Kashmiris Hurt, Humiliated: Sheikh Ashiq

Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) President, Sheikh Ashiq puts the losses to Kashmir businesses after the repeal of Article 370 at Rs 14,000 crore to Rs 15,000 crore. In an exclusive interview with Kashmir Scan’s Syed Uzma, he talks more about Kashmir post abrogation of its special status. Excerpts

Kashmir Scan: The business in Kashmir has been badly hit since August 5. How much does KCCI estimate the losses of at?

Sheikh Ashiq: Overall we have given a figure of approximately Rs 12,000 crore plus loss. When we make a comprehensive report, it can be 14,000 crores to 15,000 crores including all business sectors be it Tourism, Information Technology, Handicrafts, e-commerce, silk, carpet industries and our general trade and industrial units which are 350 to 400 in numbers. We are still calculating and we will have a complete report within some weeks.

Kashmir Scan: Which sector was affected the most?

Sheikh Ashiq: It will be unjust to say that any particular sector suffered the loss. I feel all the business sectors suffered heavy losses.

Kashmir Scan: Internet blockade also impacted the businesses severely. Would you shed some light on the impact of internet ban in Kashmir?

Sheikh Ashiq: We lose customers every time there is an internet shutdown. The ongoing internet shutdown is the longest in Indian history. Unfortunately, our industry has had to bear the brunt. We also have to pay GST and income tax within some days which is not possible without internet. I am not able to get how they expect us to do it.

Kashmir Scan: How has the KCCI responded?

Sheikh Ashiq: Our primary job is to bring the business situation in Kashmir in the government’s notice. KCCI started working from the third day when the curfew was imposed in August. We had in written communicated to the government and requested them to release the members of the trade fraternity who had been arrested and kept in different states. One among us is Muhammad Yasin Khan, the President of Kashmir Trade and Manufacturing Federation (KTMF). The irony is that his mother expired and he was not allowed to attend her funeral although I was assured by the government they would release him to attend her last rites. Another one is our previous president Mubeen Shah, who has health issues. Honestly, I do not know for what reason he has been incarcerated.

Kashmir Scan: What is the impact of bifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir into two union territories of Jammu Kashmir and Ladakh removal of Article 370?

Sheikh Ashiq: Honestly speaking it’s a political decision. A businessman wants to do business at peace. But as a Kashmiri, I would like to tell you that we have lived with Article 370 and all of a sudden it was taken away without the consent of the people of Kashmir. This is known that nobody is happy here with the abrogation of Article 370. We are an apolitical organisation. Otherwise, we would also have been with political parties which we all know where they have been and where are they now. We also have a sole objective to look toward the economy of our region and I can say it’s a false narrative about development. We had a huge loss and are still losing business every day.

Kashmir Scan: What is your strategy going to be since proper business in Kashmir is yet to resume?

Sheikh Ashiq: We had some meetings and we are soon meeting with our executive committee body to tackle these ongoing problems.

Kashmir Scan: Many shops have been burnt in the last three months. What is your take on this issue?

Sheikh Ashiq: I don’t know whether who is or who isn’t behind such incidents. However, I think this is a sort of reaction as people somehow are hurt. They feel they are humiliated.

Kashmir Scan: Has the government approached the KCCI?

Sheikh Ashiq: We were asked to submit a report on the losses by the officials and we did that and told them that it is Rs 12,000 crore plus. Unfortunately, on November 25, in the Parliament during the Question Hour when asked about the loss, Government of India said they had not yet received any report on this from Jammu Kashmir. I have talked to the officials to send the report forward and let everybody know. If they are talking about development, where will they put these losses?

Kashmir Scan: How many jobs have been lost in this turmoil?

Sheikh Ashiq: There have been more than 1 lakh job losses with 40,000 to 50,000 job losses in alone in carpet and handicraft industry alone.

Kashmir Scan: What is KCCI doing about the people who lost their jobs?

Sheikh Ashiq: We are not the government. Our work is to report the problems. The action has to be taken by the government. If they are claiming to bring development here, they have to look at the ground level.

Kashmir Scan: Is there anything else you would like to share?

Sheikh Ashiq: I will try the best that I can do for my KCCI. I will try to make the Kashmir region a producer region and throw away the tag of being a consumer region. We will dedicate the year 2020 to this vision where KCCI is planning to do programmes in different districts and take a proactive approach on being self-reliant. We will focus on becoming producers.

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