Manoj Sinha
Manoj Sinha, Lt Governor, J&K, India, in conversation with Gulf News at the India Pavillion, Expo 2020 in Dubai. Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/ Gulf News

The Union territory (UT) of Jammu and Kashmir, is rolling a red carpet for investors from the UAE. Showcasing handicrafts, handlooms, film tourism, agriculture, horticulture and other priority sectors at the ongoing Expo 2020 Dubai, Manoj Sinha, Lieutenant Governor of Jammu and Kashmir, spoke to Gulf News about his government’s commitment to attract investment.

Sinha added that the trade between Jammu & Kashmir and Dubai has remained steady, despite Covid-19 challenges and this reflects the resilience of the deep economic linkages between the two places.

Excerpts from a freewheeling interview:

Q: There is a renewed focus on investment to J&K from the UAE. Why is your administration keen on showcasing the UT in Dubai?

The government of India is busy ramping up the infrastructure of J&K. The long pending railway line that connects Kashmir with the farthest end of India — Kanyakumari — is being finished. Modernisation work is also going on in full swing in both Srinagar and Jammu airports.

Our linkages to the UAE are getting firmer with a direct international flight between Srinagar and Sharjah. We are entering into memorandum of understanding (MoU) with several UAE based firms which are investing in malls, hospitality, tourism and hospitals in J&K. Top names like DP World, Emaar and Lulu Group are among those very keen to invest in the valley.

We have also held talks with various IT firms in Dubai. In the coming months we are planing to invite these investors to Kashmir to take a first hand look at all that we have to offer. There is great hope from these new tie-ups and what actually gives us this hope is the great contact between people of India and the UAE.

Post-2015, this relationship took a new form when Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the UAE. Since then the PM has come to the UAE three times. His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, also visited India as the chief guest of Republic Day parade 2017.

There is a new warmth in relations between the two nations. I am hopeful that investments from the UAE shall increase manifold in the days ahead.

Q: Many would say that the conflict in Kashmir may be a bottleneck when it comes to attract foreign investment. What would you say?

Things on ground are not bad as is being propagated by some vested interests and I think there are people who want to keep it like that. They are doing it to give a negative perception to the world. However if you see data, you will notice that terrorism is on its last legs in Kashmir.

Be it is the approach of the government of India or J&K government, we want to finish the ecosystem of terror in the valley. Importantly people of Kashmir are fed up of violence. They want development like other parts of the world. What is noteworthy is that the public support for extremism is ending.

Notably the return of investment (ROI) under our new industrial policy is the best in India. I would say that it is 100% better than the neighbouring states. J&K offers several benefits: Electricity is the cheapest in India, crime rate is the lowest while the raw material is the best in the country.

J&K has become a destination that industrialists from around the country are getting more attracted to and people from many countries have evinced interest to come and invest there.

The scenery and beauty of the place is such that people call it the heaven on earth, so it a two-in-one destination: both for investment and holiday making — at the same time.

Q: Critics have expressed reservation over the change in land laws in J&K. Your comments.

For the last seven decades, investment into J&K was limited at Rs15000 crore. Those who question the new land laws don’t want our youth to benefit from the development and modernisation happening elsewhere in the world. They instill a psychological fear of sorts in people in order to lead them astray.

These are the same people who themselves live in comfort of places like London and Dubai and send their kids overseas to study. Sadly they want to keep the ordinary people in J&K away from these benefits.

Tell me if we don’t give land to industries, where will they set up these facilities? Industries don’t operate out of thin air. Another thing I want to ask you with full responsibility here: has anyone bought any land apart from the industries? The answer is no. You must also think about it. Land laws have been changed with a lot of thought and a sense of full responsibility.

Earlier even to set up an orchard, the permission of the J&K revenue minister was needed. We have changed all that. Small farmers were not allowed to go for high density plantation. We scrapped all those laws to benefit small farmers and the ordinary people of J&K.