Reopen the Economy

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J&K government seems in no mood to ease the COVID-19 lockdown in Kashmir which has now been over two months old. In this period, the number of COVID-19 positive cases has gone up from one to around 1800 cases. There are thousands others who are under quarantine. This has naturally led to perpetuation of the lockdown which, in turn, has wrought havoc with the economy The problem with the lockdown in Kashmir is that it didn’t start on March 25 but on August 5 when New Delhi revoked Article 370 that granted J&K its autonomous status under India’s constitution. So, Kashmir has effectively been shut for over nine months. This is too long a lockdown for any economy to sustain. Almost all businesses have suffered disproportionate losses. Many smaller businesses have been wiped out.

An estimate by Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) says the Valley’s economy has been set back by more than Rs 18000 crore during post Article 370 lockdown. Similarly, according to Kashmir Trade Alliance, the Valley has lost Rs 8416.2 crore over the two months of the Covid19 lockdown. The general trade has suffered the highest loss of Rs 1620 crore followed by that of the industrial sector at Rs 1248 Similarly horticulture sector, tourism, IT industry, handicrafts sector have suffered massive losses. There are an estimated 80,000 metric tonnes of apples lying in Kashmir, one lakh tonnes of apples which are in cold storage and may rot during the coronavirus lockdown.

Education has been the worst hit. The children haven’t also gone to school for nine months, And it looks unlikely they will be able to do so this year. At the same, the children can’t even study online as the government has refused to restore high-speed mobile internet.

There is thus a strong case for the government to review the restrictions and eases them considerably to let the people return to businesses. Going by its economic cost, the lockdown has become unsustainable. As things stand, lockdown is wrecking the businesses, leaving thousands of people unemployed. It has hit the marginalized sections very hard. The fallout of the lockdown will be thus worse than that of the Coronavirus pandemic and on a much bigger scale. What the government should focus on instead is to strictly enforce the social distancing norms in public. It can also devote more resources towards creating a better awareness about the contagion. This will help in making people more responsible in their daily activities. And this is eminently doable for the government, considering the smaller population of Kashmir makes the pandemic more manageable than the densely populated states across India.

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