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Editorial | Budgeting Growth 

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High on infrastructure development, healthcare, Union Budget for 2021-22 unable to address J&K’s needs

Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman presented the central budget for the financial year at the beginning of this week in Parliament. The Union Budget 2021-22 presented after COVID19 pandemic caused havoc across the world and shattered the economies, including that of India. It has focussed on measures which shall bring back the country on the growth path again.

The financial year 2020-21 witnessed the economy of the country to contract by about 24% in the first quarter. While the GDP for the current fiscal year is estimated to witness a negative growth of about 7.7% in real terms.

Keeping in consideration the recession, the finance minister has taken the challenge, to bring back the economy, head-on. The budget she presented has focussed on boosting infrastructure and spending on healthcare particularly. She has increased the capital expenditure by 34% to Rs 5.4 lakh crore. Similarly, Aatmanirbhar or Make in India has remained the key focus, with a slew of policy measures like enhancing customs duties and targeting local production.

Not only the package was missing, but the allocation for J&K – which would earlier come as the state share of taxes and special grants – in the budget too didn’t see any increase as compared to what was provided in the last budget. 

The finance minister has laid six pillars for the budget: the health and well-being, physical and financial capital and infrastructure, inclusive development for aspirational India, reinvigorating human capital, innovation and R&D, and the minimum government, maximum governance. These pillars will make a strong foundation for the Indian economy.

While the fiscal deficit target is high, she has taken some bold steps to generate the resource. Disinvestment of two PSU banks and a major state-owned insurance company will provide much-needed capital for the various projects and schemes. Similarly, the hikes in customs duties will, on one hand, provide finance to the government while; on other hand, it will benefit make in India.  

Similarly, the Agriculture Infrastructure and Development Cess will help to provide much-needed succour to the farming sector, as it will make the availability of estimated Rs 30,000 crore for building the basic infrastructure and logistic chain for the food products.

Though above all measures are also expected to generate employment but given the job losses across sectors due to pandemic, the FM should have paid special attention to job creation. That is missing in the budget. Also, the working class middle-income people needed some tax concessions, which would have put some more disposable income in the hands of people. Besides, it will have increased demand for goods and services.  

Back home, there is not much reason for people to cheer. There was the expectation of a special package for Jammu and Kashmir in the Union Budget among the business community. J&K is facing an uncertain situation for a long time, which has hampered overall business and development in the now Union Territory, which needed special attention. Not only the package was missing, but the allocation for J&K – which would earlier come as the state share of taxes and special grants – in the budget too didn’t see any increase as compared to what was provided in the last budget. 

The finance minister has, though, announced the revival of the gas pipeline project for the UT, which was first announced many years ago.

Economy

Wood shortage, high prices due to Russia-Ukraine war affect timber business in Kashmir

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Wood Shortage high prices

Malik Nisar

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.

Wood Shortage high prices

“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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Omicron, economy and budget deficits

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Omicron economy budget deficits

Dr BinishQadri

The World Health Organization on November 26, 2021, labelled variant B.1.1.529 a variant of great alarm, named Omicron, on the advice of WHO’s Technical Advisory on Virus Evolution (TAG-VE). Extensive evidence was presented to this advisory that Omicron has several mutations affecting its behaviour.

Research is coming up at different levels to get hold of different aspects of Omicron in a better way.  There is much ambiguity about whether there is more transmission in Omicron as compared to other variants, including the Delta variant. South Africa has seen the number of people testing positive increasing as a result of this variant. Many epidemiologic studies are in progress that aims at knowing if the positive cases are rising because of Omicron or some other factors.

One of the biggest aims of economies is resource allocation involving a balance between our priorities and competing needs so as to get the most suitable economic action. Any fiscal policy demands a judicious attitude in pursuing the goal of resource allocation and distribution. Fiscal discipline should reduce fluctuations in income, output, and employment.

Whether it is omicron or anything else the fact is that all facets of the current pandemic have in one way or the other way affected economies of the world in general and underdeveloped in particular. It is very important to correct all economic and social odds.

Fiscal indiscipline is an important characteristic related to all shocks of all times and COVID19 is no exception. Fiscal indiscipline implies that our governments are not maintaining good fiscal positions that coincide with macroeconomic stability and economic growth that is all-inclusive and sustained. Borrowing in large numbers and amassing debt like anything are enemies of every economy. The dual actions are responsible for the creation of fiscal crunches. To achieve the target of Fiscal discipline it is necessary for governments to maintain fiscal positions that are consistent with macroeconomic stability and economic growth that is sustained by letter and spirit. In order to create and maintain fiscal etiquette, there should be an avoidance of debt accumulation and excessive borrowing.

One of the biggest aims of economies is resource allocation involving a balance between our priorities and competing needs so as to get the most suitable economic action. Any fiscal policy demands a judicious attitude in pursuing the goal of resource allocation and distribution. Fiscal discipline should reduce fluctuations in income, output, and employment. COVID19 and all its variants no doubt have generated fiscal indiscipline which is why all governments should be prudent to create ‘‘budgetary beanbags’’ to combat all shocks and disturbances and to deal with anticipated economic and fiscal burdens.

Economists surveyed by Reuters argue that economies should emphasize fiscal judiciousness as there is a declining trend in the Indian economy. Lead Economist at Emkay Global Financial Services, Madhavi Arora argues that Omicron and the allied bad repercussions have a short end and is in no way a long-lasting wave.

A fiscal deficit connotes a gap in a government’s income compared with its spending thereby meaning that there is a fiscal dearth in the government spending beyond its means. There is a dip in the fiscal deficit from 135.1% in the April-November period of the previous financial year to 46.2% in the current financial year. There is a need for fiscal consolidation and all the fiscal policies carried out by the government at all levels must aim at reducing their deficits and debt stock build-up.

In order to understand Omicron and its impact on the Indian economy and other emerging markets, planners need to Google and start thinking about consolidating their budget deficits post COVID19 years. They need to include a series of fiscal responsibility laws, fiscal guidelines, and fiscal assistance (dynamic organizations in particular).

The strategy and implementation policy, alongside economic (fiscal) and political commitment are necessary and sufficient conditions for the effective strengthening of fiscal discipline during shocks.

Dr Binish Qadri is an assistant professor at the Department of Economics, University of Kashmir. You can reach her at [email protected]

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UAE delegation announces establishment of Kashmir Business Centre in Dubai: KCCI

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Kashmir Business Centre in Dubai

Malik Nisar

Srinagar: To facilitate J&K-based startups and entrepreneurs in Gulf countries for opening their operations, the UAE-based visiting business delegation has announced to open Kashmir Business Centre in Dubai, Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industries (KCCI) said in a press conference on Tuesday.

A 30-member UAE business delegation is on a four-day official visit to Jammu and Kashmir to explore the investment opportunities in the region.
President, KCCI, Sheikh Ashiq said during an interaction meeting with the local business community, the UAE-based delegation announced that a Kashmir Business Centre will be set up in Dubai for providing support to J&K-based entrepreneurs and connecting them to the relevant people there.
Ashiq said, KCCI not only welcomes the announcement but with the consent of the government will try its best that it materialises. He said the centre will also prove fruitful for a large number of youth, who go there in search of jobs.
Secretary General of KCCI, Farooq Amin, added that the business centre will provide an opportunity to young entrepreneurs who want to explore their new ideas but do not find them viable here. He said these new entrepreneurs will get the chance to explore their innovative ideas in the global market. The business centre will be more kind of an incubation facility, he added.
Amin said some of these youngsters have already presented their business ideas in the meeting and received applause from the UAE delegation. They will now directly contact these young entrepreneurs and will invest in their business.
Sheikh Ashiq said they are also mulling to send a J&K business delegation comprising of all the sectors to UAE for exploring the market for various kinds of produce and handicrafts there.
While welcoming the delegation for their investment proposals in J&K, KCCI hoped that local businessmen will be also included in their plans.
Ashiq said the delegation will also prove beneficial for the tourism promotion of the region as they will spread the word about the beauty and culture of Kashmir.
“We also told them that we need more international connectivity and we want global market should open for our people. Through these initiatives the unemployment rate can be brought down,” Ashiq said.

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