Mr. Yaseen Khan, a well know Kashmiri businessman who started his business in early 70s with a small amount of money and now has his turnover in crores. In an exclusive interview with The Legitimate, Mr. Khan talks specifically the Kashmir economy holds for the young entrepreneurs despite having abundant challenges. Excerpts from the interview.
TL: Mr. Yaseen Khan, thanks for your time. You have been one of the most successful entrepreneur/businessperson in Kashmir. Can you give us a brief introduction about yourself?
YK: Basically I am from HMT Srinagar, and I started my business in 1970’s after passing my 10th grade examination. 40 years have passed since. Moreover, I am also the president of very well-known business organization called Kashmir Traders and Manufacture Federation (KTMF) and chairman of its umbrella organization.
TL: Where is your business established?
YK: My business is established in Shopian and Srinagar districts of Jammu and Kashmir?
TL: Tell us about the beginnings of your business?
YK: Actually, I am from a business background, my ancestors were into retail business before partition. I chose a different business from my family, and invested into timber sector which was very uncommon during those days.
And in 1986, then I started back my own family business because timber was banned at that time. In 1987 I left J & K and went abroad to settle down temporarily. My only aim to go abroad was to know about the business strategies followed in the world, like how they grow their businesses. I got an idea from there and learnt a lot about the business strategies and returned to Kashmir in early 1990s to start afresh with new strategies and tactics to give a lift to my own business endeavor.
TL: You mentioned that you returned back to Kashmir in 1990, when the situation in Kashmir was politically terrible. How difficult was it for you to start your business again in such a situation after coming back from a peaceful environment?
YK: When I left Kashmir, it was the golden period in Kashmir. It was peaceful and golden period for its economy to grow. After returning back to Kashmir it was very difficult to deal with the prevailing situation, most of the businessmen had left Kashmir to save their businesses, but with the passing of time we got used to it and kept our businesses in a consistent state. However, despite sustaining that odd period where the valley’s economy crushed under the political situation, I feel it was still better than how things are at present. Today we are plagued into the period of dismay and hopelessness. There is no sectoral growth. Lots of youth are unemployed. Insecurity looms large over the business endeavors in Kashmir due to politically dicey situation. And we suffer the most.
TL: If we talk about the recent times, youth of Kashmir are showing great interest in entrepreneurship, they want to create their own identity and do something big in the business sector. What is your point of view about it?
YK: Yes, indeed it is true and in fact we always suggest our youth to explore their business opportunities here in Kashmir. And every sector in the economy has abundant opportunities to grow. Like horticulture, this is great industry with 70 percent of apple crop in India grows in Kashmir alone. Besides we have saffron, walnut, almonds etc. These fields have a substantial potential for our young entrepreneurs if they really want to prove themselves in the entrepreneurship.
Apart from that we have other new opportunities associated with same trade like Cold storage facilities where a fruit grower keeps his crop preserved and waits for the right time in market to get the real value of his product. Budding entrepreneurs can also avail this facility which has a good subsidy offered by the government.
TL: As you know that in 2014, Kashmir was plagued into devastating floods, what was total impact on Kashmir economy and the business sector in particular?
YK: All I can say is that business hub of Kashmir got submerged into those floods. The loss to the economy and the business sector in particular was beyond imagination and we have tentatively estimated it upto INR 35000 crores. The economic scenario worsened post flood after business was on halt for six months owing to rebuilding of infrastructure and subsequent winters.
In 2015, we started to grow our business again, at that time the business graph was at very low/crucial stage. However, the condition in 2016 was much better for business initially, then came the public uprising post Burhan Wani killing. Lots of entrepreneurs in Kashmir are under dept trap due to no or very low business activities in past several years. The interest rate on the loans from banks by business class to restart their business is swelling due to their failure to pay installments on time due to low business activities. Frankly speaking, I find it very difficult to see business growing in Kashmir like how it used to till 1980’s given the fragile situation in Kashmir.
TL: What was the effect of GST, demonetization and e-billing on the business fraternity in Kashmir?
YK: If we will talk about demonetization, it has badly affected us. There was already economic crisis in Kashmir we had lack of money due to previous unfortunate circumstances. Accepting GST was the biggest mistake of the state government. All those laws were passed at the time when Kashmir economy was in need of upliftment which again affected our economy very badly.
Our state government needs to show great concern to avoid the further losses to the business fraternity in Kashmir, as there is no foreign investment here. We are not able to use our own resources in an efficient way.
TL: What will be your message for the new/ fresh entrepreneurs?
YK: I would suggest them to explore our own resources like we have water resources, horticulture etc. But the important thing is that one has to be honest and sincere to its business. When you are in the business, you are in global competition. You have to ensure that the quality of the product is maintained without any compromise. The state government should also ensure that products manufactured in the state meet the standards globally set for it. Then only we can succeed in achieving our goals.