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Vision 2020’ fails Kashmir in 2002

Last week’s much-hyped 3-day multi-million investment jamboree, Kashmir Vision 2020, failed to offer significant economic hope to the strife-ridden state.

Jun 24, 2002, 12.47 AM IST
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SRINAGAR: Last week’s much-hyped 3-day multi-million investment jamboree, Kashmir Vision 2020, failed to offer significant economic hope to the strife-ridden state. Kashmir watchers say its failure was anticipated because the timing of the event was wrong, coming as it did in the wake of the massive build-up along the LoC, a nasty military stand-off with neighbouring Pakistan and an uncertain political future with the state elections nowhere near to being finalised.
Aimed at seeking investments in various sectors, this “international exhibition & business summit� eventually turned out to be a routine academic exercise with experts and policy makers exchanging ideas and exploring future possibilities.
Though officially it was let out that the event was attended by over 100 delegates, in reality just a dozen “prospective investors� turned up. A senior state government official admitted as much to the failure when he confessed, “Eight of them (business delegates) left the next morning and two more, the day after. That just about left one or two businessmen of Kashmiri origin who soon got busy with friends.�
A spokesman for organiser Wecom, a subsidiary of Wisitex, said: “Some 35 cancellations were conveyed to us within half-an-hour of the news of attack on chief minister Farooq Abdullah.�
Confirming the panic, the state’s director of industries Mohammed Salim Beig said: “PHD Chamber of Commerce was committed to send a huge delegation. They even fixed their management committee meeting in Srinagar on June 19. At the last moment, however, they wanted to send across just some representatives. We told PHD, no, thanks.�
The authorities also faced a major embarrassment as some key speakers did not turn up after their names were printed on invitation cards and distributed. So, Srinagar chamber of commerce is now getting around to make a mockery of the non-event. Says one of its spokesmen, “Kashmir Vision – 2020 is day dreaming. This is much ado about nothing. We are planning to organise Glimpse Kashmir – 2002 to highlight problem local units are facing.�
Another official had this to say: “The prime minister came to Kupwara and called for war. We were aware of the limitations of the initiative. We tried to cancel the event but it was too late. Finally, we decided to at least convey a strong message that Kashmir is craving for investments.�
Says Labroo Brij Mohan, chairman of the Rs 1,000 crore Asahi India Safety Glass Ltd: “Nobody sets up industries on humanitarian grounds. Profit is the primary motive. You cannot convince people against many odds. When you offer a flag car with security to an investor, your case gets week. They see investments are vulnerable to the situation. The latest sops being offered by the Union government can be the only incentive that can attract an investor to J&K.�
His apt observations notwithstanding, it is this Kashmiri Pandit industrialist who could offer a face-saver to the J&K government. He has already sunk nearly Rs 4 crore in two hops plants, a pharmaceutical unit and an in-house pager systems unit. All of these have been adversely hit in the face of militancy. “We are trying to restructure Samir Paging Systems (which has a PSU partner) with a foreign collaborator so that fresh machinery can be installed,� he said. Mr Brij Mohan may eventually come to Kashmir but right now, Jammu is his first choice.
Industry director Beig, however, defends that “this was not a complete failure.� he says representatives of a tractor manufacturing company said they were willing to invest if the state provides them with 1,000-acre land.
Mr Beig also introduced Narender Beri of Ludhiana-based Bharat Box Factory, a Rs 70 crore manufacturer of packaging material for a number of big companies, including Nestle and Bajaj.
“We have invested Rs 27.5 crore in an automatic unit to manufacture corrugated carton for apple at Samba (Jammu) with an installed capacity of 90 million boxes a year,� said Mr Beri. He, however, acknowledged that this was possible because of “liberal financing� by J&K Bank Ltd and a “pro-investor policy� of the state government. Mr Beri said he had visited the other apple-producing states of Himachal Pradesh and Uttaranchal with similar plans but found no takers. So he eventually landed up in Kashmir where he provided the best site in the Samba estate. Yet, Vision 2020 can claim little credit for Mr Beri’s bomb-proof unit. Work on his facility started early last year.
Apart from dozens of stalls set up by the various PSUs, departments of the state and Union governments and autonomous institutions, Vision 2020 hosted nine seminars on different aspects of Kashmir economy. Each session commenced with a senior state government official making an exhaustive presentation on what the state had to offer. This was followed by presentations by experts. Top academicians like Prof Bharat Chattoo, head of institute of biotechnology at Baroda university and Dr S N Qazi of the CSIR’s RRL Jammu acted as resource persons.
“These were well-researched presentations. I believe our students benefited a lot. But unfortunately it was an exercise in futility because it was an interaction between policy makers and experts with no investor around,� said a senior teacher from the University of Kashmir. Admitted a delegate from Delhi: “Most of the delegates did not come. Whoever came said they were on a holiday.�
Now, the organisers are set to take a knock. Against a total investment of over Rs 80 lakh in the jamboree, sponsors are unlikely to pay up in full. One major sponsor is said to have backed out at the last moment. And the state government will not compensate either.
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