Jammu: The business community of Jammu, which has for decades been a main driving force for the political narrative, has said that the ‘region is facing discrimination as never before’.
“We are not making comments against any party but the whole business community is going through tremendous stress”, says Arun Gupta President of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry while trying to be cautious in blaming Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP). Gupta is closely associated with the BJP though he doesn’t hold any position in the party.
As months of isolated issues mounted pressure, the Chamber of Commerce has called for a shutdown of Jammu on September 22 in protest against government policies which, the local business community alleges, are bringing in more stakeholders from outside Jammu and Kashmir into Jammu’s business domain. The business community says that arrival of ‘outsider’ stakeholders has already pushed those in the liquor trade and minor minerals already out of business.
The business community of Jammu region has always been a driving force behind the political narrative for decades. The community remained close to Congress for decades before a gradual switchover to the BJP mid-1990s onwards. The Chamber of Commerce, besides the Bar Association, is particularly known for championing the regional cause ranging from the establishment of Universities to issues related to taxation.
The Chamber has always been of the opinion that all governments in the erstwhile state pursued a pro-Kashmir policy leaving Jammu discriminated on many accounts. Driven by this sentiment the business community emerged as major supporters of the BJP’s move to read down special status and reorganize Jammu and Kashmir as Union Territory.
While the isolated business organizations such as liquor traders, minor mineral miners, industrialists, and traders resented a number of business policies post the abrogation of Article 370, the Chamber maintained a cautious silence on all issues. The Chamber finally came under tremendous pressure from the traders following reports of Reliance Retail setting up over 100 outlets in Jammu. This has left small businesses worried even as the general public appears excited with new business ventures coming in.
Addressing a crowded press conference in Jammu this afternoon, the president and office bearers of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCI) Jammu expressed great anguish over, what they called, “discrimination of highest degree with traders of Jammu region by the government”. “Looking into the atrocities of the government on the business class of Jammu Division, Jammu Chamber has decided to give a clarion call for Jammu Bandh on September 22, 2021 due to directions-less policies of the government which are hitting the business fraternity especially in Jammu region”, president Arun Gupta said.
The Chamber of Commerce and Industry leadership has listed a number of issues which they said were hurting the local business community interests. They said that they took up the issued with relevant authorities from time to time but there was no response.
Closure of Wine Shops, Bars
Firstly it was wine shop owners who got the jolt by the so-called New Excise Policy and now the Liquor Bar owners are the next targets of the anti-Jammu administration. Hundreds of wine traders have lost their livelihood after the introduction of e-auction of liquor vends in Jammu and Kashmir. Majority of 228 liquor traders lost their shops in the e-auction conducted recently in the Jammu and Kashmir.
Almost after a gap of two months when the government has e-auctioned wine shops, the liquor bars across the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir have been briefly closed as the Excise Department has sought renewal of licenses and ‘No Objection Certificate’ from the more than 20 department to be obtained by the owners/operators.
Nearly 250 liquor bars are running in the UT of J&K including in private hotels, clubs owned are functional across the Union territory and thousands of people are engaged in this business for the last several years. The above move of the government as badly affected their livelihood in large. We have requested the government several times in this regard but government is not paying any attention
Banquet Halls are also facing the brunt of government baseless restrictions on number of guests. As we know, Covid-19 has broken down the backbone of our traders. Banquet halls are the worst sufferers due to continued lock downs on account of Pandemic Covid-19 and now government has allowed only 25 persons to attend the social/religious gatherings. The majority of banquet halls are spread over more than 10-40 Kanals of land and what to speak of 25 people, the crowd of 200 persons will be barely visible unless restrictions are completely lifted the people would avoid booking of such huge complexes for just 25 persons only for social cultural and other functions which will further aggravate the hardships for this section of business community. We therefore request to fix the capping criteria in case of banquet halls as per their size and capacity and allow these to function with 50% capacity.
Opening of Reliance Stores
Jammu Chamber has also expressed resentment over the proposal of big companies like Reliance to open stores in Jammu in the retail sector, saying that if this happens then small shopkeepers of Jammu will be ruined and their shops will be closed. Inspite of adding opportunities for business, the directionless government has snatched away what was in the hand of traders which is unacceptable.
Calling off Annual Darbar Move
The Annual Darbar Move process was aimed at maintaining communal harmony and brotherhood especially among the people of Jammu and Kashmir regions and ending this process would have an adverse impact not only upon the traditional bond between the two regions and their people but also on the business community. Thousands of families from Kashmir and Jammu used to move along with darbar to spend winter and summers in Jammu and Kashmir. It has severely affected on the traders of Jammu as well as Kashmir regions.
Debarring of Mahajan, Khatri , Sikh and Jain communities from purchasing agricultural land
Under alleged conspiracy, the members of these communities are debarred from buying or selling land in the J&K Union Territory. It seems to be a caste based system in purchasing and selling land in Jammu and Kashmir under new Land Laws amended by the Centre after abrogation of Article 370. The members of these communities can purchase and sell land across the country but it is extremely depressing that they cannot purchase even one Kanal of agricultural land whereas there is no such restriction on people belonging to other communities. All the citizens of the country are treated equally before law irrespective of caste, colour or creed but the government adopts dual policy and gross injustice with these communities. Government should revoke its order debarring the aforesaid communities from buying or selling land in J&K.
Sand mining, Crushers and Brick Kiln Trade
The policy adopted by the Geology and Mining Department with regard to allotment of mining and extraction contracts as alarming and against public interest. The lack of protective mechanisms in the policy has deprived thousands of families of their livelihood and exposed consumers to exploitation by a mining syndicate. Over 60% of mining contracts have gone to the outsiders. From contractors to sand diggers, laborers to transporters, who are directly or indirectly associated with the extraction of minerals, all have lost their livelihood. Some of them, especially sand diggers have been involved in these activities for decades. The above move of J&K Government has affected the livelihood of thousands of people in the region.
Visit of MPs to J&K
The outreach programme started by the Government of India in which over 300 Members of Parliament visiting Jammu and Kashmir seems to be solely meant for Kashmir as practically Jammu is not on their itinerary and it looks that the region is declared as out of bound for the visiting delegates. Those who visited Jammu they only preferred to meet the leaders belonging to a particular party, ignoring the stakeholders of Jammu region. It seems that government is acting totally against the interest of the Jammu people and is appeasing the people of the other region despite Jammu being the nationalist and staunch supporter of the government.
Passenger Tax on Commercial Vehicles
The Passenger tax on Commercial Vehicles is not applicable anywhere in any UT of India. We question the government why it is being charged in our UT.
“Looking into such prejudice with the people of Jammu in general and traders in particular the CCI has decided to go on an agitation path and the first step in this regard is the Jammu Bandh on September 22. He appealed to the people of the region to extend support to this call for awakening the government from a deep slumber as it has been taking people of Jammu as for granted and paying full attention towards Kashmir which is unwarranted and will not be tolerated at any cost”, said the Chamber president