ABRAR UL MUSTAFA
Budget 2021 was paperless. It was presented from a tablet. Before the budget announcement, there were widespread speculations about an upswing in healthcare, fiscal harmony, education, vaccination, and joblessness. Economists had a hybrid sentiment concerning fiscal levelheadedness and the ration of resources. While some economists surmised in fiscal tactfulness, others foretold unpacking of spending spans. Some other economists thought that GDP transition, fiscal vocation and spending can linger; joblessness and health have to be dealt with. Monday’s Budget was an endeavour to stay balanced and cover all perspectives. It was triumphant to a tangible breadth. Yet, it circumvented many fundamental matters like Education, Employment and Tax.
The introductory and leading highlight was the outlay for the healthcare vicinity. From a minuscule allocation of 96,000 Crores, this sector is going to win a mega carton of cash as gigantic as Rs 2.23 lakh crores. This is a whopping upgrade of 137%. Hopefully, now common man will be in a position to avail of better healthcare services. We, however, will have to gaze and gawk how the policies are carried out in verity. Besides, this allocation is going to be bolstered in the future years as affirmed by the Finance Minister. Succeeding acuity of Monday’s Budget was Rs 35,000 Crore crate for corona vaccination. On a flip side, nonetheless, we have rationales to surmise that it may be beguiled. That is because, several sub-sectors—that are not directly healthcare sectors—have been accommodated. These are areas like Aayush, etc. This has to be scrutinized in the coming days when there is unmistakable translucence.
Our incomes are axed by taxes. We needed a robust and comprehensive financial policy. We need clear-cut employment, education, livelihood policy. The policymakers at the helm of the affairs should devise practical strategies.
There were a few exemptions concerning Income Tax Return (ITR). Those senior citizens who are over 75—and are earning only pension and bank interest—are exempted from filing of returns. This does not mean that there is any concession in tax for such people. It is just a respite regarding who has to file a return. Likewise, ITRs for the salaried class would be prefilled with the earnings from salary and bank interest. This would make the filing of return slightly easier. These are not concrete windfalls or exemptions.
One of the heftiest punchlines of Sitharaman’s budget speech was that of Fiscal Deficit. She announced that the Fiscal Deficit is pegged at 9.5%. She also added that this gap would be narrowed down to 4.5% in the years to come. An economic analysis, however, makes it clear that this would not be a cakewalk for the NDA government. She said that the government would resort to borrowings and would approach the market to fulfil the announced appraisals. This, however, seems unlikely. All governments so far have been unable to maintain a narrow fiscal gap. Hand in hand with fiscal discipline and balance, the government has shifted its gear towards spending. This is in line with what was predicted.
There were some statements in the Fin Min’s speech which neutralised each other. For example, she induced an agricultural cess over petrol and diesel. This additional cess was, on the other hand, neutralised by a reduction in import duty. This would leave the overall effect over the prices of petrol and diesel unchanged for consumers. On the same lines, an additional duty was announced over imported apples, etc. This is also unlikely to affect the prices of domestic produce. The overall impact of these changes is negligible.
A ’Bad Bank’ has been introduced. According to Sitharaman’s speech, it would be a new bank that takes care of the bad debts of other banks. It would be like shaking the balance sheet of other banks, accumulate all bad loans and put into the Bad Bank. For now, the idea seems promising. It would focus on the recovery and management of Non-performing Assets (NPAs). The other banks may carry out normal business without bothering about their bad debts. How constructive the plan may prove would depend upon the capital infusion, policy framework, execution and other details of the newly proposed bank.
Moving toward the disinvestment and privatisation front, it has been a lamentable budget. To the amazement of any sane economist, the government announced that an Insurance Company and two Public Sector Undertaking (PSU) banks would be privatised. In common parlance, it means it is going to auction its assets. Their reasons are not reasonable. If some banks are not in a strong position, it doesn’t mean you would sell them. You need to make a targeted and planned intervention and cure their rotten balance sheets. Deal cannot resue. Who sells assets, after all? In multiplication to this, disinvestment will be made in the Life Insurance Corporation (LIC). Where are we heading to? It is just like selling an aeroplane and buying a kite. It would fly for some time. But it would soon come tumbling down. Tough times are truly ahead. On the other hand, a layout of Rs 20,000/- Crores as a capital infusion to Public sector banks has been made. This is aimed at making them able to comply with the regulatory norms.
On the social impact side, some budget outputs would affect common masses. There is a vehicle scrapping policy. Now, old vehicles that are more than 20 years old—and 15 years in case of a commercial vehicle—will have to pass a check before they are allowed to ply on roads. If they fail—which is quite a possibility—you will have to sell it and buy a new car. Another option is to station it in a corner of your courtyard and keep it fresh for memory and display! Coming onto what a common man asks after every budget: What is dearer and what is cheaper? Well, gold and invaluable metals are now cheaper. TV sets, Washing Machines, LED lamps, Air Conditioners, etc will be expensive. A common man and a middle-class man needs food, shelter, clothes, some affordable gadgets. These are dearer now. However, fair news comes for those whose wedding is in the offing. Buy gold now or wait for some more days. The yellow metal is going to get cheaper.
A government is for the people. It must listen to the people. The public has been reeling under joblessness. The education of our children is in the doldrums. Their future appears uncertain and dark. Our incomes are axed by taxes. We needed a robust and comprehensive financial policy. We need clear-cut employment, education, livelihood policy. The policymakers at the helm of the affairs should devise practical strategies. They must not beat around the bush. Hope good sense thrives in the days to arrive.
The author is an MBA, NET, IBPS qualified. He works as Manager Scale-II in the Middle Management of a reputed PSU Bank. The views are personal
Women shaping informal sector in Kashmir
The informal sector is defined as the unregistered part of an economy. In a traditional economy, it is assumed that every business entity is formally registered with the government. A proper registration of a business unit is associated with a number of economic, political and social factors. All the registered units to begin with are enumerated in the industrial census. It keeps the government and policy makers informed about the number and nature of the units. The economic and industrial policies are made and shaped in light of these numbers. Social welfare is decided based on the outcomes coming from these registered units. And the long run industrial and economic planning is carried systematically based on information and evidence from the ground.
Quite contrary to this established smooth channel of economic growth and transition, the developing and under-developed parts of the world have been reflecting self-curated unique trends. First of all, the formal sector has not been able to expand as expected. This has led to limited employment opportunities coming from this sector to the ever-increasing populations and youth bulges. As an instinct to survive, people are forced to find some or other kind of employment. This has led to the creation of and the growth of the informal sector across these pockets of the world. The case of India is one of the fundamental ones. The Indian economy is characterized as having one of the most unique and large informal sectors across the world. 80% to 85% Indian population is estimated to be employed directly and indirectly in the informal sector.
Empirics show that Jammu and Kashmir has reflected growth in the informal sector over time. On the eve of the creation of the welfare state in the region headed by Sheikh M Abdullah, a socialistic model of development was brought into practice. It was called, ‘The Naya Kashmir Manifesto’. Among other things, one of the main agendas of the manifesto was to set in place a public sector-led industrialization process in J&K. As such, all the industries established under the Naya Kashmir Manifesto are a-priori classified as the formal sector firms. The political instability and fragility in the region kept on increasing and the focus of the government as predicted by theory and validated by practice shifted to peace restoration activities. This gave a back-lash to the public sector lead industrialization process in the region.
Steadily people began to look for alternative means of livelihood and subsistence. This set in place the informal sector across all the pockets of the region. The instability during the decades of 1990s, followed by various political and natural shocks during the 2000s made people realize that each person must be skilful and must practice the same in order to keep on bringing in sustenance money. The Kashmir division is particularly known to be diversified in various types of craft. From Ari work, through Tilla designing, people have bene utilising their skills to cash in some money. The wood-carving, Pashmina making and many distinct skills indigenous to Kashmir have been practiced in the informal sector by both men and women over time.
Of late there has been an Information Technology boom. The 2000 AD has seen a drastic revolutionising of the world through the spread of the World Wide Web. Mobile phone penetration has made the world an accessible global village. The social media applications of Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp have empowered people in a number of ways. People started off with sharing their pictures and highlighting their skills online on social media platforms. On receiving appreciation their confidence rose and soon people started to ask if some of their skills could be shared or used.
These platforms have greatly affected the economic well-being of the women located across various regions of Kashmir. Initially, women from different ages and social backgrounds strolled these platforms. Some of them enhanced their existing skills or learnt new ones online. This was followed by trying a hand at the commercialisation of the same, which in many cases has yielded a positive response. There are a number of examples that can be quoted as brief case studies in the present article.
The Instagram page by the handle of @makeupshakeupbynidanazir evolved over time. Nida has always been fond of make-up and lipsticks. As a child she always bought makeup and accessories from her pocket money. Applied the same on her dolls, herself, her cousins and her mother and grandmother occasionally. Over time she mastered the skill. From turning pages of magazines to learning online through YouTube etc. her skills enhanced steadily. It was her friend’s engagement and Nida offered to do her make-up. The outcomes were really appreciable. The friends decided to open up on online platform to display her make-up skills. The bookings soon followed and today Nida is a known name in the local make-up industry.
Saba married a doctor who lived in Saudi Arabia. Soon after her marriage, she moved to KSA with her husband. She always liked chocolates and began exploring the chocolates of KSA. Later in 2016, she shifted back to Kashmir with her kids. The kids and herself started missing the unique chocolates of KSA. One day Saba decided to curate her own. The chocolates turned out to be good. She shared the same with her sister and cousins. She was influenced to upload the same on Instagram. Steadily, the popularity of her chocolates grew and orders started to flow in. Today Saba is an established name in the curated and customized local chocolate industry.
There are innumerable other success stories which will be discussed steadily. But the underlying point of the present article is that the informal sector in Kashmir has been growing ever since the formal industrial set-up took a back-set during 1950s. Initially it was hidden and the returns were menial or limited. However, with the growth of the internet boom the women in the region have been able to harness the benefits and the informal sector has been growing steadily and sustainably. In Kashmir, this sector can be directly related to women’s empowerment and is expected to increase steadily over time.
The author teaches at the Department of Economics, Islamic University of Science and Technology, J&K and can be reached at [email protected]
Rural mart inaugurated under NABARD scheme
Shopian, Sept 20: National Bank for Agriculture & Rural Development (NABARD) has collaborated with National Rural Livelihood Mission (NRLM) for extending the grant support to SHGs promoted by NRLM for setting up rural marts. These marts aim to promote and provide a platform for women’s self-help groups to market their handmade products.
The rural mart was inaugurated on 20 Sept 2022, at Shopian
Dr AK Sood, CGM NABARD J&K, SSP Shopian Tanushree, NRLM Reyaz Ahmad, and ADDC Shopian, Manzoor Hussain were present for the inauguration ceremony.
The mart will give numerous SHGs an opportunity to sell their homemade goods, including apparel, handloom and handicraft products, homemade food items, dry fruits, and more.
For a period of three years, NABARD has agreed to commit Rs 4.79 lakh as financial support for each rural market. NABARD will pay for the components, such as shop rent, salesman salaries, marketing costs, and other miscellaneous expenses.
Dr Sood, CGM NABARD, urged the female SHG members to use the mart as an opportunity for economic growth and to guarantee the continuity, quality, and quantity of local goods for both locals and tourists.
Additional Mission Director NRLM commended SHGs for taking such a unique initiative in the district.
“Rural mart to be run by female SHGs is the first step towards women empowerment in the district,” said Tanushree, SSP Shopian
Members of various SHGs from the district attended the event. Deputy General Manager NABARD Surinder Singh, District Development Manager NABARD Rouf Zargar, DPMs NRLM Uzma Mehraj and Irfan were also present on the occasion.
Wood shortage, high prices due to Russia-Ukraine war affect timber business in Kashmir
Srinagar: Every summer Altaf Ahmad 35, a small timber trader from north Kashmir Baramulla district used to be busy with his timber business, but this year instead of attending to customers at his unit, Altaf spends his day playing cricket in his village outskirts. The war in far-off lands has affected his business badly.
The prices of KD Wood mostly imported from Russia and Ukraine have soared many times, while the supply had dwindled.
“The Russia-Ukraine war has badly hit our timber business in Kashmir. This is the construction season here, we were expecting our business will double as there was lockdown from the past two seasons because of Covid19, but due to the war we are on the verge of complete breakdown this season too,” said Altaf Ahmad.
Altaf believes that their business is at a halt not only because of less supply of timber but also due to the less demand due to price rises as customers are reluctant to purchase at higher rates.
“There is the increase of 20% to 50% in the rates that has abruptly brought down the demand because customers are unable to purchase on such higher rates. We used to earn a good profit, but are presently on destruction mode where survival seems very much difficult,” said Altaf
Russia is one of the highest timber suppliers in the world and ranks as the seventh biggest exporter of forest products worldwide, which accounts for 22% of the global trade. And it clearly shows that the global market will continuously impact as long the Russia-Ukraine war continues. A country like China, which is in support of Russia in the conflict, has also been affected by limited trade sanctions as it depends on the import of timber, logs, and wood chips even for their domestic use.
Halted construction work
For Sajad, who was planning to complete the pending works of his newly built house and get married next year, the Russia- Ukraine conflict has brought a tsunami of hopelessness because the sudden surge in the timber rates has halted his plans of construction work and marriage back home, he feels it is unbearable to bear all the expenses in such a tough situation where other commodities all already in the surge.
“The sudden increase in timber rates halted all my construction works because, I was expected to purchase timber say for example for Rs 1 lakh, now it will cost me Rs 1.5 lakhs an increase of fifty thousand. Now, I am too confused about whether to do it or not,” said Sajad Ahmad from the Bemina area of Srinagar.
Showkat Ahmad another timber trader from North Kashmir says Ukraine timber was mostly used in Kashmir for the past couple of years as compared to Russian and German timber because Ukraine timber was available at cheaper rates. With a war going on in Ukraine the demand for German and Russia will arise, but it’s going very much costlier for customers.
“People prefer Ukraine timber because it’s easily affordable for them in contrast with German and Russian timber due to its low cost. The war in Ukraine has put everyone both (buyer and seller) in a catch22 situation because one doesn’t know what’s going to happen next,” says Showkat Ahmad who deals with the timber business for the past decade.
Business Kashmir visited various units in central and north Kashmir among them was Changa Timber Gallery, Sopore.
“I am into this business for the last one year but, I think this kind of situation will only benefit those dealers who have piles of stock available in the stores because they can increase rates on that stock which they have purchased at low rates earlier and a trader like me will go more into loss due to these unprecedented rates who’s new into this business and has very much less stock available at times,” says Aijaz Ahmad Changa, a 30-year-old BCom graduate.
Kashmiri Timber Traders mostly purchase timber from Gujarat and in Gujarat, they directly import the timber from Russia, Ukraine, and Germany. Business Kashmir contacted Singla Timbers Private Limited one of the oldest timber factories in Mithirhar, Gandhidham Gujarat who are in this business since 1946.
“The whole world is witnessing inflation it will remain for some time maybe for another year and there is also less supply of timber from the last few months because of that we are witnessing an increase in the rates of timber,” says Pulkit Singla director Singla Timbers.
“Kashmiri traders prefer Ukraine timber because of low price, but at the same time Ukraine timber also differs in quality in comparison to others.”
He says the lack of local wood production forces people to buy imported wood.
“India only imports 2% of the world produced timber. The local timber in India is not of that quality and one has gone through a long process before getting its access. The forests are like agricultural fields for countries like Russia and Ukraine, they cut the trees and do the plantation of it again and again but, in India, that thing is lacking. It’s also because of the weather,” he said.
Altaf and other timber traders in Kashmir are now waiting and praying for the end of the war in Ukraine so that their business will see that charm again.
“I only want the war in Ukraine to end, so that our miseries will also end,” concluded Altaf.
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