BY PEERZADA MUQEEM
Most entrepreneurs who publicise their narratives are those who have success stories to share, stories of how they overcame the challenges they were confronted with and how they became what they are.
I am a struggling entrepreneur and I have a different story to share - a story of being in the middle of the challenges that I am not sufficiently equipped to deal with at the moment.
These difficulties are largely created and multiplied by government institutions, officials and schemes that are launched to make entrepreneurship easier. It can’t get more ironical than this.
I am Muqeem, a post-graduate in International Relations, in mid-twenties, from North Kashmir. I have my post graduation from one of the most privileged private universities of India, OP Jindal Global University and a job experience of more than two years.
Two years into a well-paying job left me with a clear sense that I wouldn’t prefer a life that required me to owe a great part of my time to an organisation - government or private - for a salary that, no matter how handsome, did feel like a cost that I would have had to pay for my dreams.
This was a deal I wasn’t ready for nor would ever be. I envisioned a different kind of life for myself, one in which I had my dreams intact, powered by the hope that they could be materialised and a clear plan guiding their actualisation.
In pursuit of the biggest of my dreams, I found myself increasingly fascinated by agri-allied sectors in general and dairy industry in particular, given their great scope for growth in a place like Kashmir. So, I began to explore funding opportunities which led me to follow very closely various schemes that state government was claiming to offer to its young entrepreneurs.
I applied for Khadi and Village Industries loan that is allegedly “disbursed to both individuals and organizations that meet the eligibility criteria” to help them “plan, promote, facilitate, organize and aid in the development of Khadi and Village Industries in rural India in conjunction with other agencies involved in rural development.”
KVIC is supposed to be offering a credit-linked subsidy too aimed at creating and sustaining employment opportunities.
So, I applied for the financial assistance under Rural Employment Generation Program (REGP) and completed all the difficult formalities this application process involved. The pace at which the application was being processed was painfully slow and I was losing a lot of my time in the process. I was on a lookout for alternatives when a friend suggested that Jammu & Kashmir Entrepreneurship Development Institute (EDI) is working toward enabling entrepreneurship development in J&K, and that I must consult them.
EDI projects itself as an institute where “entrepreneurial skills for sustainable livelihood” are imparted to youth and their “access to finance and support services” are facilitated. I signed up for a training programme they were offering in 2019 for which numerous other young men and women had applied.
EDI collected Rs. 2000 from each one of the trainees who needed to apply for the loan at the time of applying in 2018. We were told that our financial aid applications will be processed in less than six months after completion of training program at EDI Pampore and it is more than two years since we heard from them last.
And we were taken to various dairy farms which I didn’t find particularly well-run or inspiring in any way. I wanted to depart from the conventional model and envision the dairy farm differently.
I began investing in the idea and set up a facility in my hometown which is quite impressive in its vision and scope. The structure is in place now, but the livestock I wanted there had to be imported, and it was on the import bit that I was running out of financial resources.
The loan I required and had applied for was less than 10% of the total project cost, minus the land cost. I had managed the rest entirely on my own, thanks to the support of the family and friends, but felt stuck for the 10% that I needed state’s assistance with. I kept running from centre to centre, scheme to scheme all these years, with no luck.
Before I had begun construction, EDI’s District Nodal Officer, along with another officer, visited my project site and inspected it and found it promising. He assured me the financial assistance from EDI and urged me to kickstart the construction, which I did. I completed the construction and the EDI loan was yet to be processed.
I had applied for dairy farming loan under REGP scheme of KVIB in 2018 but in 2021 the application was rejected on the grounds that I don’t belong to the rural area that it is meant for. Look at the number of years wasted! I lodged a grievance with the Grievance Cell which, like my application, kept being sent from one office to another.
I lodged another one which was again tossed between these offices and I was told that the matter was discussed by EDI with Labour & Employment Department, but their response in the matter is still awaited.
I checked with the Labor and Employment Department through grievance cell, the latest status of my application and they took more than a month to get back saying “the self employment schemes are kept withheld by the Department as the existing guidelines of the schemes need to be changed in the first instance for implementing these schemes at the Administrative level.
The proposal for revision of guidelines is under process, as and when the same gets finalised such grievances shall be disposed off on priority.” I feel compelled to lodge grievance against Grievance Cell’s ways of addressing grievances. All of this feels so very exhausting, futile, farcical.
People who were with me in those training programmes have said goodbye to these entrepreneurial dreams long back and settled for something incredibly small. I don’t want to, and I won’t. But the lesson I have learnt is that I am never ever going to take the claims made by state heads and administrators seriously or trust these schemes that government lures us with.
But this sense of despair does not take away the fact that institutional credit is a hugely significant, almost catalytic instrument that can facilitate the process of expanding and diversifying agri-allied sector which has huge potential for growth that can be capitalised principally by improving credit flow towards it.
One of the major reasons that entrepreneurship is not really picking up at the grassroots level in Kashmir is that such institutional credit remains out of the reach of an ordinary person.
The existing institutional framework for providing credit to budding entrepreneurs is so hugely flawed that nothing less than a total overhaul will amend the current sorry state of affairs.
What could be a matter of deepening financial inclusion for banks, or meeting SDGs for governments is a matter of life and death for those of us who tend to take these claims at the face value.
Peerzada Muqeem has PG in international relations. He is a struggling entrepreneur.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.
The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.