CHAIRMAN, MUSHTAQ GROUP OF HOTELS AND HEAD PHD CHAMBER OF COMMERCE AND INDUSTRIES, JK CHAPTER, MUSHTAQ CHAYA TALKS ABOUT PRESENT BUSINESS AND INVESTMENT SCENARIO IN KASHMIR IN A FREEWHEELING INTERVIEW WITH Kashmir Ink ( A Greater Kashmir Publication)
Q. WHAT IS THE CURRENT BUSINESS SCENARIO IN KASHMIR?
A. To be frank, it is depressing. In fact, the businessmen are passing through difficult times. On the one hand we see civilian killings followed by protests in Kashmir, on the other the economy is witnessing downslide. Unfortunately Kashmir since 2014 has faced too many difficult phases which have left negative impact on the business outlook. You cannot take situation in Kashmir out of the equation and then talk about business. You must have peace. I believe those framing policies in the state or at the central level, should treat Kashmir differently while drafting policies for entrepreneurs or for that matter business community. I will give you an example, it is a banking norm across the country that if any borrower doesn’t pay his/her three scheduled EMIs on time, he/she is classified as non-performing asset. Now come back to Kashmir scenario and you have 2016 strife, where even business establishments could not be opened for six straight months, these things add up to the worries of the business community.
Q. HOW DO YOU SEE THE ROLE OF BUSINESS COMMUNITY IN RESTORING THE PEACE IN THE VALLEY?
A. At best we can act as facilitators of peace between different confronting parties, but we have a responsibility of being a pressure group to ensure that civilian killings are stopped. When there are innocent killings, business and economy take a back seat.
Q. DO YOU THEN BELIEVE THAT TILL KASHMIR ISSUE IS RESOLVED, BUSINESS CANNOT REALLY FLOURISH IN THE VALLEY?
A. No, that’s not my point. But since 2014 the situation has worsened as the policy of the central government towards Kashmir has changed. In the name of flood package, we got peanuts as major portion of the funds were repackaged into developmental projects that had already been announced by the previous governments. Since 2014, the tourism sector became a victim of well-thought out conspiracy.
Q. CAN YOU THROW SOME LIGHT ON WHAT KIND OF CONSPIRACY YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT?
A. It is an open secret, how some sections of national media beam out negative propaganda about the Kashmir which in reality is far from truth. They present a skirmish in the border area in such a way as if it has happened in the heart of Srinagar city. This type of reportage shoos away the intending tourists. We have also witnessed during our promotional campaigns that how worried the intending visitors are, not because of the situation but because of what is being dished out by these venom spewing channels. That is a concern which has remained unaddressed despite being taken up with even the union home minister as well as the former chief ministers of the state. We are suffering a lot by this.
Q. IS ONLY NEGATIVE PUBLICITY RESPONSIBLE FOR THE DOWNFALL IN THE TOURIST SECTOR?
A. Negative propagation of Kashmir destination is a major cause for low tourist footfall. According to government figures, only 8.5 lakh tourists visited Kashmir which is a cause of concern. Majority of our hotels have less than 30 percent occupancy which means loss for them. If a hotel is having less occupancy, the owner is forced to go for austerity measures which mean job cuts thus people loss jobs. Secondly, the extension of the GST added to the woes of the hospitality sector. We begged before then government not to extend the GST to Jammu and Kashmir as we are passing through difficult times. They assured at that time that it would be beneficial but result is before everybody that how things have gone from bad to worse when it comes business in Kashmir after implementation of GST.
Q. THE NUMBER OF FOREIGNERS VISITING KASHMIR HAS BEEN ON DECLINE FOR A DECADE NOW. DO YOU FEEL WE HAVE THE REQUIRED INFRASTRUCTURE FOR WELCOMING THE HIGH END TOURISTS?
A. Definitely yes, we have good properties in place. But the point is that the tourists should visit. The main problem is that most of the foreign countries have issued adverse travel advisories on Kashmir. The state government should take up this issue with the external affairs ministry so that the foreign countries are persuaded to withdraw these advisories.
Q. AMIDST DEPRESSING BUSINESS SCENARIO, WHAT DO YOU THINK IS THE WAY OUT?
A. The government should walk the talk, and work for the development which includes bring back peace to the Valley. Besides, policies must be drafted to promote import substitution. Currently if we go with J&K Bank report it mentions that annually we import goods worth Rs 40,000 crore, which is a huge thing for a small state like Jammu and Kashmir. Similarly, special emphasis must be given to all segments of trade particularly the horticulture and the tourism as they bring foreign exchange to the state.
Q. ANY ADVICE FOR YOUNG ENTREPRENEURS ?
A. Anybody who wants to become an entrepreneur, he/she must be prepared for hard work. Nobody can become Mushtaq Chaya in a day or a month, it takes decades. I am here because of my continuous hard work of over three decades. So be patient and work hard, InshaAllah you will achieve success.
This Interview First Appeared On Kashmir Ink ( A Greater Kashmir Publication, one of the largest circulated regional dailies)