Peace pre-requisite for tourism in Kashmir: Azad

Peace pre-requisite for tourism in Kashmir: Azad

20 November 2012
The Daily Excelsior
Jehangir Rashid

Srinagar: Referring to Kashmir as the most safe tourist destination in the country, Union Health and Family Welfare Minister, Ghulam Nabi Azad, today said that peace is pre-requisite for better tourism in the Kashmir valley. Addressing a seminar 'Sustainable Tourism-Environment and Infrastructure' at SKICC here in the afternoon, Azad said that peace is pre-requisite for better tourism in the Kashmir valley. He said that tourism can thrive only when there is peace and tranquillity in the State especially in Kashmir and a single bullet fired here creates ripples across the country. 'Various types of crime have surfaced in the country while as Kashmir valley has remained aloof from such things. No doubt terrorism has caused great loss to the State especially Kashmir in the past two decades but at the same time the people have remained safe on account of other crimes in the society,' said Azad. He said that incidents of rape, molestation, kidnapping and murder of elderly persons have become order of the day in the country while as very few such incidents occur in Kashmir. He said militancy caused havoc in the State by affecting the business and other activities in the State especially Kashmir. 'When the whole country was reaping the benefits of liberalization in the decade of 90s under then Finance Minister and incumbent Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, Jammu and Kashmir was reeling under the darkness of militancy. Kashmiris suffered a lot due to the militancy and hadn't it been so Kashmir could have easily become the hub of Information Technology in the country,' said Azad. He said that former United States President Bill Clinton, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and several other heads of States and Governments would make it a point to visit Bangalore and Hyderabad that became hubs of IT. He said people had to pay a heavy price with the onset of militancy adding that lost glory can still be regained. 'The situation has improved to a great extent in the Kashmir valley but still then a lot more has to be done. It is important that peace gets fully established so that more and more people come to visit Kashmir. This would give much needed fillip to the tourism sector and the tourist players would reap rich benefits,' said Azad. He added that there is a need for diversification of tourism in the State saying leisure tourism, pilgrimage tourism and culture tourism can help in expanding the tourism base in Jammu and Kashmir. He said carrying capacity has also to be increased in the State adding that the development of tourist infrastructure should not come up at the cost of environment. 'There is a general tendency among the people of the country that very few among us think about the future. We are more concerned about our own welfare without thinking about the future generations. There is a need for evolving a long term policy so that the benefits of tourism trickle down to the grassroots level on sustained basis. There is a need for extending the stay of tourists in the State and this is possible only when there is diversification of tourism,' said Azad. Speaking on the occasion, Union Minister for Tourism, K Chiranjeevi said that the Union Tourism Ministry has approved 21 tourism projects at the cost of Rs 96 crores in the State under the 12th five year plan. Chiranjeevi said that 100 tourism projects have been approved across the country costing Rs 367 crores. 'Rural tourism has over the years gained fame across the county and it has also tremendous potential in the State of Jammu and Kashmir. We received 46 proposals for developing rural tourism in the State and out of this 29 proposals have been approved by the union tourism ministry. The tourism activity is very much related with the economic development of the State and we would offer our helping hand in promoting tourism in Jammu and Kashmir,' said Chiranjeevi. Chiranjeevi who has acted in around 150 films said that Kashmir has a special place in his heart as he has shot around 40-50 films in the Kashmir valley. He said he would use his good offices and ask the film producers as well as directors of the South Indian film industry to come and shoot in Kashmir since the place is safe for film shooting. 'I have been coming to Kashmir during the shooting of my films and would visit places like Gulmarg, Pahalgam, Sonamarg, Shalimar garden and other places during my stay. I salute the people of the State for their resilience they have shown while coming out of the period of darkness that was there in the shape of two decade long militancy period. People have suffered a lot and the things have started to settle down,' said Chiranjeevi. Welcoming the lifting of travel advisories by United Kingdom for their residents for travelling to Jammu and Kashmir, Chiranjeevi said that the step would help in reviving the arrival of foreign tourists to the Kashmir valley. He said that sectors like handicrafts, agriculture and horticulture can give boost to the tourism and also help in poverty alleviation. In his presidential address, Chief Minister, Omar Abdullah said that the inflow of tourists should not be linked with the normalcy in the Kashmir valley. Omar said this makes the tourists vulnerable to attacks from militants since they can be easily targeted. 'Over the past few years we have been urging the people not to attach the influx of tourists with that of normalcy in the State more so Kashmir valley. The boom of tourism should not give a message that all is well in Kashmir and there is no political problem. There is a political problem and it needs to be resolved irrespective of the fact that 13 lakhs tourists visited Kashmir this year,' said Omar. He said that it was Pakistan that objected to the operation of Srinagar-Dubai flight from the Srinagar international airport. He said both the State Government and central Government would have to think of operating international flights to places which are not far away from Srinagar and where no air-space of Pakistan is violated. 'People would blame us for the non-operation of the international flights from Srinagar international airport. The fact of the matter is that this has not been possible due to the rigidity of the country that claims to be the sympathizer of the Kashmiris. But that does not mean we have to stop and we should seriously think of starting international flights to places like Japan, Malaysia and Taiwan since tourists from these places come in good numbers to Kashmir,' said Omar. He expressed his unhappiness over the court stay on the demolition of 150 illegal structures in the Pahalgam area. He said as new tourist destinations are coming up in the State the tourist traders more so hoteliers should put in place world class infrastructure at these places. He expressed the hope that Union Tourism Minister, K. Chiranjeevi would carry on the good work of the film stardom to his ministry so that Jammu and Kashmir gets special attention in the Union tourism ministry. 'Tourism in Jammu and Kashmir is different from the other parts of the country. Here we don't have infrastructure marvels like Taj Mahal, Ellora Caves and Red Fort. The influx of tourists to Kashmir is dependent on the beauty of the health resorts. It is important to maintain quality if we want tourism to sustain and give us benefits for years and generations to come,' said Omar. Omar said that home stay culture that started in Ladakh area has started showing positive results in both the Jammu and Kashmir divisions of the State. He said such was the influx of tourists to Kashmir this year that scores of tourists stayed in houses in Faqir Gujri and Dhara areas, once considered to be the safe havens for militants. He impressed upon the need for setting up more eating places for the tourists. The seminar was also addressed by Uttarakhand Tourism Minister, Amrita Rawat, Deputy Chief Minister Tara Chand, Tourism Minister Nawang Rigzin Jora, Forest and Environment Minister Mian Altaf Ahmad, KHARA President Mohammad Showkat Chowdhary and KHAROF President, Faiz A Bakshi.