Business, Banks and Bottlenecks

Kashmir-based tourism, trade, business and school education stakeholdersprepare a blueprint of demands, urge Govt to ensure hassle-free services
“If we want to work in an environment which is not just safer but productive for all of us, we have to speak up as a body and not shy away from raising our demands,” Ashiq said.  [Representational Image]
“If we want to work in an environment which is not just safer but productive for all of us, we have to speak up as a body and not shy away from raising our demands,” Ashiq said. [Representational Image] Advantus Media Inc. and [rockbridgeinvest] Creative Commons

Kashmir based-tourism, trade, business and school education stakeholders have urged the government to adopt a “multipronged strategy” to bolster the sectors and hold public sector banks accountable for providing hassle-free services.

The majority of stakeholders, while speaking to Greater Kashmir, demanded that Kashmir’s business community has faced immense hardships post COVID situations and wanted hassle-free services from the line departments including Jammu and Kashmir Bank—a vital institution for the business sector of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh.

President Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industries (KCCI) Shiekh Ashiq, told Greater Kashmir that the scores of stakeholders in the internal meetings of the body raised concerns of harassment and humiliation from either Bank officials, tourism officials or government machinery.

“If we want to work in an environment which is not just safer but productive for all of us, we have to speak up as a body and not shy away from raising our demands,” Ashiq said.

“KCCI has to become a bridge to bring a new lease of life to the sick business units and other battered businesses of the valley. For that help from the Bank and the government-run departments is very vital,” he said, adding “In this regard, we have had several rounds of meetings with the business, trade, education and other stakeholders to understand their issues and concerns and take up these with the government.”

President, KCCI informed that an interactive session with various stakeholders of the tourism and trade industry ‘Meet and Greet’ in Srinagar was recently organised. During the extensive three-hour-long deliberations, issues about restaurants and houseboats, restaurants and other sectors were discussed threadbare.

“Majority of stakeholders demanded that Kashmir’s business community want hassle-free services from the Jammu and Kashmir Bank,” he added.

Take Us on Board

Chairman, Private Schools Association, Kashmir, GN Var said that UP-like guidelines should be adopted in Jammu and Kashmir. While the government decided to adopt the March session. However, the preparations should have been adopted scientifically as the majority of children will lose half a year this season.

“Government must take all the stakeholders on board before taking any major decision which is concerning the service providers,” Var said. “The stakeholders should be part of the Government’s Fee Fixation Committee which could help in resolving timely solutions.”

The stakeholders associated with the schools revealed that the dropout rate is alarming in India and Kashmir too was witnessing a major impact in this regard. They revealed 1.5 lakh students are out of students, while the literacy rate is down by 10%.  “The issues of transport fee should be kept in abeyance as before putting it in the public, the stakeholders should be taken on board.”

They have accused the government of creating an unsafe environment for the owners and investors in the education sector. “Harassment of owners of schools across Kashmir region is at peak. That should be checked,” he added.

He questioned why the government was always after NOCs of private schools. “Nobody talks about government schools. Their performance. Report cards,” he questioned, adding “Changing the session is disastrous”

President of Confederation of All India Trade Association (Kashmir Chapter), Farhan Kitab while touching on the pain points of the trade associations, said “business Stakeholders are put to a lot of harassment. He says that the GST is under 20% less. Why is City Centre dug out, during the peak tourism season? They should have adopted modern technology including Bore cabling and others. Besides, a Nodal Officer must be appointed to address grievances of the business community in Lal Chowk markets.``

Handholding of Stakeholders Vital

“There are 3000 NPs in Kashmir, 7000 outside Jammu and Kashmir Bank. But why are Kashmiri account holders harassed? There must be market liquidity and employment generation in every sector. By this the Industry- retail sector will also grow. Handholding of stakeholders is a must.”

The members of the Confederation alleged that Jammu and Kashmir Bank was resorting to “harassment” of long-time customers, urging the government to intervene and adopt stakeholder-friendly policies.”

President of the Jammu Kashmir Hoteliers and Restaurants Association (JKHA), Showkat Choudhary, while commenting on the tourism boom in Kashmir, said that tourism infrastructure needs a revamp. “We can’t expect tourists in lakhs without putting in efforts for revival of tourism infrastructure. For that government to have to come forward and do their bit by providing us clearances.”

“As there was a tourism boom in Kashmir, the whole sector was caught napping and there wasn’t any immediate relief from the government side,” he alleged. He argued that during the next season – infrastructure is to be given extra focus. “We need to augment tourism infrastructure across Jammu and Kashmir. Tourism upgrade schemes should be floated.”

“High-class tenting facilities should be initiated and the stakeholders should be taken on board for bringing more vibrancy to this sector,” Choudhary said, adding during November, camping sites should be identified and immediately allotted to the genuine stakeholders’ after due tenders. “If we don’t work on the infrastructure, we can’t cater to the high flow of tourists,” he said.

Stating that the Jammu and Kashmir Bank must adopt a strategy which goes well with their stakeholders and not harass them unnecessarily. “Limited cover is being provided to the balance sheet holders. There is a need to renew NPS, deliberately (proper planning, the limit should be kept low.),” Choudhary said. “For clearing the loan, the limit of repayment should be kept at 2 years. As per MSME guidelines, new start-ups and business units should be provided 2 crores without a mortgage.”

“Why isn’t the loan given to the start-ups and stakeholders? A committee has been constituted.  For stakeholders having properties under the green belt, permission should be given and clearances must be expedited.”

Treacherous Travel and Transport Policy

President of the Tourist Transporters Association, Jammu and Kashmir, Haji Abdur Rashid argued that the stakeholders invested huge money in Jammu and Kashmir. However, due to the government’s indifferent policies, stakeholders are getting derailed and affected.

“Re-registration has become a major challenge. Government is clueless. Permit valuation isn’t done. There are several permit issues and no one seems to be bothered,” he said. “Travel Agents are equally getting affected.”

The Transport Commissioner must be in touch with the stakeholders before floating any orders or policies. On refinancing, there is a disparity in Jammu and Kashmir. That needs to be cleared.``

Upgrade Trekking, Adventure

The stakeholders argued that there should be two segments as trekking is altogether a different subject for high-end tourists.

“Licence holders should be given by the government as you deal with high-end tourists.  However, horse pullers have been given licences,” said, Muhammad Akram Khan, President, of the Travel Agents Association of Kashmir (TAAK).

“So many travel agents have closed down their offices. 2022 – the biggest loss for the travel agents and transporters because not a justified policy in place from the government.”

“We have been organising roadshows. For the last two years, the Tourism Department has been doing it on its own. Reasons known to them,” he said. “Roadshows are vital. We are currently witnessing record tourists from just South East Markets and that should be.

Former President of KCCI, Abdur Rouf Punjabi, said that despite worse situations, the stakeholders in Kashmir’s tourism and trade bodies have moved on smoothly. “We are very well-connected with stakeholders. All we hear is a concern they raise about the Jammu and Kashmir Bank and its role toward stakeholders. “The bank is playing a very vital role. It shouldn’t be a burden on the stakeholders, nor should it be treated as a burden.”

Who Owns Shehre-e-Khaas?

The stakeholders from Downtown (Shehre-i-Khaas Association) in a recently held interactive session, organised by KCCI, put forward their viewpoints.

Rouf Kotta, President of the Shehre-e-Khaas Association, questioned the government for “step-motherly” treatment. They demanded roads and the establishment of parking slots across the erstwhile business nerve centre. Tourists’ spots should be identified across Downtown

“Downtown is a forgotten land for the government. We have been assured so much but nothing on the ground is happening,” he said.

“Bulbul Sahab, Rozbal, Hazratbal, Jamia Masjid and other shrines, should be given priority.  Artisans should be given soft loans. Govt schools and education institutes should be given special focus. Waste Management is at its worst. Revival of water bodies must be everyone’s responsibility.”

Locals and visitors face immense hardships due to the non-availability of urinals. The stakeholders demanded that the vacant houses should be notified of the parking as Downtown face many issues due to no parking slots,

“For Downtown Handicraftsman, substantial financial schemes should be initiated,” he said.

Houseboat Sector in Disorder

Vice-Chairman of Kashmir Houseboat Owners Association, Manzoor Ahmad Pakhtoon, while speaking on the plight of houseboats said that rehabilitation of 7.50 thousand houseboats is very important. During harsh winters, houseboats sink and there is no policy and no land available for them.

“Financial assistance is a big problem,” he said. He urged the government to keep robust firefighters in place for accuracy and save properties worth damaging. “Licences are being halted because of STPs. This is affecting our businesses big time.”

He said that the repair and renovation should be hassle-free. “Rehabilitation of river Jhelum and Tchont Kul must be on priority

Meekail Ahmad, Managing Director, Magnate Group, Jammu and Kashmir, said that the government must adopt a pro-people policy for giving the best services during harsh weather conditions. He said that his group, which is into electric hammams and the underfloor heating system, reached out to certain areas and provided the services. However, the controversial order by the Deputy Commissioner, Ganderbal created a “scare” in the business sector.

“Government must adhere to norms according to the areas and also help stakeholders to reach to areas with best possible services,” Ahmad said.

President, of Pharma, Distributors, Association, Jammu and Kashmir, Fayaz Ahmad, said that the general trade is getting hampered due to faulty government policies.

“Jammu and Kashmir has been an importer State. We import Kiryana, Cosmetics, and whatnot. We don’t enjoy the facilities which other states are enjoying.”

Regarding the online pharmacy, Ahmad alleged that the government was putting patients at risk.  “Pharmacies are run by big houses.”

On the banking sector, Ahmad claimed that “In Banking Sector, the NPA ratio is more in other states. Our people are subjected to social stigma. This should be immediately stopped. Besides, we should have business with other Banks. Why have it with Jammu and Kashmir Bank only? MoUs should be inked between other banks also by the government the way they entered with JK Bank.”

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