Rs. 4,295 crore credit provided to J&K's agri sector in 2017

Banks disburse a total of Rs.17,188 crore credit during the first three quarters FY-17 against the target of Rs.28,841 crore

Jammu, Feb 21: J&K Bank today convened 107th meeting of J&K State Level Bankers’ Committee (SLBC) here. The meeting was presided over by B. B. Vyas, Chief Secretary J&K Government. 

Briefing the House about the performance highlights, J&K Bank Chairman cum CEO and Convenor J&K SLBC, Parvez Ahmed said, “Banks operating in the State have extended a total credit of Rs.17,188.19 Crore in favour of 5,66,424 beneficiaries during the first three quarters of CFY ended 31st December, 2017 against annual target of Rs.28,841.64 Crore for 9,66,047 beneficiaries under Annual Credit Plan 2017-18, thereby registering achievement of 60% in financial terms and 59% in physical terms.

This includes Priority Sector credit of Rs.9,224.79 Crore disbursed in favour of 3,46,456 beneficiaries against the annual target of Rs.19,933.02 Crore for 7,40,847beneficiaries (constituting 46% achievement in financial terms) and Non-priority sector credit of Rs.7,963.40 Crore disbursed in favour of 2,19,968 beneficiaries against annual target of Rs.8,908.62 Crore for 2,25,200 beneficiaries (constituting achievement of 89% in financial terms).

Notably, J&K Bank alone has disbursed Rs.12,319.61 Crore during the period under review, which makes for 72 pc of the total credit extended by the 43 banks and financial institutions operating in the State.

Commenting on the performance of banks in Government Sponsored Schemes (GSS) in the State, Parvez Ahmed said that against the Annual Action Plan 2017-18 target of Rs.539.40 Crore for 21,951 beneficiaries for all banks operating in the State, the achievement of banks under four major sponsored schemes viz. NRLM, PMEGP NULM and SC/ST/OBC stood at Rs.178.07 Crore for 8,035 beneficiaries in all the three regions of the State thereby achieving 33 pc of the target in financial terms and 37 pc in physical terms.

Performance under some major sub-sectors of Priority Sector:

Under Agriculture Sector the banks have provided credit aggregating Rs.4,295.52 Crore in favour of 2,25,552 beneficiaries upto 31st December 2017 thus registering an achievement of 56% in financial terms.

Under Micro, Small & Medium Enterprises Sector, banks have disbursed total amount of Rs.3,816.77 Crore in favour of 93,039 beneficiaries thereby registering an achievement of 51% in financial terms.

Under Education Sector banks have disbursed an amount of Rs.107.85 Crore in favour of 5,375 beneficiaries registering an achievement of 24% in financial terms.

Under Housing Sector, banks have disbursed credit amounting to Rs.763.34 Crore in favour of 11,915 beneficiaries thereby registering an achievement of 29% in financial terms.

In order to facilitate dispensation of credit through mortgage loans and boost credit deployment to Housing and Education sectors, Chief Secretary directed all the Deputy Commissioners to complete the process of digitization of land records in a time bound manner. 

Taking note of aggregate Credit Deposit Ratio of 49% of the State, the Chief Secretary directed all the stakeholders to work in a coordinated manner to ensure that Credit Deposit Ratio of 60% as prescribed by Governor, Reserve Bank of India, is achieved by the end of March, 2018. He also directed the Deputy Commissioners of the districts having CD Ratio less than 40%, to formulate necessary strategies so that the CD Ratio of these districts is substantially improved.

All concerned banks/ Government agencies were advised to operationalize all their designated branches/ centers for Aadhaar enrolment-cum-updation facility immediately. Banks were also directed to expedite the process of seeding of Aadhaar in bank accounts well before 31st March, 2018, so that people are not put to any inconvenience on this account. 

House noted that 100% coverage of farmers under KCC Scheme has already been completed in Kashmir Division, but in Jammu division there is a pendency of 49000 cases. Chief Secretary emphasized that all the stakeholders should put in strenuous efforts to ensure that the process of 100% coverage is completed immediately in Jammu Division also. 

Other prominent dignitaries who attended the meeting included Financial Commissioner, Housing & Urban Development Department K. B. Aggarwal, Financial Commissioner Revenue Lokesh Dutt Jha, Principal Secretary Finance Navin Kumar Chaudhary, Regional Director, Reserve Bank of India Thomas Mathew, Chief General Manager NABARD Vijay Kumar, Deputy Secretary, DFS, MoF, GoI A. K. Dogra, other senior functionaries of the State Government, banks, Insurance Companies, BSNL etc.  

Divisional Commissioner, Kashmir, representative of Divisional Commissioner Jammu and the Deputy Commissioners of all the districts also joined the meeting, few in person and remaining through Vedio conferencing. Chairman, J&K Bank (Convener, J&K SLBC) Parvez Ahmed expressed his gratitude to the Chief Secretary for his well formed efforts to resolve various outstanding issues like allotment of land to RSETIs & FTCs, grant of exemption on stamp duty upto Rs.3.00 lakh on loans to SHGs/JLGs promoted by NABARD, etc.

He Thanked the Chief Secretary for resolving large number of long pending issues of the forum and initiating well founded programmes to accelerate the resolutions.”The practice of integration of various stakeholders through video conferencing and other innovative initiatives by Chief Secretary are praiseworthy”, he said. 

Chai jenab? Probably, no more!

J&K govt issues guidelines to enforce expenditure, fiscal discipline

ZT News

Jammu, Feb 20: Following the wide-ranging public expenditure reforms announced by the Finance Minister, Dr Haseeb Drabu in the State Legislature earlier this month and making the State Government legally bound to expedite resource utilization, the Finance Department today issued comprehensive guidelines to enforce fiscal discipline.

According to an elaborate order issued by the Principal Secretary Finance, Mr Navin Kumar Choudhary here today, the Administrative Secretaries have been asked to immediately put in place appropriate and robust mechanism of checks and balances in their departments, so that sustained compliance with the brushed-up public expenditure measures is not only ensured, but also facilitated.

It said these measures/protocols represent the first decisive step to reform the quality and efficiency of public expenditures and have been rolled out at both the Policy as well as Operational levels.

Pertinently, while the protocols at the Policy level have already been enumerated elaborately in the Appropriation Bill-2018, and have been reiterated in the Government Order issued today, the Finance Department has today outlined a slew of measures on the operational level to ensure fiscal discipline. 

“Following the legislative backing, these measures now have the force of law and, by implication, the attendant consequences,” the order said.

It said the objective of these expenditure reforms is to enforce accepted standards of fiscal propriety, as envisaged in the J&K Finance Code. “The passage of these measures in the State Legislature, as part of the Appropriation Act, is to ensure that conformity to these measures is treated by the Departments as a foregone conclusion. These measures, essentially, aim at drawing clear and visible redlines for the departments,” the order said adding that there is no better way for the departments to do this than by internalizing and institutionalizing the virtues of restraint, discipline and propriety in their operational systems and, accordingly, re- engineer their policy and operational paradigms.

It said there is an element of personal liability, both for Treasury Officers and PAOs, built in the expenditure reforms protocol and if they breach redlines set up for them, they may note that any violation, even unintended, will have costs, particularly, as no allowance has been made for any breach in these protocols, be it intended or unintended or circumstantial. 

“The compliance with the fiscal protocols/measures shall be monitored by the Budget Division in the Finance Department on an ongoing basis,” it said.

According to the order no payments shall be made by any Treasury Officer/PAO from the 1st April 2018, under any expenditure head, if the releases for the same has not been made and further received by the spending and bill passing officers via BEAMS. Treasury Officers/PAOs shall be personally liable for making payments on the funds released and received bypassing the BEAMS application.

It said the procurement plans of the departments in the next fiscal shall be limited by an outermost cap of 60 days. 

From conceiving the nature and quantity of public goods and services to be procured to preparing tenders/RFOs/Eols to finally awarding the contract, the departments shall compulsorily finish the whole process within 60 days. Any spill over in timeline shall be allowed only under the orders of the Cabinet based on some cogent reasons. In all other cases, deviation from the norms shall be automatically visited with the appropriate disciplinary actions.

Expenditure during the last quarter, the order said, shall be restricted to not more than 30 percent of the Revised Estimates. Treasury Officers/PAOs shall have an added responsibility to ensure that the departments are held to this expenditure ceiling.

No new procurement shall be made by any Department under "Machinery and Equipment" head without building a robust inventory management system so as to have proper justification for procurement of new machinery. “For this purpose, all Departments will make an ‘Asset Inventory’ and further procurements can be made only with the approval of Competent Authority with full justification given therein,” it said.

The funds under object head "Maintenance and Repairs" shall be spent only after detailed expenditure and action plan distributed into different components is approved by the competent authority with the concurrence of Director Finance IFA & CAO of the Department as the case may be.

Funds under the object head "Uniforms" shall be released to the Departments on case to case basis after backed duly by the supply order and invoice.

Funds under "Stipend and Scholarship" shall be operationalized subject to the condition that each beneficiary is verified through biometric Aadhaar based system. The database shall mandatorily be compiled latest by 31st May 2018 and in the absence of the same no payment shall be made beyond June 2018.

Procurement by debit to object head "Instruments" above Rs50 lakhs shall have inbuilt clause in tenders for AMC for a minimum period of 5 years.

Any procurement under the head "Office Equipment and Machinery Appliances" will be made only after any inventory of such procurement made during last 10 years, their usage and conditions, requirement of further procurement as clearly brought out and approved by the Competent Authority.

Transportation for the purpose of "Durbar Move", carrying of food grains for public distribution and for any major requirement of transport facility, the Departments must enter into a contract for at least two years with reputed transport/logistic company through transparent bidding system.

A new head "Wages (Outsourcing)" has been introduced under which funds for disbursement of all kinds of casual labors shall be released by Finance Department on case to case basis. No wages shall be paid out of any other head from next fiscal 2018-19. Treasury Officers/PAOs shall ensure that no wages are drawn from maintenance, outsourcing or any other head except under this newly introduced head.

Director Finance IFA & CAO in the Administrative Departments shall build inventory of existing civil deposits. All the civil deposits shall be recalled except in such cases where it is assured by the departments that they will use them in the next two months of making such deposits.

Orders for deputation of officers/officials on short term trainings/seminars/higher education refresher courses/ conferences etc outside the State shall be issued only after obtaining prior approval of the Finance Department.

With each bill, Treasury Officer/PAO shall ensure that the concerned DDO of the intending Department appends certificate indicating therein that no new engagement has been made or any sort of wages paid or intended to be paid to new engagements under any circumstances.

The order said that at the policy level, the reforms include that Revenue and Capital budgets shall be released by the Finance Department and the Planning, Development and Monitoring Department to all the Administrative Departments within two weeks of the passage of the Appropriation Act.

The Administrative Departments shall, in turn, release the funds so received to the subordinate offices within four weeks of their receipt, falling which these funds shall be deemed to have been transferred to the intended DDOs on the dates they ought to have been released by the Administrative Departments/Controlling Officers.

Planning, Development and Monitoring Department shall appropriately classify all capital allocations to be made in the next fiscal, indicating therein the 'Name of the Work/Scheme against Detailed Head '115-Works' as laid out in the authorized allocations. In the absence of the above schematic classification, the relevant Capex release shall be deemed as invalid and not open to being operationalized.

The Planning, Development and Monitoring Department shall mandatorily upload department-wise 'Name of the Schemes/Works/Projects', forming part of the Capex, for the fiscal 2018-19, or, as per the format notified from time to time, along with the respective allocations on its website.

Only such works shall be authorized for execution, as have prior administrative approval, technical sanction and appropriate financial back up.

Expenditure monitoring across all departments shall be done on real time basis through BEAMSIPFMS. (vii) Funds shall be spent only on the approved items of the expenditure and strictly for the purpose they have been released. There shall be no re-appropriation of funds except where the departments have spent at least 55 per cent of funds received ending December, 2017. However, where their spending levels are below 55 per cent, the remaining unspent balance of 70% of funds shall lapse to the Government.

The State Share of the CSSs and the expenditure to be incurred on utility shifting, land compensation etc. under PMDP projects shall be the first charge on the funds lapsing to the Government during the last quarter.

There shall be, henceforth, no engagement of casual A workers, need based workers etc. by any department. The Planning, Development and Monitoring Department shall under invariably condition all developmental/capex releases to the departments to the unconditional vouchsafing by the latter that they shall refrain from making fresh engagements.


MSP scheme: will it work for J&K?

As ambiguity looms large over the implementation of Minimum Support Price (MSP) scheme in J&K Ziraat Times brings this special report

Saima Farooq

Srinagar: The union budget 2018-19 has a provision for the government supporting farmers with a Minimum Support Price (MSP) for certain crops at 50% over and above their input costs.

With a lack of clarity about what this scheme mean for the state, farmers across Jammu & Kashmir are asking questions: How would this scheme be rolled out in J&K? Which crops are eligible for the MSP? What mechanism will be followed to assess the input costs? Would government procure the eligible crops in case market buying didn’t work? Is horticultural produce eligible for MSP or it is targeted at agricultural produce of certain kinds alone?

There is a lack of clarity among the decision makers and farming communities in Jammu and Kashmir over these questions.

“I am confident that this historic decision will prove an important step towards doubling the income of our farmers,” Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said in his budget speech.

Going a step ahead, the Finance Minister also said that the government will ensure that farmers reap the benefits of higher MSP, either via direct procurement of crops or by paying them the difference between MSP and market prices. 

The government had asked the NITI Aayog “to put in place a foolproof mechanism so that farmers get an adequate price for their produce”.

Meanwhile, officials in Finance Ministry in New Delhi told Ziraat Times that Niti Aayog will soon call a meeting of central and state governments to discuss this issue and find "a suitable mechanism to compensate farmers and ensure MSP." 

The officials further said that the new mechanism was expected to be in place within the next six months, before the Kharif harvest that starts in September.

The Central government  is contemplating an annual expenditure of Rs 12,000-15,000 crore to compensate farmers, sources said.

However, in Jammu and Kashmir there is a lack of clarity about the actual decision and how it would be implemented in the state, considering the difference in the cropping cycle and the nature of crops produced here.

Ziraat Times talked to stakeholders in the agriculture sector to understand how the scheme is being understood and how it will be operationalised.

Chairman of All Kashmir Fruit Growers cum Dealers Union, Bashir Ahmad Basheer feels that the announcement was “somewhat misleading.”

“Our government in the state has yet to speak about the scheme and how it intends to implement it”, Mr Bashir told Ziraat Times.

Basheer further said that MSP for eligible crops was declared by the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP). 

The CACP has three different definitions of production costs – A2 (actual paid out cost), A2+FL (actual paid out cost plus imputed value of family labour) and C2 (comprehensive cost including imputed rent and interest on owned land and capital). As is evident, C2 > A2+FL > A2.

“We have been demanding that MSP be 1.5 times the entire cost of production including the cost of land. Now, there are some suspicions if the Finance Minister meant the entire cost of production or some reduced amount,” he said.

“For the last several years, farmers and farmers’ organisations have demanded that the MSP be increased to cost of production plus 50%. ‘Cost of production’ for them has meant C2 and not A2+FL,” he added.

Speaking to Ziraat Times, Director Agriculture Department, Aijaz Altaf Andrabi, while hailing the decision on providing MSP to farmers, said that the real question was whether the government will be able to procure farmers' produce during market slug when the demand could be low.

"The idea is wonderful and farmer friendly and we should support it. Work in the field and cost of production should be assessed honestly,” he said.

Asked about speculation about inflated cost of production, he said that won't happen. Every crop has its standard cost of production. "Whether pesticides, insecticides or labor, input costs are standardized for each crop”.

President, Kashmir Valley Vegetable Growers Association Bashir Ahmad Shah said that they have not received any information from the Agriculture Department about the union budget’s announcement on MSP.

“We are apprehensive about it. As of now it is not clear how the government intends to make calculations for this. We have seen in the past that the way MSP was calculated by governments was at times not even equal to 10 percent of the production cost,” he said.

On the question whether the scheme would cover horticulture produce as well, Ghulam Muhammad Tantray of Fruit Growers Association told Ziraat Times that the government had not announced yet whether this MSP would cover horticulture sector or not. 

“We approached the Horticulture Department seeking clarification about the issue, but they too are unsure about it. We believe that 50 percent MSP should be adopted by state government for horticulture crop as horticulture was the backbone of our economy,” he added.  

Some economists in the country have criticised the MSP decision, arguing that MSP would disincentivise efficiency and productivity.

Economist Swaminathan Iyer in an opinion piece recently said that MSP would not help in making India’s agricultural produce more competitive in terms of quality, considering that farmers would settle down for MSP and not work on improving quality and enhancing productivity. 

As greater clarity is generated on the issue in the coming days, Ziraat Times will analyse the qualitative impact of the MSP regime on J&K in detail.


World Sustainable Development Summit 2018 opens in New Delhi on Friday

New Delhi: The 2018 edition of the World Sustainable Development Summit (WSDS 2018) will be inaugurated at Vigyan Bhawan in the capital tomorrow on Friday, 16th February. 

WSDS is the flagship forum of The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) and seeks to bring together on a common platform, global leaders and thinkers in the fields of sustainable development, energy and environment sectors.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will inaugurate the summit. 

The theme of the Summit this year is ‘Partnerships for a Resilient Planet’.  

WSDS 2018 seeks to create action frameworks to resolve some of the most urgent challenges facing developing economies in the backdrop of climate change. The Summit will address a wide variety of issues, including combating land degradation, effective waste management mechanisms to make cities free of landfills free, combat air pollution effectively, measures to increase resource and energy efficiency, facilitate transition to clean energy and create financial mechanisms to enable effective climate change mitigation. The ‘Greenovation Exhibition’ at WSDS 2018 will showcase the latest technological advancements to meet Sustainable Development Goals.

Over 2000 delegates are expected to participate in the summit, including policy makers, researchers, think tanks, diplomats and corporates from around the world. Eminent international speakers will address a variety of issues including reducing impact on land, air and water, as well as look at ways and means to utilise energy and resources in a more efficient manner in the plenary sessions.  The thematic tracks at WSDS 2018 will include discussions on issues related to sustainability, including carbon markets and pricing, sustainable transport, resilient cities, solar energy and refrigerant technologies. The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), is hosting the 2018 edition of its flagship forum, the World Sustainable Development Summit (WSDS 2018) in New Delhi on February 15, 16 & 17.

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Herath: the festival of sharing, caring and delicacies

Irrum Nazir and Ravish Kak

For centuries, Kashmiri Pandit festival of Herath is known for its unique culinary traditions and practices of greetings and sharing between Pandits and Muslims.

It is a festival which not very long ago used to bring communities together in an ecstasy of delightful dining and merry-making.  

Ziraat Times brings to its readers reflections from members of both Muslim and Pandit communities about the culinary traditions associated with this festival and how those traditions would bring both rural agrarian and urban communities together.

It was a great occasion of togetherness and sharing - Abdus Salam (Budgam)

Herath for we Muslims was an occasion when we would look forward to the delight of wet walnuts and nadur-gaad feasts. When I was young I recall in my village it were mostly the Pandit families who would keep the walnuts reserved for this occasion in spring. My Pandit friends would take pains in preserving the walnuts and then share with we Muslim friends. It was a great occasion of togetherness and sharing. I miss that time.


Mohammad Ashraf (Columnist and former Director General, Tourism Department, Kashmir)

"Herath Mubarrak to all my Kashmiri Pandit friends all over the world. I nostalgically remember the soaked walnuts which we used to get on this occasion!"

Herath of wet walnuts, fish feasts and Pandit reeths - Dr Sanjay Parva

I reckon, Kashmiri Muslims who have seen Kashmiri Pandits celebrate Herath would immediately connect with this piece when reminded of getting a handful of aderr doen or wet walnuts from their Pandit friends – ones that were soaked in water during three days of herath festivity until shared among friends and families a day or two after salaam.

Salaam would be the second day of herath and the day when Pandits would hardly get any time from greet-and-meet with their Pandit and Muslim neighbors, most of whom would look forward to this day as Pandits would look forward to Eid.

It was two members of the same family, living in two compartments of the same house, one facing east and one west, a distinction that almost melted when it was herath, eid or navroz.

But why would Pandits use only walnuts as part of the puza or the act of worship and not, say almonds? After all, both walnuts and almonds grew somewhere around – former, maybe just in the courtyard and latter a distance away on the hillock. And both would form the mainstay of Kashmiri food and culture.

Pandits, since times immemorial, have considered walnuts central to herath, just like many other food items, some of which would be painstakingly prepared specially for the occasion.

Among Pandits a walnut symbolizes Vedic injunction and has a deep-rooted religious ethos. Walnut is one fruit that comes as nearest as possible to three integrated streams of Agamic, Puranic and Vedic thought that provide Kashmiri Pandit culture its distinct yogic, mystic and ritualistic pattern. The four equal quadrants of this composite unit of a walnut represent Rigveda, Yajurveda, Samaveda and Atharveda respectively.

In their totality, all four Vedas represent Sat (truth), Chit (consciousness), Ananda (bliss) and Svaroopa (Shaivistic concept). Kashmiri Pandits are Shaivites and walnut, therefore, representing the seed theory of Lord Shiva in manifestation.

While the walnuts carried the theme of herath, rest of the food carried the essence, and use or no use of non-vegetarian food, for example, would be governed in each Pandit household as per the reeth (family tradition) being followed from generation to generation. Reeth would determine the feast to be cooked not to be cooked.

And nothing that was cooked had to be relished by the family until all food was first offered to Gods –Lord Shiva, his consort Parvati and the retinue that accompanied them to each household.

Herath is re-enactment of the inseparable union between Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati, and actually is a 15-day festival. Salaam is the 14th day, first day of puza the 13th and 15th day is what is known as parmouzun or doen mawas, when pots (nott, naar or tchod, and dulijs) would be emptied of walnuts that served as naveed (in Pandit language) and tabrook (in Muslim language).

Muslim families which had Pandit ties, which almost all Kashmiris have had, looked forward fondly to receiving this tabrook from their Pandit friends. And the more liberal ones would cherish sharing a bite or two through nearly the whole fortnight of herath festivity. It was an amazing life.

For example, many families would observe this reeth of celebrating gadda kaah, which fell on 11th day of herath – essentially meaning a feast with fish. As said reeth would determine the feast.

For Gurtoo clans, for example, anything non-vegetarian during herath would be a big no-no and Dattarya Kauls did benefit from some relaxation. The relaxed group had to offer the same food to deities what they would keep for themselves.

However, many commonalities in herath food bound all Valley Pandits, as if in a single rope. Everything that was cooked had to be procured from select places, whenever possible. For that delectable palak-nadur recipe, it was important for nadur to be from the Dal. A nadur not from Dal would not be held in equal esteem.

Phool gobi, deep fried and cooked in Kashmiri mirch (most of us came from kitchen garden) was another must have. And then you had tchaman cooked in turmeric or chillies; again depending on which way mothers or grandmothers decided to go after their round table. Dum aloo and muji chetin would be the two most uncontroversial entrants into almost every household.

And the non-vegetarian tribe would mostly focus on yakh'n, rogan josh, and matchch. Food prepared for herath would last days after aderr doen were distributed, and when you had nothing much left in the utensils, you would proverbially lick curry from the same. 

Life was simple.

Itni saadgi thi

Ki muflisi me hi

Aabadgi thi…

That is the kind of bond that I wish we could recreate - Asmat Shirazi (Srinagar)

When I reflect on the past, I recollect the times when I and my school friends from Pandit community would cook together on the eve of Hearath. My Pandit friends would specially invite me to their house on the occasion two days in advance. 

We would go to market to shop together, although non-veg stuff like mutton and fish would be only bought by male members of the families.

We would enjoy that togetherness. Although being a devout Muslim I would practice my own prayers like Namaz and my friends would do their own prayers and rituals their own way, we would never interfere in each other’s beliefs or practices. That is what made Kashmir special. 

“Shivratri” as I remember - Anil Raina

Shivratri has been the main festival of kashmiri Pandits. It is the crown of festivals of Kashmiri Pandits. It is known as “Herath” a phonetic deviation of “Har-ratri” the night of hara (Shiva). The festival symbolizes the wedding of Shiva and Parvati. The festival unlike in India is celebrated with festivities with choicest dishes being prepared for friends and relatives.

“Hearath” in Kashmir was an altogether different affair with festivities spreading over a fortnight. It had its own flavor and charm . The festivities would bring joy, positivity and a new hope among one and all. It symbolized the near end of harsh winter and coming of spring . There would be freshness in the air . We would sometimes have an occasional snow fall which would mean a good omen.

Along with worshipping, people would observe both social and cultural meets on this festival. There would be rejoicing and exchange of greetings with friends and relatives. The festival would bring joy to one and all whether it be a Muslim vegetable vendor, meat-seller, potter, barber, washer man or any other person. Each and every one would be associated with the festival with great enthusiasm. This reflected the composite culture of Kashmir valley.

The festivities would begin about a fortnight before the festival. The houses would be cleaned. I remember the ladies of the House gearing up and cleaning the entire household. This would include coating of the walls with a fresh coat of clay. This was called “Livun”. The smell of freshly clayed walls would connect me with the mother earth.

I remember the local potter bring different types of earthern vessels for worshipping and household use. This would include a clay earthern pot called “Vatuk”,  representing the main deity for worship. The potter would invariably be a Muslim and he would bring the earthern-ware meant for offerings (Vatuk) with great devotion. For children he would bring clay toys as gifts for the occasion.

The usual past-time among the young and old used to be game of shells called (”Har”) which created lot of enthusiasm and each of us would keep the stock of shells protected like treasure.

The actual Puja would begin in the night when all the family members would assemble and offerings made to the Deities which included lambs meat, fish and other delicacies

The next day of Hearath would be “salam”. On this day friends from Muslim Fraternity would come, greet and join the festivities. Also the beggars, Bards and street dancers would come to greet the head of the family and take their “Bakshsish” . On this day both young and old received “Hearath Karch”  in the form of money for spending on the occasion.

The food used to be traditional which included fish in combination with radish or turnip, “Meat kaliya”(lamb prepared in yellow gravy) “Roganjosh”( lamb in red gravy) , “Mach” ( Minced meat) and “kabargah”(Fried rib of lamb) , The vegetarian dishes included “Chamun”(Cottage cheese), “Dum –Aloo”, “Nadir Yakhni”(Lotus stem in yoghurt gravy) and a number of other side dishes. These festivities used to continue for 5-6 days after the festival. The sons in laws had to be specially invited for Lunch or dinner as a part of festivities.

This tradition of customs , rituals and festivity gave a distinct identity to Kashmiri Pandit community. With moving out of Kashmir and being scattered the festivities are restricted to a day or two. 

Herath Mubarak! - Roshan Kaul

Herath, also known as Maha Shivratri, is the crown of Kashmiri Pandit festivals. It falls on the 13th night through14th day of the dark fortnight of Phalguna (February-March). It is an annual celebration to commemorate the marriage of Lord Shiva (the third god in the Hindu triumvirate) and Parvati (one of the trinity of Hindu goddesses). Shaivism is one of the major traditions within Hinduism that reveres Shiva as the Supreme Being.

On this auspicious day, we ensure to cook all those items that are bequeathed to us by our family tradition. 

Any deviation in the menu is unacceptable. Some families observe vegetarian fare which include sun-dried vegetables like tomatoes, gourds and eggplants, while some follow non-vegetarian carte that includes fish and wild geese. Being a winter festival, the cuisines are naturally culled from the winter foods. Out of all, the gusto of fish would delight the non-Pandit friends and guests who would be the primary visitors on the following day called ‘Salaam’.  

The comprehensive cleaning of the house is imperative. The Pooja room called ‘Thokur Kuth’ receives a special attention and diligence, with the family priest presiding over the ritual prayers; only after the completion of his liturgy, the meals can be served to members of the household.

Lead News

J&K Govt, Dubai ports sign MoU for two dry ports

Dubai: Government of Jammu and Kashmir last evening signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) here with Dubai Ports World to establish Multi-Modal Logistics Park (MMLP) and transportation hub in the State through Foreign Direct Investment (FDI).

The MoU was signed by JK Finance Minister Dr Haseeb Drabu with the Dubai Ports Chairman & CEO Sultan Ahmed Bin Sulayem in presence of the Prime Minister Mr Narendra Modi and the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan at Presidential Palace in Abu Dhabi.

The historic MoU would also facilitate, for the first time ever, FDI to the tune of Rs 5000 crore to Jammu and Kashmir, through Joint Venture, over the next five years. “In the first phase an investment of Rs 1500 crore would be made by the Dubai Ports World in the multi-modal logistics parks (Dry Port) which would swell upto Rs 5000 crore over the next 5 years,” Dr Drabu said over phone from Dubai.

He said the proposed Inland Logistic Parks to be established at Samba in Jammu and Ompora in Kashmir would include warehouses and specialised storage solutions including CA Stores and Cold Storage Chains for transportation of agriculture, horticulture and handicraft products and other trade-able goods from J&K directly to the markets worldwide bringing down the transportation costs substantially.

Enumerating on how the ambitious project is going to benefit J&K, Dr Drabu said it will not only bring down the transportation costs of goods, but also increase their market accessibility and transform the abysmal scenario wherein logistics accounts for about 18% of the total product cost in the State, as against 8-12% in other countries including China. 

“The Logistic Parks will help the local industry and businesses to transition from point-to-point freight movement to the hub-and-spoke model followed in developed economies,” he said and added that the integrated transportation mechanism including air, road, rail and waterways would immensely improve efficiency in freight movement bringing down the transportation costs by 20 to 25 percent and giving major flip top the local economy.

Pertinently, Sultan Ahmed Bin Sulayem, alongwith a team of Senior Executives of Dubai Ports visited J&K earlier this week to hash-out the modalities for setting up Inland Logistics Parks in Jammu and Srinagar and finalize the MoU in this regard. The Dubai Ports delegation held detailed deliberations with the Chief Minister, Mehbooba Mufti, Finance Minister, Dr Haseeb Drabu, Industries Minister, Chander Parkash Ganga and other State Government officials and also visited the proposed site for the Logistics Park at Samba in Jammu. The delegation will be again visiting the State during summers this year to finalize the site in Kashmir, preferably at Ompora near the Srinagar International Airport.

The visit of Dubai Ports World delegation followed the announcement made by the Finance Minister Dr Drabu in his budget speech in the state Legislature last month about government’s plan to attract foreign direct investment by setting up two Dry Ports in the state to boost local economy.

Dr Drabu, in his budget speech, said that there were two basic reasons for the development deficit of J&K: cost structure and the missing multiplier. “Being geographically disadvantaged, the cost structure of our economy is high which impacts margins of all small businesses making them operate on wafer-thin margins. Any shock to the system renders them unprofitable and they fall into a debt trap and are unable to service their borrowings,” he said, adding the only way out was to create an integrated logistics network that will reduce the logistics costs from existing 30 percent to below 10 percent.

“A well-developed logistic sector will not only increase our trade activity across all sectors but will also enhance the competitiveness of our businesses. I propose to change the relationship between the level of economic development (as measured in terms of GDP per capita), the composition of the state economy and logistics costs by proposing one dry port in Jammu and another one in Kashmir,” the Finance Minister had said in his Budget speech adding that the state government has moved forward on this and have in principle understanding with the Government of Dubai. “The government of J&K and the logistics arm of the Government of Dubai, DP World, will get into a joint venture for construction of a logistics hub, including an integrated dry port in the state,” he said.

Dry Port, also called an inland port or multimodal logistics centre, is an inland terminal connected to a seaport by rail or road. It serves as trans-shipment point in transport of export/import goods and is named so because it is very similar to a seaport in services it offers except that it is not near a sea.

Dubai Ports World, a logistic arm of UAE Government, is operating 78 marine and inland terminals supported by over 50 related businesses in 40 countries across six continents with a significant presence in both high-growth and mature markets.

The company owns 6 marine terminals and 6 goods trains in India and two marine terminals in Pakistan. It has also marine terminals in China, Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, South Korea and USA.


Ziraat Times analysis

In the post-1947 period, Jammu & Kashmir state has been facing acute disadvantage because of its logistics constraints. Poor road connectivity with outside world, yet-to-be-commisisoned rail connectivity, absence of an international airport and direct cargo facilities have seriously hampered growth of business. This constraint has also impacted cost-effective transportation of goods and commodities from the Kashmir region. 

Experts of horticulture industry in J&K believe that a new logistics hub, if supported by the technical expertise of the upcoming Horticulture University, could bring significant value addition to fruit business in Kashmir. 

"Such an advanced logistics hub would need highly skilled and technically sound manpower for creating an efficient supply chain. The upcoming Horticulture University in Kashmir could bring in the much-needed technical back-up to this logistics system", an expert told Ziraat Times.

The Logistics Ease Across Different States (LEADS) Index has recently assigned 1 index point to J&K, thereby placing it at the bottom of the list of states having “worst logistics” connectivity in India.

The survey report attributes the state poor ranking to its lack of rail connectivity coupled with poor road links.

What is a Dry Port?

A dry port is a port situated near sea. If the importer or exporter is far away from a sea port, it will be an inconvenience to co-ordinate and handle the goods properly. So governments of certain countries allow CFS (container freight station) to handle export and import formalities under customs supervision. The cargo will be moved by rail or road from the sea port to CFS. The exporter can complete customs formalities in CFS and ship the goods without moving cargo to sea port. Likewise, importer can take delivery of cargo near his place after completing procedures at dry port. If the buyer insist for on board bill of lading, as a proof of export, the buyer waits to get the shipment reached at sea port and once cargo loaded in to vessel, the on board bill of lading is obtained from shipping line. If the buyer needs only a proof of shipment, the exporter can obtain Received for shipment B/L from the carrier who is a multi model transporter. A multimodal transporter is a carrier who carries goods in two or more modes of transport like road, rail, air, or sea. 

So which logistics hub - Samba or Budgam - will act as container freight station handling export and import formalities under customs system?

As of now that is not clear. May be, this issue will be spelt out in the MoU that governments of UAE and India have signed.

What if the Budgam hub will act merely as a logistics hub with cold storage and other facilities and the Samba hub?

If that will be so then the idea would require further fine tuning to ensure that further procedural and cargo handling layers are not added for transportation to and from from the state to outside country markets.

What would it mean to the state’s fresh fruit industry?

This initiative could be significant in easier and more effective transportation and export of the state’s fresh fruits to outside markets. However, what will be significant is the establishment of formal customs facilities at the Budgam centre with a container freight station handling export and import formalities under a formal customs system. If that system remains at the Samba centre, that serious questions could arise on the timeline and the procedures in getting exports out of the state, mainly from the Kashmir province, to the outside markets.

How many dry ports exist in India currently?

Ziraat Times research indicates that as of 2014, 247 Dry Ports [170 functional and rest under implementation] exit in India. Nearly 40% are owned by the Container Corporation of India (CONCOR) & Central Warehousing Corporation (CWC), and remaining by the private sector. Containization level is just above 50%. Container traffic at major ports in India almost doubled in the past 5‐6 years. Average growth of container traffic is 13.27% per year.

How many sea ports are in India today?

Ports in India handle 90% by volume and 70 % by value of EXIM trade. There are 12 Major Ports in India – 6 Ports on East and 6 Ports on the West Coast. Major Ports handle about 60 % of total seaborne traffic.

What are the key issues that India-UAE MoU on dry ports in Budgam and Samba needs to factor in

Some of the typical challenges of dry ports in India include:

1. Transportation delays due to city traffic congestion. The existing transportation system from Budgam to outside markets is a congested one. How that constraint will be addressed remains to be seen.

2. Trailer idle time due to wait at city entry points for roads to open. 

3. Severe space shortage in ICDs leading to delays and inconvenience to CHAs 

4. Severe warehousing space shortage.

What value-added facilities the Budgam dry port should ideally have 

Agriculture Parks

Cold chains 

Bulk Handling Facilities

Collateral Warehousing

Liquid Logistic Facilities (Liquid Silos)

among others 

If you have a thought or feedback to share on this issue to our readers, email us at


191 organisations to protest ‘anti-farmer’ Budget

New Delhi, Feb 10: As many as 191 farmer associations in the country have rejected the Union Budget as ‘anti-farmer’ and have drawn up plans to organise a week-long protest all across the country from next week.

The All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC), an umbrella organisation of over 190 farmer groups across the country, will organise protest rallies, public meetings and seminars at over 1,000 places in the country to protest what it calls a “jumla Budget” between February 12 and February 19.

“Finance Minister Arun Jaitley is befooling the nation saying this is a farmer-friendly Budget. Even though the government acknowledges for the first time in the Budget that Indian farmers are in distress, the Budgetary allocation for agriculture was reduced from 2.38 per cent of the total Budget last year to 2.36 per cent this time,” said AIKSCC President VM Singh.

“Prime Minister Narendra Modi says in Bengaluru that ‘TOP’ (tomatoes, onions and potatoes) is the priority for his government, but sets aside ₹200 crore for market intervention schemes, which is ₹700 crore lower than ₹900 crore allocated last year,” Singh said.

Yogendra Yadav, political scientist and convenor of Jai Kisan Andolan, said: “While Jaitley opened his mouth on MSP, he hasn’t loosened the purse strings.”

The new MSP scheme announced by the government will help save a presumptive sum of ₹9,454 crore at procurement quantity levels of the previous year, as the MSP of rabi wheat would have come down from the current ₹1,625 to ₹1,195 a quintal. That would probably not happen as slashing wheat MSP price could be a political hara-kiri for the government, an AIKSCC member said.

Paltry fund transfer

Raju Shetti, Lok Sabha member and farm leader from Maharashtra, said even though the Maharastra government announced a debt waiver of ₹34,000 crore and said that the funds have been transferred to the banks, the banks are still sending reminders to farmers on outstanding loans.

Hannan Mollah, All India Kisan Sabha general secretary, said allocation for many agriculture-related schemes actually contracted in the Budget even while the government is “tom-toming” it as a Budget that gives reprieve to Indian farmers who are in distress. “If it was so concerned about farmers, why didn’t it think about their problems all these years, asked Mollah pointing out that the promises of the government were hollow.

While the Budget talks of increasing agricultural produce exports from India to $100 billion, in reality the exports have been coming down in the recent years, said Ashish Mittal, Secretary General of All India Kisan Mazdoor Sabha and a working group member of AIKSCC.

Source: HBL

Srinagar and Jammu to get dry ports

As J&K Govt and Dubai Ports come up with this joint venture, Ziraat Times brings to its readers an in-depth analysis on how significant is this move for Jammu & Kashmir

Ziraat Times Research Team and PTI


Srinagar, Feb 8: Jammu and Kashmir government and Dubai Ports Group on Wednesday signed a pact for a joint venture for Rs 1,500 crore-foreign direct investment for setting up inland logistic hubs in Jammu and Srinagar capital cities.

"An MoU finalised for Joint Venture involving maiden Rs 1,500 crore foreign direct investment. The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for setting up inland logistic hubs in Jammu and Srinagar, as a Joint Venture between Dubai Ports and the Jammu and Kashmir government, was finalised at the delegation level talks between Sultan Ahmed Bin Sulayem-led DP team and Haseeb Drabu-led state government team," an official spokesman said.

The logistics hubs to be established in Jammu and Kashmir would include two dry ports, warehouses, cold storage chain, controlled atmospheric stores and supply chain to transport commodities and products including horticulture and agriculture produce, handicrafts and industrial products from the state directly to the markets throughout the world, he added.

"One of the major problems of J-K economy is high cost of transportation of goods and products. We have to get our fruit, agriculture produce, handicrafts and industrial products in trucks to outside world. If we get a dry port and cold chain, the commodities can move through an integrated transport chain. 

This will bring down the cost of transportation by 20 per cent to 25 per cent giving a major fillip to the state economy," said Haseeb Drabu, J&K’s Finance Minister.

He said a dry port, also called an inland port or multimodal logistics centre, is an inland terminal connected to a seaport by rail or road.

A high-level delegation of the Dubai Ports Group (DP World) led by its Chairman and CEO Sultan Ahmed Bin Sulayem arrived by a chartered flight here this morning to discuss the modalities for setting up inland logistics hubs in Jammu and Srinagar.

Sultan Ahmed Bin Sulayem and his team held separate meetings with Finance Minister Haseeb Drabu and Industries Minister Chander Parkash Ganga, followed by delegation level parleys with the concerned ministers and officials.

Commerce Minister Chander Parkash Ganga, Principal Secretary Finance, Navin Kumar Choudhary, Principal Secretary Industries, Shailendra Kumar and other officials of the concerned departments were present at the delegation-level meeting.

The meeting deliberated in detail on the parameters of the MoU.

The MoU is to be subsequently signed by the Government of India with the Government of UAE to facilitate setting up the first inland logistics hub in Jammu and Kashmir.

To begin with, 100 acres of land would be offered by the state government near Railway Station Samba as equity in the joint venture for setting up the logistics hub in Jammu region and around 100 acres of land would be earmarked near Ompora, Budgam for a similar facility in Kashmir, the spokesman said.

It serves as trans-shipment point in transport of export/import goods and is named so because it is very similar to a seaport in services it offers except that it is not near a sea.

Dubai Ports is operating 78 marine and inland terminals supported by over 50 related businesses in 40 countries across six continents with a significant presence in both high-growth and mature markets.

Ziraat Times analysis How significant is this move for Jammu & Kashmir?

In the post-1947 period, Jammu & Kashmir state has been facing acute disadvantage because of its logistics constraints. Poor road connectivity with outside world, yet-to-be-commisisoned rail connectivity, absence of an international airport and direct cargo facilities have seriously hampered growth of business. This constraint has also impacted cost-effective transportation of goods and commodities from the Kashmir region. 

The Logistics Ease Across Different States (LEADS) Index has recently assigned 1 index point to J&K, thereby placing it at the bottom of the list of states having “worst logistics” connectivity in India.

The survey report attributes the state poor ranking to its lack of rail connectivity coupled with poor road links.

What is a Dry Port?

A dry port is a port situated near sea. If the importer or exporter is far away from a sea port, it will be an inconvenience to co-ordinate and handle the goods properly. So governments of certain countries allow CFS (container freight station) to handle export and import formalities under customs supervision. The cargo will be moved by rail or road from the sea port to CFS. The exporter can complete customs formalities in CFS and ship the goods without moving cargo to sea port. Likewise, importer can take delivery of cargo near his place after completing procedures at dry port. If the buyer insist for on board bill of lading, as a proof of export, the buyer waits to get the shipment reached at sea port and once cargo loaded in to vessel, the on board bill of lading is obtained from shipping line. If the buyer needs only a proof of shipment, the exporter can obtain Received for shipment B/L from the carrier who is a multi model transporter. A multimodal transporter is a carrier who carries goods in two or more modes of transport like road, rail, air, or sea. 

So which logistics hub - Samba or Budgam - will act as container freight station handling export and import formalities under customs system?

As of now that is not clear. May be, this issue will be slept out in the MoU that governments of UAE and India are likely to sign on the issue.

What if the Budgam hub will act merely as a logistics hub with cold storage and other facilities and the Samba hub?

If that will be so then the idea would require further fine tuning to ensure that further procedural and cargo handling layers are not added for transportation to and from from the state to outside country markets.

What would it mean to the state’s fresh fruit industry?

This initiative could be significant in easier and more effective transportation and export of the state’s fresh fruits to outside markets. However, what will be significant is the establishment of formal customs facilities at the Budgam centre with a container freight station handling export and import formalities under a formal customs system. If that system remains at the Samba centre, that serious questions could arise on the timeline and the procedures in getting exports out of the state, mainly from the Kashmir province, to the outside markets.

How many dry ports exist in India currently?

Ziraat Times research indicates that as of 2014, 247 Dry Ports [170 functional and rest under implementation] exit in India. Nearly 40% are owned by the Container Corporation of India (CONCOR) & Central Warehousing Corporation (CWC), and remaining by the private sector. Containization level is just above 50%. Container traffic at major ports in India almost doubled in the past 5‐6 years. Average growth of container traffic is 13.27% per year.

How many sea ports are in India today?

Ports in India handle 90% by volume and 70 % by value of EXIM trade. There are 12 Major Ports in India – 6 Ports on East and 6 Ports on the West Coast. Major Ports handle about 60 % of total seaborne traffic.

What are the key issues that India-UAE MoU on dry ports in Budgam and Samba needs to factor in

Some of the typical challenges of dry ports in India include:

1. Transportation delays due to city traffic congestion. The existing transportation system from Budgam to outside markets is a congested one. How that constraint will be addressed remains to be seen.

2. Trailer idle time due to wait at city entry points for roads to open. 

3. Severe space shortage in ICDs leading to delays and inconvenience to CHAs 

4. Severe warehousing space shortage.

What value-added facilities the Budgam dry port should ideally have 

Agriculture Parks

Cold chains 

Bulk Handling Facilities

Collateral Warehousing

Liquid Logistic Facilities (Liquid Silos)

among others 

If you have a thought or feedback to share on this issue to our readers, email us at

Fiddling with fire

As forest fires reach an unprecedented scale across Jammu & Kashmir, Ziraat Times comes up with this special report, highlighting the issues and the needs in addressing this alarming situation. We also highlight 10 specific questions for Minister for Forests, Chaudhary Lal Singh, underlining the need for urgent strategic and operational actions for tackling this grave matter.

By: Farooq Ahmad Sopori and Saba Reshi 

(A group of Ziraat Times’ citizen journalists and members of Ziraat Times Advisory Committee have contributed to this report)


Forest fires are wrecking havoc with Jammu & Kashmir's prized forests. And, it appears, the Forest Ministry, with the primary mandate for the protection and conservation of the state's forests is doing pretty little to address this alarming situation.

Jammu and Kashmir has 20,230 sq. km. forest area, covering 19.95 per cent of the total geographical area the state. Forest fires are eating up hundreds of acres of precious forest cover every year. And we seem to be just reacting in controlling some of these fires. There is a serious dearth of strategic thinking at the governmental level.

To understand how alarming the situation is, consider this: In 2016, there were a total of 781 reported fire incidents across Jammu & Kashmir state, 289 of which took place in Kashmir region and 492 in the Jammu region. Repeated attempts by Ziraat Times research team to access information from the Forest Department with consolidated data to ascertain the total number of trees lost and the geographical area denuded were not materialise. 

While Ziraat Times reached out to Minister for Forests, Chaudhary Lal Singh to know his plans in dealing with this situation, he said he was busy in a meeting and did not attend the subsequent calls.

Chief Conservator of Forests, Kashmir, chose not to respond to any queries by Ziraat Times. 

Dachigam fire incident

The latest fire that has played havoc in the vicity of Srinagar city is the fire in the Zabarwan hills that raged in the area this weekend. The fire could only be contained after considerable tree loss. Most of the containment efforts were led by volunteers, who either joined the forest teams or initiated risky and rudimentary measures themselves to contain the fire.  

It is the sixth time in last six years that Dachigam forest area has been engulfed in such a huge fire.

In 2016, similar kind of fire incidents were witnessed inside Dachigam forest area during the month of February.

In 2002, a similar kind of forest fire engulfed Dachigam National Park which turned a huge green area into ashes.

In order to understand the Fire and Emergency Department’s handling of these situations, Ziraat Times spoke to its Joint Director, Muhammad Akbar Dar, who said that the latest Zabarwan fire broke out at several places on same day which made it difficult to handle. 

“Our fire tenders are designed to tackle fires where our trucks can be moved to. We weren’t capable to deal with this fire because of the terrain. However, our men coordinated with the Forest Protection Force. The forest staff is trained to deal with such fires”, Mr Akbar said.

He further informed that his department had forwarded a proposal for procurement of latest equipments to deal with high terrain fires.

Director Forest Protection Force (Kashmir), Asif Mehmood, believes that his force had very inadequate budget for meeting the challenges of such contingencies. 

"While the staff is trained to tackle such fires, to prevent such fires from causing huge destruction, fire lines should be created in forests on priority. Moreover, our strategy should be to deal with such contingencies by creating a robust information sharing mechanism", Mr Mehmood added.

Jigmet Takpa, Joint Secretary (International Cooperation and Sustainable Development) Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Govt. of India, who was formerly Chief Conservator of Forests, Ladakh, while speaking to Ziraat Times, said that awareness generation among common people in preventing forest fires had to be a high priority. 

"Too much of debris, dry leaves and shrubs make forests prone to fire. So timely cleaning & maintenance of forests is necessary to prevent fires. We also require new techniques and equipments to deal with the fires. And, very importantly, focus on latest training for the staff dealing with forest fires”, Mr Jigmet added. 

Deputy Director, Forest Protection Force, (Batote range) Vivek Modi, while speaking to Ziraat Times shared the concern on the forest fires in Jammu region.

"The problem is that the budget available is inadequate. Our primary role is to assist the Forest Department, that has more manpower than our department. We need to work more on four issues - extra vigilance, better planning and deployment of manpower and equipment in the event of forest fire, upgradation of fire-fighting equipment and awareness among people, especially people living adjacent to forest areas", Mr Vivek said.

Wildlife Warden, Kashmir, Imtiyaz Lone, put the blame on people venturing into forests.

“Forest fires don’t start naturally. The movement of people in open forests is very common and these people start fire to keep out the cold or to burn cigarettes; that is the reason of fire”, Mr Lone said.

The 10 Questions - Considering this situation, Ziraat Times Research Team has compiled ten critical questions that need deep contemplation and action by the Department of Forests, Govt of Jammu & Kashmir.

Question No 1: The fundamental mandate of the Forest Department is the protection of the state's forests. Does the department have a specific strategy and action plan, with matching budgetary allocations, to address the grave issue of forest fires?

Ziraat Times view: Jammu and Kashmir State Forest Policy 2010, does not have any specific mention of the state's policy and strategy in dealing with forest fires. The policy must reflect clear state position in dealing with forest fires.

Question No. 2: The Forest Fire Management Plan says that it aims at developing strategies to combat the emergencies and also to reduce vulnerability to hazards in respect of forest sector. There is a budgetary allocation of Rs 52.98 crore for implementation during three years (2017-18, 2018-19,2019-20) under World Bank Jehlum Tawi Flood Management project.

Ziraat Times view: Detailed study of the document indicates that it is largely commentary-based, with observations on the state of Jammu & Kashmir's forests and some basic techniques used to address forest fires. It does not reflect the department's strategic approach in dealing with the problem, nor does it mention wherefrom it would mobilise resources for the plan. While it talks about dealing with all aspects of exigencies in particular preparedness, response and recovery to reduce the impact of this disaster, it doesn't carry any specific Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), roles and responsibility matrices in the event of a fire. The Forest Department needs to undertake a technical review of the document.

Question No 3: Currently, Forest Department's Control Rooms function as Forest Fire Control Sub-Stations and have been given the responsibility of addressing forest fires. 

The staff for these control rooms were expected to be deputed not only from the Forest Department but from all other allied wings. This was supposed to be coordinated and managed by the local territorial DFO. 

Ziraat Times view: While these rooms have already been established in all Divisions at Divisional Headquarters; the question is: are these rooms well equipped? Are their personnel well trained in managing forest fire situations? Do they have access to latest gadgets and equipments, including GPS, protective gears and advanced first aid kits? Forest Department has to explain.

Question No. 4: The Forest Fire Management Plan stipulates real time monitoring of situation and mobilizing all available resources at District level. It also stipulates formation of District Level Committees, comprising of District Dev. Commissioner (Chairman), DFO Territorial (Member Secretary), Superintendent of Police (Member), Deputy Director Forest Protection Force (Member), Wildlife Warden (Member), DFO Social Forestry (Member), District Soil Conservation Officer (Member). 

Ziraat Times view: These Committees were expected to monitor and coordinate the forest fire, prevention and control in the District and shall meet once in a month to take steps required for effective management of prevention of forest fire incidents. The committee was expected to work in coordination with the District Disaster Management Committees. The question is: is this system operational? If not, why?

Question No. 5: In section 24 of the Jammu and Kashmir Forest (Protection) Force Rules, 2012, out of the 11 "other functions" identified for the members of the Forest Protection Force Force, it is mentioned that one of their functions is "to use his best endeavours to prevent any loss or damage by fire to forest property".

Ziraat Times view: Protection personnel on the front lines often say that they are not fully clear about their role in the management and control of forest fires. Will the Forest Ministry seek to amend the Jammu and Kashmir Forest (Protection) Force Rules, 2012 appropriately to emphasise on the role of the force in preventing and controlling forest fires? Will it also emphasise on the training and adequate equipment for the force personnel?

Question No. 6: The Jammu & Kashmir Forest Act, 1987 (1930 AD.) Act No. II of 1987 clearly mentions the acts prohibited in J&K's forests. It clearly says that any person who (a) Sets fire to a demarcated forest, or kindles any fires, or leaves any fire burning in such manner as to endanger such a forest; (b) Kindles, keeps or carries any fire except at such seasons as the Conservator of the Circle may from time to time notify in this behalf; shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years but shall not be less than three months and with fine which may extend to six thousand rupees but shall not be less than one thousand rupees. If the conviction relates to clause (f), the Judicial Magistrate shall order for the restoration of the land to the Forest Department. 

Ziraat Times view: Can the Forest Ministry make the public aware what actions have been taken related to the forest fires lately? Have there been any departmental inquiries? Are reports available? Have any actions been initiated against those responsible for these fires? 

Question No. 7: The Jammu & Kashmir Forest Act, 1987 (1930 AD.) Act No. II of 1987 in clause 50 stipulates summary action by Deputy Commissioner in fire cases. 

Ziraat Times view: Are those actions being undertaken? Follow up actions taken need to be made public 

Question No. 8: Currently, only the Fire and Emergency Department of the government has the necessary equipment to deal with fire situations, including those in forest areas. But is it equipped to deal with forest fire situations in terrains where its equipment cannot reach? 

Ziraat Times spoke to Joint Director, Fire and Emergency Department, Kashmir, Muhammad Akbar Dar, who said that they have forwarded a proposal for procurement of equipments to deal with high terrain fires.

“Proposals have been forwarded to prevent such fires and for acquiring equipments to deal with high terrain fires,” Dar said. 

Ziraat Times view: If so, when will the equipment be available?

Question No. 9: While it is clear that most of the forest fires are triggered by human interferences in forest areas, the question is: Is the Forest Department doing enough on awareness and prevention?


Question No. 10: While the larger plan for the capacity building, training and equipping of the Control Rooms is done, why shouldn’t the Forest Department consider creation of Provincial rapid Response teams, which will be easier to train, mobilize, equip.

The bigger the delay in the creation of these teams, the greater the loss to the state’s forest wealth will be.

We earnestly hope that the Forest Department will act and treat this issue with all the seriousness that it so demands. 

Causes and the situation in Jammu and Kashmir regions

Latest cases of forest fires in Kashmir region: 

Official data indicates that there were around 160 reported forest fire incidents in Kashmir province in last two years (2016 and 2017).

Further in 2007, a major fire broke out at six different areas inside the National Park. While no loss was reported to the wild animals but a major portion of the vegetation was wiped out due to it.

Later the then Divisional Commissioner Kashmir, accompanied by senior officers had to take an emergency aerial survey of the national park to assess the damage caused by the fire.

It was followed by a fire of similar kind in the year 2010 when the wild life departments had to take assistance from the Fire Service and Emergency Department to douse the fire.

As per the reports, the fire was doused after a long time as the fire tenders could not reach to the spot.

In 2012 and 2015, few portions of the Dachigam National Park again were affected by the forest fire which led to a huge damage to the habitation of wild animals.

The government in ongoing legislative assembly has its admitted that forest fire incidents have increased.

Latest cases of forest fires in Jammu region: 

The situation is even more alarming in the Jammu region. In 2017, there were 242 incidents of forest fires reported from different parts of the region, affecting 502 hectare area.

Apart from this, about 180 hectare of forests in the Trikuta Hills of Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine falling in Reasi District have been badly affected by fire-incidents. 

On January 21, 2018, a massive fire engulfed a large portion of Bhallesa forest comprising of pine trees in Gandoh Sub Division of Jammu. The fire could be doused only with support from the local villagers after the Forest Department was unable to mobilise the necessary men and equipment in time to contain the fire. 

"On 10 January 2018 and earlier on 28 May 2017, Vaishno Devi pilgrimage had to be stopped due to forest fire in the Vaishno Devi Hills. Only a night earlier, a major fire had broke out last night in Trikuta Hills of Katra town in Reasi district. We were unable to do much about the incidents because there is no plan, no resources, no leadership on how to prevent and mitigate the effects of these incidents", a senior official of the Forest Department, Jammu told Ziraat Times on the condition of anonymity. 

In June 2016, massive fires in Kalidhar forest bordering Jammu-Rajouri districts near Chowki Choura area, Trikuta Hills in Katra, Baba Ghulam Shah Badhsah University forest area in Rajouri, Garnai Lota area in Udhampur district or Chirala forests in Doda,damaged vast tracts of forest land.


While the causes are largely well-known, experts emphasise that the ministry must focus on solutions and mitigation strategies. 

"Well, prevention is definitely important but the government will have to modernise its approach towards containment and mitigation of ill-effects of forest fires", Mian Javed Hussain, 

While climate change-induced dry spells are cited as one major factor in aggravating forest fires, the principal cause is the human-ignited ones. 

"It is very difficult to contain fires triggered by human interference in and around forests. Population boom and easy access of people to forests are factors which are hard to address", said a retired forest official.

Kashmir's 'bat'te moal': gone with the wind?

From 23% food grains deficit in 1980-81, J&K is now almost fully imports dependent. Some 1.06 million kanals of agri land has been lost to non-agricultural use in last 10 years. What could this mean for the future of Jammu & Kashmir? We bring this in-depth report with expert reflections from SKUAST-Kashmir Vice Chancellor, Prof Nazeer Ahmed; Directors of Agriculture Department, Kashmir and Jammu, Altaf Aijaz Andrabi and H.K. Razdan and other experts.

Authors: Farooq Ahmed Sopori, Asma Shabir and Saba Reshi

Srinagar, Jan 27: Jammu and Kashmir is fast losing its food self-sufficiency as the state’s dependence on imports has reached to its hitherto highest level.

The state’s Economic Survey Report 2017 reveals that in 2002-03 J&K imported 503 thousand metric tonnes of food grains, which rose to 952. 55 thousand metric tonnes in 2016-17.

In the last three years, the import of food grains has witnessed considerable increase. From 756.60 thousand metric tonnes in 2014-15, the state imported 952.55 thousand metric tonnes in 2016-17.

In 1950-51, the food deficit was just 32 percent, which later fell to 23 percent in 1980-81 as a result of advancement in agriculture.

However, now, J&K has recorded its highest food deficit last fiscal year.

Prior to this, the highest deficit, as per the survey, was in 2011-12, with imports increasing to 908.22 thousand MTs — 20% more than the previous year.

“The local production of foodgrains in the State does not keep pace with the requirement, as the agriculture sector faces challenges on various front,” the report says.

The deficit is met by imports for meeting commitments under Targeted Public Distribution System, other welfare schemes and emergency relief measures.

“During the year 2015-16 the import of foodgrains was recorded at 755.85 thousand metric tonnes, which was 0.12% less than the imports of 2014-15. 

However, due to the implementation of “Mufti Mohammad Mohammad Sayeed Food Entitlement Scheme” w.e.f. from July 2016, the import of foodgrains during the year 2016-17 was recorded at 952.55 thousand metric tonnes, which was 26.02% more than previous year. The import of foodgrains during the year 2017-18 upto October, 2017 has been recorded at 526.74 thousand metric tonnes,” it adds.

Aijaz Andrabi, Director, Department of Agriculture, Kashmir, however, holds a vision that is rooted more in high-earning cash crops rather than subsistence farming.

“The dynamics of world market have changed. With the WTO in place, and exchange of products worldwide, the world decides what should be produced. We should focus on producing the best and becoming relevant in the world’s agro system. We should focus on products what will help us in establishing a niche and world monopoly”, Mr. Andrabi adds.

Shrinking farmlands

Jammu and Kashmir has lost an estimated 10 lakh kanal agricultural land to non-agricultural purposes in the past 10 years primarily because of non-implementation the land conversion laws.

As per official data, Jammu and Kashmir had 8.47 lakh hectare agriculture land in 2005-06 which has shrunk to 7.94 lakh hectare till 2015-16. This means, an estimated 53,000 hectare farmland (equivalent to 10 lakh, 60 thousand kanal) has been converted to non-agricultural use.

According to the official record, the area under paddy cultivation was 158,000 hectare in 2012, shrinking to 141,000 hectare in 2015-16.

It also reveals that the arable land in the state has shrunk from 0.14 hectare per-person in 1981 to 0.08 hectare per-person in 2001 and further to 0.06 hectare per-person in 2012.

Prof. Nazir Ahmad, Vice Chancellor, SKUAST-Kashmir believes that the state’s shrinking agricultural lands are a major concern for the state’s food security.

“If not checked, we will suffer. There are laws inhibiting use of agricultural land for non-agricultural purposes; these, unfortunately, are not implemented on ground. The government should take a strong stand on this and the public should also understand and realize the implications. If we are left with no land to cultivate, we would naturally have to import food from outside. I keep on emphasising on this”, Prof, Nazir told Ziraat Times.

The Economy Survey 2017 report also highlights declining interest in agriculture as other major threat. Referring to survey by National Sample Survey Office (2005), 41% of farmers in India wanted to leave agriculture if any other option was available.

“Census 2011 reveals that J&K has 5.66 lakh cultivators for whom farming is their main occupation and this number has scaled down from 9.49 lakh in 2001,” it says. 

Experts say the conversion of agricultural land is taking place in both rural and urban Kashmir.

The loss of agricultural land to urbanization has raised alarm bells but solutions have been elusive.

In 2011, the government set up a committee under the chairmanship of then Horticulture Minister to review a bill that would address specifically the issue of use of agricultural land for non-agricultural purposes. But the proposed legislation wasn’t finalized allegedly due to political pressure and continues to hang fire since.

H. K. Razdan, Director Agriculture Department, Jammu, opines that the government think about utilising dry, barren land for construction purposes. 

“High yielding crop varieties can only compensate for the decreasing productivity as a result of diminishing agriculture land to a limited extent. Demising cultivable land is a big concern. Revenue department is the custodian of state land, conversion of cultivable land for non agricultural purposes should be stopped”, Mr Razdan told Ziraat Times. 

In April 2012, the J&K High Court passed directions against the misuse of agricultural land on a related Public Interest Litigation filed by a non-governmental organization. It directed all deputy commissioners to ensure the provisions of the Jammu and Kashmir Agrarian Act and the Jammu and Kashmir Land Revenue Act are implemented to stop the conversion of agricultural land.

The change of land use is widely attributed to horizontal and unplanned constructions, accommodation of security forces and poor coordination between government departments.

Sheikh Bilal, Dean Agriculture, SKUAST-Kashmir, told Ziraat Times that while they are developing high yielding varieties of crops and using latest technologies to maximize production, land is critical for food security. 

“Loss of agricultural land will have serious consequences. The government should take tough measures to deter rampant urbanization of farmlands. The dream of becoming self sufficient cannot be realized with agriculture land being lost”, he added.

While in Jammu plains the loss of agricultural land to non-agricultural purposes is going on unabated, the region generates some surpluses too. 

According to N. K. Dubey, Chief Agricultural Officer, Jammu, while the plains had a surplus production for vegetables, wheat as

well as paddy, the shrinking of farmlands was a matter of big concern. 

"Revenue Department must take strong action in this regard", he added.

Aijaz Andrabi, Director, Department of Agriculture, Kashmir, thinks that while each state has different crop priorities, we should push towards high value vegetables and cash crops. 

“With a certain seasonal advantage, we have highest production in vegetables and maize under rain fed conditions. We should tie up with international players and come up with quality produce and channelize to take them to markets with brands. There are enormous agro based job opportunities.” 

However, when it comes to unplanned and haphazard urbanisation, Mr Andrabi sounds a word of caution, “While urbanization is an essential part of growth, but when unplanned, it can cost us our future. Law enforcing agencies must be strengthened and tough measures should be taken to curb urbanization of agriculture land.”

End of the Shahtoosh dream?

As captive breeding of Chiru is ruled out, livelihood of thousands of families in J&K is set to go

Updated 9: 15 PM, 15 Jan, 2017. 

ZT Research Desk

Srinagar: In a major jolt to Shahtoosh shawl industry of Jammu & Kashmir, Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change has rejected the idea of captive breeding of Chiru, the antelope from whom Shahtoosh wool is obtained.

Arguing that the “captive breeding will neither serve the purpose of conservation nor provide raw material for weavers”, the Environment Ministry has told a parliamentary panel that “the idea is not likely to work as they (sic.) have to be killed to collect wool for making shahtoosh shawls.”

The ministry further noted that China failed to keep Chiru in captivity due to its poor survival rates after the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science and Technology, Environment and Forests mentioned that China and Mongolia were breeding the goats successfully.

As reported by Ziraat Times on December 31, a parliamentary committee, headed by Congress Member of Parliament (MP), Renuka Chowdhury, had recommended lifting of the ban of Shahtoosh trade and recommended that the environment ministry “should conserve and breed the chiru goats” on vast tracts of land and give the antelopes to weavers for collecting wool.

“This is not the kind of news we were looking forward to. We will again approach the concerned Parliament members and raise this issue. We continue to believe that there is a strong case for the ban on Shahtoosh trade to go and the introduction of Chiru breeding practices which will protect the Chiru. This time around we will go with full preparation”, Javeed Ahmed Tenga, President, Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industries (KCCI told Ziraat Times.

However, there are others who believe that the Ministry's decision was justified in the light of the "global concerns" on Chiru conservation.

“The Environment Ministry must have consulted the relevant people before arriving at this decision. It has considered all the dimensions of the issue, including consultation with international experts", Manoj Pant, Chief Wildlife Warden, J&K, told Ziraat Times.

There continues to be a viewpoint that the ban on Shahtoosh trade and the disinclination towards not considering captive farming of the Chiru is based on anecdotal reasoning and not a strong research-guided baseline.

“It is clear that they have not consulted the key stakeholders, like the artisans, businessmen and other traders associated with the industry, before arriving at this decision. How can a ministry take such a decision without even experimenting with captive breeding?", former president of KCCI, Mubeen Ahmed Shah, said, while speaking to Ziraat Times. 

Imtiyaz Ahmed Lone, DCF, Dachigam National Park, told Ziraat Times that the "Parliamentary panel recommendation [of captive breeding] was neither economically feasible nor technically possible." 

"The Chiru cannot be reared in captivity. 

It requires vast space”, he added.

People associated with the weaving of Shahtoosh fabric and trading it globally believe that this decision has been taken in haste. 

“This is an unfortunate news. Shahtoosh trade is about 600-700 year old. If the Chiru was really killed for obtaining the wool then by now the antelope would have been extinct", Ashfaq Siddiq Dug, executive member Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) told Ziraat Times, adding "it was a deep rooted conspiracy to take out J&K's key income-generating activities from the economic system and cripple it economically".

However, there is convergence in the opinions among the state's wildlife department. 

Tahir Shawl, Director, Department of Wildlife, Kashmir believes that “if the government has refused the idea of captive breeding, then they must have valid reasons for that." 

"It is a matter of policy”, he told Ziraat Times.

The same view was echoed by Director Handicrafts Department, Dr Mushtaq Ahmed.

People who have been involved in ground research on the extraction of Shahtoosh wool, weavers' livelihood advocacy and the larger international dimension remain unimpressed and vehemently argue that the ban has only hit thousands of families on arguments that are not technically and ethically justified.

“It is a deep-rooted conspiracy against J&K’s economy. Certain NGOs and Wildlife Trust of India (WTI), along with animal rights groups, have been roped in to create an environment which has criminalized this trade and, and, therefore, the imposition of a ban on it",  Nadeem Qadri, a prominent environmental and wildlife activist, told Ziraat Times.

He added that people will have to come together, mainly for the sake of the livelihood of the artisans, to make sure that this ban is revoked and the trade thrives again. 

"It is tragic that the Ministry of Environment has expressed its point of view but have never taken into consideration the impact of this measure on the livelihood of thousands of women spinners and combers in rural and urban areas of the state, most of whom worked in the Kashmir valley",  Furhat Subla, businessman and activist, based in Spain, told Ziraat Times.

There is an increasing assertion among educated young people in Leh and Kargil that if Chiru were reared in captive breeding conditions in the region it would generate immense employment avenues for the youth there. 

"We should explore captive breeding option [of Chiru]. Why should we rule out something which has not even been tried", Rinchen Dolma, a student from Leh told Ziraat Times.

"Educated young people of both Ladakh and Kashmir need jobs. Nothing wrong if Chiru captive breeding and Shahtoosh fabric making is explored in a big way. Ladakh and Kashmir regions can collaborate on this", another student, Stanzin Dadul, said.

Deldan Namgiyal, Member Legislative Assembly (MLA), Nubra, while expressing his inability to speak on the matter, cited lack of full information on the matter.

"I don't have full information on the subject as I have not been following this issue", Namgiyal told Ziraat Times. 

MLA Leh, Rigzin Jora, could not be reached for comments despite several attempts. 

In 2003, the Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) High Court asked the state government to regulate the trade of shahtoosh shawl-making and shearing of Tibetan antelopes in such a way that the art and livelihood of artisans is protected. 

"Not much was done to make that happen. In the 90s, shahtoosh trade had touched Rs 120 crore, which was a big source of livelihood for women, mainly the poor and widows", Mubeen Ahmed Shah, told Ziraat Times. 

Abdul Hamid Punjabi, former president of Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry, responding on the argument that staff would not like to work in high-altitude conditions for captive breeding, says, "If people can stay at and supply the Siachen Glacier in -50 degrees, how is operationalising captive breeding not possible?”

Globally, there are 16,928 species that are currently listed as threatened. While some of the species are destined to go extinct, like those that have gone extinct in the past, many conservationists believe that for many such species on the planet, captive breeding programs and human intervention may be the only hope.

One of the most successful examples of captive breeding is that of Panda, until recently an endangered species. From 1114 in number in 1980s, the Panda numbers in the wild have risen to 1864 in 2014. 

There are 10 other species, facing habitat loss, hunting and poaching, that may have just escaped extinction due to captive farming. These include Mountain Gorilla, Golden Lion Tamarind, Black Rhinoceros, Saiga, African Savannah Elephant and Takhi Horse. 

Repeated attempts to reach Union 

Minister for Environment, Forests and Wildlife, Harsh Vardhan, for his views on the captive breeding success stories did not bear fruit. 

Member Parliament, Renuka Chowdhary, was out of office and was not available for her comment.

One Shahtoosh shawl in the western market would generally fetch around $ 5000–6000 (which is between Rs 3 to 4 lakhs). What makes Shahtoosh the world's finest wool is that it has the lowest micron count, followed by Vicuna and Pashmina. 

Besides providing livelihood opportunities to thousands of families in Ladakh and Kashmir regions, mainly women, it has remained a symbol of cherished possession for women for many centuries.

International trade in the Tibetan antelope is also banned under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Processing or wearing shahtoosh is a punishable offence and anyone selling them face prison sentences of up to two years and fine of up to Rs 10 lakhs. 

Promising it is. But questions do remain

Ziraat Times Editor, Arjimand Hussain Talib, analyses the macroeconomic questions on Budget 2018-19

J&K’s Rs. 80,313 crore Budget for 2018-19 has brought about a mixed wave of jubilation and scepticism.


Perhaps, the biggest structural positive of this budget is that it comes in January and addresses the major handicap of the previous budget cycles. 

After going through the Budget Speech and the Economic Survey 2017 report, the first question that arises is this: what does this budget aim to achieve? Is it what it brilliantly is: an assortment of fantastic across-the-board sops? Or there is an overarching goal as well? Is it economic growth centric? Or it is business as usual? Does it duly recognise the importance of the primary economy in the State’s GDP and provide it adequate attention?

Is this budget oblivious to the fiscal challenges recognised in the 2017 Economic Survey report? Does it address the macro-economic challenges that the government itself has frankly identified? And, most importantly, is it jobs creation-centric?

While the annual growth for the agriculture sector for 2017-18 has been 8.37 % - more than industry and services, its budgetary allocation, yet again, has been one of the lowest. The total contribution of agriculture and allied sectors to the state’s Gross State Domestic Product (GSDP) is Rs 16,056 crore. 

There is disquiet among the farming communities that agriculture and its allied services like like horticulture, animal husbandry etc. haven’t received due attention in the budget. 

While industry has grown at 6.81%, its GSDP contribution is Rs 27,899 crore. Services have grown at 8.16 % and have contributed Rs. 56103.56 to the GSDP. 

There are so many of sops for almost everyone in the budget that the macro picture of the state’s public financial system is simply clouded. Will it catalyse J&K’s economic growth on a sustainable basis? Will it create jobs? 

Greater incentives to government working class and other social and economic sops to various sectors of the economy could translate into greater demand for and consumption of goods and services in the state. However, given that J&K is heavily import-driven, that consumption is very unlikely to create jobs here. Such greater consumption could even generate localised inflationary tendencies.  

J&K is already overwhelmed by revenue expenditure and steep rise in salary and pension bills. Administrative costs, hidden subsidies, etc. throw our finances out of balance. 

On the concerns on the state of public finances, the Economic Survey Report 2017, makes a significant admission on page 294: "There is a steep rise in salary and pension bills, administrative costs, burgeoning hidden subsidies including power deficit, rising interest liabilities and loan repayments, deficit on account of Non-tax Revenue, increased interest payments outgo." 

The finance minister in his Budget Speech said that the capital expenditure would be Rs 29128 crore for the next fiscal, and termed it “by far the highest capital expenditure allocation in the history of J&K.”

However, what we also need to recognise is that the revenue expenditure (RE) including the security-related expenditure (SRE) is going to be Rs 51,185 crore, which is again unprecedented.

The grant-in-aid from union government in absolute terms is 49 percent in 2016-17 vis-à-vis total revenue receipts of the state.

J&K’s steeply rising liabilities

One of the key concerns of J&K must be 

the state’s rising liabilities, including debt repayment and the steeply rising interest component of that. 

J&K's total liabilities were Rs 55,358 crore in 2015-16 which have risen to Rs 62,207 crore in 2016-17. That is a very steep rise.

One thing that seems to offer some cheer is the state's declining liabilities in percentage terms with respect to the GSDP. While in 2015-16 those liabilities were 60.27 per cent of the GSDP, they have come down to 49.28 per cent in 2016-17.

However, what should worry the government is the quantum of our total liabilities which are rising too steeply - from Rs 55,358 crore in 2015-16, Rs 62,207 crore in 2016-17.

Within a span of one year alone, total interest payment on the state's borrowings has risen from Rs 3719 crore in 2015-16 to Rs 4567 crore in 2016-17. That is a massive jump.

All this situation has been duly recognised in the 2017 Economic Survey Report, which has noted: "Revenue generation from the both tax and non-tax sources have not recorded impressive jump commensurate to our demands and requirements." 

State of J&K’s overall debt 

Similarly, J&K's public debt has increased from Rs 55,345 crore in 2015-16 to Rs 60,673 crore in 2016-17, marking an increase of over Rs 5000 crore in just one year period. Even as the government has termed the decreasing trend of revenue receipts as "discernible within the overall receipts during 2016-17", a clearer explanation would have been more useful. 

What should equally worry the state government is its increasing reliance on union government for tax transfers (mainly under the GST regime) and grants-in-aid. 

According to the Economic Survey, 2017, state’s share in union taxes and duties and grant-in-aid together constituted 71.67 percent of the State’s revenue receipt. That is a telling story on the state’s own revenue base vis-a-vis the union tax transfers and grants-in-aid support.

Jammu & Kashmir’s tax revenue has witnessed only marginally by Rs 493 crore increase over the previous year - to Rs 7819 crore during 2016-17 from Rs 7326 crore in 2015-16. 

The expenditure on payment of interest alone has increased from Rs 3757 crore in 2015-16 to Rs 4601 crore in 2016-17, which is a worrying situation. 

While the expenditure on collection of taxes on sales and trade was around Rs 72 crore, the expenditure on collection of land revenue is reported to be Rs 148 crore, which the economic survey 2017 admits to be "an area of concern." 

Borrowings and RBI take over of ways and means advances

The transfer of overdraft and ways and means function from J&K Bank to the Reserve Bank of India was billed to reduce interest burden on the state. It was also touted as a panacea to using overdraft as a recurring instrument in managing cash/liquidity needs. 

Astonishingly, the ways and means advances and overdraft has touched Rs 15,847 crore in 2016-17. That indicates that the basic purpose of shifting the ways and means instrument to the RBI has barely served its purpose. 

Not only that, the loans and advances from the Union Government and market borrowing/institutional finance have crossed Rs 4902 crore during 2016-17. Dependence on borrowing to manage cash/ liquidity balance has largely affected the interest burden of the State resulting in deterioration of the fiscal parameters of the State, Economic Survey 2017 notes.

Too little capital expenditure, ballooning revenue expenditure

What is clear today is that despite attempts at stemming revenue expenditure, capital expenditure continues to be slow, while the revenue expenditure is only rising. 

Capital expenditure has increased by only Rs 955 crore, from Rs 7331 crore in 2015-16 to Rs 8286 crore in 2016-17. 

Revenue expenditure, on the other hand, has increased from Rs 36,420 crore to Rs 39,812 crore, marking an increase of Rs. 3392 crore during the same period. 

The sector wise expenditure reveals 36.08 percent of expenditure on General Services, 27.61 percent on Social Services and 31.37 percent on Economic Services, which, again, indicates lower spending pattern on economic services. 

Economic Survey 2017 report acknowledges that the state’s “dependence on borrowings is more indicative now to maintain at least constant level of Capital spending.” adding that the “financing of Capital spending in the wake of ever expanding Revenue Expenditure and squeezed resources is another challenge to handle.” 

Salaries and pensions in expenditure

Economic Survey 2017 indicates that the state's total expenditure in 2016-17 was Rs 48,174 crore. The share of salary/wages/pension in the total expenditure during the year stood at 40.20 per cent, which had increased to 3.41 per cent during the period. 

The Economic Survey 2017 has admitted that there are several areas of concern, which, one would expect, should have been addressed in the budget.

For instance, it notes that the “revenue expenditure has increased unabated. The major reason being periodical increase of salaries, regularization/appointment of new employees, power revenue deficit, interest liability and subsidies." 

What we have done is create more government jobs and regularise ad hoc government employees on a mass scale without corresponding revenue generation.  

Power revenue deficit is ballooning up like ever. Such is the mess in our power sector that we have now done away with the separate Power Budget.

Expanding the SGST ambit 

Finance Minister, Haseeb Drabu, in his 

budget speech also said that the government has constituted a committee of officers and professionals to work out a framework for bringing real estate, electricity, alcohol and petroleum under J&K GST. 

What remains to be seen is how this measure could provide greater elbow room to the state in expanding its own revenue base under the GST regime. 

RCEP free trade pact: will kashmir apple survive?

As India pushes for greater market access for its IT and IT-enabled services in China and East Asia under a new free trade pact, countries like China, Australia and New Zealand are pushing for zero or low import duties for apples in India. If the current 70% import duties will go, apple prices in India are expected to go down substantially. That would mean apples from Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh might face tough times. In such circumstances, would Kashmir’s Rs 8000-crore apple industry survive? In this exclusive report, Ziraat Times brings to its readers, views from apple growers, supply chain specialists, industry experts and concerned citizens on how J&K should position itself. We also spoke to the Minister for Horticulture, Basharat Bukhari, who, while sounding optimistic about a robust future for Kashmir’s apple industry, said his ministry would engage with the Finance Ministry in trying to ensure that the interests of the state’s apple industry are protected.

The current situation...

Call it a veritable storm, a storm that has taken most people by surprise. As India pushes for greater market access for its IT and IT-enabled services in China and other East Asian countries under a new free trade pact - called Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) - countries like China, Australia and New Zealand are pushing for zero or low import duties for apples in India.

While the RCEP has been in the making since 2012, not much is known about it in Jammu & Kashmir. The first signs of an impending storm were seen at the 19th round of the RECP meet held in Hyderabad in July 2017 when it became clear that countries like China and Australia wanted greater access of their apples to India. What has set the alarm bells ringing is the 20th round of negotiations held in the Philippines in November 2017. At the Philippine round India has come under renewed pressure to ease its import duties of some fruits, mainly apples.

Farmers, civil society groups and political parties in Himachal Pradesh have already joined hands in opposing the move. In Kashmir this issue is hardly being talked about. 

Ziraat Times brings to its readers this comprehensive exclusive report about the implications of the RCEP negotiations on Kashmir’s apple industry and how the state could position itself on the actual agreement.  

What is RCEP

RCEP is a comprehensive regional economic integration agreement among the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries — Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam and its six Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) partners — Australia, New Zealand, Japan, China, South Korea and India.

The RCEP objectives include liberalising investment norms in the region, besides boosting trade by dismantling most tariff and non-tariff barriers. Many countries are pushing India to lower its tariffs and non-tarrifs on several services and commodities, including apples.

How big is this new trading bloc? 

The RCEP, when realized will become the largest trade bloc in terms of population with nearly 3.5 billion people. It will also have an estimated 40% of world’s GDP and dominating 30% of global trade. 

But would India yield in? What benefit would get in return if it does so?

India’s main interest in the RCEP framework is said to be removal of non-tariff barriers, mainly those in China. One of its key priorities is to push for greater market access for its niche Information Technology (IT) and IT-enabled services (ITeS), which have not made any substantial market penetration into China. India would like ASEAN+6 Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) to materialize as soon as possible. Strategic experts believe that “this will help in furthering the aims and objectives of India’s own Look-East Policy”.

Ziraat Times engaged with a cross-section of people in understanding their concerns and views about dealing with this situation. This is what they had to say: 

We are confident that our apple will be able to compete well. Nevertheless, our ministry will engage with the Finance Ministry in ensuring that the interests of our apple industry are protected - Basharat Bukhari, Minister for Horticulture

"We believe that the intrinsic quality of Kashmir apples and the hard work that our growers put in will keep Kashmiri apple competitive enough despite the emerging competition.

As population increases and lifestyle changes happen, overall demand for fruits in India is growing. We believe Kashmir apple will have the demand as it always has been. We are aware of the competition coming in. We are bracing ourselves for that. 

That first thing that we are doing is that we are coming up with a full-fledged horticulture policy that will address three key issues of land suitability, productivity and climate change. 

For the first time we have done a comprehensive Horticulture Census, which will serve as a baseline for the horticulture policy. 

We recognise that our post harvesting infrastructure, mainly the cold storage facilities are not enough as of now - we have barely a capacity of 95 MT, while as we need 300,000 MT. 

Efforts are being done at multiple levels to introduce high density and better yielding apple varieties at a big scale.

I am positive, with our farmers' hard work, dedication and our efforts we will be able to face the challenges."

Reducing apple import duty would down 50% revenue: Maajid Wafai

"Reducing or waiving off import duty will straight away wipe off 50 % of revenue realization in this industry.

All those associated with this industry should lobby to pressurize governments not to fiddle with import duty. In the long run we must intervene to rejuvenate our orchards by way of new plantation in next three to four years. New techniques or new plantation based on M 9 et al give yields after two year of plantation.

Every one of us irrespective of the sector we work in should stay informed about happenings in world power corridors which directly affect us and should pre-empt the impact of such decisions on us. I believe our local business chambers can play lead role in these matters."

Maajid A Wafai is CEO, Shaheen Agro Fresh Pvt Ltd & President Cold Chain Association which works under its name as JKPICCA

Govt should pay attention to the fall-out of this proposal, mainly on Kashmiri women: Nyla Ali Khan

It is imperative that the government of J&K pay attention to the political, economic and social fall-out of China’s proposal for zero import duty on families of apple growers, which would be devastating. Not only would the productive capacity of Kashmir be adversely impacted, but women’s resumption of access to basic social services would be affected too. 

Not enough emphasis is laid on how Kashmiri women of different political, religious, ideological, and class orientations can become resource managers and advocates for other women in situations of economic crisis, which this proposal portends. 

Although the international community 

made a commitment to incorporate gender perspectives in peace efforts and underscored gender mainstreaming as a global strategy for the growth of gender equality in the Beijing Declaration and the Platform for Action in 199, I observe a lot more could be done toward increasing women’s participation in key decision-making in Kashmir. 

The “Naya Kashmir” Manifesto highlighted the Women’s Charter in the 1940s, but a lot of ground work is required to build on the earlier gains.

Nyla Ali Khan is a US-based professor and and an acclaimed author

Our future seems to be loaded with more serious competition: Muhammad Syed Malik

Trade barriers in global market are not desirable. No doubt, individual countries either benefit from or get hit by free market system. Ideally, Chinese apple import into India, or for that matter, from any other country ought to be restricted, if not prevented altogether, more so in the interest of domestic fruit growers. I am not certain if such a step is acceptable under the existing regime. 

Essentially, the issue boils down to product competition at the consumer level. Lack of modern preservation facilities in Kashmir is a serious handicap; not only vis a vis imported apple but even the domestic competition, such as that from neighboring Himachal Pradesh.  Our future seems to be loaded with more serious competition, domestic as well as external. If we do not prepare now, we are bound to suffer more in future. So best course is to compete rather seek shelter.

Mohammad Sayeed Malik is senior journalist, based in J&K

All steps to safeguard interests of the apple growers should be taken: Syed Naseem

As a common Kashmiri, I am constantly worried about my people involved in this trade. All steps to safeguard interests of people associated with horticulture, especially the apple growers, should be taken. More concessions should be given to make the business more profitable for our apple growers.

Our tourism, horticulture and handicrafts industries are deteriorating with time. Our agricultural land is being converted to habitation areas under a well knit plan so that we keep bowl in our hands and become beggars instead of growers. We are not moving towards sustainability. It will harm our interests and we as a nation will not grow.

Dr Syed Naseem Geelani is Head of the department, Division of Social and Basic sciences, Faculty of Forestry SKUAST-K

Opening flood gates to apple imports will be like a death blow: Qazi Ajaz

As a common Kashmiri, I am constantly worried about my people involved in this trade. All steps to safeguard interests of people associated with horticulture, especially the apple growers, should be taken. More concessions should be given to make the business more profitable for our apple growers.

Our tourism, horticulture and handicrafts industries are deteriorating with time. Our agricultural land is being converted to habitation areas under a well knit plan so that we keep bowl in our hands and become beggars instead of growers. We are not moving towards sustainability. It will harm our interests and we as a nation will not grow.

Qazi Ajaz is former Joint Director, Horticulture Planning and Marketing

Apple growers of Himachal, Uttarakhand should also be taken into confidence: Raja Muzaffar

By reducing import duty on apples in India, our apple Industry, like walnut and almond will suffer a major setback as large number of countries, especially China will start exporting apples into India. India is a huge market for most of the countries in view of its huge population. If this happens the direct impact will be on Kashmir and Himachal Apple industry.

Kashmiri growers seem to be unaware of these developments. 

Our growers, political leaders and policy makers must sit down and discuss these issues. I would suggest civil society groups, economists and universities to organize round table discussions over this issue so that we impress upon Govt to stop this onslaught. Apple growers of Himachal, Uttarakhand should also be taken into confidence.

Raja Muzaffar Bhat is a columnist  and founder, J&K RTI Movement

Government needs to strongly oppose this move: Izhan Javeed

Currently there is an import duty of 50% on apples. Zero import duty will mean 50% lower revenue realization for domestic farmers. We already face a stiff competition from imported apples as their cost of production is about 70% lower due to use of mechanized modern farming techniques.

Our average production is around 10-30 tons per hectare as against an average production per hectare of 70-90 tons around the world. This makes it feasible for them but our industry will not be able to absorb this price shock. it will be disastrous for our industry and since Kashmir produces about 70% of the total apples in India, Kashmir’s economy will be worst hit. 

Since there is a temporary ban on import of Chinese apples due to quarantine issues, China is lobbying strongly for this move. The apple prices have been 25-30% lower this year despite the ban. 

The government needs to strongly oppose this move as our industry is not ready to compete in the international market yet. The policy of import substitution is required for ten more years, meanwhile promoting shifting from primitive farming to modern farming techniques so that our industry becomes competitive with imported produce. 

Izhan Javeed is an apple grower & CEO, Fruit Master Agro Fresh Pvt Ltd.

We have to do more to remain in competition: Tariq Rasool


Low import duty would be disastrous to our apple industry. Kashmir produces around 50% quality apple and rest of the produce will go out of competition in case of low import duty on imported apples.  

It should be the role of political leaders to impress upon central government to keep the import duty as high as possible.  Growers can only impress upon the the political leaders regarding the negative impacts of reducing import duty.  

As per WTO bindings, the member countries have to reduce the import duty on agricultural produce although they may continue to raise some valid issues to protect their growers.  However, we have to do more to prepare our growers to remain in competition. 

It may not be possible to bring whole of traditional horticulture under new high density system within two or three decades but involving private nursery growers to propagate the new varieties and make them available to the growers may help in getting quick results.


Dr Tariq Rasool is Asstt. Professor Plant Pathology, Ambri Apple Research Center Shopian, SKUAST-K

Farmers might even find it difficult to break even the cost of the produce: Sanjay Parva

Zero import duty [on apples] to India would mean apples other than from Kashmir would be available in the Indian market at much cheaper or even reduced rates than Kashmir apples. If estimates of apple export from Kashmir to different Indian states are to be believed, it means a direct hit to exports of around Rs. 5000 crores. Not to speak of apple traders, even growers at the grassroots level won’t get value for labor. It might even be difficult for them to break even the cost of the produce. 

Fruit growers, general people and political leaders must take a proactive stand on the issue; the stand must be as active and as vociferous as they are generally seen taking on issues like autonomy, Articles 370 and 35A. 

Political leaders must ensure that the livelihood of apple growers and people associated with the industry is not lost. They are duty-bound towards the matter, which is of great significance and consequence. For the moment they must negotiate with the union government and also at the same time find alternative markets for the produce.

All Kashmir can do as of now is to pay enough of attention to WTO – what it is and what it is or is not capable of doing. 

The problem with us is that we live in a perpetual state of “information-deprivation”. Even an uneducated apple grower must know what is WTO, what domestic and international market is and how developments elsewhere touch his life. Both uninformed and ill-informed persons stand greater chances of being fleeced. Knowing more about WTO would be paying enough attention itself. 

Dr Sanjay Parva is a Kashmir-born English writer, author of Words About To Fall, poet, photographer, nomad and columnist

Reduction of import duty on apple to zero will be devastating: B. A. Bhat

China's move to force India to reduce import duty on apple to zero will be devastating for the apple growers of India, particularly of J&K. Flooding of Indian markets with the cheap 'export quality' apples from China will result in unbearable losses.

The government has failed to support fruit growers in terms of management and marketing. A worse situation in the future will compel them to take extreme steps like in the agriculture sector of the country. The government should take immediate steps to ensure minimum reduction in the import duty of apple.

Government should also take immediate steps to ensure production of good quality apples that can compete with other countries. Providing technical support to the growers on war footing basis is need of the hour. Supply of superior quality chemicals and fertilizers accompanied by guidance should be given priority. Replacement of old orchards with the high density apple trees, which comes under long term planning needs to be assisted by the government. 

B. A. Bhat  is an apple grower.

We need to create a pressure group: Abdul Shakoor


Zero import duty on imported apple will have a large negative effect on our industry. Less or no import duty means imported fruit will be available at cheaper rates implying our fruit will fetch less rate. 

We need to create a pressure group comprising of fruit growers, traders and civil society members to pressurize and deter the govt. from taking such step.

Abdul Shakoor is a fruit businessman from Shopian 

Farmer population is going to be at the receiving end: Riyaz Bhat


Under WTO, farmer population of developing countries is going to be at the receiving end.  

Informed public opinion needs to be developed amongst political class of India, Pakistan and other third world countries on these issues. 


Riyaz Bhat, a banker. is President, J&K Bank Officers Forum

It could severely impact the horticulture industry in Kashmir: Aatif Mehjoor

The potential lowering of import duties of apples could severely impact the horticulture industry in Kashmir. The State Government needs to stop this proposal before it is adopted. 

Kashmiri products are unlikely to be able to compete with Chinese imports benefiting from zero import duty, as Chinese orchards enjoy large scale and access to cheap inputs such as cheap credit.

The growers need to mobilise their trade associations to lobby the state and central Governments to oppose this proposal. They need to engage in intensive advocacy efforts to highlight the impact on them, especially the potential political consequences of damaging an important source of livelihood in the State.

We don't seem to be paying enough attention to WTO or other free trade pacts like RCEP.

We need to set up groups at governmental and civil society levels to monitor such developments and ensure they don't get adopted.

Aatif Ahmad Mehjoor is a barrister, based in the UK

Pattan hydropower project: another elephant in the river?

As Pakistan builds another 700 MW hydropower project in its administered Kashmir on the Jhelum river, would India follow suit? Ziraat Times speaks to cross-section of political and business leaders and analyses J&K’s current irrigation and energy situation

ZT Research Desk

Srinagar, Jan 5: 

Pakistani government has decided to construct a new 700 megawatts hydropower project on its administered Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) on the Jhelum River.  

The project, named as Azad Pattan Hydropower Project, is being funded through foreign financing at an estimated cost of $1.51 billion and is expected to be ready by 2022. The estimated cost would be a mix of 75% debt ($1.13 billion) and 25% equity ($379 million). The debt part includes foreign debt. 

This is the second major hydropower project in addition to the 969 MW Neelum-Jhelum Hydropower Project which the country is building on the Neelum river, called Kishenganga on this side of the Line of Control (LoC).

So, would it be another elephant in the room, rather an elephant in the river for the troubled water-sharing relations between India and Pakistan? Would it impact the existing power and irrigation projects in this part of Kashmir? 

Moreover, does it raise questions on the financing model of the hydropower projects on this side of J&K?

Jammu & Kashmir government spokesperson and Minister for Public Works, Naeem Akhtar, speaking to Ziraat Times, said that the construction of the Pattan Project is unlikely to have any economic impact on this part of Jammu & Kashmir. 

“The issue is that we are unable to harness our own share of water allocated under the Indus Waters Treaty. Our focus has to be on optimally utilising that share for energy and irrigation purposes in our state.” Mr Akhtar said.

When it comes to irrigation and net area sown in J&K State, only 7% of its total area is net sown area. The state’s total irrigated land area is 4.37 lakh hectares, out of which 1.90 lakh hectares fall in Kashmir and 2.47 lakh hectares fall in the Jammu region. 

As of 2016, the total unirrigated area in the state was 4.68 lakh hectares, out of which Jammu region’s area constituted 3.47 lakh hectares while Kashmir region’s area constituted 1.21 lakh hectares.

However, the 3.6-million acre feet of the allocated share of water under the Indus Waters Treaty to Jammu & Kashmir is yet to be fully utilised.

The water sharing of the common rivers of India and Pakistan is governed by the Indus Waters Treaty which was signed on September 19, 1960 by the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Pakistan's President Ayub Khan. 

Managing Director of Jammu & Kashmir Power Development Corporation (JKPDC), Shah Faesal, told Ziraat Times that the construction of the Azad Pattan Hydropower Project would not have any impact on the projects on this side of Jammu & Kashmir. 

“Our primary focus is on optimally utilising the share of the water resources that we have got as per the agreements of the Indus Waters Treaty. The fact is that we are not utilising that share in full as of now”, Mr Faesal told Ziraat Times.

Energy experts, however, believe that this project must make policy planners in this J&K to re-think the financing model of hydropower and irrigation projects on this side.

"See, we always have financing problems for projects in this J&K. If this state has easier access to foreign financing, available on easier terms, our pace of development of energy and irrigation infrastructure would be better", a Kashmiri energy expert told Ziraat Times. 

The announcement of the Azad Pattan Project comes close on the heels of Pakistan Indus Waters Commissioner Mirza Asif Baig saying last week that "Pakistan has clash with India on frequency of water flows and both the countries are fighting on this issue in the international court."

Pakistan has raised objections on the technical designs of 300 MW Kishenganga and 850 MW Ratle hydro power projects being built on the Kishenganga and the Chenab rivers. It argues that the designs are not in line with the provisions of the Indus Waters Treaty and that both projects were disturbing water flows to Pakistan .

President of the Youth National Conference, Salman Ali Sagar, told Ziraat Times that tussles between the two countries [India and Pakistan] always impacted Kashmir’s economic situation negatively.

“In the end, whatever decisions the two countries take, they should take our interests into consideration. We Kashmiris should be able to own our own resources”, Mr Salman added.

Pakistan’s contention on the Ratle Power Project on the Chenab is that "under the present design will reduce water flow of Chenab river."

At Head Marala the water flow would be reduced by around 40 percent, which is vital to the irrigation in Punjab, Mirza Asif Baig, Pakistan Indus Waters Commissioner, said at a press conference in Islamabad last week.

The World Bank is in process of mediation between the two countries on developing consensus in the light of Indus Waters Treaty to settle the issues of disagreement.

“This is a situation of no harm, no benefit for our part of Jammu & Kashmir. Overall, both the countries keep violating the political and economic rights of our people and we suffer”, Muhammad Yasin Khan, Chairman Kashmir Economic Alliance told Ziraat Times.

“Our main challenge is the power houses which are not in our control. J&K state is unable to generate power in the state sector to its own energy security”, Khan added.

Hydropower constitutes about 28% of Pakistan's total hydropower use. It is estimated that it still has significant unexploited hydel resources of which only about 12% have been developed and made operational. Pakistan has an action plan for further developing energy and irrigation infrastructure on the Sindh, the Jhelum and the Chenab in its part of J&K. 

“The construction of this hydropower project and any other projects downstream is unlikely to have any impact on this part of J&K. India is unlikely to have objections given that this is an issue concerning lower riparian rights of Pakistan”, Shakil Ramshoo, Earth Sciences Department told Ziraat Times.

“However, you never know how the future would unfold when it comes to the relations between the two countries”, he added.

Siraj Ahmad, Convenor of Joint Coordination Committee (JCC) , an amalgam of business and trade associations of Kashmir, spearheading a movement for economic rights in J&K, is of the view that utmost priority as of now was to find a durable solution to the basic Kashmir dispute. 

“Both the countries keep claiming their rights on the waters of the rivers flowing through Jammu & Kashmir, but it is the people of this state who are actually suffering for want to basic human, political and economic rights”, Mr. Siraj added.  

Shahtoosh ban:will J&K follow up parliamentary panel report?

In April '17, a Parliamentary Panel recommended lifting of the Shahtoosh ban. Have follow-ups been done? ZT investigates.

ZT Lead Story

Srinagar, Dec 31: In April 2017, a parliamentary panel recommended lifting of the ban on the trade in shahtoosh shawls. However, even as eight months have passed by, there are hardly any indications to suggest that the issue has been followed up by Jammu & Kashmir government.

The ban was imposed on the trade in year 2000.

The parliamentary committee, headed by Congress MP Renuka Chowdhury, had suggested that the environment ministry “should conserve and breed the chiru goats” on vast tracts of land and give the antelopes to weavers for collecting wool.

Bashir Ahmed Rather, President Kashmir Traders and Manufacturers Federation (KTMF) told ZIraat Times that the Parliamentary committee’s recommendation was a good thing and that it must be followed up.

“Shahtoosh trade is a considerable source of livelihood in the state. If the ban is lifted, it will definitely be good for the economy”, Mr Bashir added. 

Shahtoosh shawls are made from the fur of a Tibetan antelope, locally called chiru, which some conservation agencies see as “endangered”. The shahtoosh shawl making has been providing livelihood opportunities to thousands of families across Jammu and Kashmir, mainly in Ladakh and Kashmir regions.

The Jammu and Kashmir government, which was initially reluctant to impose the ban on the ground that thousands of families were depended on the trade for their living, eventually extended the restriction in 2000 after a reported fall in the number of antelopes.

"State authorities have never bothered to take up the issue seriously", says Furhat Subla, a prominent businessman, adding that Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industries (KCCI) always wanted the ban be lifted.

"What we havent been able to do is raise the problems of women spinners and combers of wool, who are the main sufferers" says Subla, adding while the matter was taken up with the then State Women's Commission chairperson Dr Girja Dhar, nothing came out of that process.

Kashmiris have been weaving shahtoosh, meaning “king of wools” in Persian, for centuries. Considered one of the finest wools in the world, the use of its shawls is considered an elite status symbol in well-to-do societies, including in the United Kingdom.

Recent evidence gathered from 3000-year old Burzahoum archeological site near Dal Lake suggests Kashmiris have been weaving fabric during the neolithic period itself. There is no evidence to suggest that the fabric made in Kashmir during the neolithic period was shahtoosh. 

Speaking to Ziraat Times, Pawan Kumar Sharma, Joint Director, Handicrafts Department, said he was not aware of any follow ups made by the state to the parliamentary panel recommendations.

Officials at the Craft Development Institute, Srinagar, which conducts quality tests on and hallmarks Pashmina, were not aware of any moves to get the ban lifted.

“All we know is that the ban remains in place. We do not know much about the recommendations by the parliamentary panel”, Yasir Mir, Senior Faculty at the CDI told Ziraat Times. 

Repeated attempts to reach Director, Handicrafts Department, for his comments did not succeed till this report was filed.  

People who have remained associated with the trade insist that the state government must proactively engage on the issue and pick up the threads from where the Renuka Chowdhary-led committee left it. 

Ziraat Times view:

There is a strong case for introducing largescale captive breeding of Chiru not only in Leh, Kargil and Zanskar areas but also in certain areas of Kishtwar, Anantnag, Ganderbal, Srinagar and other districts in J&K state.

While protecting an endangered specie has to be a priority, there is no reason why captive breeding on scientific lines, without the extreme step of killing the entilope, cannot be introduced.  

Shahtoosh shawls are a global favourite, with immense scope of commercial scaleup, something that could give immense fillip to the state's waning handicrafts industry. Captive breeding will go a long way in protecting and increase the Chiru population, both in the wild and in controlled breeding conditions. It will also generate considerable job oppotunities across the breeding, processing, fabric making, stitching and marketing chain. 

Jammu & Kashmir government must explore all options in ensuring lifting of the ban and introducing captive breeding of the Chiru. The Renuka Chowdhary-led Parlimentary Committee's recommendation could be one strong starting point on the issue.