ZT News Network

Srinagar, May 7: Jammu and Kashmir Socio Economic Coordination Committee (JKSECC), which is an amalgam of various trade, industrial, travels, tour, tourism, horticultural, educational, contractors, pharmaceutical, houseboat, bakers, transporters and civil society formations of J&K, has expressed its deep concern over the dwindling business scenario in the valley for past almost one year now which, according to the amalgam, has otherwise been at its lowest ebb owing to three decades of turbulent environment coupled with natural calamities, anti business government  policies and negative propaganda. 

In a press statement issued at the press conference held by the organisation in Srinagar on Monday, JKSECC further said (Ziraat Times produces the statement verbatim below):

“The unprecedented situation has arisen due to frequent closure of the highway which today happens to be the only stretch of road connecting the valley with rest of the world. This highway during the past almost one year has mostly remained affected due to landslides caused because of the ongoing construction works and bad weather conditions. Pertinent to mention here that the ongoing  upgradation and widening of the highway is part of the North-South Corridor under the National Highways Development Project launched  by former Prime Minister Late Atal Bihari Vajpayee in the year 1998, completed decades back  everywhere except here where it has witnessed progress at a snail’s pace and work  still in progress. For all this time, there has only been a one-way traffic system implemented by the authorities for commercial vehicles which essentially, gave only three days to the traders to move their goods to and fro. The road miseries got further aggravated because of bad weather that witnessed stranding of vehicles not for days but even weeks together. The fact of the matter is that while implementing the road widening programme on weak mountains having loose soils is like fighting with nature resulting in heavy landsliding even by moderate rain or snowfall. 

As if the woes of traders and transporters were not enough that the Government on 3rd of April, 2019 under their order No: 353-Home (ISA) banned vehicular traffic for two days in a week on 300 Kms of Udhampur-Uri highway till end of May. 

The highway interruptions due to ongoing works, bad weather and government ban is essentially giving just one day in a week to the traders for movement of their goods either ways with a punishment of six days by stranding vehicles enroute. 

This scenario has led to collosal socio-economic problems adding to huge monetary losses and trauma of hapless traders, transporters and general public.

In normal conditions over 500 trucks ply on the highway for transportation of goods from either sides. Out of these more than 200 trucks carry fruits, vegetables, mutton, poultry, milk and other perishable items while about 300 trucks carry retail, raw material and other items into the valley. The interruption on the highway has not only hampered the normal social and economic activities in the valley but has also made the businessmen suffer monetary losses.  Whereas stranding of vehicles enroute has caused 10-15% mortality loss to the livestock, the perishable items are witnessing up to 60% wastage. On the export front, the horticulture produce has suffered heavy losses as only 40% of the 65 lac fruit boxes targeted for exports during the past 3 months could be released and transported from CA stores. Owing to the fact that it took trucks 7-9 days to reach major markets, the fruit ladden in these trucks lost its sheen which resulted in its sale on low or throw away prices which at times could not even suffice to meet the transportation and storage charges. The flowers and vegetables ready for export could not be ventured to send out for their shorter shelf lives likely to expire enroute. 

The delay caused in transportation of raw material has severely impacted the manufacturing sector besides the construction industry in the valley resulting in idle wages and surge in establishment cost including bank interest. 

The highway ban order has drastically reduced the earnings of most of the 39000 private cab owners, 776 bus owners and 11500 Auto rickshaw owners of the affected areas in the valley. 

The highway ban on Wednesdays and Sundays have also impacted expected tourist inflow to the valley as this ban interfered with the booking schedule of tourists. The government’s review to exempt tourist vehicles couldn’t be communicated through media with the same strength as that of the ban order. Almost 100% escalation in aviation fares kept back these tourists from taking an alternative mode of travelling. The low tourist influx besides impacting hotel, houseboat and guesthouse owners also badly affected thousands of tourist taxi operators, shikarawalas, ponywalas, handicraft dealers and the like.  

The stranding of vehicles for days on the highway route hiked the transportation charges by up to whopping 40%. Despite the hike, the transporters complained of heavy losses in their normal earnings because of long halts and additional route expenditures including alleged palm greasing which we are afraid should not become a new normal. 
The sub-optional use of the only highway has not only escalated the prices of all commodities in the valley but has also put the population to great inconvenience owing to the scarcity of essentials and necessities including medicine.

JKSECC is highly concerned on this dwindling business scenario which has directly impacted our livelihood and employment. Whereas a large section of business community is planning to take an exit route, the younger generation seems least interested in taking up entrepreneurship as their means of livelihood. This trend is very harmful for our society as it shakes the very vitals of our socio-economic balancing. The government and its various agencies are to act in consonance with the public needs and convenience but unfortunately we witness its reverse in the state. There seems to be no regards to the fundamental rights of the people to move freely which is in contrast to the democratic values and constitutional provisions ensuring such rights.

The state government is duty bound to ensure free movement of private and public transport and take decisions to augment the normal social and economic activities. On the contrary, the avoidable decisions of the government have only ripened the perception of many that they were being collectively punished and discriminated against all norms, laws and rules. The onus of this perception lies on the shoulders of the government which should come forward to act as the facilitator in making the life of people comfortable and remove their inconvenience caused because of their diktats, discriminatory orders and authoritarian actions. Though it is an internationally accepted dictum that free movement on roads has to be ensured by the powers that be, the irony here is that the same is being defeated by the government itself. JKSECC is of firm belief that the two day ban imposed on movement of traffic was avoidable. As curative measures JKSECC demands the following:

1.The state government should constitute a competent committee to assess and make public the losses incurred by various segments of business caused due to highway interruptions by road widening and two-day ban during past one year. 
2. The state government needs to make arrangements for compensation of these losses at the earliest. 
3.  The state government needs to provide dependable alternative routes to connect the valley with outside world in the interest of avoiding unimaginable inconveniences and losses to the business community as well as the general public. 

It would be in the fitness of things if the Governor of the state Shri Satya Pal Malik calls for a meeting to be participated by his advisors, administrative secretaries and others besides the stakeholders like us at an earliest date convenient to him.

We hope a prompt and early government is taken in response on the issue raised in this press conference.