SRINAGAR: Economic losses in India-held Kashmir have run well over a billion dollars since India revoked its autonomy and statehood in August, the main trade body in the region said, adding that it planned to sue the Indian government for damages.

India turned the occupied valley into a federally-controlled territory, tightening control in a shock move it said would rein in an armed campaign in the disputed region and promote its development.

But the Kashmir Cham­ber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) said development was elusive, thanks largely to a protracted shutdown after people closed markets and businesses as a mark of protest.

It estimated economic losses ran into at least Rs100 billion ($1.4bn) by Septem­ber, but now exceeded that, said Nasir Khan, its senior vice president.

“We’ll ask the court to appoint an external agency to assess the losses, because it is beyond us,” said Mr Khan, adding that India’s telecoms blackout in the region meant the body could not reach business owners by telephone to prepare estimates. Instead, it had to send staff to meet them and gather details.

India’s home ministry and local government officials did not respond to detailed requests for comment.

Besides severing telecoms links ahead of its decision, India imposed curbs on travel and sent thousands of troops to the heavily-militarised region, citing security concerns. Some curbs have since been eased, but access to the internet remains largely blocked.

The clampdown has hit tourism as well as farming, horticulture and the arts and crafts that contribute the most to the region’s export-oriented economy. “I don’t see any stability for many months here,” said Vivek Wazir, who runs a hotel in Srinagar. “There’s too much uncertainty.”

Although a few years ago he planned to expand his business, Wazir said the hotel was now barely breaking even, and he was instead considering opening one in the neighbouring state of Himachal Pradesh.

India cancelled an investor summit it had planned in held Kashmir in October, and most tourists have stayed away after a spate of attacks on non-locals in recent weeks, which Indian police blamed on local fighters.

“I’d be surprised if any genuine investor came,” said KCCI’s Khan, adding that the trade body had received no inquiries from potential investors since August.

Published in Dawn, November 20th, 2019