Jairam hopeful of cross-LoC trade in 90 days

17 March 2008
The Daily Excelsior
Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

SRINAGAR: Union Minister of State for Commerce, Jairam Ramesh, today said that the cross- LoC trade between India and Pakistan through the divided State of Jammu & Kashmir was likely to start in the next 90 days as its entire groundwork had been completed. He said that in tandem with the State Government, Government of India was introducing and facilitating a slew of revolutionary measures- including declaring the strife-torn State as an SEZ in Education sector and seeking Foreign Institutional Investment for power projects-for socio-economic transformation of Jammu & Kashmir. Addressing a press conference between laying the foundation stone of an ambitious International Trade Centre (ITC) at Pampore and a scheduled meeting with Srinagar-based businessmen at SKICC, Jairam Ramesh revealed that the entire groundwork for the proposed cross-LoC trade between India and Pakistan through Jammu & Kashmir had been completed. He said that after an exercise with the Government in Srinagar and Jammu, his Ministry had proposed cross-LoC trade of 14 items. Islamabad cleared nine items for import through J&K, which, according to the Minister, constituted for 90 percent of what the State Government and the business community had proposed. 'As soon as the new Government takes over in Islamabad, we will execute an agreement with Pakistan. I am pretty hopeful that the (cross-LoC) trade would start in the next 90 days', Jairam Ramesh said. He said that he had strong apprehensions of a negative response from the Pakistani officials and politicians. 'But, ironically, we found them all positive and enthusiastic to our proposals', he said and revealed that Pakistan would mainly import handicrafts through Jammu & Kashmir. Jairam said that handloom and handicrafts were the mainstay of J&K's economy, alongside horticulture and tourism, and both, the State and the Central Governments, were making substantial efforts to boost the trade in this sector. He said that India had last year beaten Iran and become the largest exporter of carpets, earning foreign currency worth Rs 4,000 cr. He was proud to declare that J&K alone exported hand-knotted carpets worth Rs 1,000 cr. He said that with an amount of Rs 85 cr, all the 40,000 carpet weaving looms in J&K State were being replaced with the modern looms developed by Indian Institute of Carpet Technology at the rate of 8000 per year in the next five years. While the State and the Central Governments would pay 75 percent of each loom, costing Rs 22,000, the beneficiary artisan would have to contribute just 25 percent of the amount. Holding his second press conference at the same venue in five months, Jairam Ramesh said that Government of India was also raising Rs 9-cr Craft Development Centre in Srinagar in addition to Rs 116-cr ITC at Pampore. He said that the Union Ministry of Commerce had sanctioned Rs 30 cr for phase-I of the ITC which would cost Rs 49 cr. No more than Rs 15 cr had been provided to such ITCs established at Chennai, Gowahati, Bangalore and Kolkata. He said that the ITC at Pampore would attract businessmen from all over the world and the trading, which would continue round-the-clock and round-the-year, would start in two years. Horticulture and handicrafts would be the main items of sale. Making a significant announcement, Jairam Ramesh revealed that the typical Kashmiri Kani shawl would be protected with Geographical Indication (GI) 'in the next few days' even as the process would be extended to the exquisite Kashmiri Pashmina and Kashmiri Sozni shawls immediately thereafter. Jairam said that with a special outlay of Rs 630 cr, Government of India had just sanctioned a special outlay of Rs 630 cr for a countrywide project of cultivation and preservation of medicinal plants. With an amount of Rs 160 cr, five medicinal plant processing zones were currently being established in the country. He revealed that one of such zones, involving expenditure of Rs 32 cr, would be established by National Medicinal Plants Board in Jammu where 100 acres of land were being procured for this purpose with the help of Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad. He disclosed that two private companies-Himalayan Drug Company Bangalore and Sami Labs-were already studying the prospects of business in Jammu. Flanked by Chairman of J&K Bank Ltd and Economic Advisor to J&K Government, Haseeb Drabu, Jairam Ramesh said that the Centre, in collaboration with Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) Ltd, would soon start yearly selection, training and placement- mainly in BPO-of over 4,000 Science and Engineering graduates in the Information Technology (IT) sector in J&K. He said that TCS would send a team, led by a CEO, to kickstart this project in J&K and National Association of Software and Service Companies (NASSCOM) would finalise an agreement with the process partner, J&K Bank. Expressing his disappointment that J&K did not figure on India's IT map, which had been dominated by Bangalore, Hyderabad, Chennai and Pune etc, Jairam said that he had also interacted with the WIPRO chief Azim Premji who, according to the Minister, had shown keen interest in developing J&K as an IT hub. The insurgency riddled Northeast had been already pushing 7,000 incumbents a year in the IT stream for which NASSCOM had been holding tests and job fairs, he informed. Minister of Commerce expressed dissatisfaction over J&K Bank's Credit Deposit Ratio which, he said, was just 40% as compared to over 80% in southern States and around 50% in the eastern States. He advised J&K Bank to simplify and speed up the process of lending notwithstanding the fact that it had reached a stupendous 8,000 cr in 2007-08 as against 2,500 cr three years ago. Drabu claimed that J&K Bank's CDR had now touched 47% and the volume of its local crediting was more than 50%. Jairam and Drabu revealed that a delegation of high-flying foreign investors had just visited Srinagar and an enormous capitalization was being generated through Foreign Institutional Investment for the Special Purpose Vehicles of J&K Power Development Corporation-a number of hydro-electric generation projects in two river basins in Jammu region. They said that J&K had a hydro-electric potential of 20,000 mw and the foreign investors were going to make huge investments in these power projects as also in small and medium enterprises in the State. Drabu said that 40% of his bank's market capitalisation was already from FIIs.