Kashmir: Tourism gets low priority

dal lake

(In spite of the fact that one and all claim Tourism to be back bone of Kashmir’s economy, yet the government does not seem to accord it the priority it deserves!)

Almost all the governments have been declaring from various pulpits that the Tourism is the backbone of Kashmir’s economy. Unfortunately, so far there is neither an approved “Policy of Tourism” nor a long term Master Plan for its development and promotion. Most of the projects and schemes such as setting up of Tourism Development Authorities are taken up on ad hoc basis. Merely a place being very attractive does not necessarily make it a good tourism destination. For any tourism development of an area there are three basic criteria, Potential, Accessibility and Infrastructure. The Government has constituted more than 20 Tourism development Authorities in different parts of the state, mostly on local demand or to satisfy certain constituencies. People have been given a feeling that Tourism is a magic wand and if it comes to their area, they will get prosperity. In fact, some time back, the Comptroller and Auditor general of India in its annual report had severely criticised the setting up of these authorities and creating of infrastructure there. They had stated that Rupees 500 crore spent on this was virtually infructuous expenditure. It would have been better to select only three to four areas easily approachable and having basic infrastructure instead of selecting at once 20 areas or so. In view of the fall in overall tourist figures due to unusual conditions, these new areas will mostly remain unutilised.

While the department is developing news areas, they should not forget the present destinations which are getting over developed and congested. There is urgent need to inspect all the existing tourist destinations and ensure that these do not become virtual slums because of overdevelopment. Especially, there is need to take care of environment which in many existing resorts is getting totally polluted due to garbage thrown everywhere including in the mountain streams and forest areas which are primary the main source of attraction. In this regard, the worst sufferers are our water bodies such as the famous Dal and Nagin lakes which had earlier been known for the purity of the waters. These are now virtually turning into stinking marshes overgrown with weeds!

Well, to take care of various aspects of Tourism one needs a professional Tourism Organisation. All over the world the official Tourism Organisations have specialists in various fields to take care of different aspects. One needs planners, environmental specialists, marketing professionals and legal experts and so on to take care of different areas both for development, marketing and regulation of the trade. The Government itself has only to develop the basic infrastructure and leave the super structure to private enterprise that need to be continuously monitored and regulated. As Margret Thatcher once said, “Government has no business to be in business”! Unfortunately, the State Tourism Department has always been treated as any other department and people posted there have no specialisation but are basically administrators either from the State Administrative Service or the All India Administrative Service. There is no harm in having the Chief Executive or the Head of the Organisation from the Administrative Service but he needs to have specialists and professionals related to different fields to assist him. Unfortunately, the present set up has only administration related officers at all levels. Some time back the organisation did have specialists especially related to Adventure Tourism which is presently the most sought after avenue in the state. Almost all of these have either retired from service or have been transferred out of the department. There is urgent need for the government to revamp the entire tourism organisation and get officers who are specialists in different fields especially, tourism planning, adventure tourism, marketing and regulation of trade and so on. The problem with only having persons from various administrative services is that these people usually have fixed tenure and as a matter of policy have to be circulated in different departments. In view of various aspects it is imperative that the Government takes an overall view of not only proper planning and the development  but also of the tourism organisation so that the activity becomes not only profitable but also environment friendly. Government must aim for sustainable tourism with emphasis on adventure tourism which has unlimited scope in different parts of the state both in summer as well as winter. Mere lip service of calling Tourism as the backbone of the economy will not do. It has to be practically shown on the ground by giving highest priority to activities related to development and promotion of tourism including the tourism organisation responsible for handling these activities!

Mohammad Ashraf, I.A.S. (Retired) (Former Director General Tourism, Jammu & Kashmir)


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