Days after a murderous attack on Kashmiri truckers in Udhampur district in Jammu division, business chambers of Kashmir and Jammu Tuesday demanded that the State should be declared as a "free economic zone" for enabling trade with China, Pakistan and Central Asia. They also sought end to "illegal occupation of state's power projects" and their return.
"The Government of India is illegally occupying our power projects which has an adverse impact on our economy. As a result, J&K is tagged as a beggar state which would not have been the case had the power projects been returned to the State," said president of Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI), Mushtaq Ahmad Wani. He was addressing a press conference jointly with Jammu Chamber of Commerce and Industry (JCCI).
This is for the first time that Jammu-based business chamber has joined the Kashmir Chamber in seeking return of power projects under control of National Hydel Power Corporation.
"Jammu and Kashmir is incurring huge recurring losses due to the Indus Water Treaty signed by India and Pakistan and keeping in view the scenario after the Treaty, the KCCI has been demanding return of power projects controlled by the NHPC and our demands were endorsed by the Rangaranjan Committee constituted by then Prime Minister," Mushtaq said. "But so far, the Centre is showing reluctance on handing over the power projects to the state government which is telling on our economic scenario."
Wani said the Chamber raised the demand of return of power project with interlocutors on Kashmir after 2010. "They recommended to the Centre to increase the power share to state government from 12.5 to 50 percent, but sadly the recommendations were never implemented."
"If the power projects are handed back to us, our dependence on central assistance would reduce considerably," he said, adding, "The demand of making Jammu and Kashmir a Free Economic Zone will also be taken up by both Chambers jointly to get the state out of financial mess."
"This step will ensure free trade and not a restricted trade and advantage should come to J&K on both sides than to any other state as we have been the sufferers economically from 1947," said Wani.
Echoing similar views, the President of JCCI, Rakesh Gupta, termed the control of NHPC on state power projects as "illegal" and "unconstitutional."
"Our power projects are controlled by the central government which is clear case of forceful occupation of the state's resources," he said, adding, "Both Chambers of Jammu and Kashmir would pressurize the Centre to return the power projects."
"We are considered as a beggar state because we always look at the Centre for financial assistance. But if the power projects are given back to us, we will become economically self-sufficient," he added.
"Both Chambers urge the government to consider making JK as free economic zone as the geography of the state has enabled us to connect to various neighboring countries beyond Pakistan, including China and Central Asia," he said.
Gupta said there is nothing wrong in exploring the option. "If the government finds it feasible, it should declare J&K a free economic zone instantly," he said.
The Chambers also asked the Commercial Taxes Department to "stop harassing traders and "stay away from premises of honest tax-paying businessmen."
"If the department doesn't stop harassing the business community, we shall call for financial indiscipline and government will be responsible for the outcome," said presidents of both the Chambers.
The Chambers also requested the Chief Minister and Finance Minister to announce amnesty for Pre-VAT period. They also demanded that LOC trade should be held "on a negative list of not more than 50 items and not a positive list of 21 items which is the case at present."