Crackdown On Two-Wheelers Brings E-Commerce To A Halt In Kashmir

Jammu and Kashmir Police have seized hundreds of two-wheelers in the Valley in the past two days, without giving the bikers any reason why.

At least two major e-commerce giants, Myntra and Flipkart, have suspended operations in the valley.

Srinagar- As the ongoing campaign to seize two-wheelers despite proper documentation stretched to a week, Kashmir’s logistics and e-commerce industry - dependent on motorbikes for delivery - has come to a grinding halt.

At least two major e-commerce giants, Myntra and Flipkart, have suspended operations in the Kashmir valley.

Zahoor Ahmed Qari, President Kashmir Courier and Cargo Association (KCCA), said that the two e-commerce giants have suspended their operations solely because of the unspecified crackdown on bikers.

“It’s purely because of the recent police crackdown on bikers that has drastically hit the e-commerce sector,” Qari told Kashmir Observer, adding that delivery of parcels accumulated in warehouses across Srinagar had also halted. “The in-house stock is already piling up and the crackdown on bikers is still on, so there’s absolutely no way that these delivery outlets can adjust the new arriving products in their offices.”

Qari alleged that several logistics executives were thrashed by police personnel. “Several of our boys have been beaten up by cops. Their families aren’t allowing them to work now,” said Qari, who operates a Blue Dart courier service in Srinagar. “If these guys have delivery brand bags, legal documents and courier company’s I-cards, then why’re they being forced to suffer?”

The e-commerce and logistics sector in Kashmir is still fledgling, grappling with the economic costs incurred due to the longest internet shutdown beginning August 2019.

The campaign to seize two-wheelers began days ahead of the Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s visit to Jammu and Kashmir, his first since August 2019 changes and when Kashmir was brought under direct central rule. Security in Kashmir has been stepped up with several new barricades put up and deployment of more than 5,000 additional troops following upsurge in militant violence this year.

At present, Qari said, there are around 4000 fulltime delivery executives employed by 35 courier services. Since the crackdown, around 75% of them have not reported for work. “If this Police crackdown continues, then these 4000 guys will be completely unemployed,” he said.

Sheikh Samiullah, co-founder of Fast Beetle, a new Srinagar-based e-commerce start-up which employs more than 60 people, said the company has put a halt on its delivery services after police started arbitrarily seizing bikes in the city.

“More than 500 delivery executives are making their livelihoods from the delivery jobs in Kashmir, where would they go now?” he asked, in anguish.

In a tweet, Samiullah wrote, “I wonder how on one hand the foreign investing parties are invited day in and day out to plan the possibilities in Kashmir and the local startups are pulled down with these unnecessary maintenance activities on the other hand.”

The plight was shared by dozens of delivery outlets operating in the capital city, alleging that many of their delivery agents who commute on two-wheelers have been unable to show up for work since last week due to the fear of falling prey to the police crackdown.

“Since Tuesday, dozens of my delivery agents have called and complained that the police are confiscating their bikes without any specific reasons,” Qazi Amaan, owner of a Kashmir-based delivery service told Kashmir Observer. “These bikes help these guys earn a living and feed their families. The police should understand that by seizing their bikes, they’re not only hampering the growth of Kashmir’s e-sector but also creating financial issues for these delivery agents.”

He further added that they’ve suspended their operations because six of their bikes are currently seized and they’ve lost two emergency documents because of the fear-psychosis that the cops create while seizing their agent’s bike.

“If this continues,” Armaan said, “then courier services in Kashmir will go on an embargo.”

Notably, the J&K Police has a regular social media presence and provides updates round the clock. However, it remained tight-lipped for two days on the crackdown on two-wheelers before breaking the silence on the third day.

In a tweet, the Kashmir zone police - quoting Inspector General of Police, Vijay Kumar - said that the confiscating two-wheelers and the shutting down of some internet towers was due to “terror” and “violence” and denied any link to the Amit Shah’s Kashmir visit.

“We will return them [two-wheelers] after verifying their documents and identity,” a police official told Kashmir Observer, adding that the rumours that police will hand over bikes on October 25 are baseless.

“Once the credibility of the biker is proved, everything will be sort out. Some seized bikes had been handed over to their owners after their registration papers were verified while some are still in custody as those vehicles were not registered in the driver’s names.”

Several two-wheeler owners, however, told Kashmir Observer that they were directed by police officials to secure their vehicles after October 25, incidentally the day the Home Minister’s three-day visit to J&K is scheduled to come to an end

“They (police) told me not to worry and that my bike will be released only after October 25,” a youngster who runs a mobile repairing shop in Nowgam told Kashmir Observer.

Kashmir Observer had, on Tuesday, reported the crackdown on two-wheelers as police stations across Srinagar brimmed with hapless owners, mostly young people, struggling to deal with the extrajudicial seizure of their vehicles.

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Zaid Bin Shabir

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

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