By Umair Rashid
Tourism plays a vital role in the economic development of a number of countries across the globe. Known for its astonishing beauty throughout the world, Kashmir has suitably been described as “The Paradise on Earth.” Bubbling streams, lush green meadows and lily-laden lakes the valley of Kashmir is any tourist’s dream. Set like a gleaming diamond, Kashmir is a multi-faceted tourist destination. Changing its hues with every season- it is always uniquely beautiful. Blessed with snow-capped mountains, honey-dewed orchards, rippling lakes and splendid blue skies, the Mughals aptly called Kashmir ‘The Paradise on Earth.’ Before 1989, Kashmir was a paradise in the true sense. With the beginning of the armed conflict in late 1980s has hit hard the tourism sector causing the loss of tourist appetite for this particular destination. Now yearly unrests are causing a virtual shut down of tourism sector, which impacts the economy of the entire state and percolates down to every household. Tourism, which is the main stay in the economy of Kashmir, is deeply affected by various circumstances created out of the unsettled environment. Kashmir is always risky place for investments as Kashmir and unrest are synonyms. Tourism and its related sectors are battered causing not only the creation of a negative Kashmir image but also loss of livelihood to those dependent on it directly or indirectly.
As the paradise on the Earth continues to remain under the control and influence of armed conflict from last three decades hundreds of precious lives have been lost. Besides, this there has been considerable loss of revenue to the state Exchequer. Kashmir has rich natural resources and a talented and entrepreneurial people, but its economic development has been hobbled by misguided economic policies, corruption, a lack of cooperation between India and Pakistan, and political turmoil. Due to topographical reason, there is hardly any heavy industry in the state. Unemployment problem is enormous among the employable youth. Tourism is the only suitable industry that can provide both employment and revenue to the state because of its natural beauty and landscape. From past one year or more, state economy became standstill owing to civic violence which is a beggar’s description. Civilians are victims and killed besides the militants too.
The state comprises of three distinct regions. Each region of the state is attributed with distinct and different set of culture, social taboos and ethos. Due to frequent turmoil in the state, no investor is willing to come forward for making any investment in any business avenue in the state. Almost every sphere of the state economy is under the eclipse of non economic activities. More particularly, economy of the Kashmir valley most suffers from tourism point of view. Tourists basically want safety, security and comfort. During early 1980’s lakhs of tourists used to visit to the Kashmir valley and now the same is considerably insignificant. Ongoing conflict has not only affected the tourism but agriculture and handicraft industry too. In general, the economy of Kashmir suffers from all sources. Agriculture and handicraft industry are suffering because no skilled labour force is available. Skilled and unskilled labour used to continuously flow to the state from other parts of the country and now the same has withered to a significant extent. Because of armed conflict, many people from Kashmir have migrated to other places and as a consequence they and their future generation shall definitely suffer from the crises of their cultural routes. Tourism is the principal source of living for the common people and it is the backbone of the state economy but armed conflict has drastically and significantly eclipsed it.
Nearly 1,100 houseboats are there in the Dal Lake, Nigeen Lake and Jhelum and almost those who were employed in this business are simply living idle whenever there is unrest in the state. There are more than 2,000 Shikarawalas who are among the worst sufferers. The average level of economic occupancy before the beginning of armed conflict was about 90% for the houseboat businessmen, 80% hoteliers and 75% for Shikaraowners and the same are hardly 5%, 5% and 10% respectively now. The most glaring incidence is that about 70% of houseboat businessmen, 40% hoteliers and 30% shikarawalas have migrated to other avenue of earning their livelihood.
The cost of this armed conflict is enormous and is not confined in a particular sector or industry. As it has been mentioned elsewhere, it is affecting the entire economy in general and horticulture, agriculture and handicrafts industry as well. It is by and large affecting every body of the state. The economic wheel of the state is stagnant and has far reaching consequence if it is not handled with care right now. Kashmir is full of talent and it is high time to make optimum utilisation of human resource of the state. It may not sound much to say that conflict retards economic development and no development give rise to conflict and it seems to be a vicious cycle. This has to be broken into meaningful and stagnant result generating mechanism. Economic sustainable development is possible when there is civic peace and political stability which as of is not presently in Kashmir. Ongoing conflict has already ruined the state and now reconstruction both in economic sector, education sector and infrastructural sector is the need of the hour. Confidence building among the various civil societies is a must and it can yield immediate result in terms of peace. If Kashmiris are to feel less alienated, governments in the Indian and Pakistani parts of the state of jammu and Kashmir must grant their people freedom by rolling back restrictions on business, terminating governmental monopolies in trade and commerce and encouraging international investment by bodies such as the World Bank and the Asian development Bank. Key areas for investment are watershed development, the timber industry, fruit processing and power generation.
The government is recommended to frame and formulate a tourism policy and guide the people interested in making investment in tourism sector of the state economy. More and more tourist destinations need to be explored and the same are available in Kashmir.
(The writer is a student of Economics in Aligarh Muslim University. Email: email@example.com)