The Downside Of Kashmir Tourism

3 April 2014
Greater Kashmir
M Ashraf

Srinagar: As usual there is an outcry among tourism players because of sky high airfares raised by various airlines for travel to Srinagar from various destinations both within the state and outside. The travel trade has been accusing some quarters for sabotaging travel to Kashmir by raising these airfares. However, the raised airfares do not affect the tourists as much as the local Kashmiris traveling to and fro for various reasons including medical treatment, studies, and trade etc. The most affected is the short notice travel. The tourists decide their programmes well in advance and most of the travel houses make block bookings well in advance for the group travel. Because of so called free market economy the airlines allow the market forces to determine the price without any reasonable upper limit. Normally, the airfare regulatory authority of the DGCA (Directorate General of Civil Aviation) is supposed to cap the fares. Every airline is supposed to file the upper and lower limit of fares to various destinations with the authority in the start of the season and the authority is expected to keep a continuous check on these fares by regular monitoring. International Airlines have to follow the rules and regulations fixed by the IATA (International Air Transport Association). Last September DGCA fixed the upper and lower limits of fares between Delhi and Mumbai to prevent various airlines going berserk in regard to the upper limit of the fares. In regard to Kashmir, there does not seem to be any upper limit fixed by the DGCA for various airlines and there is a free fall all in this regard especially during summer season. Almost every politician including the rulers mounts every pulpit to proclaim that the tourism is a big boon for Kashmir although the trade does not constitute even 7% of the State's GDP. The most adverse effect felt by the common people is on prices including the airfare. All other things do also get adversely affected. The first to be struck is the fragile environment. Be it the water bodies like Dal Lake or the lush green meadows and forests which have been virtually turned into concrete jungles. Every activity is most unfortunately weighed by one and all in terms of its impact on tourism. One of the major factors in the pollution of Dal Lake has been the mushroom growth of hotels on the banks of the Lake and the house boats inside it. The three most scenic and natural meadows of Gulmarg, Pahalgam and Sonamarg have been virtually turned into concrete urban centres by uncontrolled growth of hotels and other facilities. In fact, some of the newer spots are being destroyed by the Tourism Department itself by constructing unnecessary infrastructure by spending hundreds of crores which according to latest CAG report has remained completely unutilised thereby turning the expenditure infructuous. One would not mind the loss of crores pocketed by the constructing agencies in league with local politicians and concerned engineers but the destruction of environment is totally irreversible. The so called Tourism Development Authorities are proving to be money minting rackets at the cost of local environment. In real terms the State has no business to set up the infrastructure. It should have been left to the private sector with government only being a watch dog authority for regulation to ensure sustainable tourism as per carrying capacity of each area. It is a tragedy that while as the so called tourism promoters are spending hundreds of crores for the illusive tourists, the basic civic facilities have remained unattended due to lack of funds. The recent snow fall resulting in inundating of the most parts of the city is a typical example of the lack of interest and drive in improving civic facilities for the local population. We can find hundreds of crores for Golf Courses and Cable Cars but not for basic civic amenities because of a 'Tourism Mania'! Incidentally, even till date the State has to formulate a 'Tourism Policy' and a 'Perspective Plan' for Tourism Development. The worldwide emphasis on 'Sustainable Tourism' does not form part of the lexicon of our local Tourism developers. Money regardless of its colour is the only consideration. Tourism Department instead of going in for 'Sustainable Tourism' and preservation of environment is allegedly making plans for an event like the notorious Zubin Mehta concert. Few crores are alleged to be earmarked for participation in a 'Film Awards' show in Florida to sell Kashmir to the people whose countries have prohibited them from coming here. The worst part of the 'Tourism Mania' is the tendency among all the mainstream politicians in Delhi and Srinagar to consider tourism as a barometer of political normalcy. Tourists visiting Kashmir are used as propaganda tool worldwide to project peace in Kashmir. No doubt tourism being a service oriented industry provides a large number of seasonal jobs to the local people but the basic requirement for tourism is real and genuine peace. No one wants to go for a holiday to a place of uncertainty. One never knows when the deceptive peace in Kashmir will blow up. At the moment the bulk of traffic is budgeted tourism. The high end travellers are still avoiding Kashmir. With the increased airfares, they would be better off to travel to Europe or South East Asia in the same price. In the ultimate analysis, Tourism has been creating more problems than benefits for the common Kashmiris. The Cambridge dictionary defines boon as 'something that is very helpful and improves the quality of life'. In contrast, bane is defined as, 'a cause of continuous trouble or unhappiness'. It is for the people to judge whether Tourism is a boon or bane for Kashmir!