Cos Shifting Base To Jammu From Strife-torn Kashmir10 September 2010
The Economic Times
Srinagar: Fayaz Ahmad always wanted to prove that one could live in Srinagar and still be a successful businessman. But six years after he and three friends set up a software firm in the capital of Jammu and Kashmir, he is perhaps learning to unlearn. Last month, he called an emergency board meeting of Musky Software, the company he co-founded. Everybody knew what was on the agenda. A sense of resignation was overwhelming. And after the long, gloomy silence was over, everybody was ready to face it: it was time to leave. It was becoming increasingly difficult for the company’s 30 employees to reach the office located at Rangreth industrial estate as strikes called by separatists and curfew imposed by the government threw life in the city out of gear. Musky Software, a small firm with a fancy name, was staring at closure as it struggled to service its clients in Africa and North America. The board meeting ended with a painful decision-to despatch a team to explore shifting operations to Jammu, the state’s more peaceful winter capital. “Security forces and stone throwers would not let us reach office,” says Ahmad, 46, who had worked as a software professional for 15 years with the National Informatics Centre (NIC) and J&K Bank before launching Musky Software. ”Initially, we managed our clients from home, but it is increasingly becoming impossible due to lack of coordination to manage software development,” he says. Now, most of the male staffers live in the 2,500-sq ft office to ensure that clients do not suffer. As luck would have it, Jammu is slowly and steadily becoming a hub of activity for corporates as well, with the ongoing agitation crippling Kashmir for over 12 weeks now. In fact, corporates are following in the footsteps of politicians, businessmen and students. Nearly 90% of those who fled the Valley since insurgency broke out some two decades ago made Jammu their new home while many others shifted to cities such as Delhi and Mumbai. Leading the pack were politicians who set up huge housing colonies in Jammu in the wake of militancy. And for Kashmir’s affluent classes, Jammu is clearly their second home. Quite similar to Musky Software’s is the plight of more than 20 other software and networking companies based in Srinagar. One of them has already shifted base temporarily to Jammu and two more are in the process of shifting out of the Valley permanently. Kashmir’s first software company, BQE, is also considering relocating to Jammu, said a person close to the situation. A few of them might still try doing business in Srinagar out of sheer love for the place, but for businessmen, shifting to Jammu is simply tempting. Besides a peaceful business environment, Jammu offers cheaper connectivity, with bandwidth available at less than half the rates in Srinagar. Closure of the Srinagar airport for repairs and diversion of part of air traffic to an air force base in south Kashmir have compounded Kashmir’s connectivity woes. It is not the IT sector alone that is bearing the brunt of the agitation. An entrepreneur who has done all the spade work for setting up a polymer unit at Srinagar’s Lassipora industrial estate has abandoned the project. “We already have land allotted to us and financial closure was over,” he said, requesting anonymity. “But how can we work in such a situation?” Almost all developmental activities in the state have come to a grinding halt-new projects are being stalled, and faced with lack of demand and opportunities, private companies have begun cutting jobs. The lone segment that remains unaffected is agriculture, which accounts for more than a quarter of the state’s GDP.