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.
UN chief could discuss Kashmir issue at UNGA: UN spokesman
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres is likely to use the opportunity of discussions during the high-level UN General Assembly session that begins here next week to raise the Kashmir issue, the UN chief’s spokesperson has said.
Spokesman for the Secretary-General Stephane Dujarric during the daily press briefing here on Thursday said that the UN chief has underscored the need for dialogue as the only way to resolve the issue and, “as part of the solution for the current crisis in Kashmir, to make sure that human rights aspects are very much dealt with, as well.”
“…On Kashmir, the Secretary General… has said previously, he remains engaged. I think he will also use the opportunity of discussions during the General Assembly to raise it,” Dujarric said, responding to a question on the situation in Kashmir.
On Wednesday, Guterres emphasised that “dialogue” between India and Pakistan is an “absolute essential element” for reaching a solution on the Kashmir issue, and said his good offices are available should both sides ask for it and called for full respect of human rights.
“Well, our capacity is related to good offices, and good offices can only be implemented when the parties accept it. And, on the other hand, it relates to advocacy, and the advocacy was expressed and will be maintained,” Guterres said during his press conference ahead of the UN General Assembly session.
Guterres was asked by a Pakistani journalist about the situation in Jammu and Kashmir and what will he do to bring a solution to the Kashmir issue.
“I go on with a clear opinion that human rights must be fully respected in the territory, and I go on with the clear opinion that dialogue between India and Pakistan is an absolutely essential element for the solution of the problem,” he said.
India has always maintained that Jammu and Kashmir is its integral part and ruled out any third party mediation, including either from the UN or the US, saying it is a bilateral issue with Pakistan.
The UN Secretary General has also repeatedly asserted that his good offices are available only if both sides ask for it.
Tension between India and Pakistan escalated after New Delhi revoked Jammu and Kashmir’s special status on August 5. Pakistan has downgraded diplomatic ties with New Delhi and expelled the Indian High Commissioner.
Pakistan has been trying to internationalise the Kashmir issue but India has asserted that the abrogation of Article 370 was its “internal matter”.
Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan has vowed to raise the Kashmir issue at the UN General Assembly (UNGA) session in New York on September 27. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is also scheduled to speak on the same day.
Amid Kashmir tensions, India will participate at SAARC meeting in New York
NEW DELHI: Amid heightened Indo-Pak tensions, India will participate at the SAARC foreign ministers meeting scheduled to be held on September 26 on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session, officials said on Thursday.
External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and Minister of State for External Affairs V Muraleedharan will be present in the US next week and will hold bilateral and multilateral meetings.
Officials said India will participate in the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation foreign ministers meeting that is scheduled for September 26.
The meeting on the sidelines of the UNGA could bring Jaishankar and his Pakistani counterpart Shah Mehmood Qureshi face to face for the first time after the abrogation of Article 370 provisions.
Asked about a possible meeting with his Pakistani counterpart as well as the future of the SAARC regional grouping, Jaishankar, at a press conference earlier this week, had said, “if and when I meet Pakistani Foreign Minister, we will see at that time what happens”.
The SAARC is about regional cooperation and that refers to trade, MFN, connectivity etc.
, he had said, adding that now every member knows which country is promoting SAARC and which one is impeding it.
Last year, then External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj had attended the SAARC Foreign Ministers meeting, usually held on the sidelines of the UNGA.
Plea alleges detention of children in Kashmir, SC seeks report
The Supreme Court on Friday sought a report from Jammu and Kashmir High Court on the alleged detention of children in Kashmir during curbs following the scrapping of Article 370 in the state on August 5.
Senior advocate Huzefa Ahmadi, representing child right activists Inakshi Ganguly and Shanta Sinha who have alleged detention of children in Kashmir, had on September 16 told the apex court that people in the Valley are not able to approach the high court there.
A bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi said it would entertain the petition regarding alleged detention of children in Kashmir as the plea has raised “substantial issues” regarding minors. The top court directed the Juvenile Justice Committee of the Jammu and Kashmir High Court to file a report before it within a week on the issue.
The Supreme Court also said it had received a report from the Chief Justice of Jammu and Kashmir High Court and claims that people are unable to access the court there are not supported.
“We have received the report from the chief justice (of Jammu and Kashmir High Court) which does not support your statement,” the bench also comprising justices S A Bobde and S A Nazeer told the counsel appearing for the petitioners.
The Supreme Court also sought response from the Jammu and Kashmir administration on a plea challenging detention of five persons in Kashmir following the abrogation of Article 370.
The bench asked Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, who was appearing for the Jammu and Kashmir administration, to file his response.