Empty houseboats, vacant hotels and deserted resorts present a gloomy picture of Kashmir’s tourism sector which is going through one of its worst phases due to the prevailing situation after the Centre scrapped provisions of Article 370 of the Constitution and reorganised the state into two Union territories.
Kashmir has been facing unprecedented restrictions for nearly a month now, as normal life remains affected across the Valley with markets shut and public transport off the roads since August 5.
Days before announcing the decision on Article 370, the state government had asked all tourists in Kashmir to leave the Valley.
According to officials in the Tourist Department, about 20,000-25,000 visitors were present in the Valley, which was in its peak tourist season.
Since then, the Valley is without tourists, which has brought the industry — believed to be the backbone of Kashmir’s economy — to its knees.
Sonamarg — considered as the gateway to Ladakh region — is a picturesque resort in central Kashmir’s Ganderbal district and usually remained crammed with visitors.
However, the resort looks deserted with most of the hotels, restaurants and shops closed for business.
A manager at a hotel said the only business they had was of a few local visitors putting up for a night or two.
“We have not seen tourists for the last few weeks now. There were a few of them here even after the advisory by the government. But after they left, we have had no tourists here. Only locals come for a night or two and then leave,” he said.
According to official figures, 1.74 lakh tourists visited Kashmir in June, followed by 1.52 lakh, including 3,403 foreigners, in July.
However, officials in the Tourism Department said the department has no record of tourist arrivals in August.
“We have no reports of any tourist arrival. There may have been a few of them, but we do not have any records,” Nisar Ahmad Wani, director of tourism, Kashmir told PTI.
Another official of the department, on the condition of anonymity, said while the department keeps no record of the domestic tourists because of the advisory which asked the visitors to leave, about 800 foreign tourists have been registered for the month.
“The state’s CID registers the foreigners, so that number is officially available. But, since there is a ban on tourists, the number of domestic tourist arrivals is not officially taken,” he said.
Stakeholders said the chances of revival of tourism in the Valley were bleak this year.
“Summer season is our peak season and now the winter is approaching and it is considered a dull tourist season. With the situation as it is, we do not see much chances of any revival this year or till March,” a travel agent said.
The famous Dal lake in Srinagar, which otherwise is a star attraction for the visitors, is calm and the only activity taking place there is of some locals trying their hands at angling.
“With tourist arrivals severely hit, the business is zero. The problem has been accentuated by the non-availability of internet. We cannot communicate. We do not even know the status of bookings confirmed before all this happened,” a reputed travel agent, who did not wish to be identified, said.
The travel agent — one of nearly 3,000 registered in Kashmir — said the tourism season began late this year due to the attack on a CRPF convoy in Pulwama in February in which 40 CRPF personnel were killed and then because of increased hostilities between India and Pakistan after the Balakot air strike.
“The business picked up in May-June and we were hopeful of a good season after the culmination of Amarnath Yatra as queries and bookings had increased in July. However, the prevailing situation has dealt a virtual death knell to the sector and bouncing back from it looks very difficult,” he said.
The official of the Tourism Department said hotels have asked their staff to leave till there was a turnaround in the situation.
“What will they give to their staff when they do not earn anything,” he said, adding that “while some big hotels have either relocated or sent most of their staff on deputation to other states, others have asked their employees to utilise their leaves till the situation improved”.
A reputed hotelier in Srinagar told PTI that job cuts were imminent if the current situation prolonged.
“We have no option other than that if the situation does not improve. I do not want to do it, but I will be forced to,” he said.
The loss of business has not only affected hoteliers or tour and travel agents, but houseboat owners, shikara walas, taxi operators and tourist guides.
“There are about 11,000 registered pony wallas who provide services in Gulmarg, Sonamarg or Pahalgam. We have about 5,000 shikara wallas, 2,100 sledge wallas, over 1300 tourist guides. They do not have work as of now,” the official said.
Some travel agencies have been forced to cut the salaries of their staff in order to avoid job cuts.
“We either had to expel some of our employees or go for reduction in the salary till business bounces back. So, at our agency, we took a collective decision of cutting down the salary of our staff by 30 per cent,” a travel agency owner said.
“We have taken loans from banks and we have to pay monthly installments. Wherefrom will we arrange that money?” houseboat owner Ahmad said, adding that he has to look at the possibility of trying his hands at an alternate source of income.
Abrogation of Article 370 : Constitution bench to begin hearing from December 10
NEW DELHI: The Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court will begin hearing on a batch of petitions challenging the abrogation of Article 370 by the Centre and the reorganisation of the former state of Jammu and Kashmir into two Union Territories from December 10.
The matter was listed for hearing on Thursday but the top court postponed the hearing in the case till December 10.
It may be recalled that a batch of petitions had been filed in the top court by leading Kashmiri politicians and activists challenging the Centre’s August 5 move to abrogate Article 370 that gave special status to the former state of Jammu and Kashmir.
In its October 24 order, the Supreme Court had said that the petitions challenging the validity of provisions of Article 370, which was abrogated by the Centre on August 5, and Article 35-A would be dealt with by its 5-judge Constitution bench which is hearing the Kashmir matter.
Some of the petitioners had then told the top court that they have filed pleas challenging the existence of provisions of Articles 370 and 35-A which granted special status to J&K before the Centre came out with the decision to abrogate them.
The five-judge constitution bench had on October 1 given four weeks to the Centre and Jammu and Kashmir administration to file counter-affidavits on the petitions and also put an embargo on the filing of any fresh writ petition challenging the constitutional validity on abrogation of Article 370.
In 2014, an NGO ‘We The Citizens’ had filed a petition in the apex court challenging the constitutional validity of Article 35A. Later, six other pleas were also filed in the top court on the issue.
The top court had then dismissed the pleas and directed the petitioners to approach the high court.
Article 35A, which was incorporated in the Constitution by a 1954 Presidential Order, accorded special rights and privileges to the citizens of Jammu and Kashmir and bars people from outside the state from acquiring any immovable property in the state.
It denied property rights to a woman who marries a person from outside the state. The provision, which leads to such women from the state forfeiting their right over property, also applied to their heirs.
However, after the Centre’s move to scrap the Article 370, the provisions of Article 35A became null and void and all central rules became applicable in J&K after it was formally split in two Union Territories on the night of October 31.
Article 370 was included in the Constitution as a “temporary provision”. Courtesy this section, the residents of J&K lived under a separate set of laws dealing with property ownership and citizenship. Article 370 also fanned separatist emotions and enabled terrorism, the ruling BJP had contended while introducing the bill.
The two new UTs came into existence on the 144th birth anniversary of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, who played a crucial role in integrating 560 princely states into India.
After the bifurcation of J&K, the number of states in India stands at 28, and UTs at nine.
Pakistan exporting ‘terror’, stifling women’s voices for narrow political gains: India at UNSC
UNITED NATIONS: India lashed out at Pakistan for raising the issue of women’s rights in Kashmir in the UN Security Council, saying the country represents a system that has been exporting militancy and “regressive” extremist ideologies and “stifling” women’s voices for narrow political gains.
India’s strong response came after Pakistan’s outgoing UN envoy Maleeha Lodhi commented on the situation in Kashmir, revocation of Article 370 and women’s rights in the Valley during the debate on October 29.
“As everyone today focuses on collective action, one delegation rhetorically regurgitates about women’s rights in my country,” First Secretary in India’s Permanent Mission to the UN Paulomi Tripathi said Monday at a Security Council open debate on Women, Peace and Security.
Without naming Pakistan, Tripathi said the delegation “represents a system that has been exporting terrorism and regressive extremist ideologies, and stifling women’s voices for narrow political gains. This has devastated lives of generations of women and their families, in our region and beyond.”
Alluding to Islamabad’s habit of raking up the Kashmir issue at various UN forums and committees, Tripathi said the country habitually makes baseless allegations without any relevance to the agenda under consideration and this has “become a staple for this delegation.”
She referred to Lodhi’s comments on Jammu and Kashmir during the October 29 debate as well as during a previous debate on the “Situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question”.
Asserting that India firmly rejects the baseless allegations, Tripathi said “the Council has not paid attention to such deceitful narratives in the past, and we are confident that the Council will continue to do so, to ensure that its agenda is not used as a ploy for furthering territorial ambitions.”
In her remarks to the debate, Tripathi underscored that violence against women and girls perpetrated by terrorists remain rampant and subjugation of women in public and in private spheres continue across situations that are on the agenda of the Council.
“It is important that the Council strives to effectively integrate women, peace and security considerations into sanctions regimes, including by listing terrorist entities involved in violence against women in armed conflicts,” she said.
Further, Tripathi highlighted the positive impacts of greater participation of women in UN peacekeeping but voiced concern that women make up only 4.2 per cent of military personnel in UN peacekeeping missions.
“We ought to encourage participation of all women units to achieve the set targets in this regard,” she said.
Tripathi pointed out that a trend in which in order to accommodate those who cannot fulfill the commitments of providing all women units to peacekeeping missions, mixed units are being given preference by diluting the policy frameworks.
“If this continues, we possibly cannot achieve the set targets,” she said as she added that India remains committed to increasing the number of women peacekeepers and has deployed a Female Engagement Team in UN Organisation Stabilisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) earlier this year.
MeT predicts rains,snowfall from Nov 6 to 8 in J&K
Jammu, Nov 5 : The weather department on Tuesday predicted widespread moderate to heavy snowfall and rains in the hills and plains of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh union territories for three days starting from Wednesday.
The weather system is likely to cause temporary disruptions on surface transport especially over passes like Zojila, Srinagar-Jammu, Leh-Manali Highway, Mughal Road due to landslides, low temperature and heavy snowfall.
‘There is an active Western Disturbance. Its interaction with Cyclone MAHA (currently lying over East central Arabian sea) is most likely to cause widespread moderate to heavy snowfall and rain in plains of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh during 6th to 8th November’, Director, State Met department, Sonam Lotus said.
Divisional Commissioner, Kashmir, Baseer Ahmad Khan on Monday chaired a meeting of officers to review the position of winter stocks of food grains and other essential commodities in Ladakh and Kashmir division.
Besides, Deputy Commissioner Leh and officials of District Administration, Kargil attended the meeting through video conferencing.
Directing officials to ensure adequate stocks of commodities, the division commissioner said people in these areas should not face any difficulty during winter months.
The meeting was informed that all essential commodities for winter including food grains, fire wood, LPG, medicine and other items have been stocked