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.