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 abrogated 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 here 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 said.
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 Balakote 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.
Caged Mehbooba gets new winter home
Srinagar, Nov 15: Ending speculations, detained Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) president Mehbooba Mufti was shifted from Cheshmashahi hut to a ministerial bungalow at Moulana Azad Road Srinagar on Friday.
The development comes 10 days after her daughter Iltija Mufti tweeted a letter she had written to district development commissioner Srinagar urging him to shift her to “suitable location” in view of her falling health.
“As you are aware, my mother Ms Mehbooba Mufti, former CM of J&K has been jailed since August 5. A doctor recently ran multiple tests on her as she wasn’t keeping well. As per those tests, her Vitamin D3, haemoglobin and calcium levels are low,” Iltija had written in her letter.
Waking up to Mehbooba’s falling health, J&K government decided to shift her to a location equipped with proper heating arrangements.
Earlier, there were speculations that she might be shifted to Jammu.
However, on Friday government bit the bullet and shifted her to a new location in Srinagar. “The Cheshmashahi hut where she was under detention is not equipped with adequate heating arrangements. She has been shifted to a posh bungalow which served as an official residence of former deputy chief minister Nirmal Singh. It is equipped with adequate heating arrangements,” a source said.
Mehbooba was detained few hours before Centre abrogated Article 370 and bifurcated the state into two union territories on August 5.
The PDP chief earlier refused to meet her party leaders last month fearing it might be projected as normalcy by Centre.
Mehbooba is among three former chief ministers including Farooq Abdullah and Omar Abdullah, who have been jailed since August 5. While Farooq, who was slapped with Public Safety Act, has been detained in his home, Omar is lodged at Hari Niwas guest house, which has been designated as sub jail.
Government has also decided to shift political detainees from Centaur Hotel to a private hotel at Shivpora Sonawar.
Detained politicians refuse to sign bonds
Srinagar, Nov 15: Centre’s fresh overtures have failed after incarcerated political leaders refused to sign the bonds to secure early release from jails.
At least 31 leaders of National Conference, Peoples Democratic Party, Peoples Conference and Jammu Kashmir Peoples Movement are under detention at the Centaur Hotel on the banks of Dal Lake since Centre abrogated Article 370 and bifurcated the state into two union territories.
Sources said authorities approached detainees several times in recent past to persuade them to sign a bond for their release. “Farooq, Omar, and Mehbooba have also been approached several times by authorities. They however have refused to sign the bond. These leaders are adamant and they won’t budge an inch from their stand on Article 370 and bifurcation of state,” sources said.
Officials said leaders will face prolonged detention and won’t be released unless they sign a bond. “Political leaders will be shifted from Centaur Hotel to a hotel in Sonawar or MLA hostel Srinagar,” they said.
Mehbooba’s daughter Iltija Mufti confirmed that government made several attempts to get her mother sign a bond, which she refused. “I don’t know when exactly she was recently approached for signing on bond”, she said.
National Conference MP from Anantnag, Justice (retd) Hasnian Masoodi said detention of political leaders was “unjustified without any legal grounds”.
“Why should political leaders sign bond to secure their release? Signing bonds will mean that were against peace. Government should understand what position they (political detainees) have held and their detention is unjustified,” Masoodi said.
Detainees are supposed to deposit Rs 10,000 as surety. And in case they breach the bond, they have to pay Rs 40,000. Under Section 107, the bail bond asks detainees “not to commit a breach of peace” or “do an act that may probably occasion a breach of the peace”.
PDD to issue curtailment schedule next week:More power cuts in offing
Srinagar, Nov 16: Valleyities have all reasons to worry as darker nights are in the offing with Power Development Department (PDD) issuing electricity curtailment schedule in next four days.
Kashmir has been facing abrupt power cuts since November 7, when valley received season’s first snowfall.
An official of Power Development Department said there would be further reduction in power supply from next week.
“There will be at least 6-hour power curtailment in metered areas and over 8-hour load shedding in non-metered areas of Srinagar district,” the official said.
In other districts, the official said, there will be 6 to 8 hours power curtailment in metered areas and over 8-hours in non-metered areas.
As per rules, metered areas are bound to get round the clock power supply.
Chief Engineer, Power Development Department, Kashmir, Hashmat Qazi told The Kashmir Monitor hat there is a need for power curtailment schedule in view of the increase in demand.
“We did not curtail power this year till snowfall hit Kashmir on November 7. The load has increased now. We are framing power curtailment schedule which will be issued within three to four days,” he said.
On chances of any improvement in power supply this year, he said it all depends on the people. “If they use electricity judiciously, then there will be improvement in power supply. We have to optimize things from available resources.”
The PDD has 1200 MWs of electricity available. However, during winters, the demand reaches over 2000 MWs.
Centre has been allotting additional 700 MWs of power to Jammu and Kashmir in view of higher demand in winters. However, PDD has failed to augment existing infrastructure to receive additional electricity from the central grids.
At the same time, PDD is yet to restore electricity in various parts of Kashmir since November 7.
“Towers have collapsed at various places resulting electricity could not be restored in Magam, Beerwah, Arizal and Khaag areas,” Qazi said.