The enduring violence and strife in the state of Jammu & Kashmir, particularly in the Valley, has not only caused tremendous miseries to its people but has also halted the economic and developmental activities in the region.
Early this year, Mehbooba Mufti-led government tabled the “Economic Survey 2016” in the state assembly, revealing that in addition to incomparable human loss, the state has lost Rs 16,000 crore to the last year’s summer unrest. The 265-page survey report also informed that the unrest has delayed the infrastructure projects and caused failure in implementing routine schemes. The comprehensive report explains how the state has faced tremendous loss of industrial production and services coupled with the halt in economic activities in the backdrop of long spells of curfews and hartals for a period of more than five months from July 8, 2016 to November 2016.
The current year, 2017, too seems not much different from the previous one. Apart from the deadly encounters between the security forces and the militants in populated areas, on a daily basis and the frequent armed clashes between Indian and Pakistani troops on the Line of Control, the hartals, bandhs, curfews, restrictions, frequent scrapping of internet and mobile phone services has become a routine here. All this abnormality immobilises the whole life in the Valley every now and then. It is now more than a year since most of the business activities have almost come to a halt due to the conflict situation. Trade, tourism and the transport industry have been severely hit.
One can gauge the worsening situation of trade and tourism in Kashmir by looking at the isolated Dal Lake in Srinagar, which otherwise used to be a buzz at this time of the season, with domestic and foreign tourists roaming around on shikaras. Houseboats and hotels rooms near Srinagar’s famous Boulevard Road are also unoccupied.
“I have been waiting for the guests for more than a year now. No one shows up. We have lost this year’s business too,” Azim Tuman, sitting on nicely decorated living room of his houseboat, told TSI.
Azim Tuman is a well-known name in the tourism industry of Kashmir. He has been president of the Kashmir Houseboat Owners’ Association for more than a decade in the past.
Tuman spends approximately Rs 30 lakh a year on the maintenance of his three largesized houseboats floating on the waters of the famous Nigeen Lake in Srinagar.
He further said, “It is not easy to own a houseboat and keep it without guests. For a houseboat, one needs to keep at least four employees on job all the time. A houseboat staff comprises a cleaner, a cook, a waiter and a watchman. Then we have to pay the water and the electricity bills and municipal taxes round the year, even after we have no guests seen for months together.”
Many hoteliers have already sent their staff members back to home to save the expenditures.
“Before the unrest started in July last year, I had as many as seven workers at my hotel. Now I have kept only a manager and a caretaker,” said Manzoor Ahmad, a hotelier in Pahalgam, a famous tourist resort of the Valley. Manzoor’s hotel has 15 rooms. “There has been hardly any occupancy for the past more than a year,” he added.
In Srinagar’s Dal Lake, there are more than two thousand shikaras registered with the state tourism department. But one can see just a few of them waiting for the tourists on the shore of the lake, others have winded up their business till the guests start showing up again.
One can gauge the wOrsening situatiOn Of trade and tOurism in Kashmir by lOOKing at the isOlated dal laKe, which Otherwise remains crOwded
Irshad, a young man and a shikarawala (boatman), told TSI, “These days only some local (Kashmiris) come for a shikara ride in the lake. In a vibrant tourist season, I used to earn Rs 1,500 to 2,000 a day but now I feel lucky if I make Rs 300- 400 a day.”
Decline in tourist inflow has never been a new thing in Kashmir during the past 27 years of militancy. The real setback to the Kashmir’s tourism industry occurred in late 1989 and early 1990, when militancy was erupted in Kashmir for the first time. Before that Kashmir used to be one of the preferred destinations for the domestic and foreign tourists. Even the Kashmir Valley, also known as ‘the heaven on earth’ was also a favourite shooting destination for the Bollywood film industry.
“In those days, tourism was the only industry that used to provide both employment and revenue to the state. More than 60 per cent of population in Kashmir was directly or indirectly affiliated with this industry. But now this has been largely disabled due to conflict,” said Farooq Ahmad, a travel agent in Srinagar.
The conflict situation, violence, killings, protests, frequent hartals and curfews have taken their toll not only on tourism industry but also all other trades are equally affected. Shopkeepers, transport operators, footpath dealers, and other sections of society are among the sufferers.
A section of stakeholders believes that Kashmir cannot be the same as it used to be before 1990 if concrete measures are not taken for the final resolution of the Kashmir issue. “I strongly believe that our trade and tourism cannot flourish again until the political problem is not solved once and for all. Due to this issue Kashmir is burning for almost three decades now. How can we expect a normal life at a place where the killings of human beings are a matter of routine? Bloodshed has to stop. And this bloodshed can only be stopped by silencing the barrels of the guns and that can only happen when a permanent political settlement is done,” Muhammad Yasin Khan, president of the Kashmir Traders and Manufacturers Association, told TSI.
It is pertinent to mention here that according to a government data, which was recently accessed and processed by Hindustan Times, militancy in the state of Jammu & Kashmir has claimed 41,000 lives during the past 27 years. That simply means four deaths each day and 1,519 deaths every year have occurred due to the conflict situation. According to this data at least 14,000 civilians, 5,000 security personnel and 22,000 militants have been killed between 1990 and March 2017, in 69,820 militancy-related incidents. During these 27 years Jammu & Kashmir state has witnessed approximately more than 2,500 militancy related incidents every year.
an elderly man was Killed by lOcal vigilantes in sOuth Kashmir’s anantnag, after he was accused Of being the sO-called braid-chOpper
As if the conflict situation was not enough, Kashmir is now facing a different kind of reason for the uncertainty and trouble these days. A wave of panic has swept the Valley after the mysterious incidents of chopping off of the braids of Kashmiri women started a couple of months ago. The police have admitted of having received reports of more than 100 instances of women’s hair being forcibly cut by unidentified assailants. But at the same time the police have miserably failed to capture any of the perpetrators.
The horrifying incidents have started causing some other kind of brutal incidents too. An elderly man was recently killed by some local vigilantes in South Kashmir’s Anantnag area, after he was mistakenly accused of being so-called braid-chopper. Several other people were harshly thrashed by these vigilantes in different areas of Kashmir. Just a few days back a mentallychallenged man was mistakenly attacked by a mob in North Kashmir’s Sopore town. The outraged mob even tried to set him ablaze. There are almost reports of braid-chopping in different parts of Kashmir on a daily basis now and attacking suspected so-called “braid-choppers” seems to have also become a norm now.
With separatists and militants blaming the “government agencies” for the braidchopping incidents, people have started carrying night vigils in the residential areas. At several places people have resorted to stone pelting on the security forces after the braidchopping incidents occurred. This has posed a new threat to the peace and challenges for the government and security agencies.
Clearly, Kashmir’s conflict situation is taking its toll not only on the trade and tourism of the region but also it impacts psychologically and socially on the people of the region.
CROSS-BORDER TRADE HANGS IN THE BALANCE
Nine years after it was inaugurated with much fanfare, the barter trade between the two sides of the divided Jammu & Kashmir seems to be shutting down. Reasons: The serious allegation of terror funding being linked to this cross-Line of Control (LoC) trade and the humiliation being faced by the traders in the name of investigation.
The National Investigation Agency (NIA), which is currently probing the terror funding cases in Jammu & Kashmir, has already indicated that it is going to recommend to the central government that the cross-LoC trade should be stopped.
On the other hand, the cross-LoC traders are losing interest in the trade due to the ‘lengthy and unending’ investigations by the agency.
“It is absolutely alright to investigate the allegations. We have no problem with that, but there must be some conclusion to the probe. They should not keep us hostage in the name of investigations for months together. If they have found some evidence during all these months, they must arrest the culprits and file the charge sheet in front of a court,” an upset trader, who did not want to be named, told TSI.
Cross-LoC traders are also annoyed over summoning them outside the state frequently for questioning by the NIA. A group of these traders recently met Union home minister Rajnath Singh in Srinagar to complain about this.
“We requested the home minister to ask the NIA that instead of summoning us to places like New Delhi, Lucknow and Nagpur for the questioning week after week, the agency should establish a probing cell here in Srinagar. When they call us outside the state, our families get frightened,” the trader added.
The NIA has raided several traders in the Valley during the past few months and the agency has also seized several bank accounts and business ledgers of some of these traders who have been active in the cross-border trade. NIA accuses that crossLoC trade networks are being used to move tainted money from Pakistan with the help of hawala traders to fund the terror activities in the Valley. However, the traders have been strongly denying the allegations.
“We have asked the government time and again that there should be a foolproof system for this business so that miscreants cannot exploit or misuse the trade for their vested interests. We lack banking facilities, communication channels between the traders of the two sides and full body scanners at the check points. We are asking them to audit the business of every trader on quarterly basis, so that nobody can put his finger on us. Instead of introducing a mechanism they have defamed all the traders,” Hilal Turki, president of the Cross-LoC Trade Union, told this magazine.
It is pertinent to mention that India and Pakistan allowed completely duty-free trade of 21 items through barter on the LoC, as a major Confidence Building Measure (CBM) in Jammu & Kashmir state, on October 21, 2008. But the trade always remained in controversies. A few months ago, authorities seized over 25 kg of heroin from a truck coming from Pakistan-administered Kashmir. This was the sixth time since the trade was started nine years ago, that the contraband in such a large quantity was caught from the lorries coming from other side of the LoC. In 2015, Indian authorities detained a Pakistani driver after a large consignment of narcotic brown sugar estimated to be worth Rs 100 crore was found from his truck coming from the other side of the border. After this incident, the trade was suspended for several months.
Interestingly, despite all the odds the cross-LoC trade has survived nine years of its existence with a turnover of around Rs 4,850 crore on both sides of the border. The trade completed its nine years on October 21, 2017. On this occasion a cheerful gathering was organised in the Valley by the Jammu & Kashmir Joint Chamber of Commerce and Industry (JKJCCI). It was revealed that “there has been a trade of Rs 4,850 crore of which the turnover of the export and import is of Rs 2,529 crore and Rs 2,236 crore respectively, since it was started nine years ago.
” But the question is how long this trade will survive when the investigation agency like NIA is against it. In its recent report to the ministry of home affairs the NIA has said that “active terrorists are also involved in trade across the LoC and misuse it to send money and weapons to the Indian side”. Will this trade survive even after these serious allegations by the country’s biggest counter-terror agency? This has to be seen.
the nia has raided several traders in the valley during the past few mOnths and has seized several banK accOunts and business ledgers Of the traders