The economy of Jammu and Kashmir is known for its ironic characteristics. Being a mountainous region the agricultural potential does not go beyond subsistence. Climatic extremities with geographic remoteness limit the viability of the industrial sector. The services sector like the rest of the nation has been pacing up. The contrary facts include a low incidence of poverty in the region as compared to the rest of India. Low levels of inequality and possession of some or other assets by every household. All this comes in the business environment of fragility characterised by conflict. The major business shocks in the previous decade can be broadly summed up as (i) the 2010 agitation resulting in mass lockdown, (ii) 2014 flood, (iii) 2016 agitation, (iv) blanket curfew of 2019, and (v) ongoing sprouts of pandemic lockdowns since 2020.
All these features can be visualized through two lenses. The first and obvious one that of loss of economic opportunities. The second one not so obvious is the resilience that has developed among the people over time. Given the fragility in the region that has lasted for decades on a stretch, the businesses having the least shock resistance have ceased to exist and the businesses having the resistance to face the jolts and challenges have continued to exist.
The business viability in Jammu and Kashmir is focused on necessity-based goods over any other type be it non-necessity items or luxuries. Jammu and Kashmir continues to be a hotspot consumer economy feeding on the output from the industrialization process concurrent with the rest of the county. This increases the leakages from the local economy, boosting the rest of the nation. As a result, the overall growth in general and industrial growth, in particular, in a crippled form currently.
Every economy consists of the formal and informal sectors. On the same lines, the economy of Jammu and Kashmir can be bifurcated into the formal and informal parts when it comes to major economic activities excluding agriculture. Broadly the formal sector can be defined as the firms that are registered with the relevant government authorities and have fixed working hours and wages. This part of the economy is stark visible and open to scrutiny all the time. On the contrary, the informal sector is hard to locate and lacks features like formal registration, fixed wages and working hours, labour unions and formal channels of business.
State-level secondary data shows that the major economic activity that has continued over time in the formal sector is the manufacturing of insecticides, rodenticides, fungicides, and herbicides etc. The reason for the persistent survival of these units is the inelastic demand for their output. Jammu and Kashmir economy is predominantly an agrarian economy and lately has been turning into a horticulture economy. Given its association with the land, it is unmoved by factors like conflict and pandemics. Thus, the viability of this business in the region is the greatest with a fair possibility of supernormal profits given the excess of demand for the output as compared to the existing level of supply in the region.
This is followed by the flour mills. The demand for flour in the region is high as people habitually as a matter of culture consume approximately three teas a day. The tea in the region unlike the rest of the country is taken with either homemade or ‘Kandur’ made roti. This factor keeps the demand for flour inelastic in the region and the business turns out to be shock resistant. In the region, several households prefer to go directly to the mill and buy fresh flour than to buy the packed versions from the store. This business, though small in scale has sustainable potential in the region.
The manufacturing of allopathic medicines and allied goods is also a viable and sustainable business here. Given the necessity-based demand for the goods produced by these firms, no kind of shock impacts the demand for the medicines. In light of the harsh winter, a high-intensity conflict in the past and the current pandemic people in Jammu and Kashmir tend to hoard and stock medicines that last for more than a month. At the same time, the frequent change in weather throughout the year makes people more vulnerable to seasonal illnesses like flu and the common cold. This factor has always kept the demand for regular medicines high. The Kashmir region especially has a culture of having high-fat foods, dairy products, spicy and sweet foods all leading to diabetics and high blood pressure. These factors additionally contribute to the high demand for pharmaceuticals in the region.
The mountainous geography coupled with harsh climatic conditions increase the wear and tear cost of the transport goods. As a result, people have to take extra care of their vehicles. This increases the potential of the businesses to sustain that deal with the maintenance and repair of motor vehicles. One of the basic characteristic features of the local population, predominantly in the Kashmir region is owning at least one motorized vehicle per household. Given the experience of the locals with uncertainty and the frequent shutting down of the public transport because of the same has made the motorized vehicle a basic necessity in the region. The existence of more vehicles in a region points out the high demand for maintenance for the same thus the viability of the business in the region. Another business sector closely associated with the geographic, climatic and conflict-related conditions is the need and necessity of the Kashmiri households to have a permanent, pucca and owned roof over their head. This has spiked the demand for all the raw materials used in the construction of the house. Now that the construction process has modernized the demand for cement is higher than ever-increasing the viability of this type of business activity in the region.
Demand for power generators is high in the region because of the lack of regular electricity. Though Jammu and Kashmir has a very high potential for hydro-power, a number of technical and political factors have kept it from the Pareto-improvement. As a result, the region has been facing a severe shortage of electricity, especially in the winters. To keep the houses and offices lit and warm the demand for alternate sources has always been high. As a result, the viability of the firms manufacturing and assembling power generators is high in the region.
For the local youth seeking entrepreneurial ventures, the good news stand hidden as a blessing in disguise. The necessity goods industry has a huge scope of potential with the least risk of failure. The indigenous formal industrialization process in Jammu and Kashmir can begin with the startups producing the inelastic necessity goods.
While having more and different types of clothes is a luxury for people across most parts of the country, it is a necessity in this part. The frequent change in climate and four strongly different and influential seasons demand different types of clothes. Extreme weather in January declines to minus 10 degrees sometimes while summer goes beyond 30 degrees. The poorest of the poor need accommodating clothes. At the same time by tastes, an average Kashmiri is highly considerate about what (s)he wears. These factors have always sustained the viability of the clothing industry in the region. The demand is very high while the supply is extremely short. The clothes market of Kashmir has been the hotspot of producers across the country. Consequently, the importance and viability of this particular type of business can’t be ruled out from the high viability rating.
There are a limited number of places where the Willow tree grows. As a matter of comparative advantage, Kashmir is one such region. The highest demand for Willow wood comes from the cricket bat industry. However, the lack of relevant policy intervention from the government and a lack of market boost have crippled the sports goods industry in the region for a long time continuing to date. In light of the same, one of the prime business segments in the region is the sports goods industry. In the current state of affairs, the potential is very high but the current situation is way below efficiency. A relevant policy intervention can change the whole potential of this business and increase the overall viability of sports goods production in the region.
It can be concluded that the business viability in the region of Jammu and Kashmir is focused on necessity-based goods over any other type of good be it non-necessity items or luxuries. Jammu and Kashmir continues to be a hotspot consumer economy feeding on the output from the industrialization process concurrent with the rest of the county. This increases the leakages from the local economy, boosting the rest of the nation. As a result, the overall growth in general and industrial growth, in particular, is in a crippled form currently. However, for the local youth seeking entrepreneurial ventures, the good news stands hidden as a blessing in disguise. The necessity goods industry has a huge scope of potential with the least risk of failure. The indigenous formal industrialization process in Jammu and Kashmir can begin with the startups producing the inelastic necessity goods. … to be continued …
Specialising in the industrial process of J&K, the author is a Senior Research Fellow in the University of Kashmir’s Economics Department. She 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.
Omicron, economy and budget deficits
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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