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Communication blockade spurs demand for landlines in Kashmir

Hirra Azmat

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Srinagar: Outside a BSNL office, a queue of desperate subscribers is getting longer by the minute. People turn up in hordes to get either their land line numbers restored or a new connection issued.

For the last one month, Kashmir is witnessing a communication blackout after authorities’ suspended landline, mobile and internet services to avoid any backlash following the scrapping of Article 370.

Facing flak, the government restored landlines in parts of the valley spurring fresh demands for new connections. Huge rush of people could be seen at BSNL office with people waiting for hours to submit their application either for fresh connection or restoration of old numbers.

 

Completely unequipped to handle such maddening rush, the staff behind the counters face the wrath of the impatient public as they struggle to clear the mountain of applications from every place imaginable.

Bashir Ahmad, a retired government servant, has not being able to communicate with his daughter, who studies outside the valley, for the last one month. Waiting patiently in the queue, Ahmad has been coming to BSNL office repeatedly to get his land line number restored.

“Our exchange was restored recently. My hopes were raised but the outgoing facility is still out of bounds. This is my fourth time here and I am really desperate,” he said.

 “It’s my daughter’s first semester and she is yet to get familiar with the new place. I get apprehensions about her well-being every single minute but what to do. I am not able to reach out to her.”

The blockade has adversely affected the business community that relies heavily on the internet. Saqib, a 28-year-old entrepreneur, sits glumly outside the chamber of lease line section, hoping for some information and clarity on when internet will be restored.

“I never ran after the coveted government jobs and always thought of setting up something on my own.  After university, I started my own venture dealing with pharmaceutical goods. It was going well, and I had hired four people and rented an office too,” he lamented.

The blockade, however, came as a bolt from the blue. “Never in my wildest dream did I imagine such a hurdle. I can hardly sustain myself, so I had no option but to lay off the employees and vacate the office,” he said

Saqib fears that the companies, he was dealing with, might switch to distributors in Jammu. “I will have to start from the scratch again, and I don’t think I can again manage to go through the rigmarole again. I think I am done for,” he said.

Meanwhile, many of the Kashmiris studying and working outside have taken to electronic media including TV channels and radio stations to convey their message to the families.


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Lead Stories

Guv launches ‘market intervention scheme’ for apples in J&K

Monitor News Bureau

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Srinagar: Governor Satya Pal Malik launched the ‘Market Intervention Scheme for Apples of J&K’ with the objective of providing optimum prices to the growers. This Scheme has been approved by the Department of Agriculture and Cooperation, Ministry of Agriculture, Govt. of India, under the aegis of Ministry of Home Affairs, for the current apple harvesting season.

This Scheme will be implemented in J&K by the Directorate of Planning and Marketing, supported by the Directorate of Horticulture (Kashmir) and Jammu and Kashmir Horticultural Produce, Marketing and Processing Corporation Ltd.

Vijay Kumar, K.K. Sharma and Farooq Khan, Advisors to Governor; B.V.R. Subrahmanyam, Chief Secretary; Baseer Khan, Divisional Commissioner, Kashmir; S.K. Singh, Additional M.D. National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation of India Ltd. (NAFED) were present on the occasion.

 

Highlighting the vital importance of Horticulture Sector in Jammu and Kashmir’s economy, Governor observed  that with a turnover of Rs 8000 crore per year in this sector and close to 7 lakh families directly and indirectly associated with it, this Sector needs focused attention on  providing every possible support to the growers right from their orchards to the market.

Governor noted that with the launch of this scheme many of the issues relating to the grading of apples, procurement, storage and marketing will be taken care of by the Government. He said that the NAFED will procure and market the apple produce and the apple  growers will be getting many times more remuneration for various Grades of apple.

Governor expressed that this Scheme will help the growers to save their crop from distress sale.He also stressed the need for the farming community to become aware of their rights and strengthen themselves so as not to get exploited by the market forces which are causing farmers to suffer losses.

Governor expressed gratitude to the Union Home Minister for swiftly getting done the whole exercise to launch this initiative in support of farmers of Jammu and Kashmir within two weekss time and sought every stakeholders cooperation in making it a success.

Farooq Khan described it as a momentous occasion for the apple growers whereby they have been assured for a Minimum Support Price for their crop. He described it as a significant initiative to save the growers from the market exploitation and distress sale. He said that this step will also help in making apple from Kashmir a ‘Brand’ thus adding to its value manifold.

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‘Kashmir incurs Rs 3900 Cr loss in 39 days of lockdown’

Firdous Hassan

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Srinagar: It was after years of hard work that 32- year -old Mushtaq Ahmad, who worked as a chef in Srinagar’s prominent hotel, started his own eatery in the city outskirts.

Inspired by valley based food entrepreneurs, he borrowed money from bank and his acquaintances with a promise to repay it before January 2020.

However, his dreams came crashing down when uncertainty gripped Kashmir after Centre abrogated Article 370. For the last one month, Ahmed is at wits end how to repay monthly instalment to the bank to avoid default.

 

“Starting business in Kashmir has become a risky job. One doesn’t know when situation will turn bad. I am a small businessman and one can only wonder about the losses faced by hoteliers and transporters,” he said.

Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industries (KCCI) put the business losses at whopping Rs 3900 crores in the last 39 days of lockdown.

“On an average daily, Kashmir loses at least Rs 100-120 crores due to the lockdown. Tourism industry, which is worth Rs 4000-5000 crores and handicrafts that yields Rs 1500-2000 crores annually, are the worst hit.  It is not just this year but the aftershocks of this situation will be felt in coming years as well,” Sheikh Ashiq Ahmad, President KCCI, told The Kashmir Monitor.

What complicated the situation is the snapping of cellular communication and internet, which determined functioning of most of the businesses particularly Information Technology, courier services, tourism and some of the traditional businesses in the valley. 

Prior to August 2 government advisory, more than 5.21 lakh tourists and 3.40 lakh pilgrims had visited Kashmir. July witnessed the maximum arrivals when 1, 70,000 tourists visited the valley. Following government advisory, more than 20,000 tourists left the valley in just 24 hours.

Tanveer Ahmad, who owns SNS travel agency in Sonawar, said that losses of tour operators, hoteliers and houseboat owners could increase as gag on internet continues within the valley.

“Our business is completely dependent on internet. If this internet gag continues, our losses may go up. For instance if I incurred Rs 20 lakh loss this month, it may cross Rs 50 lakh in another month,” he said.

Empty shikaras, vacant houseboats and deserted hotels presents a grim picture of the tourism sector.

Hundreds of the youth have lost their jobs so far as majority of the hotels in the valley have downed their shutters in absence of tourists.

Shikaras, which would witness a hustle bustle in autumn, now ferry vegetables from the inner parts of Dal to Boulevard.

“Just some 40 days before I was earning Rs 2000 to 4000 daily. Now I am earning just Rs 200. Nobody was prepared for this situation,” said Shakeel Ahmad, a shikarawala.

Horticulture sector, the biggest economy and employment generating sector of Kashmir, too is in the red. “We have no contact with growers and outside state dealers for almost a month now. A box of Babgosha variety of Pears, which last year cost Rs 700 to Rs 800, is sold at Rs 150 to Rs 400. The growers are unable to negotiate the rates with prospective buyers as there is no phone connectivity. We are suffering huge losses,”said Fayaz Ahmad, an apple grower.

Harvest of Delicious variety of apples will begin from September 10 and the communication blockade is already making things worse for the farmers who are unable to contact dealers in Delhi and other states. “No trucker is ready to ferry the produce to other markets of Mumbai, Kolkatta, Chennai and Goa,” he said.

As per the growers, the transportation charges per apple ox from Srinagar to Azadpur fruit Mandi in Delhi has increased by Rs 53.

 “Before the current situation unfolded we had fixed Rs 27.40 as transportation charges for each fruit box from Srinagar to Delhi and Rs 65 per box from Srinagar to Mumbai. This time, however, rates have gone through the roof with truckers charging Rs 80 per box from Srinagar to Delhi and Rs 110 from Srinagar to Mumbai. Plus”, said a dealer at Parimpora Fruit Mandi.

The commercial transport services equally report huge losses since August 5.

An official from the Transport Department said that at least 6000 commercial vehicles have not plied on roads for the last 37 days.   “Not a single commercial vehicle has plied since last 39 days in Srinagar and other districts. Majority of these transporters bought vehicles after lending heavy amount from banks. This sector is reporting heavy losses,” he said.

Traditional handicrafts including pashmina and carpet are also witnessing slump with no fresh orders coming from outside dealers in view of the communication gag.

“I have almost seven carpets ready but there are no buyers because internet and mobile phones services are shut. We lost contact with our dealers and in turn suffer heavy losses,” said Basheer Ahmad, a carpet dealers from Pattan.

There are reports of lay-offs in courier and other e-commerce companies in Kashmir as well. “There are around 3000 youth working as courier boys in the city alone. Most of them have lost their jobs,” said Adil Ahmad, a courier boy.  

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Back to Village programme: It is raining cash for Panchayats in JK

Mudassir Kuloo

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SRINAGAR:   Taking a big leap in empowering Panchayats, Jammu and Kashmir government has authorized Panches and Sarpanches to use funds for developmental works under ‘Back to Village’ programme.

Under this programme, finance department has sanctioned Rs 121 crore for different developmental projects across the state. Each district would be receiving Rs five crore to kick start the works.

The first of its kind, ‘Back to Village’ programme was held from June 21 to 27. During this period, government officers panned out across the state to receive feedback from Panches and Sarpanchs about the developmental needs in different Panchayats.

 

Sources said the exercise was primarily aimed at energizing the 4483 Panchayats.  This follows Centre’s directive to J&K government to ensure empowerment of Panchayats in the state.

“The funds for developmental works will be used by Sarpanches and Panches. District development commissioners will only monitor the funds. They (DCs) have been directed to prioritize the developmental works. Repairing of roads, transformers, high tension lines and schools are some of the works which would be taken up initially under this programme,” sources said. 

Earlier, Centre had enhanced financial powers of Panchayats from Rs 10,000 to Rs 1 lakh. Besides, financial powers of block councils were enhanced from Rs 25,000 to Rs 2.5 lakh. This was part of the initiative to empower around 40,000 Panchayat representatives in the state.

However, there were complaints in the past that funds meant for Panchayats were not reaching to the grassroots.

Waking up to the complaints, Director Rural Development Department Kashmir shot off a letter to the concerned officials asking them to ensure transparency of funds meant for Panchayats in the valley.

“It is mandatory to ensure that the funds in the account of the Halqa Panchayat are properly used. And that the funds balance available in these Halqa Panchayat account prior to the notification of constituted Panchayats or appointment of administers, are in order and every transaction in the said Halqa Panchayat account is as per the financial rules,” reads an order issued by Rural Development Department, in July.

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