Kashmir economy can’t grow unless there is a permanent settlement of Kashmir issue as otherwise, uncertainty would keep on incurring business losses to our economy; states chairman Kashmir Traders and Manufacturers Federation, Muhammad Yaseen Khan in an interview with Ziraat Times. Excerpts:

ZT: Tell us about your perception about the current business situation in Kashmir.

Honestly speaking, the business situation currently in Kashmir is really bad. We have received back to back blows which have left us in dire straits. On one side our bank loans are accumulating and on the other side there is hardly any business activity.

Downward trend in business has continued post 2014 floods when Kashmir suffered Rs 1 lakh crore losses, while government paid peanuts as compensation.

It was followed by erosion of our financial autonomy i.e. implementation of GST which has resulted in inflation which is easily witnessed in the market. Similarly, demonetization too did some damage. The accumulation of all these factors has rendered us with less than 30 percent business in comparison to pre-flood days.

ZT: How do you see online shopping affecting the local apparel, garment business in the state?

Well, online shopping is picking up. This phenomenon is not only in Kashmir but everywhere, traders have to gear up for this challenge. But, unfortunately, in Kashmir due to the situation, it has more impact on our businesses as people do online shopping even during hartals while as they can’t shop during the shutdown. That point has to be considered, that is a disadvantage for our traders.

ZT: You talked about hartals. What is the quantum of loss incurred by the business community during shutdown or curfew days?

As per our preliminary estimates, on an average our business losses run upto Rs 100 crore a day in Kashmir. But we hapless people have no option other than to shut our shops when our beloved are killed by forces. Besides hartals, there are also government forced shutdowns like you witness in the old city which remains caged for days where no business activity takes place. The closure of shops in old city has an impact across the Srinagar. Similarly, small incidents cause losses. Therefore, it is prudent for the government to restore normalcy in order to pave way for the economic development of the state.

ZT: What is the state of tourism currently?

I have been reiterating this fact that tourism is subservient to peace. If there is no peace there cannot be tourism. People come here to visit, to holiday and to relax. They can relax only in the situation which is conducive. Therefore, it is a must that both India and Pakistan come on board and resolve this dispute so that Kashmir can prosper.

I would also like to add that tourism stakeholders are facing the most brunt of the current situation. There are facing economic meltdown, they have invested hugely while returns are scare.

ZT: Agriculture economy has largely remained immune from the disturbed situation. How do you see the prospects of value addition in the sector?

Our agri-economy is our lifeline beyond any doubt. It is our horticulture which has helped us a lot financially during all these years of turbulence. Last year due to the advent of CA stores we could sell apples at Rs 180 a kg which normally during peak season would have been sold at Rs 10 to 20. It is the impact of value addition.

I have been always saying that horticulture has a potential of Rs 20,000 crore in Kashmir alone. But it not being explored due to the inefficiency of the government. Look at China, from last 30 years we have not able to compete with their Fuji apple. We need scientific advancement and high-density plantation to increase our yield. Besides new marketing strategies in order to give impetus to our agri-economy.

But unfortunately, agriculture and horticulture are least priorities for the government. We don’t have even mobile labs for conducting tests which are otherwise available in all parts of India.

ZT: Do you feel there is a brain drain and also an investment drain happening due to the prevalent situation in Kashmir?

True, our talented and educated youth are excelling across the globe. But the unfortunate part is that instead of working here they are working outside the state which is a huge loss to Jammu and Kashmir. It is worse than economic losses. We have youngsters and educated youth channelizing their energy here in order to make Jammu and Kashmir an epitome of excellence. But the current situation is preventing this from happening.

Similarly, there is hardly any outside investment. We don’t blame any businessmen for that but it is our situation which is forcing them not to invest here. Otherwise, Kashmir is a paradise for investment too.

ZT: Any advice for youngster and budding entrepreneurs?

Don’t run after government jobs, there is a world beyond those jobs. Go for agriculture and horticulture sectors, there are most viable business prospects in Kashmir there, as we have abundant resources available to succeed in these sectors. Further, they are immune from the situation.

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