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.
Declare birth anniversary of Hari Singh public holiday: Karan Singh to Guv
Senior Congress leader Karan Singh on Friday urged Jammu and Kashmir Governor Satya Pal Malik to declare his father Hari Singh”s birth anniversary next week as a public holiday, asserting that it was due to the state”s erstwhile ruler that it became a part of India.
Singh, the former Sadar-e-Riyasat of Jammu and Kashmir, said that for many years there had been a strong demand to declare the birthday of Hari Singh as a public holiday.
“In fact, both my sons had a resolution to this effect passed in the legislative council some years ago, but so far no action has been taken. The birth anniversary is on Monday, September 23,” he said in a statement.
“Let us recall that it was due to Maharaja Hari Singh ji that Jammu and Kashmir state became a part of India when he signed the instrument of accession on October 26, 1947. Apart from that he was a progressive and a far-sighted ruler who instituted many social and economic reforms for the welfare of the people,” he said.
Singh said as far back as 1929, his father had declared all temples in the state open to Dalits.
“I urge the governor to declare this day as a public holiday,” he said
Fresh restrictions in Kashmir in view of Friday prayers
Fresh restrictions were imposed in parts of Kashmir on Friday as a precautionary measure to maintain law and order in view of congregational prayers, officials said.
Normal life continued to remain affected across the valley for the 47th consecutive day with markets closed and public transport off the roads, the officials said.
Restrictions under Section 144 CrPc have been imposed in few areas of the valley to maintain law and order, the officials said.
They said the curbs have been imposed in Nowhatta and adjoining areas in downtown (interior city) and Anchar area of Soura police station in Srinagar.
The restrictions have also been imposed in Kupwara and Handwara police districts and the main towns of Ganderbal, Anantnag and Bijbehara, the officials added.
Security forces have been deployed in strength in vulnerable areas in the rest of the valley, they said.
The officials said the curbs were a precautionary measure to maintain law and order in view of apprehensions that vested interests might exploit the large Friday prayer gatherings at big mosques and shrines to fuel protests.
Friday prayers have not been allowed at any of the major mosques or shrines – including Jamia Masjid in Nowhatta or Dargah Sharief in Hazratbal – in the valley for the past over a month now.
Restrictions were first imposed across Kashmir on August 5 when the Centre announced its decision to abrogate Article 370 of the Constitution and bifurcate the state into two Union territories. The restrictions were lifted in phases from many parts of the valley.
Internet services have remained suspended across all platforms, they said. While landlines across the valley were functional, voice calls on mobile devices were working only in Kupwara and Handwara police districts of north Kashmir, they added.
The efforts of the state government to open schools have not borne fruit as parents continued to keep children at home due to apprehensions about their safety.
Most of the top-level and second rung mainstream politicians, including three former chief ministers – Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti, continued to be in detention or under house arrest.
While NC president Farooq Abdullah was first placed under house arrest, he was on Tuesday booked under the Public Safety Act (PSA).
His son Omar and PDP president Mehbooba Mufti were detained on the night of August 4 — hours before the Centre announced its decision to abrogate Article 370 of the Constitution and to bifurcate the state into two Union territories.
Most of the mainstream leaders, including former ministers and legislators, were also either detained or kept under house arrest, the officials said.
Ignoring protests, Gates Foundation to give Narendra Modi global award
New York: The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will be awarding the Global Gatekeepers Award to Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his leadership in India’s achievement sanitation, the organisation has announced.
“Modi is receiving an award at the Goalkeepers Global Goals Awards from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for the progress India is making in improving sanitation, as part of its drive toward achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals,” the Foundation said in a statement to IANS on Wednesday.
“Sanitation is a key factor in improving the health and well-being of millions of people, especially women and children,” it added.
Modi is being recognised by the foundation in New York on September 24 for the Swachh Bharat Mission of which the constructions of toilets is a key element.
A motley collection of Indian secularists, Pakistanis, activists and entertainers have opposed the award to Modi alleging he was responsible for human rights violations and for India rescinding the special status for Kashmir.
Some influential US media also published articles demanding that the Foundation cancel the award.
The publications include Foreign Policy magazine’s website, and Washington Post that is owned by Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon, which has disputes with the Indian government. The Post published an opinion article by two Indian-origin lawyers.
An organisation called S Asian Philanthropy published in the Medium a letter signed by people of Indian origin and others representing various foundations and NGOs.
National Public Radio reported that a dozen demonstrators with “Stop Genocide, a project of the American human rights group Justice For All”, delivered a petition with 100,000 signatures to the Gates Foundation headquarters in Seattle protesting the award for Modi.
The radio also said that three Nobel Peace Prize winners – Shirin Ebadi of Iran, Tawakkol Abdel-Salam Karman of Yemen and Mairead Maguire of Britain – had also sent the Gates a protest letter.