NEW DELHI: The first foreign investment in Jammu and Kashmir has ignited hopes for more opportunities in the restive Indian-administered region, local authorities and business leaders told Arab News, as Dubai’s Emaar Group is due to build a shopping mall and office complex in its largest city.
Dozens of Emirati businessmen participated in an investment summit organized by the UAE-India Business Council and the local government in Srinagar on March 19, where Emaar — Dubai’s largest listed developer — held the ground-breaking ceremony for the $60 million Mall of Srinagar.
“It was a historic India-UAE investor meet at Srinagar, which marked the new dawn of limitless possibilities. It was also a unique opportunity for free and frank exchanges of views on issues and opportunities for investment in the state of Jammu and Kashmir,” UIBC director general Mohsin Khan told Arab News.
“The constructive discussion, which was held on various sectors, particularly agricultural and allied sectors, hospitality, education, tourism and other industry sectors, will also explore and ground investment opportunities which will further strengthen our long-term partnership with (the) UAE and the rest of the Gulf countries,” said Khan.
Economic activity in Kashmir has plunged since the Indian government revoked its special autonomous status, and split it into two federally governed territories, promising security and reform in August 2019.
The Muslim-majority Himalayan territory is claimed in full but ruled in part by nuclear archrivals India and Pakistan, who have fought two wars over control of the territory. Indian-controlled Kashmir has for decades witnessed outbreaks of separatist insurgency to resist control from the government in New Delhi.
As Indian officials have tried for years to woo both domestic and foreign investors with little success, the latest development has sparked fresh hopes for business leaders in the region.
“We welcome the FDI investment meeting in Kashmir ... There is potential in lots of sectors. I hope more people will come for investment in Kashmir,” Javid Tenga, president of the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry, told Arab News.
He also saw the immediate employment creation potential in the region where the unemployment rate is about 15 percent — double India’s average.
“There is a big opportunity in the tourism and horticulture sectors,” Tenga said. “Obviously, jobs will be created and our young boys are looking for jobs.”
Indian Emirati-based multinational conglomerate LuLu Group, which will be the anchor tenant of the Mall of Srinagar, said it is already planning more activities in Kashmir.
“We have earmarked 250 crore rupees ($30 million) in the first phase of investment in Jammu and Kashmir in setting up a hypermarket inside the Mall of Srinagar, as well as setting up a food processing center there to export to the Gulf market,” LuLu marketing and communications director V. Nandakumar, told Arab News.
Since last year, the conglomerate has been importing saffron, apples and dry fruits from the region. “The work for the food processing center has already begun and it should be ready by another one year,” Nandakumar said.
“The current climate there is very conducive to investment not only to us but many other companies in India and outside India are showing keen interests.”