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Posted on Feb 25, 10:18PM | IANS
By Haris Zargar, Srinagar/New Delhi, Feb 25 : Fast-tracking construction of a railway link to connect the Kashmir Valley to the rest of India, reviving sick industrial units in the Valley and special economic packages for the state are among the expectations of Kashmir Inc. ahead of the railway and general budgets to be presented this week.
Leading industrialist Shakeel Qalander stressed that a railway link to the rest of India is vital for Jammu and Kashmir to progress.
"Kashmir has not been on the railways map for the last 65 years. The valley has been left out from the rest of the country for long now, which has only helped to add to the economic alienation of the state," Qalandar told IANS from Srinagar.
The Jammu Udhampur Srinagar Baramulla Railway Link, aimed to link Kashmir Valley with Jammu region and the rest of India, has been under construction for many years. Its scheduled date of completion was pushed back from 2007 by 10 years, and is now expected to be finished by 2017.
Qalandar also stressed that the railway ministry should set up a rail coach factory in the Valley, which would be "highly beneficial".
The railway budget will be presented Feb 26 and the general on Thursday.
Qalandar, a former president of the Federation Chamber of Industries Kashmir (FCIK) also voiced his unhappiness over previous budgets "ignoring" the Kashmir Valley.
"So far as the union Budget is concerned, we have stopped expecting. What we have observed in the last 20 years is that nothing substantial has been done for the economic upliftment of the Valley," Qalandar said.
"We had time and again sought for rehabilitation of Kashmir's sick units. In fact, a committee set up by the prime minister in 1999 had recommended Rs.100 crore for revival of sick units, which was even approved. But it has been pending for the last 15 years," he said.
He said banks in Kashmir should be given more "credit deposit ratio". "The banks in
the Valley are allowed a credit deposit ratio of only 35 percent, compared to the 80 or 90 percent that other states can have. It reflects that national banks are not keen to infuse more money into the state, which would have helped to better the state's dismal economic situation," Qalander said.
Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) president Abdul Hamid Punjabi told IANS: "We certainly have our expectations both from the Railways and Union budgets. There have been disappointments in the past. But let's see, we have hope this time."
Punjabi said the chamber had already communicated to state Finance Minister Rahim Rather on the need to push for Kashmir-centric incentives and policies in the union budget.
"We submitted our demand, expectations and suggestions to the state finance minister in early February. We highlighted some of our issues, and we want them addressed."
Echoing Punjabi, Jan Mohmmad Koul, president Kashmir Traders Association, said the association has also forwarded its suggestions and demands to the state government on issues concerning the valley's traders. "We have presented a memorandum on our demands. We are looking forward to the budget to see if any of our demands would be redressed."
Koul said that both the state and centre will benefit if there is a revamp of the economic policies of the valley.
On the rail budget, Koul said that the railway network should be extended to the valley as soon as possible. "Traders from Jammu have reaped huge benefits from the railways. We are also looking forward to the network being extended to the valley as soon as possible so that our trade is also boosted," he said.
Kashmir's tourism sector is also hoping for some initiatives in the tourism sector.
Travel Agents Association Of Kashmir (TAAK) president Rauf Tramboo told IANS: "We are hoping for a tourism friendly budget. We are seeking some concrete Kashmir-centric special packages during this budget session."
Tramboo said that the industry is keenly looking forward to the railways budget. "We would like some more destinations from the rest of India to be added to Jammu, which would greatly help the lakhs of tourists eager to visit the state as they have to face hardship while booking trains to the state," he said.
(Haris Zargar can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)