Amarnath Land Row Hits Business Ties In J&K

17 September 2008
The Times of India

Jammu: First politics, now business. The row over land for the Amarnath shrine has divided Jammu and Kashmir again with the industry lobby in the Muslim-dominated valley saying it was snapping ties with the Hindu majority Jammu region. The Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) last week officially declared that the valley-based business community had severed ties with the Jammu region because of the 'enforced economic blockade' of Kashmir during the movement for restoration of government land to the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB). 'The people of Kashmir do not want any trade with Jammu; so how can we defy the supreme will of the people?' KCCI president Mobeen Shah said. According to Shah, Kashmiris were miffed over the economic blockade by Jammu against the valley that led to 'scarcity of essential commodities'. He said the Kashmir valley used to trade directly with manufacturing companies in various parts of India in the pre-militancy era. 'So why can't we restore the pre-1990 status?' The KCCI, now part of the coordination committee of the Hurriyat Conference, would be asking manufacturers in India to have clearing and forwarding agencies (C&F) in Kashmir as 'we do not want to buy things from C&F agents of Jammu', he said. However, traders in Jammu said snapping trade ties was impractical because the Jammu region and the Kashmir valley were 'inter-dependent'. Jammu Chamber of Commerce and Industries (JCCI) president Ram Sahai said: 'This is just a political slogan. Trade between the two regions is (currently) going on.' However, he admitted that two truckloads of medicine were sent back to Jammu from the valley last weekend. Sahai denied that there had been any economic blockade of the Kashmir valley during the two-month agitation for restoration of 40 hectares government land to the SASB. 'It was just temporary disruption due to protests and demonstrations. And we asked the administration to deploy the army on the highway so that supplies are uninterrupted,' he said. As he sees it, by severing trade ties with Jammu 'Kashmir was trying to impose an economic blockade on itself'. If Kashmir ran short of essentials during the festive season due to this call then the KCCI would be responsible, he added. According to Sahai, over seven million pilgrims visit the Mata Vaishno Devi hill temple annually and '40 per cent of their spending is on Kashmiri goods'. On May 26, the state government diverted 40 hectares of land to the Amarnath shrine board in the valley, prompting widespread protests in Kashmir. This was revoked on July 1, quietening Kashmir but triggering protests in Jammu instead. What followed were days of curfew and shutdowns that snowballed into the state being polarised between Jammu and Kashmir. On Aug 31 the government attempted a settlement by setting aside the land for the Amarnath board but specifying that it was only for the duration of the annual pilgrimage.