After battling the harsh and cold winter, the valley of Kashmir has stepped into the year’s most glamorous and exciting season—the Spring. This is the time when all the flowers are in full bloom. The blossoming flowers from the perennial wild trees to apple, almonds, and cherry and other fresh fruit trees make the valley look a heaven in real. The biggest attraction currently is the Tulip Garden laid out in the Zabarwan foothills—the bulbs for which have been imported from Holland. The tulips which flower by the end of the March have life of around three weeks. It is currently in full bloom and has become a centre of attraction for a large number of local as well as domestic tourists. With the onset of the spring the voices of promotion of tourism have also begun to echo in the air. Kashmir is nature’s gift with extraordinary beauty and breath taking forested and snow-peaked landscape. It is bound attract the outside visitors. Government, every year, specifies crores of rupees on advertising and propagation to lure outside tourists. Tourist sector has always been termed as the mainstay of the state’s economy. But a keen study of the case makes one to feel that tourism is overemphasized while talking about economic development of Jammu and Kashmir. All the studies and surveys conducted in the state have shown that tourism is no major contributor to our economy. It contributes less than 3 percent to our overall economy. This can well be understood from the fact that tourists have been coming to Kashmir in large numbers ever since its existence. But tourist trade never expanded beyond the Dal Lake and limited places of Gulmarg and Pahalgam.
The state tourism department, after the collapse of so-called tourist industry in the wake of militancy, conducted a survey in early 90s, which showed that hardly around 10,000 people were directly and indirectly associated with tourist trade. If a similar survey is conducted even today, the conclusions would not be too different. People associated with tourist trade could be counted on finger tips. A limited chunk of people in and around Dal Lake in Srinagar, and some hoteliers, shopkeepers, taxi drivers and labourers (including poneywallas) in Gulmarg, Pahalgam and Sonamarg are all who are related to tourist industry. They do not form even one percent of our overall population.
There are no two opinions about the fact that Jammu and Kashmir requires development at all levels and in all sectors including tourism but overemphasizing least important sector would serve no purpose. It appears that people at higher levels have got influenced by the false propaganda. It goes without saying that around 80% population of the valley is directly and indirectly involved in horticulture and allied activities. As per estimates over 10 lac families are actively involved in horticulture sector. This sector is one of the most important employment generation sectors in the state. Agriculture and handicrafts are two other major sectors which could be termed as mainstay of our economy: the service sector being the other one. The state government should place its priorities right. Promotion of Horticulture, agriculture and handicraft industries should be the top priority of the government. Tourism is simply a political slogan. Initially it was raised to underline the disadvantages of militancy. One hopes that the Governor Satpal Malik is not unaware of the key economic sectors of the state and he would himself monitor the development of basic economic sectors of the state. The government should place its priorities right and promote and project horticulture and handicraft. Let us make apple and Shawl as the brand ambassadors of the state.