Losing to Lowest Bidder: ‘Tender’ Blow to Kashmiri Unit-holders

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Native Kashmiri transformer unit-holders are getting anxious about their mode of sustenance in a lockdown-ridden valley where they’re now losing their business bids to those who sell it cheap and with convenience.

By Jyotsna Bharti

A YEAR before Kashmir would plunge into raging protests, Mujtabha Khan had decided to return to his politically-uncertain homeland as a self-starter. It was 2015, and the MBA-degree holder knew that being a unit-holder wouldn’t be easy. The move came at the cost of his promising career abroad where he could’ve risen to ranks by the dint of his merit and hard work. The manufacturer of steel tubular poles stood steadfast only to grow disillusioned about his decision half a decade later.

“I shouldn’t have left London,” Khan, struggling for words, said. “All I ever wanted after my studies was to come back and be a job creator in my homeland.”

Over the years, he took a bank loan of around Rs 2 crores to run and sustain his unit, Khan says. “But the sudden change of policies has now left me stranded and marooned. There’re so many people associated with me. I don’t really know what to do.”

Today, Khan is one of the dejected unit-holders of the valley getting anxious over the junked Industrial Policy 2016. Among other things, the scraped policy clearly states that the locals should be given the priority in order to grow and sustain.

“After our state became union territory, nobody is listening to us,” a Kashmir-based transformer unit-holder told Kashmir Observer.

“Officials are allotting a transformer tender to the lowest bidder from Punjab, irrespective of being an outsider. Such steps will kill the industries here. There’re many youngsters who’ve come back to Kashmir to work here. What’ll they do now? They’ve huge loans on their account to settle.”

Notably, Punjab was the lowest bidder in the transformer tender recently because unit-holders there have the raw material, cheap labour costs, besides power and constant working allowance.

“But here in the valley,” the unit-holder said, “we work only for a few months in a year and most of the time it is shut.”

Kashmiri unit-holders, he said, can’t compete with another state as “we are dependent on government tenders. Our rates aren’t buyable in another state so our market is just this much, and if they remove us from here also, how will we sustain?”

Pertinently, after New Delhi scrapped special status of Jammu and Kashmir last summer, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said, “There must be investment and job opportunities in Jammu and Kashmir. Article 35A, 370 have been standing in the way of development.”

Howbeit, the reality of development looks vague in the valley, even as the government celebrated a year of achievement recently.

“Earlier, the tenders were given to the locals as per the J&K’s Industrial Policy 2016,” Raja Nayeem Khan, a transformers manufacturer told Kashmir Observer.

“The lowest bidder used to get 1/3rd of the tenders and the rest of us would share equally the 2/3rd of it. In that way, we all used to get the opportunity to work and earn.”

To generate more employment within J&K, the former state government would give priority to the native industrialists only.

Interestingly, mission statement of Industrial Policy 2016 clearly endorses promotion and development “of micro, small, medium, large industries for employment generations and higher contribution of the industrial sector to the gross state domestic product (GSDP)”.

While the vision of the said policy asserts to “achieve sustainable, equitable, environment-friendly and balance industrial growth leading to the creation of employment opportunities for the local skilled and educated youth, income generation and overall economic development of the state”.

As per this policy, the locals were given the utmost priority for the employment and tenders considering the former state’s geographical and economical situation. The policy was to remain in operation for ten years.

But after dissolving the former state’s special status, Industrial Policy 2016 also lost its ground — the step now feared to cause large scale unemployment in J&K.

“We’ve around 200 or more units across J&K providing employment to thousands of people,” said Raja Nayeem, President Kashmir Electrical Manufacturers Association (KEMA).

“We generate employment which is the need of the hour for us to be economically stable region.”

Till last time, Raja Nayeem said, all the tenders were meant for Kashmiri unit-holders. “It was the way of employment generation to hundreds of families.”

The predicament of these unit-holders, however, doesn’t stop here. A lot of them have not been paid for their earlier tenders yet. With the result, these unit-holders have been standing at their offices for hours in vain.

“We also wrote a letter to Altaf Bukhari regarding the issue of unemployment of lakhs of people associated with it,” continued Raja Nayeem. “But unfortunately, we got no response from his side too.”

KEMA letter to Altaf Bukhari

If this continues, these native unit-holders fear to lose their living.

“It is not only about us alone,” Vikar Ul Mulk, General Secretary of Jammu Steel Tubular Poles Manufacturers Associations, told Kashmir Observer. “This is a big industry and huge employment generator in Jammu and Kashmir. It’s equally about our employees, the only breadwinners for their families.”

Since last summer, things have indeed gone haywire in the valley, said another unit-holder. “Secretariat is not following the policies. Our Association President, Ashraf Mir Saheb wrote a letter to Principal Secretary Industries of Power Development. But there wasn’t any response either.”

A lot of units in Jammu, he said, have already started laying off people because they don’t have money and haven’t received payment from previous tenders.

However, to know the official version of the story, Kashmir Observer contacted Divisional Commissioner Kashmir, PK Pole. He excused himself and hung phone, so did his predecessor, and now LG Murmu’s adviser, Baseer Khan.

However, a chief engineer agreed to talk on the issue on the condition of anonymity.

“Yes, the [recent] transformer tender went to the unit of Punjab as they were the lowest bidder,” he said. “Whereas the policy is concerned, I’m a government employee. I do what I’m asked to do. There’s a committee that takes the decision. However, I’m not answerable for it.”

Having such conditions thrown upfront, the Kashmir-based unit-holders feel that there’s no one in the administration today who’s even ready to listen to their grievances. They’ve tried reaching out to everyone they can, from the president to a party to a corporation who has been deciding their fates.

“While giving the tender to the lowest bidder, the authorities clearly overlooked our condition,” Ashraf Mir, a well-known industrialist in the valley, told Kashmir Observer. “We import most of our stuff from outside. We don’t work the entire year. We cannot compete with other states having what we have. They need to consider this, or else lakhs of people in J&K will be unemployed.”

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Jyotsna Bharti

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