Dozens of trade bodies in Indian-occupied Jammu and Kashmir on Wednesday demanded a stimulus package for the revival of businesses in the disputed Himalayan region.
At a news conference in the capital Srinagar on Wednesday, members of the business community said Kashmir’s economy has suffered heavily since the 1990s.
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Kashmir stimulus package demanded after coronavirus ruins economy
They said the lockdown enforced by New Delhi after revoking the region’s special status last August had dealt a crippling blow to hopes of an economic revival.
The group of 32 trade bodies said the Indian government must waive interest on loan amounts since Aug. 5, 2019, and provide a stimulus package to boost business activities.
They said Prime Minister Narendra Modi has pledged 20 trillion rupees ($265 billion) to help the Indian economy recover from the three-month coronavirus lockdown, but Kashmiri traders received no assistance over the past 10 months.
“We have suffered immense losses since last year. It was the government’s decision to ask local and foreign tourists to leave the region and they have not returned ever since,” Sheikh Ashiq, president of Kashmir Chambers of Commerce and Industries (KCCI), said after addressing the news conference.
“For the past 10 months, there has been no business activity in Kashmir. People associated with and dependent on local industries are dying. The conditions have only worsened and our losses are running in the billions.”
He said it was essential for the government to immediately introduce some financial and welfare packages to help Kashmiris.
Internet blackout in Indian Occupied Kashmir
The trade bodies also demanded the restoration of high-speed internet in the region, which has been cut off since last August, and proper maintenance of highways.
“Online businesses and students are in a crisis. High-speed internet is badly needed here and its suspension has badly impacted our economy and children’s education. The government must restore it now,” said Ashiq.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government imposed a total communications blackout in early August when it stripped the portion of Kashmir it occupies — the country’s only Muslim-majority region — of its partial autonomy which it had enjoyed since 1947-48 under Article. 370 and 35-A of the Indian constitution.
India then also imposed a curfew, sent in tens of thousands of extra troops and detained dozens of Kashmiri political leaders and others, many of whom remain in detention, drawing criticism abroad. Around a million Indian army and paramilitary troops are deployed mostly around Kashmir valley (population less than 8 million). This makes the highest soldier to civilian ratio any where in the world.
Internet in recent years has emerged as one of the basic human rights as freedom of information. United Nations, United States government and most western institutions and media repeatedly emphasise the importance of internet freedoms. It has become a yard stick and barometer of human condition in Indian controlled Kashmir where it is continuously shut down since August.
One month ago, Indian Supreme Court echoed international position when it stated that, “having access to the internet is integral to an individual’s right to freedom of speech and expression”.
Kashmir stimulus package well-deserved after India’s atrocities
Indian forces in Kashmir have gained notoriety for detaining citizens for arbitrary reasons. India’s treatment of Kashmiris has raised red flags for organisations around the world.
A group of European parliamentarians comprising of 15 members from all major political parties have raised their concerns in a letter written to European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen and European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josef Borrell, demanding them to raise the issue of the worst human rights violations in Indian Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IOJ&K) with the government in New Delhi.
Describing this as an important development on the international front, Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) President Sardar Masood Khan said that the voices in support of the Kashmiri people are constantly rising around the globe in spite of the most difficult circumstances.
Islamabad urged the international community to take immediate steps to stop India from committing “serious crimes” against the Kashmiri people and hold it accountable under international law and relevant human rights conventions.
Anadolu with additional input by GVS News Desk