Where’s ‘Ease of Doing Business’ For Locals, Kashmiri Entrepreneurs Ask

Representational Photo

Young Kashmiri entrepreneurs say the administration needs to take immediate steps to reimpose a hassle-free procedure where the local entrepreneurs are given preferences over the non-domiciles that would stay within the broad spectrum of compliance.

INSIDE the cement-kilned walls of a skyscraper in Srinagar, a young man sporting a light blue-shirt and black-chinos looks reckless. His eyes remain etched to the blueprint of a project, as he speaks to his counterpart in a deafening tone: “What shall we do; our lives have turned hell since the day we applied for registration of our project.”

The young man is Mueed Ahmad, a 27-year-old Cardiff University-return MBA-holder, who had planned to invest into a project in Kashmir following the J&K Government’s claim of a better entrepreneurial life for the domicile-holders of the valley.

“The administration’s current claims may not create any instant reactions,” Mueed, the young entrepreneur, told Kashmir Observer. “But later on, it might instill a sense of dismay and distress among the youth.”

Since the abrogation of Kashmir’s special status, the administration has been vowing a global entrepreneurial life in the valley. In fact, while promoting the ‘new-age’ Kashmir—where ease of doing business was stated to be ‘free from hassles’—several aspirants felt exhilarated as the move had brought hopes in the din of looming financial crisis.

The administration even published a flurry of advertisements explaining its strategies for a better pavement for youths struggling towards a global start-up platform, where companies like Jindal and Tata compete against each other.

To build hype for the proposed Global Investors Summit and promote Kashmir as an investor-friendly destination, the administration even organized roadshows across cities.

The Department of Industries & Commerce (I&C) in collaboration with Jammu and Kashmir Trade Promotion Organization also signed MoUs worth thousands of crores of rupees from interested investors ranging from big corporates to local domicile investors.

The changed guard in Kashmir left no stone unturned in showcasing the investment pipeline and the employment to be generated.

In some cases, the orders were also passed by the authority of advisor to Lieutenant Governor for grounding of projects after a thorough due-diligence by the appointed task-force.

But almost a year later, the same orders—which were once used as the standing pillar against Kashmir’s special status—have not been implemented in the region leaving the local entrepreneurs in a state of distress.

“It took a lot of time, resources and efforts for investors like me post 5th August, 2019 to reach to a point where we were able to secure orders for our project from the competent authority,” continues Mueed.

“A nodal officer was also appointed by the Directorate of I&C to identify and allocate land for the project and yet no action was taken afterwards despite regular follow-ups.”

A year after the previous orders were introduced, the administration came up with a new policy for Industrial Land Allotment.

“And now they want us to start from scratch, meaning we’ve to apply for land on the portal and be in a month-long queue,” Mueed says.

“Depending on the number of applications received ahead of me and the quantum of investment, the Appraisal Committee may or may not review our projects and then decide whether or not it should go to the Allotment Committee for further process. In other words, all the hard-work done for years in making our dreams come true, would go down the drain.”

Young Kashmiri entrepreneurs say the administration needs to take immediate steps to reimpose a hassle-free procedure where the local entrepreneurs are given preferences over the non-domiciles that would stay within the broad spectrum of compliance. “This would have been a better example of Ease of Doing Business,” Mueed says.

Entrepreneurs contest that a simple analysis of the bleak presence of the first generation industrial level projects and businesses that have come up post abrogation in Kashmir is enough to contradict the official claims.

But while the administration claims to have gotten rid of a lot of obsolete processes, in reality the picture remains the same, says Mushtaq Amin, another entrepreneur.

“It takes months and in some cases years for an entrepreneur to get NOCs like Power Availability Certificate, Power Sanction, Consent To Establish, Consent To Operate from departments like PDD and PCB/PCC. Departments keep passing the buck with nobody having any accountability and then in the same process, one loses whatever little time the administration had provided in the name of Provisional Registration,” he says.

Jammu & Kashmir generates thousands of megawatts of renewable energy annually and has a potential for several thousand more.

“Yet,” Mushtaq says, “when an entrepreneur applied for a project that requires high-energy despite innumerable merits of the project considering the eco-sensitive topography of Kashmir, it was turned down. If the same administration can provide land to Jindal Corporation in Lassipora for setting up their industry, then why can’t they provide the same land to locals?”

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Zaid Bin Shabir

Zaid Bin Shabir is a special correspondent at Kashmir Observer. He tweets @Zaidbinshabir

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