June 2019 News

Business In Kashmir Fails To Break The Slowdown Shackles

20 June 2019
Greater Kashmir
Saqib Malik

Srinagar: Having their hopes pinned on summer tourist arrivals, festive and marriage season for revival of business activity in Kashmir, a disappointed trade community says it doesn't stand benefited by either of these factors this year so far. First the harsh winter that witnessed hurdles in smooth delivery of supplies to the Valley due to frequent closure of Jammu-Srinagar national highway and then the Indo-Pak hostility due to Pulwama attack on February 14 coinciding with onset of spring were enough to do the damages, say the traders. Muhammad Yaseen Khan, president, Kashmir Traders and Manufacturers Federation says although trade has picked up 20-25 percent since Ramadhan but not upto the expectations of business community, which has been hoping for a revival ever since suffering huge losses during 2014 floods, he says. Inclement weather rendering huge losses to the horticulture sector of late is also a worrying factor, he adds. 'Shortage of goods due to road closure in winter had its spiralling effect for many months as stocks meant for sales were stuck on the highway for long time. At present there is some hustle and bustle in the market but footfalls are nowhere close to our expectations,' says Khan. Khan says the other segment of trade on which people prefer to spend lavishly in Kashmir are the eatables but arbitrary price hike has been proving to be a dampener. 'Prices of essential commodities have been so high that it proves to be a burden for a common man. But food is a category whose sales don't ever stop,' says Khan who also heads Kashmir Economic Alliance. The fact that withdrawals at ATMs of J&K Bank on last three days before Eid-ul-Fitr this year saw an increase by Rs 300 crore as compared to Eid-ul-Adha in 2018 proved some stimulus to markets. Food items continue to sell like hot cakes as sales of mutton and bakery alone before Eid this year had touched Rs 100 crore. Readymade garments for children is another segment which is a round-the-year money spinner for the local trade community. While sales of clothes and accessories especially electronics have neither reduced drastically nor seen a major upward trend, purchasing of Gold due to its high prices have disappointed local jewellers. 'The prices of the yellow metal are at a 5-year high and people don't have the disposable incomes to splurge, which is the reason they are holding back their buying decisions,' said Bashir Rather, president of his faction of KTMF. Traders say they were hoping to do brisk business for next 6 months till onset of winters but uncertainty in the prevailing situation doesn't allow business activity to grow. First Lok Sabha polls coinciding with peak trade months and then issues such as twice-a-week highway closure for civilian traffic took its toll on trade, says Farhan Kitab, chief spokesman, KTMF. Kitab says pending payments of contractors lying with the government worth crores of rupees is also a reason for less liquidity in the local markets. While tourism has picked up to some extent due to people escaping hot and sultry mainland for cooler Kashmir, the influx is not that huge and arrivals are mostly from nearby states with self-arranged logistics, which has not benefited so much. Tourism players say they missed out on the traditional tourist hub of Kashmir, Gujarat and Maharashtra due to the fear caused by February 14 Pulwama attack and the subsequent Indo-Pak hostilities. Ashfaq Siddiq Dug, president, Travel Agents Association of Kashmir says most of the tourists from Punjab, Delhi and Uttar Pradesh who visit the Valley to spend their vacations have their logistics and food facilitated by outside operators. In addition sky rocketing of air fares to the Valley recently has proved to be a spoilsport. 'Many tourists travel in their own vehicles from outside and even have arrangement for food done by their tour operators. They don't even indulge in shopping so much,' says Dug.