Kashmir business losses at least US$1b

Economic losses in Kashmir have run well over US$1 billion since India revoked its autonomy and statehood in August, the main trade body in the Himalayan region said on Wednesday, adding that it planned to sue the government for damages.

India turned its erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir into a federally-controlled territory, tightening control in a move it said would rein in militancy in the region and promote its development.

But the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) said development was elusive, thanks to a protracted shutdown after people closed markets and businesses as a mark of protest and for fear of reprisals from insurgents.

It estimated economic losses ran into at least Rs100 billion (US$1.40 billion) by September, but now exceeded that, said Mr Nasir Khan, its senior vice-president.

"We'll ask the court to appoint an external agency to assess the losses because it is beyond us," he said, adding that India's telecoms blackout in the region meant the body could not reach business owners by telephone to prepare estimates.

Instead, it had to send staff to meet them and gather details.

India's home ministry and local government officials did not respond to detailed requests for comment.

Besides severing telecoms links ahead of its decision, India imposed curbs on travel and sent thousands of troops to the heavily-militarised region, citing security concerns.

Some curbs have since been eased, but access to the Internet remains largely blocked.

The clampdown has hit tourism as well as farming, horticulture and the arts and crafts that contribute the most to its export-oriented economy.

"I don't see any stability for many months here," said Mr Vivek Wazir, who runs a hotel in Kashmir's main city of Srinagar. "There's too much uncertainty."

Although a few years ago he planned to expand his business in Kashmir, Mr Wazir said the hotel was now barely breaking even, and he was instead considering opening one in the neighbouring Indian state of Himachal Pradesh.

India cancelled an investor summit it had planned in Kashmir in October and most tourists have stayed away after a spate of attacks on non-locals in recent weeks, which police blame on militants backed by Pakistan.

"I'd be surprised if any genuine investors came," said Mr Khan, adding that KCCI had received no inquiries from potential investors since August.

However, India's home minister said on Wednesday that "total normalcy" prevails in Kashmir even as the government said 600 people remained in custody.

"Petrol, diesel, kerosene, LPG (liquid petroleum gas) and rice are adequately available," Mr Amit Shah told the Rajya Sabha, India's upper house.

"The situation there was always normal. There were many notions spread all over the world. There is total normalcy prevailing."

Mr G. Kishan Reddy, minister of state in the Ministry of Home Affairs, put the number of arrests since Aug 4 at over 5,000 and the number of people still under detention at 609. Those arrested included "stone pelters, miscreants, OGWs (overground workers or people helping anti-India militants), separatists and political workers".

Landlines have been restored, as have postpaid mobile phones. But pre-paid mobile phones and the Internet remain cut off for the Kashmir Valley's more than seven million people.

Mr Shah said it is up to the authorities to decide when to restore Internet connections.

"There are activities by Pakistan too in the Kashmir region, so keeping security in mind, whenever the local authority deems it fit, a decision will be taken (on resuming Internet services)," he said.

Reuters, AFP


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