Kashmir's frail economy pushed to brink during coronavirus lockdown

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(29 Apr 2020) LEAD IN:
The president of Kashmir's Chamber of Commerce and Industry is warning that the region's already frail economy could collapse under lockdown measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Kashmir relies heavily on tourism, which has totally stopped since the lockdown was imposed on March 24.   

STORY-LINE:
Every year around this time, Srinagar's iconic Tulip Garden is bursting with colour and tourists clamouring to get a glimpse of the spectacle.
Today, there is nobody.
India's extended lockdown to fight the coronavirus outbreak has shut schools, workplaces, transportation and industries.
It has forced the country's 1.3 billion population to stay at home. Tourism - one of the key sources of income in Indian-occupied Kashmir - has totally stopped.
Houseboats - another hugely popular tourist attraction -  remain docked at an empty Dal Lake. Most of the boatmen are passing their time by fishing.
Mohammad Altaf says the lockdown has hit him hard. It is becoming difficult for him to feed his elderly parents, wife and child at home.
"We are completely dependent on tourism. On usual days, we would leave our homes early morning for work, earn during the day and feed our families in the evening. We are really suffering due to the lockdown. Now things are getting problematic."
Restrictions, security lockdowns and information blackouts are nothing new for residents in the India-controlled portion of Kashmir.
More than 7 million of the region's residents were forced to stay indoors for months when in August last year, India stripped restive Kashmir of its semi-autonomy and enforced a total communications blackout.
And it is not just the tourism industry that is suffering. Kashmir's entire frail economy is being pushed to the brink.  
According to the president of Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry, within four months of Kashmir's special privileges were revoked, the region's economy suffered losses of 180 to 220 million US dollars.
In a report published in December last year (2019), the chamber blamed the communication and internet shutdowns and heavy military presence as some of the main reasons for choking the Kashmiri economy.
"If measures are not taken, timely measures are not taken, believe me there is going to be an economic disaster," says Sheikh Ashiq, president of  Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
"I have conveyed it at every level that we are facing big issues and problems because there is not any lockdown since this outbreak of pandemic, we are facing lockdowns since decades."
India's extended lockdown to curb COVID-19 was announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on March 24, and has brought the already slowing Indian economy to a standstill.  
According to ICRA, an independent credit ratings agency, the Indian economy is predicted to grow only 1 percent in 2021, and could also deflate by 1 percent, due to a slowdown in manufacturing, tourism, construction, transport and losses for other industries.
For Kashmir, it could mean some iconic tourist attractions disappear forever.
Houseboat owner, Tariq Ahmad Patloo spends his days at home with his family as there is no longer any work for him.
He says he had no choice but to dismiss all his employees due to the complete lack of tourists.
"I used to earn about 25,000 rupees on a normal day, and hired five to six employees," Patloo says.
India has reported nearly 30,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and nearly 900 deaths.

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