Lockdowns broke business community in J&K

Gaurav Gupta Unending restrictions, which J&K witnessed since August 2019, have almost brought the economy to the brink of collapse as the losses incurred due to three consecutive lockdowns on account of abrogation of Article 370, the first corona wave, and the COVID-19 2.0 have already run into thousands of crores of rupees. As the business fraternity of the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir is longing for a respite from the government in a manner the COVID patients were seeking oxygen a few days earlier, it is time for those steering the affairs of the UT to act prudently in the matter or else business establishments all across the J&K will be left with no other option but to down their shutters and leave for the Himalayas forgetting everything including their families, business and responsibilities. The situation is so grim that another lockdown can prove fatal for many as already survival has become an issue here with no assurance whatsoever coming from the government’s side. For an in-depth analysis of the crucial issue, there is a dire need to dwell on the triggering point which has led to this heart-wrenching situation. As the Valley was blooming with the onset of promising tourist season in the months of June and July 2019, and the ancient annual Amarnath Yatra was at its peak by devotees thronging at the mountain shrine and giving a much-needed boost to the economies of both Jammu and the Kashmir provinces, there came a short order for the visitors of Paradise on Earth from the Centre to leave the erstwhile state henceforth dashing the hopes of all the stakeholders encashing tourism benefits at that time. What was followed was the history. For more than a year after the bifurcation of J&K and abrogation of Article 370, J&K remained disturbed either by restrictions on public movement or on the free flow of digital data over microwave signals as mobile telephony was stopped, especially the highspeed internet. This was when the mainstay of J&K, the tourism sector, was poorly hit well before the inception of coronavirus in India, which later gave a blow to the already shattered business and trade by the complete restriction on people’s movement. What started in August 2019 in J&K got another jerk in the last week of March 2020, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the first countrywide lockdown dashing hopes of traders, hoteliers, transporters, tour and travel operators and all including the ordinary person as business was all set to nose-dive after this inevitable decision. This led to a complete halt on tourism-related activity in J&K, with the most important Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Tourist Circuit getting a jolt which it never experienced in the past. On the whole, the second series of lockdowns due to the first corona wave proved out to be Doomsday for every soul of the Jammu and Kashmir Union Territory. Still, the most effected was the business community as they confronted a unique situation with expenses standing tall and income witnessing a steep fall. Without going into details as everybody knows the consequences of lockdowns in 2020, there came the more dreadful second wave of the disease corona, which is highly contagious and which is still persisting in the form of ‘killer’ variants as deaths this time have become an issue with no findings telling the exact reason behind loss of precious lives. The new restrictions imposed in the wake of a virulent Covid-19 second wave came with even more severe consequence with vanishing jobs and forcing many business establishments to look for the option of ‘The End’. The trend is already discernible. It is important to have an overview of the constituents which have got a big blow by this unprecedented situation which J&K saw amid the three major phases of restrictions. The hoteliers, shopkeepers, Poniwallahs, Pithuwallahs, Dhaba owners and associated businessmen in Katra, the entire transport industry, drivers, conductors, the owners and people associated with banquet halls, restaurants, cloth merchants, books vendors, shoe showrooms, market places adjoining rail stations and bus stands, electronics and electrical goods dealers, saloons, body fitness industry including gyms, shopping malls, automobile sales and services, people connected with print media as advertisements have dropped due to slackness in other businesses leading to lay-offs and disengagements and many others faced the brunt of lockdowns and are now living on the edge with nowhere to go as the government is also not showing any keenness in doing something to bring their limping life back on the tracks. The new start-up also got hit hard by the Covid pandemic. Youngsters who started new firms and small businesses since 2019 have become victims of these lockdowns. There are several young people who started works related to Internet have suffered a great setback. These three back to back lockdowns have forced them to live a miserable life in absence of people friendly policies. There is no doubt that the government under the stewardship of PM Narendra Modi has made a provision for the free ration to nearly 80 crore souls falling under the poor strata of the society but this endeavour is in no way adequate as the startling 50 crore middle class population has nowhere to go for getting respite from the dead end of consecutive lockdowns that have crippled the economy in J&K to a level which is irreparable. It is a sad story that those sitting at the helm are trying to adjudge the losses incurred during these lockdowns quantitatively as in actual what has been lost cannot be quantified in millions or billions as the losses which the people have suffered are beyond the scope of simple calculations since there are businesses in J&K which are about to shut due to restrictions caused by the second wave of COVID-19. The hasty and unplanned lockdowns in an attempt to contain the virus spread have led to widespread devastation as far as business and economy is concerned. The time now is to resume everyday life as soon as possible with the government coming to relief and respite of the business community on war footing to revive and rejuvenate the tour, trade and industry, which are lifelines of J&K’s economy. Of course, the solution does not lie in imposing fresh lockdowns but in accelerating the pace of vaccination drive and enforcing strict compliance with the Covid-19 protocol that include masks, social distancing and hand hygiene. (The author is Secretary General CCI Jammu