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Highway restrictions hamper tourism: Stakeholders

Firdous Hassan

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Srinagar, Jul 7: Claiming the restrictions on movement of civilian vehicles was hampering Kashmir’s current peak tourism season, various stakeholders Sunday sought an immediate revocation of the order.

The stakeholders, including delegations of tour operators, hoteliers, houseboat owners, raised their  concerns during an interaction here with Tourism Department Secretary Rigzian Sampheal, who assured them that steps would be taken to address the issue.

Authorities in Jammu and Kashmir have barred civilian traffic on Qazigund-Nashri stretch of the Srinagar-Jammu national highway for five-and-a-half hours from 10 am to 3:30 pm in order to allow incident-free passage to vehicles carrying Amarnath pilgrims.

 

No vehicle movement, except for emergency vehicles, is allowed in the same or the opposite direction during this timeframe.

 The tourism players in the meeting raised their issues of escalation of problem for tourism stakeholders in wake of highway diktat. 

“Tourists are being harassed in the name of security for the yatra. Tourists are not allowed to move freely towards Sonamarg or Pahalgam. The restriction on the highway also impacts their (tourists’) movement,” Kashmir Hotel and Restaurant Owners Federation president Wahid Malik said during the interaction also attended by the Tourism Kashmir director.

He said the occupancy in hotels has also dwindled as tourists who had planned to stay in Pahalgam and Sonamarg are not able to do so.

“Kashmir’s tourism industry has been suffering already for the last five years. We had pinned hopes that occupancies in hotels will increase with the yatra which however is not the case,” Malik said.

Ashfaq Siddiq Dug, president, Travel Agents Association of Kashmir (TAAK) apprised the Secretary Tourism that restrictions on national highway had impacted their services by enforcing changes in their tour itinerary.

“Tourists at famous tourism destinations have to leave early without exploring the places completely. Currently leisure tourists are dropping their plans of sightseeing or staying in the valley due to the highway restrictions.  The government should put a blanket ban on tourism for the yatra period if it cannot address such issues,” he said.

Siddiq suggested segregation of pilgrims and leisure tourists. “There seems to be trust deficit as far as government agencies are concerned.”

He also raised the issues of hike in airfare, claiming it was dissuading the potential visitors from visiting the valley.

Nazir Mir, chief patron of Association of Kashmir Tour Operators, said the restrictions were affecting leisure tourism and it has a negative impact on the people intending to visit the valley.

Manzoor Pakhtoon, president Jammu and Kashmir Tourism Alliance, suggested that tourism players should be deployed along the highway to facilitate the movement of tourists.

Manzoor Wangnoo, chairman, Nigeen Tourist Traders Association suggested the secretary tourism that the department must utilize the yatra to promote Kashmir’s tourism.

The stakeholders said the valley has witnessed almost zero bookings since the 45-day yatra began on July 1, and sought a solution to the issue.

Tourists have been thronging the high-altitude areas of Jammu region instead. A record 2.10 lakh tourists visited the Bhaderwah picturesque township in Doda district in nearly 20 days, Bhadarwah Development Authority CEO Rajinder Khajuria told PTI.

Some stakeholders also suggested deployment of tourist police at various security check-points to identify leisure tourists and help them.

The tourism department secretary assured them that steps would be taken for the smooth traffic management.

“The main feedback from the tourism stakeholders was about traffic management issues as the yatra has started. I have assured them we will resolve that as we have the mechanism for that,” Sampheal told reporters.

He said the traffic for Amarnath Yatra is a very well organised traffic management system and the administration has kept a balance between pilgrimage tourists and leisure tourists so that they do not face difficulties.

“The yatra is a process and not an event. There is a need for mid-course correction everywhere and we will ensure that the traffic flows smoothly based on the feedback that we get,” he said.

About high airfare to and fro Kashmir in the peak season, the secretary said the department will take up the issue with the airlines and expressed hope the airfare would be rationalised.

‘Population under duress’; NC demands immediate revocation of order

Srinagar, Jul 7: Jammu and Kashmir National Conference senior leader and Member of Parliament from Anantnag Hasnain Masoodi Sunday decried the highway ban, saying the diktat has “put a whole lot of population to undue duress.”

While interacting with workers and party functionaries Masoodi said, “It is a dictatorial order. The diktat will hamper the economic activity of traders. The highway is no less than an artery, it is our life line. It is not just the economic activity that will suffer with the ban but patients too. How can they reach hospitals? How can students and working class move to and fro?”

 “This is an unintelligent step. Orders like these will push the already aggravated people to wall. Issuing such orders does not augur well for a democratic setup. We condemn it unequivocally and seek its immediate revocation,” he said.

Member of Parliament from Baramulla Mohammad Akbar Lone too said that the move will inadvertently hit the movement of civilian traffic on the Jammu-Srinagar highway.

“The sole national highway connecting Srinagar with the rest of country already suffers from intermittent blockages due to the vagaries of weather. The diktat of putting restrictions on the vehicular movement if persists will put the public to undue duress. The step is bound to hamper the easy movement of tourist inflow to Kashmir. Moreover the dictate will affect the traders by spoiling Kashmir bound perishable items and vice versa,” he said.

While calling for an early revocation of order, Lone said, “The frequent restrictions on the sole national highway connecting Kashmir with the rest of the country on one pretext or the other causes unimaginable loses to the business community apart from severe inconvenience to the general public including patients and students.”


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Lead Stories

Trump offers to mediate between India and Pakistan on Kashmir issue

Press Trust of India

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WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump on Monday offered to be the “mediator” between India and Pakistan on the Kashmir issue as he met Prime Minister Imran Khan at the White House where the two leaders discussed a host of issues.

India maintains that the Kashmir issue is a bilateral one and no third party has any role in it.

“If I can help, I would love to be a mediator. If I can do anything to help, let me know,” Trump said in response to a question during his meeting with Prime Minister Khan in the Oval Office.

 

Trump said that he is ready to help, if the two countries ask for it.

“I think they (Indians) would like to see it resolved. I think you (Khan) would like to see it resolved. And if I can help, I would love to be a mediator. It should be….we have two incredible countries that are very, very smart with very smart leadership, (and they) can’t solve a problem like that. But if you would want me to mediate or arbitrate, I would be willing to do that,” Trump said.

“We have a very good relationship with India. I know that your relationship (with India) is strained a little bit, maybe a lot. But we will be talking about India… (it’s) a big part of our conversation today and I think maybe we can help intercede and do whatever we have to do. It’s something that can be brought back together. We will be talking about India and Afghanistan both,” Trump told Khan.

Khan, who was sitting by Trump’s side in the Oval Office of the White House, said that he is ready and welcomed such a move by the US.

“Right now, you would have the prayers of over a billion people if you can mediate (on Kashmir),” Khan told Trump.

Khan was accompanied by Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) chief Lt Gen Faiz Hameed and Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi among others.

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Corrupt praying elections to escape ACB: Guv Malik

Says militant remark ‘made in frustration’; calls Omar ‘political juvenile’

Mudassir Kuloo

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Srinagar, Jul 22: Jammu and Kashmir Governor Satya Pal Malik Monday said that the political parties in Kashmir want immediate elections to “save” themselves from the ongoing action against corruption.

“Political parties and their leaders want immediate assembly polls to escape from investigations. The ACB is close on their heels. These politicians are involved in misappropriation of funds in various schemes. There will be zero tolerance against corruption,” the Governor said while speaking to media on Monday.

He expressed regret over his remark that militants should stop killing innocent people and target the corrupt, saying it was made in a “fit of anger and frustration”.

 

On Sunday, Malik stoked controversy during his address at a function in Kargil.

“These boys who have picked up guns are killing their own people, they are killing PSOs (personal security officer) and SPOs (special police officers). Why are you killing them? Kill those who have looted the wealth of Kashmir. Have you killed any of them?” Malik had asked.

Day later, the Governor, however, said that he should not have made the comment as constitutional head of the state, but it did reflect his feelings and he will say the same thing when he is not governor.

“As Governor, I should not have made such a statement but my personal feeling is same what I said. Had I not been Governor, I would have no regret for giving such statement,” Malik told the media.

“What I said was my frustration and anger as I have seen huge corruption in Kashmir for the last one year. Otherwise, I know militants will be ultimately defeated,” the Governor added.

Reacting strongly to the Governor’s comments in Kargil, former chief minister, Omar Abdullah had tweeted: “Save this tweet – after today any mainstream politician or serving/retired bureaucrat killed in J&K has been murdered on the express orders of the Governor of J&K Satya Pal Malik.”

Omar said the governor should check out his own reputation in Delhi before sanctioning unlawful killings.

“This man, ostensibly a responsible man occupying a constitutional position, tells militants to kill politicians perceived to be corrupt. Perhaps the man should find out about his own reputation in Delhi these days before sanctioning unlawful killings & kangaroo courts,” he said.

Reacting to Omar’s criticism, the Governor called him a “political juvenile”.

“He is tweeting on every issue and media carry them. But media does not carry the comments on his statement. 90 percent people abuse him for his statements,” the Governor said.

Malik said he was appointed Governor because of his reputation.

“I did nothing wrong in my 50 year career. People know whether I did anything wrong. Wherever Omar Abdullah is at present is because of his reputation. He is speaking on every issue in a childish way. I had regards for Omar,” he said.

The Governor said families that have ruled Kashmir have accumulated huge wealth.

“Their grandparents were teachers but they have properties across the world.  Their three generations have accumulated huge wealth. They have one house in Srinagar, one in Delhi, Dubai, one in London and elsewhere. They are shareholders in big hotels.”

Asked whether two prominent political families, Abdullahs and Muftis were also involved in corruption, he replied: “The Anti-Corruption Bureau is investigating and whosoever is involved in corruption has to face the punishment. One of the former ministers has been grilled. Few more former ministers will also be investigated. We won’t spare anyone irrespective of how powerful they are.”

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Power theft costs JK 4000 cr a year

Bisma Bhat

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Srinagar, Jul 21: Jammu and Kashmir suffers a huge loss of around 4,000 crore every year due to power theft.

The department is unable to overcome the huge losses despite the fact that they have installed power meters to tackle pilferage.

An official in the Power Development Department (PDD) said that the deficit of Rs 275 crore in 2002-03 grew to Rs 2,976 crore during 2014-15 and to 4,000 crores in 2018.

 

The economic survey of 2017 blamed the revenue deficit on “high power thefts, illegal uses, unregistered consumers, uncontrolled and unaccounted consumption of power, lesser load agreements, low tariff rates, and poor collection efficiency.”

“We are losing Rs 4000 crore every year on power purchase bill. Last year we purchased power for 6200 crores and we collected only 2200 crores so the total lose we suffered is 4000 crore,” Hashmat Qazi, Chief Engineer PDD told The Kashmir Monitor.

The major reason for losses, he said, is the power theft.

“We lose maximum power due to the illegal usage by the people here. Despite installing meters, people find ways to breach them and use as much electricity as they can,” Qazi noted.

Qazi informed that to overcome the losses, there are many Government of India schemes including ‘Restructured Accelerated Power Development and Reform program’ (R-APDRP) which will upgrade the infrastructure including installation of Aerial Bunched Cable (ABC) which will restrict power theft by hooking.

“This is Rs 1660 crore plan which is being funded by the Government of India and comprises of 30 towns that have more than ten thousand population,” said Qazi.

“Another scheme is Integrated Power Development Scheme (IPDS) which comprises of 81 small towns, having a population more than four thousand. Apart from these two schemes, there is another scheme Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojana (DDUGJY) for distribution of electricity in rural areas,” he added.

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