Kashmir’s Business Community Sends Out SOS on 'Sea of Debt and Destruction'

The SOS message also takes a dig at the government for selling “false dreams” at a time when the local business community is in distress.

Srinagar: Kashmir’s business community including traders, hoteliers, silk producers, artisans, fruit associations and other trade and commerce bodies have sent out an SOS in a full-page ad published on Wednesday in several local dailies. The SOS message emphasises that the “ill-fated trade, tourism, horticulture, agriculture, handicrafts, commerce and industrial community of Kashmiris is in the middle of the sea of debt and destruction”.

“Approximately 1000 days (more than 2.5 years) of standstill since 2008 until this day due to unrest and turmoil, made our survival vulnerable,” the SOS message says, adding that “despite the fact that we have not earned a single penny during these troubled spells, we never have been hesitant in paying bank interests, different administrative charges, salaries to our staff and maintaining our families.”

The SOS message also takes a dig at the government for selling “false dreams” at a time when the local business community is in distress, suffering crores of losses due to the communication shutdown imposed for months following the reading down of Article 370 on August 5 last year.

“How cruel can the system be when fraternity is being enticed for investments, sky is the limit, has been sold as dreams (sic). But when the same community gets trapped due to system failures, the same system leaves the community in shambles and start selling false dreams to new entrepreneurs,” the SOS message points out.

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The ad, published under the name of more than a dozen business and trade organisations, emphasises that the entire business community in Kashmir is “trembling under the weight of involuntary failures, the failures that have been imposed on us due to lack of management skills, sympathy, interest, and concern”.

The SOS message urges “conscious souls” to rise to the crisis with “compassion and concern”. “Your conscience should not let you sleep while seeing and knowing that we have been forced to suffer losses, liabilities, and destructions?”

“We trust you that you’ll make them realise that we have been going through all these years, how long will we be compelled to bear these involuntary losses and liabilities. We believe you will make them realise that this is high time to address our genuine concerns and make them start acknowledging their responsibilities.”

The SOS message ad has been jointly published by a number of trade and commerce bodies such as the Kashmir Chamber Commerce and Industries (KCCI), Kashmir Trade and Manufacturers Federation (KTMF), Kashmir Economic Alliance (KEA), PHD Chamber of Commerce (Kashmir chapter), Transport Welfare Association (TWA), Travel Agent Association of Kashmir (TAAK) Artisans Rehabilitation Forum (ARF), Kashmir Silk Producers(KSP), among other trade associations and bodies representing a cross-section of business and trade organisations of the Valley.

KCCI president Sheikh Ashiq told The Wire that the community needed to get its message out. “There has been panic and an unprecedented situation for the business community of Kashmir, which is in distress. The business community has come together to send out this message that they’re facing very difficult times especially since August 5 last year,” said Ashiq.
“It is the government of the day which has to take a call on how to bring the business community out of these difficult times in Kashmir.  At the end, businesses have to run smoothly,” he said.

Earlier this month, on February 14, 22 Kashmiri trade bodies had published another full-page ad titled “We owe you money, not respect and honour”. The trade bodies had alleged that they’re being threatened by banks and called ‘defaulters’.

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The ad noted that the business community in the Valley was completely devastated and exhausted after August 5 last year.

“Our survival is under threat and our humble submissions to the banks is that at once stop calling us defaulters. We believe there may be two types of defaulters; wilful defaulters, which we as community strongly protest to be called or named as; circumstantial defaulters, which we have been forced to be,” the full-page advertisement said, adding that as a respectable and responsible community, they are “aware of the fact that we have to repay the banks but all we want is that we will pay with respect and honour.”

The lockdown and communications shutdown after August 5 last year has reportedly cost the business community losses amounting to more than Rs 10,000 crore. Several sectors like handicrafts and e-commerce that were directly dependent on the internet connectivity for businesses were the worst hit.

In December last year, the KCCI estimated a loss of Rs 17,878.18 crore since August 5.

Majid Maqbool is a journalist and editor based in Srinagar.