Srinagar: The Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry on Thursday termed the continuous lockdown of business establishments in the valley especially Srinagar as a “serious infringement on the rights of the business community to earn a livelihood”.
Spokesperson of the KCCI said in a statement that despite full cooperation extended by the general public and the business community, the administration appeared to be “running around in circles since the previous five months and seems oblivious to the fact that the business community of Kashmir is presently in the 13th month of a disruption which has wiped out enterprises and devastated the economy”.
The Chamber questioned the intent of the Srinagar district administration towards provide livelihood opportunities to the business community while comparing Srinagar with Mumbai city in terms of population density.
While the local administration in Srinagar “cannot bother to stop tweeting and identify individual houses” where family members have contracted COVID-19 rather than sealing entire neighbourhoods, the Chamber said that the Maharashtra government had identified around 700 virus containment zones, which mostly comprise individual houses or slums.
Despite having recorded over 5 lakh infections and a six times higher population density than Srinagar, Mumbai has already entered the Unlock 3 stage wherein the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has allowed all essential and non-essential business establishments to open all day except in containment zones, the KCCI said.
“Only theatres, food courts, in-house dining in restaurants, bars and gaming zones, street vendors and hawkers, continue to be prohibited, ” it added.
As per the Chamber, the gradual opening of business establishments and the population being allowed much more movement in Mumbai despite the infection rate of around 2.65 percent and a higher population density “speaks volumes about the intent of the Maharashtra Government to provide avenues of livelihood and its concern for the welfare of the public”.
Back home in Srinagar, there has been a “grievous dereliction in proper utilisation of the earlier stages of lockdowns to strategize and prepare for the unlocking phase,” the Chamber alleged.
It further alleged that DDMA funds had been “spent on purchase of barriers despite Kashmir having the highest inventory of barriers including barbed wires available”. The Chamber said that the prices of critical medical equipment including Oxygen Concentrators has skyrocketed without any system of checks and balances in place. While butchers are hauled in for selling meat at meagerly higher prices, but no attention is being paid to regulate the prices of these essential and critical medical equipment, the KCCI lamented.
The Chamber alleged that shopkeepers were being pushed against the wall by the financial stress and “in pursuit of bringing food to the family are being forced to operate like smugglers and reports of excessive harassment by various enforcement agencies are pouring in”.
The KCCI said that at the district level in the valley also, “confusing amendments” have been made to the comprehensive guidelines issued by the Chief Secretary of J&K, who is the Chairman of the State Disaster Management Authority.
It said that a majority of the public had no idea of what the guidelines wre.
While banks were kept open throughout the pandemic, “no care was taken to monitor their functioning resulting in reports of largest COVID-19 clusters emerging from banks, ” the KCCI said.
“The Royals have been enjoying their golf rounds without any break, the shopkeepers are put behind bars for seeking to feed their families out of frustration, ” it rued.
The Chamber also alleged that “handpicked star restaurants frequented to by the high and mighty have been allowed to operate without any interruption whereas the lesser mortals are not allowed activities”.
“Similarly government offices are functioning at full strength despite daily movement of employees posing a risk whereas schools are not being allowed to operate on minimal rotational routine suggested by their respective associations, ” it added.
The KCCI said that due to the continuous closure of schools, students stand deprived of quality education due to the ban on 4G internet, “providing which the government of Jammu and Kashmir has been opposing tooth and nail in the Supreme Court of India”. “What prevented the government from providing broadband connections to the students or parents so that our children could also participate in the new normal is beyond comprehension? ” questioned the Chamber.
The Chamber further questioned the government’s decision to open the Royal Springs Golf Course (RSGC) amid the prevailing pandemic.
It said the Golf Course, which had been closed till May was opened up for play in June, which coincided with the government’s announcement of shifting of the Durbar to Srinagar “and with the Royal who-is-who keen on its remaining open, it has been ensured that it remains open since”.
The KCCI alleged that even when the District Magistrate Srinagar declared curfew in Srinagar on the August 4 and 5, “when a majority of beleaguered 17 lacs people were caged behind fancy barriers and barbed wire, the RSGC was open and jampacked”. “Apparently the jurisdiction of the District Magistrate ends at the gates of RSGC”.
The KCC&I said it was not against opening of a Golf Course, but the move “shows the government’s concern for keeping their senior functionaries and powerful elite in a mentally and physically fit condition”.
“Had their salaries and privileges been stopped since 13 months and their families very survival under threat, we doubt that they would be hitting their shots as beautifully, ” it said.
The Chamber lamented that no tangible support has been provided to the business community who continue to struggle not for revival or growth but their very survival.
The Chamber said that at a time when unemployment is at an all time high with the tally of job losses in the current pandemic running into lacs, the “inconsiderate policies have pushed the business community against the wall which cry for urgent corrective measures and address the simmering desperation and deep frustration”.