SERF asks New Delhi to allow int’l aid to flood-hit Kashmir

The State Economic Reconstruction Forum (SERF), a conglomerate of business originations, Monday said New Delhi was disallowing international aid to flood-hit Jammu & Kashmir “only because Kashmir is a conflict zone.”
The SERF, which was set up by the business bodies last month to deal with post-flood issues including reconstruction of devastated infrastructure in Kashmir, has been repeatedly asking the Government of India to allow funding from the United Nations, foreign countries and international NGOs for rebuilding the Valley’s lost infrastructure.
“Because we live in a conflict zone and it (J&K) is a Muslim dominated state, the Government of India is not allowing international aid to Kashmir,” said spokesperson of SERF, Muhammad Ashraf Mir. “There have been double standards in dealing with calamities that struck in Uttarakhand, Bihar and other states and that in Kashmir. If this level of devastation would have hit any other state, the Prime Minister would have been camping there.”
Last month, the J&K government said the losses suffered due to the flood in Kashmir in housing, business and other sectors have been more than Rs 1 lakh crore (1 trillion).
Mir said as per a study by the Asian Development Bank, the actual losses suffered in any natural calamity are 2.5 times higher than the ground assessments.
“Both State and Government of India have failed in rehabilitation and reconstruction program. The magnitude of losses is beyond their (State and New Delhi) management. The only way to provide succor to flood hit people is to allow international aid to Kashmir,” Mir said.
However he added that if GoI was in a position to compensate the losses, “we do not need the international aid.”
Another SRF member, GM Dug said on the one hand the government acknowledged that the losses were over Rs one trillion but at the same time it only approved a proposal of relief package of Rs 44000 crore for submission to New Delhi for providing assistance to the flood-hit people.
“Why these double standards? Let the Government of India allow international agencies to assess the losses in Kashmir; we are open for it,” said Dug. “We will hit the roads if the Government doesn’t allow international aid to Kashmir.”
The flood in Kashmir, worst in over a century, hit thousands of villages and ravaged the capital city of Srinagar. As per an official survey, at least 2.61 lakh structures got damaged, with a large number of them either washed away or razed to ground.
Muhammad Yasin Khan, another SERF member said, the quantum of business in Kashmir was over Rs 40000 crores—Rs 28000 crore businesses with outside states and Rs 4000 crore business with Jammu.
“Our business worth Rs 30000 crore was hit by the flood of which only Rs 17000 crore is insured,” said Khan.
He said the Prime Minister announced Rs 1000 crore relief package for Kashmir and Rs 320 crore each was announced from the State Disaster Relief Fund.
“But not a single penny has been paid to THE affected families despite the fact that winter is approaching fast,” Khan said.
He seconded Mir’s statement that since J&K is a “conflict zone and Muslim dominated state”, the government of India was disallowing international funding for Kashmir.
The SERF leaders also sought a 10-year income tax exemption for Kashmir and asked the banks to follow the RBI guidelines for dealing with loan accounts in calamity-hit areas.
“Our banks have intentionally failed to implement the RBI guidelines only to charge interest for the month of September, when floods hit Kashmir,” said Khan. “They have to face the music if they don’t waive off the interests on loans for the month of September.”
The SERF demanded that the government should provide an ex-gratia relief of Rs 10 lakh each for damaged houses and business losses.
Meanwhile, the SERF asked the BJP-led Government of India to re-built flood-hit Srinagar as “Smart City” as per its plan to develop hundred such cities across different states.
“The government of India should declare rebuilding of Srinagar under its plan to develop 100 smart cities,” said SERF member Mubeen Shah.
He said under the Smart Cities category, Srinagar would become eligible to huge funding from New Delhi as per the contours of the scheme.
“Let them start their plan (for 100 Smart Cities) from Srinagar,” said Shah.
He asked Government of India to include J&K under National Optical Fibre Network, aimed at modernizing the communication system.
Meanwhile, the SERF raised objections over approval to Srinagar Master Plan in a “rushed and premature manner”.
As per the earlier discussion with state authorities, the Master Plan was to be debated and deliberated upon with all stakeholders, said a SERF statement.

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