It’s not just politicians, at least eight business leaders from the Kashmir Valley have been placed under detention by the J&K administration following the removal of special status to the state under Article 370 and its bifurcation into two UTs. Ironically, their detention comes when the administration is preparing to host a Global Investment Summit in the state, with an official saying they expect investments worth Rs 10,000 crore. The summit was expected to be held from October 12-14 but the dates are likely to change.
Among those detained are prominent business leaders: Mubeen Shah, former chairman of the J&K Joint Chamber of Commerce and Industry; Yaseen Khan, president of Kashmir Economic Alliance; and, Shakeel Qalandar, former president of Federation of Chamber of Industries Kashmir.
Shah and Khan have been detained in Agra and Qalandar in Srinagar. The Indian Express tracked down their families to find “shock” and a sense of bewilderment at the detentions — two of them said they plan to challenge the move legally.
Mubeen Shah, 63
Ex-chairman, J&K Joint Chamber of Commerce & Industry
Shah is in detention along with Khan and J&K High Court Bar Council president Mian Qayoom. According to a family member, when Shah was arrested from their residence at 1 am on August 5, he had a catheter fixed to his body — he has chronic diabetes.
Shah’s family has since left for Delhi to be closer to him. Speaking to The Indian Express, Shah’s wife Asifa said: “The police said there was no arrest warrant but had orders to take him to the police station.”
The family says it was not able to meet Shah despite going to Agra last Wednesday. After it sought visitation rights, the J&K Home Department sent a letter to the UP Police on August 28 to allow a meeting according to “provisions of the jail manual”.
“But Agra jail authorities didn’t allow us to meet. They have put them in a small 10ftx10 ft cell,’’ a family member said.
According to Asifa, the family urged authorities to let them provide clothes, medicines and articles of daily use, such as toothbrush and soap, which they allowed. Asifa said the family is preparing paperwork to secure his release and will file a plea soon.
Shah is a medical doctor who belongs to one of Kashmir’s oldest business families. He is the chief executive of the Alson Group and the Kohimaran Group.
The family’s interests range from automobiles and cement to marble and matches. It also has business interests abroad, including handicraft showrooms and restaurants in Dubai and Malaysia. Shah’s company had finalised various civic projects with the J&K government.
Yaseen Khan, 60
President, Kashmir Economic Alliance
Khan’s wife said police knocked on their door about 30 minutes after midnight on August 4-5 and took Khan away without providing any documentation. “We have been told that he is in Agra but we have not been able to meet him,” she said.
Khan’s wife said their youngest 11-year-old son has been distressed since his father’s arrest. “He had to be hospitalised a few days ago. The children are not even going to school,” she said.
The family claims that police told them Khan would be released the next morning or in a day or two. “It’s been almost a month now, he did not even have a change of clothes,” his wife said.
Khan’s mother is concerned about his health. “They should at least be allowed to meet him,” she said. The family is planning to move court to seek his release.
Khan, whose primary business is readymade garments, became president of the traders and manufacturers federation in 2010, and was actively involved in helping traders during the floods of 2014. In 2017, Khan was summoned by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) to depose and allowed to return after questioning in Delhi. At the time, traders in the Valley had observed a shutdown in protest. In April this year, he was called for questioning again by the NIA and allowed to return.
Shakeel Qalander, 58
Ex-president, Federation of Chamber of Industries, Kashmir
Qalandar’s daughter Sumra says he was taken from his home at about 2 am on August 5. “My father and I were following the news on TV when we heard a knock on the door. We were completely taken aback. He had never been detained before,” she said.
Qalander’s family deals primarily in furnishing and interiors. He had served on the C Rangarajan committee, which was set up in 2010 by the then PM Manmohan Singh to formulate a plan for creation of jobs in J&K. He has also regularly taken up public interest issues in J&K.
“Political leaders are stakeholders in the workings of the state so they are perhaps prepared for these things. But for us, it is helplessness and an exercise in patience,” said Sumra’s brother Ehtasham (26), who works in Delhi. Qalander has been detained at the Srinagar Central Jail and the family has been able to meet him. “We have heard that they might be released soon, so we are going to wait it out,” Ehtasham said.
Meanwhile, speaking to The Indian Express, J&K government spokesperson Rohit Kansal said the state is expecting investments worth Rs 10,000 crore from the summit. “When you are expecting such high investments, we have to prepare the ground and make arrangements. So keeping that in mind, we are reworking the dates, but as of now it is on,” he said.
According to a concept note prepared for the event by the administration, the summit will help the government in “thoroughly engaging with the business community to create a business friendly atmosphere in Jammu & Kashmir by augmenting ease of doing business”.
However, prominent businessmen in Kashmir told The Indian Express that the atmosphere was far from conducive for such a summit. “How can anybody do business when you don’t have any means to communicate?,’’ said a businessman who is a member of the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Another businessman, who runs a wholesale operation in Srinagar, said: “I had to send people with letters to Jammu and Delhi. We are unable to do normal business because of the lockdown and they are talking of an investor summit,’’ he said.