The economic success story behind G20 in Kashmir

What G20 visitors are witnessing in Kashmir is the power of enterprise which has been unlocked in the region

Hindol Sengupta May 26, 2023 10:30:12 IST
The economic success story behind G20 in Kashmir

Workers push a handcart as they work on a newly renovated road ahead of G20 tourism working group meeting in Srinagar. AP

The G20 visitors may not guess it but they would be walking on the footsteps of a record nearly two crore (twenty million) visitors to the valley of Kashmir in India in 2022. This is the highest ever footfall in the picturesque region which in the 1960s and ’70s played host to many a Hindi cinema film crew.

With the removal of Article 370, a new Kashmir has emerged from the shadows of the past where its potential was often held back by local insurgency. The Kashmir valley alone had more than 400 registered startups last year.

With the creation of the New Industrial Policy (2021) for the region together Jammu and Kashmir has received 5,327 applications/investment proposals with an anticipated investment of around Rs 66,000 crore as of March 2023 according to statistics released by the government.

“Out of 5,327 proposals received, land has been allotted in respect of 1,854 units and 854 have paid the premium. 560 units have signed Lease deed (sic) and have taken over the possession of the land allotted. 129 units have started work on ground. In addition, 350 existing units have also come into production after announcement of New Industrial Policy, 2021,” the government has noted. “After the introduction of J&K Industrial Policy, 2021, investment worth Rs 1,924.64 crore (Rs 376.76 crore in 2021-22 and Rs 1,547.88 crore in 2022-23 (up to January, 2023) has come on ground. The investment during the current financial year is the highest ever compared to any other previous financial years.

These dry statistics are directly correlated to the record-breaking tourist inflows, and the mushrooming of startups. They are related to the fact that new hotels (like a Ramada Plaza) are coming up, and several business and luxury hotels have been announced not just in capital Srinagar but also in the skiing haven of Gulmarg and other places. A new Sarovar Portico hotel opened near the airport. In fact, Kashmir now has one of Asia’s most luxurious destination resorts, the Khyber Himalayan Resort and Spa, located more than 8,800 feet above sea level.

A bustling night life has returned to Srinagar and café culture is spreading with a host of new eateries opening across the city serving everything from traditional Kashmiri fare to Mexican food, and some of the best bakery items in India.

One of the biggest examples of this change is the $60 million investment commitment from Dubai’s Emaar Group to build a major shopping complex and office space in Srinagar.

All of this adds to why G20 events are now possible in Kashmir. It is important to underline that Kashmir always had tremendous entrepreneurial energy. For instance, the Jammu and Kashmir Bank, the local financial institution of choice, has been successful enough not just in Kashmir but also in its operations around India to be part of the Fortune India 500 list for years. Even though attacked by terrorists who even tried to burn down its headquarters, through the incredible grit and determination of Kashmiris who run the organisation, the bank has remained resilient.

A few years ago, there was a great wave of entrepreneurship in Kashmir in everything from lavender extracts to carpentry and carpet-making. But each time, violent outbursts of insurgency would dampen and diminish all such efforts. The story of Jammu and Kashmir Bank and its success, for instance, is hardly known, even today, around the country.

But there is, after the removal of Article 370, a new Kashmir brimming with energy waiting to be showcased to the world. This is the spirit in which the G20 events are taking place in Kashmir.

For a long time, Kashmir’s reality has been deliberately kept murky and shrouded in misinformation and misunderstanding. And undoubtedly there are still efforts to dampen the spirits in the valley. But with each passing day, it is ever more apparent that Kashmir has turned a corner, for good, and the bad old days of violent darkness and inability to even move around after nightfall are gone.

Today, when the sun sets on the Dal Lake, the bazaars, cafes, and restaurants in Srinagar come alive with chatter. The world is starting to listen in.

The writer is a multiple award-winning historian and author. Views expressed are personal.

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