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Editorial

What ails our tourism?

The Kashmir Monitor

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Despite abnormal situation, tourism is gradually picking up in Kashmir. Not only domestic but foreign tourists are coming in substantial numbers. The official data says that 20,258 foreign tourists have visited the valley in the first three months this year. The majority of them was from Malaysia (2945) followed by Indonesia (1010) and Thailand (691). Officials in tourism department say that the inflow of foreign tourist in the past three years has been increasing. Despite a being tumultuous year in the wake of Burhan Wani’s killing 24516 foreign tourists visited the valley in 2016 which went up to 31516 in 2017 and 56029 in 2018. The foreign tourists visit Kashmir despite adverse advisories by some countries. The inflow of domestic tourists too is quite high. Even in the most turbulent years of 90s, tourists never shunned to visit the valley. But the million dollar question is why tourism has not flourished as a vibrant economic industry in Kashmir. 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. 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.

Kashmir is nature’s gift with extraordinary beauty and breathtaking forested and snow-peaked landscape. It is bound to 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. 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.It may not be going overboard to say that tourism is the one of the prime sectors that saw unprecedented spending by the government during and before militancy. During militancy the spending on ‘revival of tourism’ touched new heights. In the name of attracting tourists, road shows and so-called festivals were held in and outside the country. These were held to showcase Kashmir as “peaceful” and “worth visit” place.

Besides, huge money was spent on publicity through advertisements in newspapers. This practice is going on in the department without any break. But at the end of the day, only a handful of tourism officials benefitted from these extravaganza shows. The government at the highest level should take cognizance of the fact why tourism has failed to grow as a viable industry. It goes without saying that tourism for its vastness has immense scope to absorb lakhs of people in the trade. But it needs proper education, professional training and right planning at the top to make it happen. It is sad trajectory of facts that the tourism department has always been headed and handled by unprofessional people. Government should rethink its policy engage skilled and qualified people to lead the department.

 

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Editorial

What the exit polls mean for India

The Kashmir Monitor

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A series of exit polls have predicted return of Narendra Modi to power as the voting process in the general elections completed on Sunday. More than half a dozen polls suggested that Modi and his party BJP are all set to get the majority in the elections and they will get 280 to 300 seats (in the House of 543) when the votes would be counted on May 23. It goes without saying that exit polls are not exact polls. India has a patchy track record of exit polls. In 2004 and 2009 general elections, the exit polls had predicted BJP’s win. But the final result was against the BJP. It was the Congress which stole the show. However, if this time the polls matched the official results, it would have a loud message for the entire country. Sectarian divide and economic distress have been two key issues which dominated the five-year rule of Narendra Modi. The rise of Hinutwa forces was the other main highlight of this rule. Several moves aimed at changing the idea of India (from secular to Hindu) were set in foot at various levels. Key Hindutwa figures were given crucial positions in and outside the government that had created a sought of deep wedge in the society. Muslims, lower caste Hindus (Dalits) and Christians mainly faced the brunt of this campaign. Dozens of Muslims were killed by Hindu zealots (cow vigilantes) on flimsy accusations of transporting cows for slaughter and carrying beef. In UP, under Adityanath Yogi, places with Muslim names were changed with Hindu names which many people saw as an attempt to erase the Muslim past. The farmers’ distress was at its peak. Hundreds of farmers committed suicides following deteriorating economic conditions. The GST and demonetization affected badly the traders and business class who expressed their anger publicly.

Despite all this, Modi (if one goes by the exit poll) remains incredibly the most popular leader of India. He was the face of the party’s campaign, addressing 142 rallies across the country. In his speeches, he targeted Congress and other opposition parties and leaders as “Pakistani proxies”. It appears that the ideological change the Modi government has initiated in his previous rule has got social approval. The worrying part of it is that Modi’s supposed victory would embolden the Hindutwa brigade to assert Hindu nationalist policies with more vigor and force. For the people of Jammu and Kashmir too it is fraught with more risks. It is yet another hard era dawning at the people of Kashmir. Removal Articles 370 and 35-A of Indian constitution which safeguard the interests of the people of the state have been part of BJP’s election campaign. No less a person that home minister Rajnath Singh said on several occasions that these articles would be quashed. It is most likely that the new BJP government would undo these constitutional provisions to annul the state’s special status. It would mean yet another period of uncertainty ahead of the people of Kashmir. The larger picture is that Indo-Pak relations touched the lowest ever ebb in the past five years of Modi rule. The two countries virtually came to the brink of nuclear war. The air strike inside Pakistan by Indian air force and the retaliatory action by Pakistan army had plunged the region into the war, which however was averted due to international intervention. Muscular policy in foreign as well as domestic affairs is likely to remain the core of Modi’s new government. Its consequences are not difficult to imagine. The minorities, Muslims, Dalits and Christian in particular, have definitely a cause to be worried if the exit polls turned out to exact polls.

 
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Editorial

The “messy” business of assembly elections

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The Assembly elections, which many people had speculated would be held soon after parliamentary elections, are unlikely to be held so soon.

The 40-days polling process has come to an end with final phase of polling for 59 parliamentary seats across different states on Sunday.

The Election Commission of India (ECI) took stock of Kashmir situation on many occasions in the past one month to weigh out the possibility of Assembly elections but there has been no definite word from the Commission so far.

 

Last month, some hints had been dropped from different sources that the Assembly elections could be held in June before the start of Amarnath Yatra. However, the way ECI has maintained silence on the subject; it is now unlikely that any such plan is under the consideration of the Commission. It is believed the elections could be postponed till November. Jammu and Kashmir is currently reeling President’s rule.

Last year, Governor’s Rule was imposed in the state on June 19 after the ruling alliance between the BJP and Mehbooba Mufti fell apart. Six months later, on November 21, the state Assembly was dissolved by the Governor. A month later, on December 19, President’s Rule was imposed.

Its six-month term ends in July 18. President’s Rule in the state needs to be extended before July 2 for which the new government at the centre has to take charge immediately after the election results on May 23. What makes the issue even more complicated is what if new government at the Centre refused to extend President’s rule beyond the scheduled date. ECI is reported to have sought legal opinion on the subject to escape the blame for the mess that could happen.
Almost all the pro election groups in Jammu and Kashmir are in favour of holding assembly elections without delay. NC, PDP and BJP have been demanding that elections should be held as soon as possible. Election Commission of India visited the state and held consultations with the relevant political parties and state administration many a times over the past six months. The elections are delayed under garb of ‘situation not being conducive’. But there is one silver lining which suggests that the assembly elections would not be too difficult proposition. The “peaceful” conduct of parliamentary elections shows the way. Though there had been unprecedented boycott of the polling but these were peaceful as well. A general refrain is that major sections of society were in favor of elected government in the state. They believe that presence of elected government is necessary to safeguard the interests of the state. A common refrain is that the BJP-led central government has been trying to trample upon the state’s special position by undoing Article 35-A and 370 of the Indian constitution which grants some special position to Jammu and Kashmir. With Delhi’s man (Governor) at the helm of affairs, it is unlikely the present dispensation would defend it. A few months back Governor’s administration took a slew of measures including separating Ladakh from Kashmir division, changes procedure of issuing Permanent Resident Certificate (PRC), amendment in rules of Jammu & Kashmir Protection of Human Rights Act — by virtue of which the State Human Rights Commission will be unable to investigate any complaint of human rights violation submitted one year after the incident — “an act beyond its mandate” has necessitated the need for an elected government. In that context, the sentiment for boycott of polls is not so deep among common people. ECI should take the advantage of the situation and it should not have deferred the assembly polls. The ECI can still rethink and re-schedule the assembly elections soon after the parliamentary elections.


Almost all the pro election groups in Jammu and Kashmir are in favour of holding assembly elections without delay. NC, PDP and BJP have been demanding that elections should be held as soon as possible. Election Commission of India visited the state and held consultations with the relevant political parties and state administration many a times over the past six months. The elections are delayed under garb of ‘situation not being conducive’. But there is one silver lining which suggests that the assembly elections would not be too difficult proposition. The “peaceful” conduct of parliamentary elections shows the way. Though there had been unprecedented boycott of the polling but these were peaceful as well. A general refrain is that major sections of society were in favor of elected government in the state. They believe that presence of elected government is necessary to safeguard the interests of the state. A common refrain is that the BJP-led central government has been trying to trample upon the state’s special position by undoing Article 35-A and 370 of the Indian constitution which grants some special position to Jammu and Kashmir. With Delhi’s man (Governor) at the helm of affairs, it is unlikely the present dispensation would defend it. A few months back Governor’s administration took a slew of measures including separating Ladakh from Kashmir division, changes procedure of issuing Permanent Resident Certificate (PRC), amendment in rules of Jammu & Kashmir Protection of Human Rights Act — by virtue of which the State Human Rights Commission will be unable to investigate any complaint of human rights violation submitted one year after the incident — “an act beyond its mandate” has necessitated the need for an elected government. In that context, the sentiment for boycott of polls is not so deep among common people. ECI should take the advantage of the situation and it should not have deferred the assembly polls. The ECI can still rethink and re-schedule the assembly elections soon after the parliamentary elections.

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Editorial

Ramadan beggars

The Kashmir Monitor

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Begging is legally prohibited in Kashmir. But it is the most cherished profession for a large number of people with no fear of law. The generosity with which people oblige beggars by giving them alms is driving more and more people to the profession. Come Ramadan, non-state residents also join this class and one sees beggars surfacing in huge numbers, swarming streets and homes like mosquitoes. They are found everywhere—homes, mosques, streets crossings, shopping malls, government offices, public places. There is no class distinction of these beggars. They are young and old—men, women and children. They are healthy but pose to be infirm, put up indigent faces when they approach their target. It is the easiest and simple way to find sympathy. Begging is professed even by ‘respected’ citizens. They have found novel ways for begging, which do little affect their ‘respectability’. It rather adds to their ‘stature’ and ‘standing’ in social life. They would approach their targets in the name of helping orphans, physically infirm and poor people. One comes across hundreds of people collecting alms in the name of ‘orphanages’. A single ‘orphanage’ generally uses dozens of people—young and old, mostly with long beards—to collects alms, who are paid a particular percentage of the money collected as their return commission. This gives the ‘collectors’ more a sense of commitment and dedications.

Since Kashmir has witnessed deaths at large-scale in the past years of armed trouble, people get influenced easily by the ‘orphan’ theory of money seekers. No doubt there are some credible institutions run of by people of impeccable integrity and honesty which are dedicated to the cause of orphans and poor. One cannot ignore the services rendered by RahatManzil (YateemKhanaBemina), JK YateemTurst and JK Yateem Foundation in this field. People running these institutions deserve all praise and encouragement, and there should be a great reward for them before Almighty Allah as well. There could be some more institutions, which might be contributing towards the society in their own way. But most of the ‘orphanages’ exist only in name. All you need is a hand bill indicating Iftar and Sehri timing and a coupon or receipt book under some orphanage-name. One finds sign boards (of orphanages) erected at various places across the city. But their veracity has never been checked. One wonders how an orphanage can be run in a small room. It should have been the job of police to check the activities of such people. Many such centers are being run under the very nose of police. Some years back KothiBagh Police Station arrested office-bearers of a so-called orphanage for being involved in immoral activities.

Since Ramadan is the month of sympathy and compassion, people give alms to the seekers generously and without checking their antecedents. This has quite a serious negative impact on the entire social fabric of our society. It not only encourages people to take recourse to means of easy money but also inculcates sick and corrupt mindset. Last year, the begging was restricted to some extent after ban on it at public places by district magistrate Srinagar but this time it is the very old scene that is being witnessed on Srinagar streets. There is urgent need to protect our society from this negative fallout. We have already suffered much on this front, and we cannot afford any more losses if we want to live as a responsible and civilized people. Police can play a major role in reining in fake and fraudulent people.

 

During Shaikh Mohammad Abdullah’s government in late 70s, police had cracked down on beggars and the practice had somewhat stopped but for a brief period. It is necessary that the anti-begging law is practiced and society be cleared of this uncivil and insulting menace. People seeking alms in the name of institutions may also be verified, and fake among them be dealt under law.

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