The authorities and stakeholders in Jammu and Kashmir are praying for a peaceful summer as the 46- day Amarnath pilgrimage and the summer tourist season are approaching.
The recent incidents of violence in the valley and certain tourist circuits of Jammu were creating anxiety among the stakeholders. The Amarnath pilgrimage will commence on 1 July and culminate on the day of Raksha Bandhan on 15 August.
The tourist season in Kashmir during the past few years has been hit due to violence, including incidents of stone pelting, that increase particularly during the pilgrimage and summer vacations elsewhere in the country.
Tourist footfall this time in Kashmir was not encouraging and the Mughal Gardens were lying virtually deserted. The Army and other security forces are these days engaged in hot pursuit against terrorists, particularly in South Kashmir, that would be the hub of the annual Amarnath pilgrimage.
More than 70 terrorists, including their top commanders, have been eliminated this year in encounters with security forces.
Unfortunately, terrorists were now eyeing the tourist destinations of Bhaderwah and Kishtwar circuits in the peaceful Jammu region in a bid to disrupt the upcoming tourist season.
The killing of three RSS and BJP leaders by terrorists in Kishtwar has created a sense of insecurity among the people. The recent violence in Bhaderwah following the killing of a man is likely to affect tourism there.
Bhaderwah has emerged as a top tourist destination despite the stepmotherly treatment by the Jammu and Kashmir government in promoting the destination. The circuit with several tourist spots that also connect with the Chamba district of Himachal Pradesh was overflowing with tourists during the last season.
Patnitop on the Jammu Srinagar highway that also attracts a large number of tourists is not receiving due attention of the state government. The infrastructure of the tourism department there is in shambles and the private sector is engaged in providing hospitality to the tourists.
The state government had recently ordered shutting off the social media handle of Jammu’s tourism department but restored it after the action was widely criticised.
Certain elements made an attempt to give Bhaderwah’s violence the colour of cow vigilantism but the state police have “strongly rebutted” such reports. Governor Satya Pal Malik has urged the people not to take law and order in their hands and to cooperate with the law enforcing agencies. He has advised the prominent leaders of the town to help the police and civil administration in pacifying the protestors.
He has directed the police and civil administration to spare no efforts in bringing the culprits to justice and ensure that no anti-social element succeed in exploiting the situation and shatter the sense of brotherhood and harmony existing among the people of Bhaderwah since centuries.
Meanwhile, in view of the upcoming tourist season, Advisor to the Governor, Khurshid Ahmed Ganai, has asked the tourism department and chief executive officers of tourism development authorities in the state to gear up for the forthcoming Shri Amarnath Ji Yatra as a large number of tourists and pilgrims are expected to visit the state after summer vacations in the northern states of the country and in July when the Yatra begins.
Ganai said 2019 is likely to witness a steady flow of tourists to the state including for Amarnath Ji Yatra and Mata Vaishno Devi. The Advisor said he has issued directions to the Secretary Tourism Department to prepare for a Tourism Festival in Srinagar in the third or fourth week of June to which national and international stakeholders will be invited to re-focus attention on J&K as a favoured tourist destination for which it is known the world over.
Highlighting the huge potential of the state in adventure tourism, the Advisor issued instructions to Directors of Tourism to create special facilities and arrangements for those who want to go trekking, paragliding, water sports and mountaineering expeditions. He also laid emphasis on promoting J&K as a high-end golf destination in the country.
Inviting suggestions from all stakeholders for increasing the footfall of tourists in the state, the Advisor said a fresh roadmap has to be prepared to reinvigorate the state’s travel industry which will happen by integrating leisure, adventure, heritage and pilgrim tourism.
He also highlighted the multiplier effect of the tourism sector and directed the department to effectively counter the negative perception being spread about travelling to the state.
Urging private stakeholders to play an active role in building their capacities and creating niche facilities for tourists visiting the state, Ganai described tourism as a pivot around which the state’s economy can be rebuilt in a big way.
“Tourism has a great potential in terms of employment generation and provides vital linkage to the famed handicrafts sector of the state,” he added.
Describing tourism as a vital industry, the Advisor reiterated his earlier direction to establish a ‘single window clearance mechanism’ to facilitate private players to boost investment in the state’s tourism sector. He also issued directions for taking steps to bring in more scenic spots on the tourism map of the state.