I was 15 years old when I used to hear my friends from business families talking about the hardships their parents had to go through in running a business successfully. They had sleepless nights because they never knew the fate of their business the very next morning. The scare of sealing of their shops, restaurants, retail outlets; exorbitant demand of money from Government officials (hafta-vasooli literally); rampant corruption, extortion at the hands of officials, and political instability caused this rage. Today when my friends have inherited the onus of their businesses, nothing much has changed. The fear still looms. The situation has rather worsened. There is more at stake – for businesses built with toil and effort over decades.
The claim is, these businesses are established unethically and illegally at the respective locations violating one or the other law of land. It feels strange, in fact weird, that how these businesses were allowed to open their shops in the first place years back. There can be multiple reasons, howsoever. Maybe the laws have changed over the period of time. Maybe the officer-in-charge at that point in time was not so bothered and felt it to be ok to let the business open the outlet. Local camaraderie, you can say. Or maybe the supervising body saw these illegal businesses as a means to make more moolah year on year. In either which ways, businesses are not to be blamed. Not at all!
We all are aware about the untoward incident that happened in Nanak Nagar recently when the Government officials rampaged the hardware shop. That act was plainly pathetic and an ostentatious display of ignorance and apathy. I ask, how would these officials react when their “palatial houses”, made of corrupt money are made to ashes? Would they still be holding their ground? Probably not! They will lose their shit faster than our strong business fraternity who has been battling these challenges and atrocities for decades now. The sealing of the properties has become an ongoing ritual (rather a fashionable one). We keep hearing of such incidents in Chhani Himmat, Gandhi Nagar, alongside all other areas of Jammu province where restaurants, properties are sealed just overnight. Everytime, officials claim that enough time was given to the business owners to take a remedial step but the business owners failed to do so.
You can pose that farce claim millions of times but my argument will always remain that why did you allow that to open the establishment in the first place. The strictness and the diggedness was to be shown at the time when your colleagues didn’t mind minting money and allowing that business to open.
This sealing of properties at the whims of the officials is more detrimental than we can think of. It is no hidden fact that business is in the DNA of Jammu province. Jammu survives and thrives on the business that it has built over hundreds of years. Just because you think of rectifying and fixing the system today – that was screwed all those years – doesn’t give any authority the right to shut the shop close. Absolutely not! These horrendous acts by the government officials further demoralise and demotivate the local public. I believe the incumbents at the positions of responsibility are very well aware about the unhappiness of the public of Jammu from the Government and the governing officials. And such activities further the unrest and fuel the fire of disdain among the public.
This age-old tradition needs to be changed for multiple reasons. As mentioned before, business – small or big – is the key breadwinner for people of Jammu. Today when times are more uncertain than before, creating ruckus and hindering their source of income is more inhuman than you and I can imagine. It also reflects a broken process that is not able to deliver fully. Which leaves the officials to operate on their own whims and fancies. There needs to be a single window system to address these concerns where properties or businesses that are challenged in court for grievance redressal. And if the business needs to be shut because of the changing laws then the governing body should be able to pay the lifetime value of the business for the next 99 years.
In a place like Jammu, where business comes as a skill by default and is our core competency, what we really need is a smooth and amicable business-friendly ecosystem where businesses thrive and flourish manifold. Rather than being scared for their businesses being sealed and shut overnight just because a few officials think that is the right thing to do. The policies regarding opening of new businesses, operating and running the current businesses and modifying the nature of the current businesses needs to be clearly called out and shared with the business fraternity. And there must be ample amount of time that must be given to the business fraternity to act upon it. The business fraternity needs to be given that confidence that laws are made for ease of doing business and not for hampering their growth.
There have been multiple instances, when because of business rivalry, made-up complaint by neighbors, inability of a business to do a favor to a political party or person – the businesses have to bear the brunt of shutting their shop or getting them sealed by the officials of JDA, JMC, Housing Board or any other governing body. This needs to be examined and checked with due transparency and unbiasedness by the officials of the respective bodies. The challenge is zurm karne wale hain kam, par thanedaar bahut hain. (there are less culprits but more pseudo-custodians).
At the cusp of changing times and digital explosion, what we really need is unsealing of the new business opportunities which can happen with ease of doing business under the able leadership of Lt. Governor. Because if we really want to win the hearts of people, we need to understand their DNA and business is our DNA. What we really need to get rid of is this unduly practice of sealing and rampaging of business properties that too by the Government officials themselves. I am sorry to say this but in all my earnestness to Lt. Governor – this is my request, that before any other business property gets sealed and damaged by these bodies – what really needs to be audited and sealed are tha palatial houses of employees of JDA, JMC and Housing Board which are erected from the money these officials have taken from the very businesses they rush to seal to make more money. To business-friendly Jammu, to flourishing Jammu!
(The writer is Mentor of Change wih AIM NITI Aayog)