Mohammed Ashraf Mir is an entrepreneur dealing with steel and building construction since 1981. He is one of the founder members of Federation of Commerce and Industries of Kashmir (FCIK) and is presently serving as its President. He tells Syed Asma that there are many loopholes in state’s industrial policy hampering overall progress.
Mohammed Ashraf Mir (MAM): We have the best industrial policy in place, state as well as Central, but we have location disadvantage. We are living at the end of India, our products especially mine [steel] cannot even go to Jammu because of the competition. My labour component is more, my working hours are less.Besides, ample skilled labour is not available in the Valley.
KL: What are the grey areas of these policies?
MAM: Apart from what I mentioned earlier, state has now erected another obstacle- industrial unit will not be entitled to certain incentives until 40 to 50 percent of their labourers are local. But where is the skilled labour? Where is the skilled development mission? What are the ITIs doing? Government is not training youth or may be local youth is not interested in getting skilled. Whatever the problems, the local skilled labour is not available forcing us to hire labourers from outside. As a result we are not entitled to certain incentives from the state.
KL: Why are not youth available or interested in getting skilled?
MAM: Reasons are many. One is turmoil played a spoil sport. Two, our youth especially in rural areas prefer to shift to Srinagar and do menial jobs rather than setting up their small scale industries in their own area. Three, enough attention is not given to the working of ITI’s by the government. I acknowledge that the government cannot do everything that we wish should happen. We as civilians and industrialists too have responsibilities that we need to fulfil.But we are not doing our bit. The government on the other hand, now that the government has spent a lot of money on building ITIs and training institutes, should make sure that youth are trained, so that the dearth of skilled labour is dealt with. Until we get ample number of local skilled labours, our industries will continue to suffer.
KL: If the industrial policies are uniform all over the country then why are industries in Jammu region flourishing unlike ours?
MAM: It is again about geographical locations. There has not been industrial growth across the Jammu region. Kathua and Samba are the only places where industries have flourished. These two places have flourishing industries because they share borders with Punjab. Sharing borders with Punjab means availability of skilled labour and ample raw material. Besides, they sell their products in Punjab, or even in Delhi.
KL: Are industrialists of Jammu smarter businessmen that their counter parts in Kashmir?
MAM: No. I too know my job very well. But they have some added advantages like I mentioned earlier. There should have been certain flexibilities in government policies towards the industrial sector in Kashmir. For example a unit set in Kupwara should get more incentives than one set in Kathua. The reasons being-working conditions, availability of raw material and the market. Kashmir was doing well industrially before militancy erupted and many industrial estates got occupied and many destroyed. However the on and off turbulence in the market [Kashmir] does not allow us to flourish. This in turn makes many of us bank defaulters, which is detrimental for any business. That is why I ask for differential policy regarding incentives so that we can sustain.
Now, compare the situation with Jammu, they work for 365 days and that too for 24 hours. My problem is I fail to reach to the market at the pace Jammu reaches them.
KL: What you are suggesting is entirely missing from the policy. Is the rest of the policy implemented in letter and spirit?
MAM: No, not really! There are many things which are not implemented as they are written in the policy. Like the single window system, wherein officials from all concerned department will sit at the same place and accept or reject a new proposal. On ground however it takes years to get all the departments under one roof. This dejects the wannabe entrepreneurs, even before they enter the actual market. Corruption in the sector makes things worse.
KL: You talked about young entrepreneurs. What is FCIK doing to encourage them?
MAM: We at FCIK opened up a facilitation and awareness cell that is of great help to the young entrepreneurs. The cell guides them and prepares them mentally for all the hectic procedures that are in place in Kashmir.
KL: Kashmir has turned out to be an importing base. Even eatables like eggs are imported. What is your federation doing to overcome that?
MAM: We are definitely encouraging younger entrepreneurs to take up activities like poultry and dairy. Consumption of poultry and dairy products is very high in Kashmir. We are presently working on insuring the poultry and dairy livestock. But the problem is that the government is not providing them benefits which other business houses enjoy. Say for example the steel manufacturers.
KL: FCIK is accused of being lobby driven, how far is that true?
MAM: Lobbies exist everywhere. It is just that we do not have to take it in a negative sign. Every family, organisation or federation include people and people differ in opinions. Opinions add diversity and it is good. These lobbies do not hinder our work in any way, I suppose.