, causing unprecedented losses and inconveniences to the people associated with IT-sector, media, tourism, export business, restaurants and horticulture etc.
“Thousands of young Kashmiri boys and girls associated with IT-industry, tourism, horticulture and export businesses are suffering while many have already lost jobs and trust of their clients,” said a KCCI official.
He said that their clients based in the United States, Europe and other countries “will never trust us again or rely on us in future because they know the region (Kashmir) is disturbed and faces frequent and prolonged internet shutdowns.”
Political commentator Yogendra Yadav on completion of his three-day long Kashmir trip told reporters in Srinagar that the “suspension of the internet in Kashmir is badly hitting day-to-day life. “Internet is not just a tool of entertainment, but a necessity and basic right of people. Without access to web, trade and economy have suffered badly in Kashmir,” Yadav said.
He told media persons that he has his views on the political question of Kashmir but would like to express them once he was back to New Delhi.
Vagaries of weather
The inclement weather and early snowfall in November has not helped matters either. Officials claim that because of the recent snowfall at least 50,000 hectares of orchards have been affected in north Kashmir alone, thus negatively affecting the rural economy.
Quoting officials the Srinagar-based English daily Greater Kashmir reported that “around 51,462 hectares of orchards across north Kashmir were badly affected by the untimely snowfall.”
In the four volatile districts of south Kashmir the damage caused to the apple orchards has also been massive. Tens of thousands of apples trees were either uprooted or badly damaged in the snowfall that Kashmir received on November 7.
Horticulture experts say that the damage caused by weather is likely to negatively impact the apple production next season as well.’