'BUSINESS COMMUNITY IN JK GOING THROUGH WORST ERA'

'BUSINESS COMMUNITY IN JK GOING THROUGH WORST ERA'

What is Jammu chamber doing to fight such elements and defeat their designs?

In the wake of controversies of serious nature being raised in the state and threats of economic blockade on Kashmir and attacks on some Valley-based truckers in Jammu region, president Jammu Chamber of Commerce and Industry Rakesh Gupta in an interview with Nissar Bhat says that political parties need to rise above party politics. Excerpts

NB      Presently, a lot many controversies are being raised by certain elements in the state who many believe want to divide Jammu and Kashmir on the religious lines. Such a situation is not good for the economic growth of this state either.  What is Jammu chamber doing to fight such elements and defeat their designs?

RG     Look, I have a different vision on this and have few suggestions to the government of Jammu and Kashmir. Beef was not something important to be blown out of proportion. If somebody is eating in his own home it is he who has to justify it in his own religion. As a Hindu, or being the president of Jammu chamber, I don’t have to do anything with it. But provoking in public, holding a beef party and exhibiting a banner that I surely condemn and I expect my Muslim brothers should condemn this incident also because it is something like provoking and hurting the sentiments of another religion. We need to co-exist. J&K is a state which gave birth to saints and  and we should not indulge in any such acts that hurt sentiments of someone openly.

Now as far as being the president of Jammu chamber and our role after the attack on the truckers at Udhampur is concerned, we have condemned it. We have got culprits arrested and even PSA imposed on them. And, we have requested the government that whosoever provokes or attacks, he irrespective of his religious belief, should be dealt with the heavy hand. There should be no political motives behind these actions. Whether it is from Kashmir or from Jammu, they should be dealt with severely and we condemn any such statement or act which hurts anybody’s religion and sentiments.

NB    Whenever any politically motivated controversy is raised in the state, there are elements in Jammu who threaten economic blockade on Kashmir. And, in fact that has been exercised in the past. Do you think that the Jammu business community can do anything to prevent such situation in future?

RG     Well, the miscreants are not only in Jammu. I think they are in both parts of the state. Now what happens, for some people in some political parties it is sometimes good for them to create greater divide and create vote-bank based on religions, which is not good for the society. As far as threats of economic blockade are concerned, I assure the people of Kashmir especially the business community that no force can stop them from sending or receiving goods through Jammu. They should consider it as a very safe route. But whenever I say or give some assurance, I use the word limited assurance. For example, America has the best security system in place, but they could not save the World Trade Centre. And we are not God that we can foresee what is going to happen in which part of the state. Such elements will always remain. The agencies working in the state are fully to be blamed. They get some things done by some miscreants after paying them but they don’t know the impact on the minds of the people. This will create a further divide because there are very less forces who will come out with positive statements. Like yesterday somebody from Kashmir said the road to Jammu is not safe. So if I reply as the road to Kashmir is not safe, it will worsen the problem and that is not a solution. So I should reply to such people by issuing statements that the road to Kashmir is very safe so that they also speak with positivity, which will help both the regions come together again. Post-2008, you see, we could achieve little. The wounds are still alive and not healed. I appeal all the organizations, particularly the political organizations to rise above party politics. We are answerable to the next generation. You see, our homes are becoming old age homes, be it in Kashmir or in Jammu. Our children are not ready to stay in the state. So for whom are we fighting or creating this divide? We have to understand all those things and once we understand we will always be positive rather than issuing negative statements and blaming each other.

NB    This is probably for the first time that two chambers together held a press conference in Srinagar and issued a joint statement resolving not to allow dilution of JK’s special status. Could we expect some mechanism to be evolved by the two chambers in this regard?

RG     Well, we need to learn from the past. When we keep repeating 2008 or something like that we should keep in mind what went wrong, what was the need of the hour then. Taking a lesson from 2008 I did not want to lose any time at present. I immediately arrived in Kashmir and I am proud that my brothers here welcomed me. I would expect the civil society of Kashmir which I don’t see coming out openly, to come out. I don’t blame them because the security situation in Kashmir is such that you are answerable for everything that you utter from your mouth. But considering the loss we have faced in terms of property and precious human lives, people have to take a call and rise to the occasion. As I have said that political parties have to rise above party politics, so have the civil society in Kashmir to rise above these fears in their minds. The fears are genuine but you have to sacrifice for the coming generation as we are answerable to the future generation. I expect the civil society of Kashmir comes open in this whole scenario and I assure I can help them to get in touch with the civil society of Jammu and we can have at least one meeting on alternate basis in Jammu and Srinagar between the civil society of the two regions on quarterly basis. As far as the chambers of Jammu and Kashmir are concerned, I had suggested yesterday at a press conference that we meet monthly according to the climatic conditions in Jammu and Srinagar. The meeting should be regular. Same way I have suggested to the government to sit with the chambers and the civil society and try to see what more we can do for the people of state. The communication gap is a major problem that leads to such problems and I am sure that both the parties, the BJP and the PDP, Mufti Sahab and Dr Nirmal Singh will definitely take such steps as to be in regular contact with civil society and the chambers. This will definitely help the government in the smooth running as well as help the people of J&K to have better lives.

NB     How do you see the present business scenario in Jammu and Kashmir?

RG     When we talk about business scenario particularly in our state, let me tell you it is the worst era the business community is going through on account of many reasons, one being the recent flash-floods and another, which is the main, is the corruption. There is total corrupt system and redtapism in different departments, especially in the Commercial Taxes and Industries which includes Pollution Control Board. Ease of doing business is something which the world is looking at and if you see the recent survey of the World Bank, J&K has been ranked at 29th position out of the 32 states in India. So this is something which is alarming. A new entrepreneur, for example, coming with a capital of Rs 10 lakh does not get the proper permissions and NOCs required because it is a long and tedious process. Most of his capital is spent up giving bribes in all these departments which I referred to.

NB     How far the PDP led government has been able to address this issue?

RG     We had expectations with the new government, especially with the coalition of PDP and BJP as the government of India is also being run by BJP led by Shri Narendra Modi. We appreciated his vision even earlier when he was the chief minister of Gujarat state because he took so many initiatives to simplify the processes that more and more businessmen and business houses were allured to invest in Gujarat. Now what has happened over recent years, no investor from outside is coming to J&K and those who had already invested have run out from the state. Now the central packages which were being given, they were withdrawn, especially the excise package which was withdrawn because of a scam done by a particular person who invested from outside the state. If one person did it why the other industrialists had to pay for this? So I can say there are many business issues which are not being taken up seriously by the state government. They don’t know what problems actually the business people are facing. So till the time those problems are addressed; or even if they are addressed at the earliest, we still need a lot of time to be back on our feet as we were before. But I don’t see anything happening very soon.

NB    Post-floods business community is demanding rehabilitation and compensation. Are you satisfied with the steps the state government has taken or it claims to have taken in this direction?

RG     Well, I will outright say we are totally dissatisfied with the approach of both the state and the central government with regard to the rehabilitation and compensation for the flood-affected businesspeople in particular. I give you an example, my father belongs to the town of Mirpur, now in PaK and the government of India is now saying that we will give you some package to rehabilitate you. It was 1947 my father entered this state. They had to work as labourers though belonging to royal family. They were known physicians in Pakistan before partition. So it is almost now 60 years and they are saying that we will give you some package. What will this package mean to us now? It means nothing. It was that time that the relief was to be given. Same way the flood last year is now more than one year past. It is something like keeping a piece of mutton before hungry lion. Till what time does the government expect for the hungry lion to wait for the mutton to be passed on to him so that he can eat? Is the government waiting for the people to leap and bite the government? I think the situation is going towards that direction and once there is a public rising then it can be a chaos and a situation which can never be handled. We are lucky that we came out of the militancy era. Still the wounds are there. So I would request that it is high time the government should realize that the relief has to be given when the problem is there and not afterwards. It won’t mean anything afterwards. Secondly, I had requested the central government to send this money directly into the accounts of the affected people because as I said the corruption in the state is so much that I don’t think they will be passing the full amount of relief whatever they get from the Government of India to the flood affected.

NB    One of the reasons for not giving adequate relief to the flood-affected business community and others cited by the government is that funds are not coming from the central government. What do you think?

RG     Well, the approach of the central government was satisfactory when the floods occurred in the state. I sincerely thank the Prime Minister Narender Modi who was himself present in the state and he did what he could do and what was humanly possible. But as far as the state government is concerned, it is a lame excuse on its part that they are not getting the funds. There is a system. Whenever the centre sends the money, the utilization certificate by the state is very important. Over the years the state governments have mismanaged the funds. The funds being sent by Government of India for development purposes to the state were spent and diverted by the state governments on various schemes resulting in stoppage of further assistance. Secondly, the government of India still is not sure that the figures quoted by the state seeking rehabilitation package, are genuine or not. They are still verifying it.

NB    The LoC trade is in doldrums because of the lack of infrastructure and other facilities. You had been impressing upon the government to provide such facilities and increase the number of trade-able items. How far have your efforts been successful?

RG     Well, if I in totality have to issue a statement on LoC trade which is being run on barter system, I would put it as a blind trade. It is not helping anyone either in Jammu or in Kashmir nor those in that part of Kashmir. The buyer does not know who the seller is, and the seller does not know who the buyer is. There is no banking system in place. We have written to Ministry of Commerce that we don’t want this trade to be limited. First we want them to issue a negative list, not a positive list. The positive list should be unlimited. We want to trade more items. We don’t want only to send our goods to PaK. We want the silk route to be revived. We want to send the goods to Afghanistan, Uzbekistan. In just two days our truckers can reach there. So what is the problem? We understand the problem of the LoC. Now once custom operations take place there, they will say that we are converting it into an international border. And those modalities have to be sorted out by the governments of India and Pakistan. Let it be a transit point – one for LoC which is tax free and another if I want to send my goods beyond PaK for I shall be ready to pay the tax. This step was called CBM. But the real CBM would have been a free tourism visa first. You see the divided families are on both sides. They should have permanent free visa so that whenever they want they can come here and we can go there. That would have been more appropriate rather than starting this blind trade which is not trade in real sense. It is a limited trade. Out of 21 items also, I think only six or seven are being traded. I think it is better to stop such trade or give it real definition what the trade requires so that it benefits both the sides.

Provoking in public, holding a beef party and exhibiting a banner that I surely condemn and I expect my Muslim brothers should condemn this incident also because it is something like provoking and hurting the sentiments of another religion.

If somebody is eating in his own home it is he who has to justify it in his own religion. As a Hindu, or being the president of Jammu chamber, I don’t have to do anything with it.

As far as threats of economic blockade are concerned, I assure the people of Kashmir especially the business community that no force can stop them from sending or receiving goods through Jammu. They should consider it as a very safe route. But whenever I say or give some assurance, I use the word limited assurance.

The miscreants are not only in Jammu. I think they are in both parts of the state. Now what happens, for some people in some political parties it is sometimes good for them to create greater divide and create vote-bank based on religions, which is not good for the society.

There is total corrupt system and redtapism in different departments, especially in the Commercial Taxes and Industries which includes Pollution Control Board. Ease of doing business is something which the world is looking at and if you see the recent survey of the World Bank, J&K has been ranked at 29th position out of the 32 states in India. So this is something which is alarming.

The real CBM would have been a free tourism visa first. You see the divided families are on both sides. They should have permanent free visa so that whenever they want they can come here and we can go there. That would have been more appropriate rather than starting this blind trade which is not trade in real sense.

I would put LoC trade as a blind trade. It is not helping anyone either in Jammu or in Kashmir nor those in that part of Kashmir. The buyer does not know who the seller is, and the seller does not know who the buyer is. There is no banking system in place.

Our homes are becoming old age homes, be it in Kashmir or in Jammu. Our children are not ready to stay in the state. So for whom are we fighting or creating this divide? We have to understand all those things and once we understand we will always be positive rather than issuing negative statements and blaming each other.